hedland you have my heart.

i am definitely one of those people who has a weird attachment to hallmark holidays like valentine’s day. blame it on too many romantic comedies in my most formative years or the remnants of being the product of divorced parents, but it’s something i know and accept about myself. give me any excuse to send someone a card in the mail, and i’ll take it. christmas, birthdays, valentine’s day. who knows, maybe someone will even get lucky enough for me to resort to sending president’s day cards this year.

i don’t know what it is about the days of the year with special titles, but they hold a dear place in my heart. i understand the common argument that we should be celebrating the things we celebrate on those days every day of the year. i also don’t see why it’s such a big deal that we give things a little extra celebration.

especially love.

love deserves it’s own day.

now, do i believe that love equates to overly priced red roses and expensive jewelry? of course not. (although if your partner’s love language is receiving gifts, then you are probably on the right path by celebrating love that way.)

good old saint valentine of rome did something that would make all sentimentals swoon. marrying soldiers forbidden to marry and ministering to persecuted christians. it’s exactly the kind of martyr that all good romantic tales need. i’m sure there’s a hollywood hit waiting to happen here folks. a modern twist on an old roman legend.

however, valentine’s day is not always filled with love. in fact the emphasis on love often sends people running in the opposite direction.

case in point: my 2010, 2011, and 2012 valentine’s days all happened right around a break up.

for us eternal optimists, we douse ourselves in self-love and go see blue valentine with two other love misfits and feel your heart sink when michelle williams tap dances to ryan gosling’s musical magic.

we cry over the beautiful handmade valentine cards our friends deliver to our doors. we convince ourselves that we are ready to embrace our new found freedom to experience love alone.

and then you are alone.

and your relationship with love evolves.

last year, i spent valentine’s day in india. we were on an airplane traveling from delhi to mumbai most of the day, but as our taxi drove us to our hotel along marine drive, you could feel the love in the air. it was thicker than the hot indian air. the entire city coast of the arabian sea was lined with couples sitting in the dark soaking in the bright lights of the endless skyline.


some people find this an absolutely horrible place to spend valentine’s day in mumbai. but for me, it was beautiful. no was alone. it is impossible to be alone in a country so filled with people. so filled with love.

i felt that stupid grin come over my face and stay there motionless as i flattened my nose against the taxi window, staring out into the faceless sea of people celebrating the forbidden love of centuries ago.

today is valentine’s day (in my timezone), and i have again found myself in a foreign land. only this year, it doesn’t seem like such a big day for me. every moment of this year has overflowed with romance. by romance, i mean this definition: “the colorful world, life, or conditions depicted in romantic tales.” or maybe it’s this one: “a baseless, made-up story, usually full of exaggeration or fanciful invention.”

sometimes i can hardly tell the difference.

every day in this small remote town has felt filled with love. a love for the person waking up next to me, a love for the new experiences, and an immense love for the landscape surrounding us.

so in gratitude to this, here is my goodbye valentine to port hedland: a sea of storms, sunrises, and sunsets transforming every day into valentine’s day.




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22 ways you know you’re in australia.

i am a list maker. always have been. probably one of post-it notes’ favorite customers. it turns out that most people like reading lists as well. easy to digest. hence why we all (me included) spend obscene amounts of time on buzzfeed.com. do you really care about 31 grilled cheeses that are better than a boyfriend? for the one minute of your life that it takes you to scroll through 31 images of delicious cheesy concoctions, you totally care.

and for the next one to seven minutes of your life (depending on how fast you read and how much i actually end up writing) i am going to make you care about a few of the things i have learned over my past three months in australia. (unfortunately, i will not have hilarious gif animations to accompany my list. i am deeply sorry for this fact and will make up for it by directing you to this similar list.)

22 ways you know you’re in australia (in no apparent order)

i am going to try to avoid the obvious ways like vocabulary differences because that could easily create a list with over 100 ways in a matter of seconds. let’s be real, it’s not english folks. and yes, i know that a lot of these are true for other countries as well, but currently i’m in australia…

  1. you go to swipe your credit card and the cashier looks at you funny. to make the matter worse, she then has to go find a pen when you select the option to sign instead of entering a pin number. we get it, america needs to say goodbye stripe, hello chip.
  2. acronyms don’t ever get pronounced letter by letter and you have no clue what the hell EFTPOS means. sorry aussies, it’s said U-P-S, not ups.
  3. everyone wants to watch you try vegemite and then teach you how to properly eat it.
  4. you make money just by pulling it out of the atm. (right now anyways.) and then immediately lose it when you pay $15 for a cheeseburger and fries at mcdonald’s.
  5. leftover cold spaghetti is commonly known as breakfast. don’t try saving that pasta for lunch over here. there’s no chance it will still be in the fridge.
  6. chicken parmesan (parmi) is not a fancy dish you get at olive garden. it is a staple food group. don’t ever order a beef parmi. someone will eat it, but they won’t like you for it.
  7. entering or leaving a room means an impromptu techno dance party as you try to figure out which way the light switch goes. on – off – on – off.
  8. hanging laundry outside on the line to dry is not something you do just to be green. you just do it, and you totally feel like you’re a 50’s housewife in the process. don’t worry, the clothes still get hot enough to dump them on top of yourself on your bed and bask in their warmth (for about two seconds until you start sweating).
  9. instead of a washer and dryer, you have two washing machines. one for work clothes and one for regular clothes. (perhaps specific to port hedland.)
  10. cold water is a magical thing that you only dream about. although you never have to worry about the shock effect of stepping into the shower before the water warms up, you do have to worry about burning your skin off instantly, whether you turn on the hot or cold water handle.
  11. you’re excited to see your favorite tv show come up on the tv guide, only to discover it’s season one. get with the times australia. new girl is now in season three. so you open you’re netflix account only to find…
  12. …netflix, hulu plus, and every other subscription you have is “sorry, currently our video library can only be watched from within the united states.”
  13. kfc is “good.” probably regarded as the king of fast food chains. come on aussies, really?!
  14. fried chicken is an ingredient in sushi. last time i checked sushi was meant to be raw fish, but i guess over here, chicken is the chicken of the sea.
  15. someone asks you to tea and is offended when you eat beforehand. just call it dinner, and we won’t get confused.
  16. triple j is the only radio station that matters. you should also know the phrase “like a version.”
  17. crickets are not the only creature chirping in your house. unlike when i was younger, here you can have a pet gecko without having to ask. the one that lives in my office is named echo jr. (named after the one i had in high school), and his chirping gives me something to respond to when i am working at home alone from 6am to 6pm. don’t laugh, you know you talk to yourself too…
  18. every time you go to explain what you think is “an american thing,” you are informed that they have a television.
  19. magically you feel skinnier because your weight is only a third in kilograms. oh, you also feel like you’ve run farther. thanks metric system.
  20. you have to enjoy super bowl sunday at 7am…on monday.
  21. there is always a cricket game on at least four channels, and you get excited for a second when you think it’s baseball. then you realize you have absolutely no clue what is going on and why the score is in the hundreds.
  22. beer and water are interchangeable at any time of the day. and they have the biggest ad for beer ever. you’ve probably already seen the commercial, but if you haven’t:

small town shut down.

it’s almost the chinese new year, and it’s almost valentine’s day. so i figured i’d better do a post summing up my birthday, christmas, and new year’s eve before another holiday takes precedence. yes, i know it’s way overdue, but oh well. deal with it.

’twas three days before christmas…

we got in the truck and headed out to a close-by national park. my human navigator informed me it was a two-ish hour drive. google maps informed me it was closer to four. but either way, we hit the open road once more. it had only been a week since we landed in south hedland, but it was my birthday, and since there is not much to do in town, we headed out of town.

back on the open road. back soaking in the beautiful west australia outback from the passenger side window (on the left side) of a sturdy white pick-up truck. red soil and gum trees and sunny skies.


four hours and several musical artists later, we arrived at my birthday present: a breathtaking maze of river gorges complete with awe-inspiring cliffs and refreshing pools.



also known as karijini national park.


when you are with ryan, you never know what kind of adventure you are in for, but we managed to walk by a deadly snake unharmed, swim through several connecting pools without staring down a crocodile, and inch along unprotected ledges without falling to our death. i’d call it a successful entrance into my twenty-seventh year.



and to top it all off, mother nature threw in a picturesque dust/thunderstorm.



and a bushfire extravaganza on the ride home.


’twas time to celebrate christmas…

shopping for gifts in south hedland is an interesting endeavor. your choices are pretty limited. if you can’t find it at kmart, well, good luck. but ryan and i managed to fill up the space under our makeshift gum tree christmas tree.


i cannot remember the last time i spent christmas away from my family. it might have been when i visited my best friend aisha over winter break back in the fifth grade.

needless to say, it was a big deal that i was halfway across the world spending the holidays with a man i had only known for a couple months. on christmas eve, i had no idea if i would have an emotional breakdown and purchase the next flight home in a teary haze.

luckily, that was not the case. that was not the case at all.

instead, ryan and i spent the morning laughing hilariously at the random gifts we had ended up getting each other and awing at the thoughtful gifts that still managed to find their way under our gum christmas tree. we also got to enjoy the gloves with light-up fingertips that my mom sent us…for about five seconds, before storing in the closet. love you mom. (we haven’t quite found a use for them in the 100º weather yet, but we’re still trying.)


then ryan went on a weird productive streak. he mowed the lawn and built a bookshelf.


i sat in the sunshine and enjoyed my first ever warm christmas.

it was weird.

i have never celebrated christmas without the blustery cold tapping at the windowsill. i now know how people living in california experience the holidays.

to be honest, i prefer the snow.

now i understand that everyone reading this from the united states is currently cursing me, and i am sorry that old man winter has taken his temper out on you, but christmas just isn’t the same when it’s warm out. an evergreen covered in tinsel just needs a crackling fireplace next to it. trust me on this one.

on the other hand, celebrating the holiday in an empty house with someone you care about makes you realize that where you are doesn’t really matter. (insert a bunch of heartfelt comments about the spirit of christmas here.)

but i did manage to stay up late and skype with my family as they awoke on christmas morning. it was the perfect way to end my holiday away from home.

then nothing was stirring or leaving the house…

i celebrated my first boxing day by watching the weather radar. a large swirling cloud was moving closer and closer to the dot labeled port hedland. people were clearing the shelves of the grocery store and there was a limit on how much alcohol you could buy from the liquor store.

cyclone christine was on her way. blue alert. yellow alert.

and then, as we got the final “red alert” warning, all of south hedland and port hedland entered a phase i like to call “small town shut down.”

no one left their house. in fact, if you did try to drive the streets, you could apparently get up to a $50,000 fine.

it turns out that everyone seems to overreact to cyclones up here. did she do some damage? sure. was it necessary to buy four gallons of milk? not so much. but overall, cyclone christine was another gift to me from mother nature.

however, the cyclone was nothing in comparison to another bit of luck that came our way on boxing day.

the air conditioning broke.

oh yes. we braved over 100º temperatures and 85% humidity…for a week.

it seems that everyone goes home for the holidays, and that includes all the smart people who could fix the air conditioning. so for over a week, i discovered new and exciting places that sweat. and how impossible it is to work when you’re dripping on your keyboard. and how much i hate bugs inside the house.

after enjoying several days of the cricket symphony, i realized that they were not just serenading me from outside the window. they were inside. and they were taking over. apparently the air conditioning had kept them away, but now we were left defenseless.

ryan told me not to worry because the frogs will eat the crickets. but then followed it by informing me that the snakes would eat the frogs.

great. snakes in the house? this nature girl was not ready for snakes in the house. especially when we were sleeping on a blow-up mattress an inch off the floor.

and the next day when i saw a frog in the toilet, i knew it was time to unleash chemical warfare against the relentless cricket army. (i do apologize to all my insect-loving, non-chemical-using readers, but it had to be done.)


so i guess some hedland residents did get to leave the house over the holiday…

until the clock stuck midnight…

somehow, ryan and i managed not to kill each other in the post-cyclone heat and humidity. after being cooped up in a sweaty house all week, we still managed to have an entertaining celebration complete with puzzle-ing, dancing, and white wine to ring in the new year!


then finally, the small town shut down started to slowly lift its grip over port hedland. it was like at the end of a yoga class when the teacher whispers for you to start wiggling your fingers and toes, bringing life back into your body after a restful shavasana.

people started returning. stores didn’t have weird hours. the gym and pool were open again. but most importantly, the air conditioning mechanics were back at work. unfortunately, they couldn’t even fix the problem.

fortunately, ryan was able to pick up some temporary window units. i don’t think i have ever found anyone quite as sexy as the moment he turned the air conditioning back on.

it’s the small things in life, and i’m looking forward to every single small thing 2014 has in store for me.

and welcome back to present day…

getting lost in port hedland.

yesterday i received a package in the mail from a friend. it was a beautiful handmade collaged card that read, “remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” the words “heart” and “treasure” were cut from a magazine and stood out amongst the rest.

there was a black and white image of a native with a crown of leaves blowing into a conch shell and a sunflower unready to bloom. there was a vibrant image of a clay pot filled with yellow crushed powder.

it was as if that mustard pigment was waiting for someone to spread its color throughout the scene. bring the sunflower’s curled up petals back to life. creep into the leaves and echo into the shell. they say you can hear the ocean if you place it against your ear.

the card was accompanied by a book. a field guide to getting lost by rebecca solnit.

there i was. on the northern coast of western australia. in a small transient town defined by the mining industry. in the soon-to-be-remodeled kitchen of a brick home on kennedy street.


staring at this book. and this note. sent halfway across the world to me by a friend.

i flipped through the pages but turned back to the cover.

a field guide to getting lost…

after our epic two week road trip, we arrived in south hedland after dark on december 15th.

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i could not see the town as we drove into where i would call home for the next two months. there were heaps of tiny lights shining in the distance, and we had to wait for a long train loaded with iron ore to pass before getting into town.

ryan had not yet picked up the keys to his house from the previous property manager, and it was late on sunday night. so continuing in our usual fashion, we set up the swag for the night…on ryan’s own patio (see photo below). but not before doing a headlamp-fueled inspection of the property.

every home in the area has aluminum siding fences surrounding the perimeter. gates open and close allowing only those with permission in. there is no waving to your neighbor as you mow your lawn. no drinking coffee in a rocking chair on the front porch smiling at strangers.


as we walked around the yard and house, ryan pointed out the broken security light. i tiptoed over the broken glass allowing fear to creep in slightly. then he pointed out the small white handprints painted on the back of the brick exterior. a lump formed in my throat. then he pointed out where someone had tried to break in through the window screen. i became visible scared.

are you all right? he asked me.

we were going to sleep outside on the cement ground of the patio of this house that had been unoccupied for two months. a house and neighborhood that ryan had not seen in six years.

it was dark. and we all know what happens to the mind in the dark.
i don’t think i slept that night. and when i did sink into a sleepy stupor, i inevitably woke up to a mother cat protecting her three kittens or a gecko crawling alongside our makeshift bed or the sprinklers coming on to keep the grass green.

and then it was morning.

the sun woke up quickly and so did i.

but all the sudden, the park across the street was a welcome sight instead of a vast emptiness filled with the unknown. and all the sudden, i was in a new world.

welcome to port hedland. or south hedland actually.

south hedland is a sister town to port hedland, an 18km drive across empty fields of red dirt and past a salt mine.

port hedland is the second largest town in the pilbara region of western australia, with a population of approximately 14,000, about half located in south hedland.

yep, you read that correctly. south hedland has about 7,000 people. that is the same amount of people as my freshman class at university of michigan. that is a little over four times the amount of facebook friends i have. that is…small. and yet it is the second largest town in the region!

every aussie i had met along this trip had asked me one question, “do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

i had smiled and thought something similar to what that card read, “remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”

i was following my heart. and although i knew all along that we were driving to a house in the middle of nowhere,  i’ll admit that as ryan drove me around port hedland and south hedland on the first day, my heart sunk. i tried to feign a smile as he took me to one of port hedland’s oceanfront parks, but i failed miserable.

it was over 100º F at 9am. i had not slept the entire night for fear of someone or thing climbing over the fence to get us. and now, here i was, staring out into an ocean (one that i couldn’t swim in due to sharks and crocodiles) filled with massive ships waiting to deliver millions of dollars worth of merchandise to somewhere faraway. and i wanted to be faraway too.


port hedland has a natural deep anchorage harbor which, as well as being the main fuel and container receiving point for the region, was seen as perfect for shipment of the iron ore being mined in the ranges located inland from the town. the ore is moved by railway lines from four major iron ore deposits to the east and south. we’re talking about 15 million tons of iron ore shipped out yearly.

when you arrive in hedland, you instantly form a frustrating relationship with iron ore. or rather with the red dirt that covers everything. you cannot walk outside without coming back in with a bit of a red tint to your skin. when you dust, your cloth turns red. when you mop, your water turns red. when you do laundry, your machine turns red. it is impossible to keep up with it.

and so you learn to love it.

there is something amazingly beautiful about a barren red landscape illuminated by a setting sun. the contrast of blue sky to red earth reminds me of that yellow pigment waiting to paint the black and white images on my card. the glow of the sun seems to connect to the soil and create an endless horizon.

i haven’t spent a lot of time in arizona, but i imagine it would be something like this place. only maybe substitute gum trees and spinifex for the multiple types of cacti.


situated in the middle of the town is a shopping center. envision a mall from the 90s. pretty run down but trying its best to become hip. inside the shopping center is a kmart, coles grocery store, pharmacy, and a few random other stores and kiosks including a news/magazine stand that i have been banned from shopping at because ryan does not like that they have a $15 minimum for credit card purchases.

it is pretty regular to find some reason to go to the shopping center almost every day. especially since we arrived in south hedland to an entirely empty house. the first purchase involved towels for a much needed shower.

everything else in town surrounds the shopping center. now by everything else, i really just mean the essentials: schools, hospital, library, gas station, pub, liquor store, hardware shop, post office, salon, youth center, swimming pool, fitness center, chinese food, subway, and mcdonald’s.

literally, that is everything that is in south hedland. if you drive the 18km to port hedland, you can make the list a little longer, but not by much.

after a few weeks of living here, my credit card bill had become pretty hilarious. there were only three companies that received most my money: kmart, coles, and mcdonald’s (aka macca’s here).

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now you might think that with only three stores taking up space on my credit card that i might have saved some money, but it is quite the contrary here in the desert. everything is way more expensive. most things are more expensive in australia, but this place is an extreme.

an easy example…

there is no movie theater in hedland. no movie theater anywhere close to here! however, the high school has a performing arts auditorium that shows a recently released movie once or twice a week. you just have to pay $18 per ticket! (and yes, i did make ryan pay $36 so we could go see anchorman 2.)

back home, the movie theater is a staple of my life. every holiday and family gathering usually ends in my brother informing us which movie he hasn’t seen yet and that we are allowed to go see as a family.

and here i was, about to spend my birthday, christmas, and new year’s in a town with no movie theater.

had i lost my mind?

or was i losing myself in something new and unknown?

i started reading the book that flew several thousand miles to meet me today. the first chapter explores a question posed by the pre-socratic philosopher meno:

“how will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?”

when we arrived here in december, i had never lived in a small, remote town. not in america, and definitely not in australia. but now, a month later, i am learning how to get lost in it.

the final push.

after a few hundred kilometers, a sleepless night in kununurra where i woke up at 2am to ensure a timely social media post for a client, and a quick dip in the closed caravan park pool, we were on our way to broome (green pin labeled M)!

“it’s the final push. well, almost…”

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my chauffeur for this journey was starting to tire after all his kilometers behind the wheel. the standard road trip lull was setting in. it only took us two weeks on the road! wow. we lasted a long time without getting bored or on each others’ nerves. pretty good. but now we still had two days left of driving before reaching our final destination.

all people who work with youth have this part of their brain reserved for situations like this. i learned this from my mom at a young age. whenever i reached the classic child breaking point, out came those three dreaded words: “maaaaaam, i’m boooooored.”

now whereas most parents might brush off the annoying whine of this phrase, my mom instantly switched into that special teacher part of her brain.

“oh! i have an idea! why don’t you take the box from our new refrigerator and build a castle? or maybe you could make up a dance and put on a recital for your dad when he gets home from work! or how’s that new story you were writing last week coming? did you add illustrations yet?”

and so, when i saw that glazed-over, grumpy look creeping across ryan’s face and felt the silence setting in quickly, i instinctively tapped into that precious section of brainwaves reserved for spur-the-moment entertaining activities.

“do you want to put some different music on?”


“do you want to listen to an audiobook? shit my dad says is pretty hilarious.”

not so much.

“how about i watch a movie and you can listen in?”

pause. and then…interest.

“you can pick the movie. how about that classic australian film you wanted me to watch. what’s it called again?”

the castle or animal kingdom?”

“um, either one. we can watch both. want to do that?”

i. nailed. it. a lifetime of working with youth, and i am an endless supply of ideas to end boredom. for twenty-eight year old men…

now if you’ve never seen either of the above mentioned movies, please rent them immediately. and if you are headed to spend some time with a fair dinkum aussie family, consider watching the castle as required preparation. just a snippet to wet your whistle:

with only one quick pit stop to go explore a group of boulders and climb a big boab tree…




…we made it to broome just in time to check into the kimberly klub hostel and catch the opening act of a live band covering popular american tunes (again) at a local restaurant/pub.

i will now take a moment of silence (and you should too) for what happened next.

while eating overpriced french fries (known as chips here), the band set up and started playing. after the first song, this short old man with a fedora atop his head drifted onto the dance floor.

(i didn’t have the heart to pick up my phone and record him, so you will have to try to envision this through my verbal reenactment.)

as the band prepared for their next song, he stuck a pose. think the moonwalker cover:


then as they began to play colin hay’s “overkill” things got crazy. a base of michael jackson-esque movements. a touch of involuntary jerking. a pinch of complete lack of rhythm. oh and then there was the occasional will farrell old school ribbon dancing tour jete:

oh wow was it priceless! in these type of situations, i am normally the one to go join the lone dancer, but that night, i didn’t have it in me. i just sat and enjoyed the abusive spirit fingers from afar. as they would say down here, good on ya mate.

after a semi-restful night in the hostel, we spent the day taking in what broome is all about. a stroll around the cute and quaint beach town including a stop at the world’s oldest operating picture gardens.


a stop in a couple pearl shops and museums. (broome area is known for pearling.)


a four wheel drive adventure down the beautiful white sand of cable beach followed by a dip in the ocean and a picnic lunch.


you’d think that a country completely surrounded the ocean would have marvelous beaches on absolutely every inch of the coast. but that is just not the case. broome was the first beach i had seen since airlie beach that matched the kind of beach you imagine when you think of australia. and despite it’s beauty, there was not more than ten people there. truly magical.


and the magic continued as we grabbed some lunch at a hip restaurant with waterfront views. and by magic, i mean that magical moment that everyone following me throughout australia has been waiting for…

i had my first bite of kangaroo.

it was smoked. and it was delicious. yes, i repeat: it was delicious.


with bellies full of ‘roo, we climbed back into the ute.

“here we go. the final push.”

and this time it really was. only six and a half hours until we arrive in port hedland. only 612km until our two week road trip comes to an end. only 380mi until the next chapter of this adventure begins.

from waterfalls to pub crawls.

some people procrastinate by watching tv, some by eating, some by surfing the web. although i do all of those, my big one is cleaning. i organize and scrub the entire house (slight exaggeration) before sitting down to do work. before sitting down to write.

so as i type this, please be forewarned that i am completely high on a weird mixture of ajax, vinegar, laundry detergent, and toilet bowl cleaner. the computer screen is a bit fuzzy, and my head is mildly throbbing. i want to open a window, but it is hot and humid outside. probably not helpful.

but on the upside, my chemical inhalation mixed with the broadway musical channel currently playing on pandora might make for an interesting blog post.

i am still so behind and falling even more behind each day. so i am just going to dig in.

dig into to darwin. (the green pin labeled G.)

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we drove a bit out of the way (632km or 393mi to be exact) to visit darwin, but boy was it a relief. after days in the car cruising through barren outback, high-rise condo buildings were a welcome sight.


but before i jump into how excited i was to sleep in an air conditioned bedroom on a real mattress,  let me tell you about a magical place called litchfield national park. about 1,500 sq. km. of gumtrees,  termite mounds, waterfalls, and plunge pools.


if you ever find yourself in the northern territory, you should add this place to your list. although the crocodile warning signs do make you a bit jumping when you dive into murky water…


litchfield highlights:

  • magnetic termite mounds. these termite mounds are built by thousands of termites with a north-south orientation to control the temperature inside the mounds. they just know which way is north. i wish i had that great of an internal compass. they cover the field like massive gravestones thin as pancakes.


  • cathedral termite mounds. these things are huge! and they’re built by things that are sooo small. ridiculous.


  • buley rockhole. florence falls. tolmer falls. (photos in that order.) if you like waterfalls and feeling like a mermaid, this is the park for you. (little mermaid’s “kiss the girl” just came on pandora, i shit you not.) of course we ignored the signs telling us not to climb the cliffs. nothing like jumping through a waterfall with a grin bigger than the crescent moon.






  • wangi falls. so many bats sleeping in trees! (yes, that is what the black things are in the photo below.) the water was closed due to possible alligator and croc infestation (standard), but still a great spot to smile and ask fellow tourists to snap a photo. oh, and wear really awesome movie star hats to prevent skin cancer.




now, back to that excitement about skyscrapers…

darwin is growing. evolving if you will. (i had to, i’m sorry. must be the chemicals.)

a little back history for you courtesy of wikipedia:

“Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory, Australia. Situated on the Timor Sea, Darwin is the more populated of the two cities in the sparsely populated Northern Territory, with a population of 129,062. It is the smallest and most northerly of the Australian capital cities, and acts as the Top End’s regional centre. Darwin has grown from a pioneer outpost and small port into one of Australia’s most modern cities.”

and as we unloaded our bags into the guest bedroom of one of ryan’s mates, i was glad to be back in a city. a growing city.

as much as i love nature and small towns, there is just something about the energy of a city that makes my insides flutter. it doesn’t even have to be a big city. just a place trying to be a city is fine. the energy is still there.

and what could you possibly want after a day filled with all the nature australia’s northern territory has to offer? all you can eat steak and seafood on the darwin wharf? oh sure, why not.

darwin’s wharf is cute. sort of reminds me of the boardwalk in santa cruz. it’s complete with breathtaking views of the sunset and massive ships carrying who-knows-what off into the horizon.


after an endless flow of seafood and steak and conversation, it was time to call it a night and enjoy our free five star accommodations.

rise and shine and get ready to take in all darwin has to offer. after being told that the jumping croc tour boats were shut down for the rainy season, we headed to explore east point reserve and downtown.

darwin highlights:

  • strolling around the tide pools on the shore of east point reserve.



  • learning tons of history about australia and darwin’s role in world war II. even crawling into an old lookout bunker. dad, you would love this place. there’s even a military museum! for your education, another wikipedia theft: 

“Around 10,000 Allied troops arrived in Darwin in the early 1940s at the outset of World War II, in order to defend Australia’s northern coastline. On 19 February 1942 at 0957, 188 Japanese warplanes attacked Darwin in two waves. It was the same fleet that had bombed Pearl Harbor, though a considerably larger number of bombs were dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor. The attack killed at least 243 people and caused immense damage to the town. These were by far the most serious attacks on Australia in time of war, in terms of fatalities and damage. They were the first of many raids on Darwin.”



  • crocosauras cove. as much as i want to see a croc in the wild, i of course never actually want to see a croc in the wild. so i settled for second best: visiting a reptile and crocodile aquarium smack dab in the middle of downtown darwin complete with deadly (and non-deadly) snakes, too many kids of goannas, some stingrays, fish that spit at you, and five full grown crocodiles. and who knew feeding baby crocs could be so much fun? it’s like taunting a dog with a bone… (a dog that could rip you to pieces instantly.)






  • meeting up with friends for chicken parmi (not beef, never order beef parmi) and a pub crawl down the main drag. like any good pub crawl, the night ended up with me dancing and singing to a live band playing mainly covers of popular american tunes. if only it was tuesday, i could have made my australian karaoke debut…

next time darwin, next time…

on the road.

when i was in india, it was so easy to get back to the hotel after a long day of adventure, boot up my trusty macbook pro, and fill the blank white page with tons of tiny black pixels. one blog per day. easy.

add in one person whom you like to snuggle, and boom! your writing time turns to story time instead. stories told in the present and not regurgitated onto the internet for y’all.

this is the part of this post where i will type my sincerest apologies. life has been go go go. and then santa went ho ho ho. and then a cyclone went blow blow blow. and then…insert something that continues to rhyme and represents new year’s day. i can’t think of one.

anyways, life has settled back into routine. and routine for me means i’m back at the wordsmithing. crafting something that will allow you to see this crazy world i’m living in.

this crazy world known as australia.

this crazy journey across australia.

where did i leave off? somewhere on the road in the middle of nowhere i’m sure.

on the road. it’s a common theme in photos and videos and stories and paintings and everything. there are whole movies that center their plot around a road trip. take for instance one of my favorites, tommy boy (which i just made ryan watch for the first time ever). we would never get the kind of memories we get from being on the road anywhere else.

and being on the road in the outback makes for some very interesting memories. i’m going to provide the cliff notes since i am about three weeks past due on this report.

highlights from hours and hours on the bitumen before reaching darwin (in addition to all the things already discussed in my previous blog posts):

  • watching ryan cautiously build up enough courage to pass road trains. it’s a good thing i was not driving because i’m pretty sure i would just sit behind the massively long semitrucks forever.


  • catching a glimpse of a rainbow after an unexpected momentary downpour. then soaking in the rain-revived colors of australia’s vast landscape.



  • spending two or more days tapping into my inner exterminator after discovering a shit ton of ants had created a nest under the floor mat on my side of the car. yes, there was some screaming involved upon initial discovery.
  • coming across a giant “knonosauras” in the middle of nowhere aka richmond, queensland and watching ryan fearlessly pry his jaws open.


  • driving through what is known as one hottest towns in all of australia, conclurry. it holds the record for highest temperature. somewhere around 127° F. yuck. (however, upon further google analysis, we discovered that this record has been debated due to faulty weather instruments. it may have only been 117° F…)
  • stopping in mt. iser and buying two pairs of completely necessary shorts and matching loose tanktops. oh, and a pair of completely necessary short overalls. all from kmart. and then we had to pay a dollar to use the toilet. and then i bought a converter. game on moving truck office.
  • super hot and sticky nights crammed together in a single swag under the big beautiful starry sky with mosquitoes trying to bite every inch of my juicy skin, wallabies staring at me in the darkness, bats screeching annoyingly loud, and hundreds of cane toads nearly escaping death by rainbow sandals on a regular basis. (but were not dumped at this fine toad depository.)


  • literally highfiving every time we turned a corner. (it was few and far between.)
  • taking inspiration from tyson and creating our own “35 things to do before 35” lists. they are now hanging up on our closet door. mine will be published shorty. i know you’re all itching to see what the next eight years of my life has in store.
  • trying to see things in the termite mounds and laughing every time i saw one with a shirt buttoned up around it. and being completely blown away by how a bunch of tiny insects can create structures so huge. they definitely know there’s no “i” in teamwork.


  • one of the few quintessential touristy stops we made along the way: the daly waters pub. classic.


  • slipping into the bitter springs thermal pools early in the morning with no one else around. calm waters reflecting the jungle all around it. a refreshing start to a twelve hour day of driving.


  • the smell of night jasmine pouring into our windows as we pulled into towns for the evening. mmmmm.
  • paying WAY too much for fuel because there was only one service station probably every 600 km and nothing in between. let me translate the below. that’s about $8.00 per gallon!


  • ryan unprompted saying sincerely, “i reckon boxing and ballet would be two of the hardest sports to train for.” he knows the words to say to win over this dancer’s heart…

and then we finally arrived back in society. welcome to darwin. the city of evolution?

a true town.

the days keep passing by.
the weeks keep passing by.

i open the document on my desktop labeled blog and glance over my notes. shit. this stuff happened almost three weeks ago. i want to relive every moment with you, but they all seem to be fading into the past. fading is maybe the wrong word. the memories are there, engrained on me forever, but the present seems to be where my mind is. living instead of reliving.

yet i want everyone at home to be with me. to share in this journey with me. this crazy thing i call my life.

so i’ll do it. go back in time. to friday, december 6, 2013.

we arrived in townsville in the evening. pulled up behind a mangled sports car on the street and were welcomed by two dogs and two friends. tammy and tyson. a beautiful family that ryan has known for years. the old climbing gang. the old climbing gang who now has three kids.

the boys gave up their bedroom for us and after an hour or so of catching up about ryan’s past year of adventures and reminiscing about the good old days, we curled up to sleep. each in our respective twin size bed complete with spiderman covers.

our time in townsville was about community.

a quick morning tour was enough to give me a taste of life in this comfortable, quaint town. it has that old sense of charm with a modern edge. probably one of the best representations of the word “town” i have ever seen. every corner has an old queenslander style pub waiting to serve you an ice cold beer.


you can taste the ocean salt as you look out at the multiple islands scattered throughout the water.


and when you drive up to the top of castle hill (a massive hill in the middle of a very flat town), you can see it all. every nook and cranny of townsville.


we even got a bit of entertainment of some aussie truckers awaiting their next load. the stereotyped american trucker seems to translate pretty accurately to the aussie trucker. these men were fully intoxicated at 11am and missing most of their teeth. i could not help but love them.

then off to the “working bee” christmas party with tammy and tyson and their community.

the concept: many hands make light work.
the outcome: ryan helping scrub a deck while i played with a zillion kids.

and of course, there was a white elephant gift exchange complete with the steal rule. we had a gift bag mystery incident at the store (ie i bought two gift bags that immediately went missing two minutes after handing the cashier $3) so we had to improvise on our wrapping… (i’m sure you can guess which two presents we brought.)


after a delicious taco dinner and several amazing desserts (tammy owns her own baking company, babycakes & co), we got straight to business.

it’s all about strategy.

we ended up with honey roasted peanuts and a variety pack of chocolates. perfect road trip food. and a perfect end to a fun evening with a piece of the townsville community.


the next day it was time to pack up and head out, but tyson made sure we didn’t leave without getting some climbing in. so we all grabbed our gear and made our way to hervey’s marbles, a boulder field on the cross over the great dividing range. it is not what i would call the best bouldering, but it was fun. and defeating. after a month of consistent climbing followed by a month of no climbing, bouldering felt like the hardest thing in the world.




and then it was good-bye.

and then it was hello…

…to the perfect spot to roll out the swag.

a creekside piece of paradise complete with a tree swing and sunset.



now you might be asking yourself, what is this “swag” thing she rolled out. it’s basically the perfect road tripping contraption. a waterproof canvas tent-like outer shell. a zippable mosquito net liner. a thin mattress covered with your sleeping bag and pillow. roll it up and pop it in the truck for travel. unroll it and and tie to the truck for sleeping.

however, i will give you one piece of advice: trying to sleep two people in a one person swag with the mosquito net zipped by necessity and temperatures around 90 degrees is not very fun. even when you like the person next to you…


but alas, we feel asleep in the heat. we were just outside charters towers and that is just where we were going to stay. at least for the night. in the morning it was time to start heading west to the northern territory…

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 12.55.54 AM

all work. all play.

back to reality. or rather society. airlie beach or bust. a slightly touristy beach town with big marinas and lots of islands. the whitsunday islands to be exact. it is one of the hubs for travel out to the great barrier reef.


no, we didn’t go out to the great barrier reef.

this driving adventure around australia is not about me being a tourist, for better or worse. it is about getting ryan and his stuff back up to port hedland and enjoying what we can along the way.

the big things on the to-do list in airlie beach were to check in on his boat and pack up the truck with his tools. and of course, visit with a few close friends.

most of the berrys (see kathy and bill from last blog post) live in airlie beach. their oldest son chris lives with holly and their two baby girls on a plot of land that sent me straight back to my childhood. an older home down a quiet road tucked back into the wilderness and across from a sprawling sugarcane field. set to the side of the property was a big shed surrounded by a yard full of stuff. if you have a dad who comes home with grease covering his hands every night, you know exactly the kind of yard i am talking about.

it is the kind of yard i grew up in. well, substitute cornfields for sugarcane fields. but the kind of yard filled with hours of entertainment from abandoned box trucks and an old boat with a hole rusted into the side. random scraps of metal and car parts scattered to the side of the garage. and men covered in grease and sweat.


while the men covered themselves with grease, ryan made me my very own office in the shed to do some work. it was complete with a reclining car seat and a fantastic view.


and when the sunset, the view got even better. and the bats came out. hundreds of them taking over the night sky. everywhere we go in australia has mass amounts of huge bats that come out when the sun sets.



then we caught up with the youngest daughter sarah, which immediately took me back to my childhood yet again.

sarah runs a daycare out of her home. the living room windows are covered with artwork. the back deck is filled with toy trucks and a sandbox. there are two live baby ducks as classroom pets. and as most adults do when they get together for dinner, we spent the evening helping sarah make “play-do” out of hair conditioner and cornstarch.

it was all too familiar. growing up with a mom who was a preschool teacher entails many days of making fake play-do and playing with duckies.


but this trip was not all play remember. it was about work, and fixing up ryan’s boat.

ryan’s boat (i would call it by name here if it actually had a name…honestly, who doesn’t name their boat!?) has been sitting for sale for the past twelve months. was it still seaworthy? we were there to find out.


after a couple days of one thing after another going wrong (including but not limited to a gas tank full of water), we finally got it out onto the open ocean waves. the very choppy ocean waves. the two meter tall ocean waves.

i definitely got whiplash (and sunburnt), but i had a smile on my face the whole time. and a great captain by my side.




the swell was too high, the sun was too low, and the boat was too uninsured to make it out to whitehaven island, but the view was still stunning everywhere i looked.



we cruised out to daydream island. the closest island with a weird kitschy resort on it for tourists. it was not exactly what i would daydream about, but ryan informed me it was sort of the poor man’s version of hamilton island (a beautiful resort destination). he insisted i hop off the boat and head ashore to check out the “aquarium.”


now apparently this is not the kind of island you just pull up to, drop the anchor, and head onto shore. this was a tourist island. big ferries emptied mass amounts of people with pocketbooks open onto the dock.

i was not one of the people who was going to pay $50 to see a rundown resort on one of the whitsunday islands. ryan pulled the boat up to another dock about fifty feet from the main one and told me to just go see what they would do if i tried to walk onto the island. hmmm…

i stepped onto the dock and immediately there was a short and stout man quickly striding in my direction. he met me at the top of the ramp and began his interrogation:

him: g’day, can i help you?
me: i’m just here looking for a friend. (i begin to slip into storytelling mode speaking in a mixture of accents, trying to sound local but failing miserably.)
him: what’s her name? (seriously? who asks what their name is?)
me: um, rachel.
him: does she work on the island?
me: no, she came on a boat. (vague answers are key to keeping the lie going.)
him: oh on that boat? (he motioned to a big yacht tied up to the dock i came in on.)
me: yeah, that one. (this could end me. too specific.)
him: i saw them go ashore earlier, but their tender (aka dingy) is gone, so they might be out on the water.
me: oh i see, do you mind if i just have a look around for them? (boom. i nailed it.)
him: sure go ahead.

phew. i was in. now onto finding these sharks ryan was so keen on me seeing.

i followed old carnival looking signs into a massive hotel that looked like it was straight out of bad scary movie. after walking aimlessly through a few sliding glass doors and big empty lounge rooms, i finally found myself amongst a few palm trees and outdoor ponds filled with clownfish and sharks and stingrays and schools of unidentified beautiful blue fish.

snap snap snap.



i took photos quickly and enjoyed being back on land for a few minutes after our epic journey through the extremely high waves in the channel. at any minute, the short and stout man could find me and ask more details about “my friend rachel.”

i started heading back to the boat. i was almost in the clear. then i saw a wallaby snacking on some grass in an opening with the ocean behind him. i went to capture this cute little fella on film, and then, there he was. out of nowhere!

i stuffed my nikon quickly into my sack and continued down the sidewalk back to the dock with a bit of hurry in my step. i didn’t dare look behind me to see if he had a bit of the same quickness in his stride.

back down the ramp (which i now noticed was for “authorized persons only”) and onto the dock. with a wave of my hand, ryan rolled up just in time to make a clean escape.

what a daydream!

i would definitely not recommend paying $50 to go check it out next time you are in australia, but if you want to go “find rachel,” it might be worth your time.

if you have more time than us and glassy water, you probably want to head to whitehaven island though. i hear it is amazing, and google images agree…


alas, our time in airlie had to come to an end. we headed out of town and onto bowen, a very small rural town whose big claim to fame is being the set for the movie australia with nicole kidman. it is such a proud achievement for them that they even have their own version of the hollywood sign.


ryan’s good mate dean lives in bowen with his wife and four beautiful children. we spent a few hours catching up with them and learning ALL about plants vs. zombies from their three sons (who are all under ten).

and then a quick tour of the views…


…and back to the road. the long and open road.

but only for a couple hours. just enough time to have our first hunger/sleep induced argument over ordering a mcdonald’s cheeseburger with “ketchup only” and catch my first amazing sunset over the australian bush before arriving in townsville.




nothing to do but return home.

wake up at 3am and drag myself into the truck in the dark. why oh why do we have to leave this early ryan. by 4:30am the sun is fully up and we are driving trafficless around brisbane. a quick tour of this big city. skyscrapers and a famous bridge.


then quickly back onto the highway and onto airlie beach (which took me until the first sign stating “airlie beach” to realize that ryan was not saying “ailey beach”).

turns out driving endless kilometers on one of australia’s national highways (which is actually just a two lane road that sometimes turns into dirt) is way more fun that in the states.


the government provides trivia and other signs to make you smile. oh and a reminder every couple of kilometers to pull over and sleep if you need to. i get it australia, pull over if i’m tired.




up and up along the east coast of australia we go. up and up through lush green landscapes and the smell of salt water on the breeze. up and up and up and up and up. only making stops for fuel (a very important thing to do when the service stations are very far apart with nothing in between)…



…and deliciously refreshing local beverages…


…and giant mangoes.


there is a lot to see along the east coast of queensland, but ryan was on a mission. straight to airlie beach to see old family friends, pick up his tools, and get his boat in tip top shape for selling.

but then he felt bad. after seven or eight hours of road tripping with his american tourist sidekick, he finally felt the need to show me a bit of something.

head east off the highway for an hour to seventeen seventy. yep, that’s right. there is a town in australia named a number. good old 1770. the year captain cook sailed by and discovered australia. i reckon we should have the town of 1492 in america. it might make memorizing the year christopher columbus sailed the ocean blue a bit easier.

seventeen seventy is a small beach town and one of the last few places along the coast where it is still relatively safe to surf. the more north you go, the more sharks you meet.

another quick car tour of the town, a walk down to see the beach, and then back on the road. back on the open road. the open open road. a town about every 100 km or so and not much in between. tunes blasting and windows rolled down. a tan on my left arm and a tan on ryan’s right arm.

and then a phone call.


kathy is ryan’s second mother. ryan’s family grew up in the house next to her family’s house. her four kids are his extended siblings. her husband bill is his second father.

kathy and bill were staying the week out at their “tin shed” in the small fishing community of stanage bay. she insisted we stop in on the way to airlie beach and stay for the night.

a right turn onto a dirt road and off the highway we go.


i have no idea what is in store for me on this detour, but after five minutes of cruising down the rocky road, i see two kangaroos. my first kangaroos. just hopping across the barren field like kangaroos do.

i am all smilies from ear to ear.

to australians, kangaroos are like deer. they are everywhere and get hit by cars frequently. but to americans, man are they cool.

deeper and deeper into no man’s land we go. i sit reveling in my ‘roo sighting. and then, something magical happens. that measly dirt road turns into an australian safari!

hundreds of kangaroos and wallabies. snakes in the creeks. snakes in the grass. birds in the air. birds in the fields. cow after cow. calf after calf. there are animals everywhere. i stare out the window in awe of this beautiful detour. a country road full of nothing but wildlife and the occasional windmill and farm house.





then we arrive.

at sunset.

we drive directly up a big cliff overlooking everything. the town. the ocean. the fields.




then we arrive at the “tin shed.”

it is literally a tin shed. a massive tin-sided construct with all the home amenities you would need nicely tucked inside. including a riley bunch of locals sinking some piss.

i don’t know the exact number of full time residents in stanage bay, but i would not say there are very many. maybe fifty. it is a fishing community. there are two establishments in town, and you can get internet and cell service at one of them but only from 10am to 10pm.

imagine your cabin on the lake. your family getaway in the middle of nowhere. that is stanage for most of the people who own property there. that is stanage for kathy and bill berry. that is stanage for ryan.

an escape.

nothing to do but go crabbing for the biggest mud crabs around.
nothing to do but drink beer and talk shit into the wee hours of the night.
nothing to do but take the boat out and drop a rod into the ocean.
nothing to do.

those places are always magical. those places that force you into simplicity. those places that make the people and nature around you the only things that matter.

i am glad kathy called. i am glad i got to see this special corner of the east coast.

we eat spicy spaghetti and drink white wine. i try my best to understand every word uttered through the thick aussie accents of my local companions.

and then we head to the beach in the dark in hopes of stumbling upon a mother turtle laying her eggs in the sand.

tracks from the ocean up into the sand dunes and back down line the beach. the wind whips my hair tirelessly into my cheeks and mouth. i hold ryan’s hand and mutter under my breath about the crocodile sitings they have had in stanage recently. he laughs at me and pulls me onward.

just when i want to give up and ask ryan if we can head back to the shed, there she is.

a huge sea turtle just hanging out in the sand.

my mind drifts back to mexico a few years ago when my mom and i helped hundreds of baby turtles out to sea. and now here i am, at the other end of the cycle. watching this beautiful creature looking for a good place to make her nest.

turtles always come back to the same place to lay their eggs. every year they return. wherever they were born, that is home. forever.

i have a feeling that stanage bay feels that way for a lot more than just these turtles.