Twelve months on and I’m in exactly the same place I was last year – a Surfers Paradise beachfront apartment. I’m even with the same four friends. We are again front and centre for the New Year fireworks. But although I’m physically in the same place, a year on I’m very much in a different place to where I was last year. 2015 was a tough year. But 2016 has been a year of restoration. It was also year of new friendships, adventures and learning. Here’s to the year that was: 1. A newfound love of dancing I was the girl who sat on the outskirts of the room as soon as the dancing began. But this year, I decided I didn’t care what I looked like I was going to enjoy dancing. And like that, I now do. The Melanie of 2015 would not have danced the night away in a Cuban Government run bar in rural Vinales with two sweaty, hands-y Cuban men with gorgeous blue eyes that melted my heart. 2. A nostalgia for my long locks but the excitement of short hair Oh how lovely it was…10% of the time. 3. A love of running Two years ago I couldn’t run 2km, but this year I ran 14km (on a swollen bruised ankle because I wasn’t giving up!). I push myself to get to a weekly community running group and once there I’m pushed to keep running. The burn of my legs is soon forgotten on reflection and achievement of the distance they’ve carried me. 4. A Growth Group who point each other to Jesus We become a conglomerate of the people we hang out with and I’m thankful for my gospel-focussed community. Over delicious food and vino, we’ve talked pride, elections, sex, and supported each other through illness, homesickness, death, farewells and welcome together. Thank you for pointing me to the grace and hope found in Christ. 5. A new church I arrived at Creek Road with a pretty rocky foundation and trust in ‘church’. But this year, through transparent and empowering pastors and persistent prayer, by grace the brokenness and hurt is healed. I look forward to church. 6. New friends New friendships formed over mutual love of TV shows + good food + wine (Did I hear you say ‘Tapas and Tequila Tuesday?’) 7. A patience with professional work I had 4 managers in 2016. I also had 9 team members in my immediate 3-4 person team. Change is constant and with patience and persistence I’ve learnt to push myself forward, learning from all those around me – whoever it is. Work life is a jungle gym and it’s the adventure and the challenge climbing it that brings contentment. 8. Appreciation for solo time (but still a craving for people) A perfect Friday night is either drinking and laughing with friends at a great bar in town or enjoying a glass of vino on the couch watching Netflix. I enjoy both equally and I have no qualms choosing one over the other. I’ve come to enjoy the small moments of solitude. 9. My family history In May I visited Bundaberg and toured my great, great grandparents house. I later started reading my family history book going back to the 18th Century. Through trials and successes, generations have gone forward putting Christ at the centre of their lives. However, it also served as a reminder for how quickly a generation can slip from the faith and serve their own interests. 10. Friendship with sisters For the first time in five years, Jen was in the same city as me. Weekend BBQs, Monday night netball, shopping adventures. As for Laura, we enjoyed another negative temperature snuggle session in Jindy and wrestling matches that now end with me begging for mercy. 11. The rejuvenation of weekend adventures Until October, it has been 1.5 years since I’d had more than 3 days away (a week off for the rite of passage: wisdom teeth doesn’t count). Here’s to weekends at Cabarita Beach, Straddie, Rainbow Beach, Kangaroo Valley, Bundaberg, Lady Musgrave Island, Perisher, Springbrook NP, Lamington NP, Tamborine NP, Glasshouse Mountains, Gold Coast. 12. BNE visitors Shout out to Lanes + Sutherlands, Lisa, Rachel + Lydia, USYD gang, Kelsey, Laura, Anna, Ashleigh for visiting. 13. Home? I drove home from 2 weeks in Sydney this week. It had been 6 months since I’d visited and I longed for it. But visiting and then driving back, I’ve realised Sydney doesn’t feel like home anymore. But I’m not sure Brisbane is yet either? 14. World travels  “Why Cuba?” they asked. “Be safe,” they said. “Why not?” I said. “How much,” I didn’t ask. It was an expensive holiday, but it’s a huge reward to plan, save, book and then escape to a far away land. And Cuba, well it’s just a fascinating place. As for Mexico, take me back. Tomorrow. 15. Dyson There’s a point in life when you realise you’re getting old. That moment for me has come. In addition to my growing family of kitchen appliances, washing machine and a comfortable (brand) new couch, I really want a Dyson vacuum cleaner. Preferably one of those stand up cordless ones. 16. “So I guess we’ll be in touch” Thanks to 2016 I have learnt some good ways and some bad ways to end a first date. And “So I guess we’ll be in touch” is not favourable. And with that, and the Tweed Heads fireworks in the background #daylightsavings, I say thank you and good bye 2016!     Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Honesty is always the best policy, so “Hablo poco Español” quickly became “No hablo Español” while travelling. But only after some awkward situations whereby my perfecto accent had clearly fooled and I’d panic in the wake of a string of Spanish dialogue. It seems a vocab of hello, good bye, please, thank you, sorry, toilet, apple, dog, cat, milk and water doesn’t count as ‘a little Spanish’. For the months leading up to my trip, I researched Spanish courses. They were pretty $$-y so I gave Duolingo a crack. I even printed a list of phrases and stuck them beside my computer at work. I had great intentions. While my morning walks had me blending in to the West End ‘furniture’, I eventually for bored of matching pairs and learning a gato (cat) from a pedro (dog). And although declaring “Salud” became much more fun than “Bless you!” at colleagues’ sneezes, the list became a casualty of 3 weeks of hot desk-ing before my trip. In a last ditch effort, I grabbed Lonely Planet’s Fast Talk Latin American Spanish: Guaranteed to get you talking phrasebook the night before I left and turned up on Danica and Yosef’s doorstep with little to say for myself. Spoilt is the best description of my first four days in Mexico. Personal translators, menu selectors and tutors. If there are two people who have mastered the art of broken bi-lingual conversation, it’s Danica and Yosef. They put Google Translate to shame. But Mexico City or Ciudad de Mexico, the largest Spanish speaking city in the world, was my first foray into Spanish self sufficiency. I’ll give you a heads up: what the Parisians are to non/little French speakers, is what Chilangos are to English speakers. Snobs. My 48 hours in CDMX can be best summarised by my Español skills, or lack thereof. The frustration One of the best things about travelling by yourself, or perhaps without a certain younger sister rolling her eyes, is exploring galleries and museums at your own pace. Behind this sharp witted fashionista (jks!) is really just a big nerd. And I could spend all day gathering new facts for the random collection of rarely useful (except for the old specific trivia question) info stored in my head. Enter stage right: Museo Nacional de Antropología. Possibly one of the coolest museums I’ve been to, I journeyed through ancient artefacts and life size ruin replicas from various Mexican eras. The frustration? Only about 10% of the museum was translated into English. Aztec Sunstone found in the centre of MXCD This guy could be super important, but unable to read about him, I just laughed. The surprise “Was it safe?” asks everyone of Mexico City. “Well considering I was staying in the Surry Hills or New Farm of Mexico City, yes.” And the bonus of good Airbnb research is finding a good host, and that I did. Staying in Condesa Roma, the rising gentrified ‘colonia’, great bars, cafes and restaurants were plentiful. My host, a food blogger #win, made a few suggestions and the closest one (within budget) was Merotoro – No 25 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurant: Latin America. I was greeted at the door. “Uno, por favor.” To which the maitre de responded with likely a standard follow on statement…in Spanish. Cue freak out by yours truly. “No hablo Español. Habla, Ingles?” “No. Uno momento.”  I stood awkwardly at the door as the maitre de shuffled around the restaurant. A few moments later, another charming staff member came over. “Hello. Would you like a table?” Alleluia! Seating me at the bar (top tip solo travellers!) he passed me the drinks and the food menu. And left. Politely I perused the menu. I had absolutely no idea what it said beyond a few translatable words: Queso. Pollo. Pescado. The barman with his zero English and my limited (?) Spanish surprised me with an amazing Mezcal y Jamaica before the ever lovely English speaker returned and upon request of his recommendation, translated the entire menu for me. I started with ceviche con cangrejo de aguacate de concha blanda (plus a main of rabbit ragu – sorry Cuddle Pie!).  It was the best dish I ate on my whole trip. The practical There are few things that make tourists stand out anywhere – even Brisbane. Hats. Backpacks. Cameras. In MXCD, shorts. And everywhere, paper maps. The less conspicuous Google Maps has saved me many a time travelling in new cities. However, getting between said places on public transport and taxis are an added challenge when you don’t speak or read the native language. Friends, that’s where Uber is only the most amazing startup ever. I typed “Frida Khalo Museum” and the app translated that to “Museo Frida Khalo” and sent me a driver with an epic moustache my way. It saved me thrusting phones + paper directions at my driver and comprehending how much it will all cost. Hello 28 degrees credit card. Even better, it came with a bottle (or 2) of water saving me a few pesos! If only 45 minute/10km Uber rides were only $7.80 in Australia! The hilarity A day and a half in, I had settled in to MXCD. I came to enjoy the chaotic roads with policemen coordinating traffic despite traffic lights, the amazing street food and cute dogs everywhere. But with an impending flight to Cuba I needed to get myself together. There would be no Uber, no corner 7/11’s with naranja juice and no Airbnb hosts. And like the start of all good holidays, I had burnt myself to a crisp on day 1 in Mexico. The non-greasy, face sunscreen didn’t cut in humid Mexico.  I was in need of some heavy duty, sweat-proof sunscreen. Another easy translation: farmacias were fairly common around town. I walked into a few smaller shopfronts and browsed the shelves without luck. Eventually I found a sizeable farmacia and I was feeling confident. “Hola, bienvenido, señorita.”  The middle aged Mexican woman kept talking but I kept walking. My Spanish comprehension had max-ed out. I wandered the aisles and she approached and said something else. I smiled. I again had absolutely no clue and declared “no hablo Español” in a panic. I decided it was time for a round of charades. Too bad if you’re wanting to turn left… I motioned applying a cream to my arms and face. “Ah hidratante, sie!” the woman guessed. Again, a word that is close enough to English to work out. “No. Ahhh,” and indicated a sun coming down from above before repeating application of cream. I even slapped on a hat like a good Aussie. It wasn’t helping. I remembered I’d seen a 50+ on a bottle of something and pointed at the SPF rating. “Ahh sí.” She grabbed my arm and led me to a floor to roof wall of what may aswell have been Dr LeWinn’s. My halve and then halve again currency conversion (AU$1 = MXD$14) priced her recommendation at around $60. “No,” and I motioned a head cut and rubbed my thumb and forefingers. Too expensive. By this stage I now had 5-6 Mexican women suggesting products. It was amusing but overwhelming.  Cue knight in shining armour. Out of nowhere came a sweet, attractive, 20/30-odd guy and in American English asked “What are you after?” I laughed. “Sunscreen. But these look expensive.” He turned back to the women “Protector solar, por favor.”    Somewhat disappointed they pointed to a shelf some mere metres away. And there, in all it’s bright blue, orange and yellow glory was my precious white girl skin saving magic. “Thank you!” He smiled. Upon reflection, I really should have known sun in Spanish. There is sol beer and sols are days in Mars (thanks Martian!) and even a cafe down the road with a sun logo called ‘Sol breads.’ Alas. The joy And after all the above, there are just some words that you don’t need to translate. Churrería El Moro. And after the sunscreen episode, I devoured my cinch (5) churros with Canjeta o leche condensed (i did have to Google that…) at a bargain price of $1.40. Where street food meets gentrification. Mercado Roma. Loading ’em up at Pasteleria Ideal Tacos al pastor. A Mexican twist on the filthy kebab.     Mexico City was the shortest leg of my trip – a total of 49.5 hours. It wasn’t even on the original list.  I had to pass through on my way to Cuba, so I figured I’d stop. But after 26 days away, ask me my favourite part of my trip, and I’ll say the most surprising was Mexico City. Would I go back? Tomorrow… for a month! Pero capaz de hablar mucho más Español! (But able to speak much more Spanish!)  Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
The reality of holidays is no matter how long they are; they soon become a distant memory once one returns to reality. So it was with my recent Mexican + Cuban adventure. However, a positive of being slow on processing my photos is reliving the joy and remembering the fun I had. I’ll slowly post each stop on my trip over the coming weeks with a few thoughts/reflections. Feel free to read or just ignore, it’s largely so I have a record of my trip. (Ie. Like this one from my first solo adventure back in 2011). We all know that some of us plan things more than others. Me? Well, I think we all know which category I fall into…even if I’m a Microsoft Excel hater. But the thing about life, and travel, is things don’t always go to plan. I lost count of the number of times friends, colleagues and family said “be safe” in the weeks prior to jet setting. It usually came after I revealed I was largely travelling around Latin America alone with pocolito Español. I’m a planner but also a realist. “Things will go wrong,” I told them. Heck, last time I solo travelled I managed a hurricane, tornado warnings, an earthquake, a lockdown on my university campus and a stolen bag on a North Carolinian beach leaving 3 Australian girls stranded in bikinis for a few hours. In the trips that have followed with my hermana we’ve had lost passports, ran through our fair share of airports and locked ourselves out of our accommodation after leaving the key in the returned hire car. (She’ll tell you all of those were my fault…and she’d be 100% correct). But travelling is great because it throws you out of your comfort zone. We don’t want to live comfortable lives. Travel forces you to solve problems without your standard security net. Throw in a language barrier and you’re really in for a good time. I was recently chatting with someone who has had similar experiences and we joked our prayer life had a marked improvement when travelling. It’s not a good thing. Travelling makes me more aware of my tendency to think I can do things on my own, and it’s only when things leave my control that I turn to God. Dracula’s holiday home, Malecon Mazatlan Carpa Olivera, an ocean pool + slide built in 1914 in Olas Altas Airconditioning comes au natural in Mazatlan’s taxis aka pulmonias Four days into this trip I was acutely reminded of this once again. Crying on the floor of my dear friend’s shower in Mazatlan, Mexico. Already nursing a cut up face, an egg on my head and a collection of bruises on various limbs from an oh so dramatic (and not unsual) fainting episode. I now had pain shooting down my leg and across my lower back. Absolute agony. Although I had Internet, I had no contact email or number for my friend. Facetime audio wasn’t working for my sister (back in Brisbane…at 6am). I tried a Skype call. No credit. I managed to track down a number of the YWAM base on the inter webs and punched it into Skype again. Cue: dial tone. Praise God. With each ring, I prayed harder my friend would answer. Finally she picks up. If my initial mid-lunch prep fainting episode in the middle of the kitchen weren’t enough to scare everyone, my phone call would have. I’ll skip to the end because within 2 hours of being in complete air gasping, back clutching distress, it was 90% gone. The ‘international consultation’ with my sister diagnosed it as a muscle spasm likely caused from my collapse. I have no doubt in my mind God answered the prayers of many that Tuesday afternoon. (I’ll note, although I say ‘crying’, there were no tears. I’m pretty sure I’m unable to cry real tears. Crying is more akin to screaming.) I flew out the following morning at 6am to Mexico City. Thankfully that was the end of the disasters and beyond an actual breakdown when I was too short to lock the gate of my casa in Havana. For the obvious reasons, let it be known photos of me are limited from hereafter. Before: Cutting 50+ avocados After: A few cuts + bruises  Huge shout out to Danica and Yosef for being amazing hosts. And the team at YWAM Mazatlan. Check out their awesome worship session – in Spanish + English. (Your’s truly features at 3:49) Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
And like that it’s been a year since I moved to Brisbane. A year since I convinced some QLDers to give this New South Welshmen a job during an 8am interview after 3 days of skiing. A year since mum and I cruised up the M1 stopping in Coffs overnight to watch the ever important Bachelor finale. A year since I left all the junk of 2015 behind and arrived in Brisvegas knowing only three people. And what a great year it’s been. Following on from a friend who wrote a ‘You know you’ve lived in [place] for [length of time] when…’ post a few months ago, I’ve decided to celebrate the milestone with a version of my own. Sadly mine won’t start with “Eating the relatives of your first pet is no longer traumatising.” Thank goodness I moved to BNE and not Peru! Praying for you Anna 🙂 Here goes. You know you’ve been living in Brisbane 12 months when: You’re wondering when winter happened. Perhaps it was that day when I needed a coat? Driving more than 20 minutes is an investment not to be undertaken without careful consideration You fill your fuel tank maybe once a month You’re attempting to transition to a morning person in preparation for another summer of 4am sunrises It’s 9pm on a Saturday night and you start thinking about heading home #nannalyfe Buying fresh produce at supermarkets seems criminal when there are farmers markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The crazy special you discovered at the markets = flavour of the week. Hello 3 broccoli for $1, 1kg of strawberries for $3, massive pineapple for $2, 6 avocadoes for $1, boxes of mangoes. Ah so good. A long commute is being stopped at all 3 sets of lights on the walk home! You’ve stopped honking when cars are slow off the lights. They’re a little slower up here. You no longer rush (except when leaving the house every morning). Again, a little more laid back. Sunscreen goes with you everywhere, but you still manage to get sunburnt. You switch collecting coats and scarfs for hats. You start making connections between the few friends you do have #smalltown Your drink of choice is becoming closer and closer to beer You’re learning to drink real fast but even then your bev-ie ends up sitting in a puddle #condensation Eating inside seems counterintuitive…except in February. Gimme air conditioning please. Your skin glows November through March (aka sweat) You moisturise once a week before #sweat everywhere. Bikram Yoga isn’t something you pay for, but a free provision for all activities in summer Running along a river > Running along suburban streets Airport pick ups are stress-free, and, well, free You start complaining about traffic when you have to wait more than 1 cycle at traffic lights #srsly You develop an unhealthy affair with brownies (looking at you I heart brownies) and any hot cinnamon donuts (It’s okay, they’re usually gluten free, vegan etc so practically healthy) You strike up conversation with anyone, anytime #bigcountrytown The few overcast days each month send you into a depressed state (Hello 283 days annual sunshine) Despite walking it everyday, the (only) hill walking home is torture every single afternoon. (You’ll know this already if I’ve ever called you walking home!) The possums and brush turkeys in your backyard (3km from the CBD) are practically pets You attempt to plan social gatherings and wonder why no one’s available because there’s a game on A sea of maroon jerseys is now just part of furniture You drive into the city and street park on weekends and Fridays after 7pm #winning You drive everywhere because even if you have to pay, it’s never more than $2/hr. #cha-ching You love your new church family and miss them when you’re out gallivanting around You just miss the familiarity and history with old friends It hurts to see friends having fun without you #fomo The arrival of a text from a Sydney-friend can make a lonely night bearable. But you know you’ll always be a Sydney-sider when: You had to unfollow Gelato Messina on Instagram because the cravings were too much to handle. (But #providence, they’re moving in South Bank next month) You roll your eyes every time someone complains about traffic in Brisbane. #nothingonSydney The Story Bridge remains a laughing stock You can actually merge lanes, parallel park and just drive in general like a normal human who knows where they’re going You chuckle when people complain and/or nervous about visiting Sydney #sobusy You’re astounded by supermarkets closing at 5.30pm on weekends Your heart breaks at the sight of Brisbane salaries You get places fast because #assertiveness You really just don’t get what’s so great about maroon. Blue is so more aesthetically pleasing. You still follow NSW politics because Mike Baird SMH remains a daily news haunt Cyclists on the road really are super annoying You see any photo of Sydney Harbour and you stop everything you’re doing and just take it all in. That’s my hometown. You still refer to it as ‘home’ or visiting as ‘going home’ It’s gone quickly, but then reflecting on all that the 12 months has held, it doesn’t feel so quick at all. But as for another 12 months in BNE? We’ll see. #jks. I’m not going anywhere… for now at least. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Chatting to people week-to-week I have to remind myself to be thankful for an awesome job that allows me to get out and appreciate our creator God. I’ve been fortunate to cover a fair of Queensland’s ground in my nine months, learning more and more about this northern land.  And slowly i’m building my fun facts collection, so the longer you wait to visit me, the better your personalised tour will be. Scenic Rim Mount Tamborine, is not famous for tamborines but rather being Queensland’s first national park declared in 1908. Brisbane Brisbane came about after needing more space for felons in the Sydney Colony. It was original named Edenglassie but renamed Brisbane after a governor of New South Wales Sir Thomas Brisbane. Brisbane received the first contingent of US soldiers in WW2 14 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Within 12 months, sleepy Brisbane’s population of 300 000 had become 600 000. The well-paid soldiers made themselves at home in Fortitude Valley and with the Australian women. It didn’t go down so well and the little-known  Battle of Brisbane broke out among 5000 soldiers on Thanksgiving in 1942. North Stradbroke Island Rainbow Beach Lady Musgrave Island The tiny coral cay is literally made of bird poo and crushed coral. It’s a stopping ground for thousands of migrant birds. Thankfully it was pretty from the air, its neighbouring Fairfax Islands were almost obliterated during WW2 target practice. Bundaberg Famous for rum, sugar and ginger beer. Also, the home of my own family heritage. Town of 1770 Considered the birthplace of Queensland after Lieutenant Cook made his second landing in later known Australia, the first in Queensland. Rockhampton, Great Keppel Island Rocky is the beef capital of Australia with the ratio of people to cattle 1:4. Magnetic Island Affectionately called Maggie, it was named after Lieutenant Cook’s compass apparently went haywire while passing by. Substantial research has been undertaken to counter his claims. Townsville It’s 2 most notable landmarks are quite unfortunate. Firstly, Castle Hill that stands out from the rest of the geography is only a few metres short of mountain status. And second, the tallest building in town is the hideous but much loved sugar shaker building, currently the Holiday Inn. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)