Sunday, 2 June 2013

Final Stop Melbourne

A Melbourne tram
We have travelled from London to Melbourne by train, bus, motorcycle, boat taxi, tuk tuk and (reluctantly) plane.  We have also ridden camels and elephants and swam in seas and oceans with thousands of fish.

On the way here we passed through Germany, Poland and Lithuania, we travelled almost the length of Russia, on through Mongolia, spent 3 months in China, 2 months in Vietnam, 7 weeks in Cambodia and 7 weeks in Indonesia (a visa stop in Bangkok doesn’t count as part of the “travelling” but I suppose it's fair to say we passed through Thailand).

The Victorian kiosk at the end of St Kilda pier
Now we have arrived in Melbourne it is time to return to everyday life, find a job, somewhere to live and, in time, make plans for the future.  It is also an opportunity to kick back and look back on the life we have led for the last 9 months, what we have seen, who we have met, what we have learned, and how we have changed.

Personally I have conflicting emotions on reaching the end of our journey.  It has been challenging, exhausting at times, rewarding beyond belief and it remains to be seen whether or, maybe the correct question is how much, our life paths will change following our experiences.

We tried to learn some Russian and Chinese to get help us survive in those two countries and I learned some Indonesian in an effort to make life a bit easier in the remoter areas with a little success.  An attempt was made to learn a little Vietnamese but, frankly, that proved too much of a challenge beyond the niceties.

Our new neighbours
Throughout our journey half way around the world we hope we have come away knowing a little more about the countries we have visited in terms of culture, history, customs and tradition, we have tried to educate ourselves and learn something of the events that have affected these countries and the people, and tried to grasp an understanding of how those events have shaped the countries to be the places they are today.  We hope we have been responsible travellers and we have certainly tried to respect the people whose lands we have had the privilege to visit.

A rather unfortunately
worded poster in
Camberwell, Victoria
We have found ourselves awed by the iconic sights we have previously only read about but now seen up close such as the Kremlin, Red Square and St Basil’s Cathedral, the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City,  the DMZ in Vietnam, the Killing Fields, and Angkor Wat to name but a few.  These are all places of worldwide significance in their own right but for reasons spread across the spectrum of history. 

We were charmed by lesser known places and enjoyed exploring many places that I personally had not known existed 2 years ago when our plans were in their early stages.

We have been overwhelmed by the natural beauty of Russia’s Siberian forests and deserts, Lake Baikal, the awe inspiring vastness of the landscape of Mongolia, the northern deserts of China, the other worldly stunning scenery of Wulingyuan National Park, the karst mountains in Yangshuo and the watery equivalent in Halong Bay, white sandy beaches and turquoise seas in Cambodia and the tangled jungles in Indonesia.  We have cruised along the Mekong and between Islands in the Togeans, all the while trying to impress these images and experiences onto our memories.

Looking down St Kilda pier to the kiosk
We have been entertained by monkeys, orang-utans, river and sea dolphins, giant sea turtles, and geckos of all shapes and sizes (we became particularly fond of the Tokay gecko).  We have wondered at the size and variety of birds, butterflies, insects, reptiles and fish found throughout Asia.  Paul had the misfortune to encounter a small scorpion but apart from that we avoided any dangerous confrontations with any of the many land or sea based creatures that could potentially harm us.

Paul learned how to scuba dive and subsequently dived on over 40 occasions in 6 different locations, exploring both WW2 US Bomber and an old US cargo ship underwater, as well as encountering friendly sharks.  I learned to love snorkelling without panicking every time I saw a fish bigger than a large goldfish swimming towards me (although my fear of most things underwater remains healthy and, I would argue, completely rational).  I also loved the underwater camera which sadly stopped working when we arrived in Bali, which was ironic because the fish actually pose for you in Bali's waters!

Central Melbourne as seen from St Kilda
We have met lots of lovely people and encountered at least as many morons but the lovely people stand out by a mile.  We have been made welcome everywhere without exception (we refuse to judge any country by the odd bad apple), and often touched by the genuine kindness offered by strangers to foreigner visitors to their land.

On two occasions we stopped for 2 weeks but usually we stayed between 5-7 days before moving on to our next stop.  Being constantly on the move wasn’t a huge upheaval and it was only towards the end when we were psychologically preparing ourselves for the end of our trip that we started to look forward to having a base again, at least for a while.

St Kilda's Lunar Park viewed from St Kilda pier
Facilities were varied but, once again, any inconvenience (which is a nice way of saying not having a shower or a proper wash for a few days) was always short lived and if one of us was getting a bit smelly, so was the other  so we didn’t really care.

I have also kept a diary in the form of this blog.  This was partly to record our visit for our own use, the fear that we would easily forget much of what we had experienced as constant travelling does not give you much of an opportunity to digest your experiences and as you reach each new destination, you are steaming ahead, planning what you are going to do and see.  You simply don’t have the time to reflect so writing the blog meant that I sometimes I to dig deep to recall events and experiences, particularly when I found myself weeks behind!.

St Kilda beach
Mostly, the blog has been for friends and family so they knew we were safe and could share in our experience but even so it wasn’t so much a personal account as many ups and downs were not recorded and I can assure you there have been many.

Writing was time consuming and but I enjoyed it although sometimes I was a little verbose for the purposes of a blog (ignoring all advice to keep entries short and sweet and interesting).  I often said far too much although on occasion I couldn’t find very much of interest to say at all. 

Sunset from the pier
But it was only ever a personal account and I just wrote what I could remember, trying to check for spelling and grammatical errors (failing miserably on both scores) before publishing each entry.

Updating the blog also took hours.  We couldn’t access the blog site in China for 10 weeks out of the 12 we were there (some Google sites are considered evil in that neck of the woods for some reason) and so from there I could only update the blog by email with one photograph which I am sure must have been incredibly boring for anyone trawling through a post. 

When we did have access to the internet in the rest of Asia it was often slow or unreliable.  Uploading photographs took an age in most places and, of course, most people (quite rightly) just want to look at the pretty pictures (me included!). 

Watching the Sunday arts and crafts market
from our balcony
I am glad I did it and for me, it became part of the routine of our trip.  I definitely recommend anyone doing something like this, whether it be travelling or anything else they might want to keep a record of, as it does discipline you to a certain extent to keep it up to date. 

It often made me think in a different perspective because it was always in the back of my mind that I was going to try to put into words and pictures something I had experienced so I sought for ways in which to try to do that and I believe this shaped the way I observed and experienced certain places because I took a partly objective view. 

A pair of friendly neighbourhood Rainbow Lorikeets
This was never more apparent than when we visited the Killing Fields in Cambodia.  I desperately wanted to be able to convey the feelings that were evoked by this place but didn’t know if I had the skills to do it.  Whether I did or not is actually immaterial because what I ended up doing was sitting down and writing an account for myself and how it had profoundly affected me.

Many people inspired us, both local people and fellow travellers alike.  We found ourselves mesmerised by the natural beauty of the countries we visited and overawed by some of the magnificent man made feats of engineering and splendour we were fortunate enough to see with our own eyes, particularly legendary places such as the Great Wall and Angkor Wat.

Further down the coast of St Philip Bay
Of course, onion domes, temples (Buddhist and Hindu), karsts, river towns, Asian cities, pure white sandy beaches, turquoise seas, fish, fish (and more fish), and sunsets galore figured strongly throughout this trip and each were in danger of bordering on tiresome, not necessarily for us (although we often joked “if I never see another onion dome/temple/karst it will be too soon” but I hasten to add this was very tongue in cheek) but more for the blog entries.

So we are finally in Australia.  We stopped off in Adelaide to catch up with Paul’s family and a couple of friends and now find ourselves in Melbourne ready to start a new life.  It took us 5 days to find and move into a beautiful one-bedroom apartment in a perfect location in eclectic St Kilda.  We have a balcony where we can sit and see the sea, and where we can grow some vegetables.  The beach is a 2 minute walk away, as are the trams which take us into the city within 15 minutes.  We are about equal distance from Acland Street centre and Fitzroy Street.  We could not ask for more.

A boat out on the Bay at sunset
We are now both madly looking for jobs, impatient to begin working again, and once we are both in meaningful employment I think it will be then that we will have the time to really reflect on the last 9 months.

We cannot wait to be working again, and I personally am enjoying having a base to call home without packing up every 5 minutes.  We are able to eat cheese whenever we feel like it, fry bacon to our hearts’ content, and eventually when the dust really settles we will ponder what the long term future holds.

In the meantime, thank you for reading (I could probably name all 5 of you!), and for putting yourself through the torture of ploughing through my diary in the vague hope of finding something interesting!  I hope it wasn’t too painful and that you enjoyed the pictures!

No comments:

Post a Comment