A cup of coffee one year later…

So it’s a Sunday morning and I’m savoring my iced coffee and banana protein pancakes, listening to EastLake music. Seems like a pretty normal Sunday morning in the book of Anne. Except it’s not. Because I’m in a stranger’s home [I rented it, for the record, not just squatting]. In the middle of Oakland, California [say, WHAT?!]. Because I’m about to go have family SuperBowl party with my Aussies. But most of all, because it’s my trip-a-versary.

One year ago today, I got off an airplane in Nadi, Fiji. A little bit nervous, anxious and excited. A lotta bit exhausted. I was hopeful. That this trip would do it for me. That the time away would heal my fractured heart and give life back to my weary limbs. One year ago today, I needed to be invigorated like nobody’s business.

And while I can’t claim even HALF of this was my doing [for there are a million people to this puzzle], I can confidently look back on this year of growth n grace and know that I invigorated…

I’ve spent time in 21 countries and been on 36 major flights this year and covered 90 major cities and towns…not including multi leg trips or the hundreds of additional sweet baby neighborhoods I explored along the way.

I felt spiritually connected to myself and my experiences and my God in the most surprising of places–in a mosque in Casa Blanca, Morocco and on a vineyard in Northern Italy and during my morning runs on a golf course in Ireland and on top of a mountain in Norway and watching fire-dancers in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, and wine pairing in Tuscany and watching sunsets from every nook and cranny of the world.

I spent the funnest, sweetest, most hilarious, terrifying, sickening, challenging, life-cementing moments with a crazy gal from California, with Fijian backpacker hosts, with each of my dear 4 HelpX hosts, with Mairi from Scotland, with my favorite Australian cousins, with my favorite American cousins, with a London taxi driver and with a Tuscany limo driver, with mom and sister and dad, with a bearded Arkansan, with 2 Seattle gals, with a Vietnamese boat captain, with my old boss from DC, with Rabat tour-guides-turned-friends, with a motorbike driver in Bali, with my favorite elephant-loving college bestie, with the boy I had a crush on in 7th grade, with my Kara.

This year, I para-glided in Spain and bathed an elephant in Thailand. I tasted wine in Australia and Italy. I motorbiked with no helmet on in every South East Asian country I could find. I lost my money, phone and sanity on the Cambodian border. I snorkeled with a shark in the Great Barrier Reef and shopped Saville Row in style. I saw the sunrise over Angkor Wat and watched the sunset over Mykonos, Greece. I watched a bull fight in Portugal and took selfies with kangaroos in Brisbane. I hiked in New Zealand and Norway and slept in hammocks in Vietnam and Fiji. I traveled in style with the Kulls and on a Greek cruise. And I rode on disgusting Vietnamese sleeper-trains and peed through the hole in the floor right onto the tracks. I had the drunkest night of my entire life with my dad [and then without my dad, cause I lost him] on opening night of Oktoberfest in Munich. I closed a club down in Stavangar and I took cooking classes with people from around the world. I got sick. Very sick. And I grew stronger. Way stronger.

I’ve been home for a few months now and I often think back on this year as if it was a dream. Frankly, I’ve been ‘on-the-go’ more at the tail end of 2015 than I was one year ago today when  ‘slow, steady, be present’ in Fiji was my greatest focus. I’m definitely back home. Ratrace and 9-5 included. And definitely hoping to find my balance in 2016.

The whirlwind of home brings lots of folks to ask me ‘did it work?’ Did your trip do what you wanted it to do for you?

The answer is yes. And no.

The time and space gave me a couple of very concrete things, that I prayed for. For one, it gave me peace with the fact that I will NEVER understand. Never tie a rational bow around the bullshit uninvited presents life’s thrown my way. And I now feel so comforted by the fact that I no.longer.need.to. It doesn’t have to make sense. And that’s ok. It’s way easier to just trust that God has the plan.

But it also proved that going on a trip isn’t the answer to anything. I knew it wasn’t when I set out. I was doing this trip for tangential hopes and goals. Not running away to find myself. But what I DIDN’T anticipate was how ‘letting go’ of all fears and Type-A and ‘normality’ would shift my heart in a big way. It gave me confidence. To plan when I want to and let the rest unfold like a beautifully nuanced storybook. It gave me confidence to go after what I want and not put my eggs in baskets that don’t deserve my eggs. I think it gave me some patience and understanding. And I definitely learned how to be present. Presence…a gift for sure.

One year later, from a stranger’s kitchen, I raise my perfectly clean coffee cup to myself who raised a not-so-clean coffee cup to the Fijian sea. And I cheers to the success of that ‘growth n grace’ prayer one year ago this morning.

And I take it one step further…Here’s to keeping memories and life lessons alive and well. Here’s to folding in that ‘me’ with ‘normal life.’ Here’s to balance. And a ceaseless quench for adventure and the good life.

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Sense vs. nonsense

I think Kara and I agree that Cairns agreed with us and vice versa. A box full of favorite memories of our trek so far.

Karen and Gavin, our amazing hosts, rolled out a rain forest haven for us backpackin gals. We showed up to an empty villa with a view ready to be oogled, a pool ready to be dunked in, beds ready to be slept in and an OCD-gal’s dream kitchen ready to be cooked in. We missed K&G for the first 4 days or so, but they graciously allowed us to make ourselves at home….and so we did.

From snorkeling the Reef; to a Cape Trib and Daintree day trip with our favorite tour guide / Dutchman / photographer, turned friend; to a lazy day on Fitzroy Island; to sinking our hands back in to clean cooking and eating, we kept busy and lazy at the same time. Oh, dichotomies.

The part I love most about doing Oz is that I get to do it with family. We get to ask unabashed questions and dig in to politics and pick up on local secrets and cook ‘thank you’ meals like we’d do at home. Sure, we sneak in the ‘must-dos’ as any visitor would, but doing it with a local lean makes it feel more real, more sensible.

Sensible.

What a concept.

Nonsense.

What a blood-boiling infuriation.

Here’s where I’ve landed on some Cairns-inspired sense vs. nonsense:

  • Sourcing, cooking and eating whole, local foods–makes sense and feels good. Gavin’s panko-crusted fish [caught and cleaned with his own two hands, right in his own backyard] is the most mouthwatering flaky white fish I’ve ever tasted. Doused with fresh mango / avo guac and a cabbage slaw, with a side of roast pumpkin, pine nut, feta salad. Yeah, go on and call it sensible palate heaven.
  • Preferences. Nonsense. Utter nonsense. That I can run for office in Queensland against Kara and Gavin, but Kara can have a side deal with Gavin to collect all of the votes he earns to count as her own is ABSOLUTE nonsense [[I’m sure you political junkies could point out equivalent neuroses in our American system as well]]. The things you learn over panko-crusted fish tacos.
  • Free community fitness classes down at the lagoon. Sensible. Smart. Hilariously entertaining, given that the class we watched was Aqua Zumba. But seriously, can you imagine all the local fitness clubs in downtown DC putting on free community yoga classes and pilates and dance classes on the Mall, for anyone and everyone who wants to join in? Move. Get healthy. Do it as a tourist or a local. Do it to feel rich and not get rich. Riotously sensible demonstration in CBD Cairns. We should jump on that bandwagon.
  • Media. Should be absolutely sensible, right? Should just be facts on facts on facts. But I’m learning that as in any country, media has more often than not, turned into a nonsense money-making business rather than an objective community storytelling service. It makes my public relations grounded spirit sad. Can’t we just tell honest stories as they truly unfolded, rather than splicing and dicing sound bites or covering atrocious behavior that rewards nonsense? We opted not to pay for cable back in our Woodinville Villa this year, but catching some news with the cousins and recanting stories of deplorable media behavior just reminded me how transactional our global culture’s become. Yuck. Big, huge yuck.
  • Then there’s nature, which we saw from both sides of the sense spectrum. We got to be at one with nature in so many ways this last week. We snorkeled with fish and just quietly observed their daily behavior, careful not to touch the coral and damage the thousand-year-old-Natural-Wonder. We saw a cassowary crossing the road through the juicy, thick Daintree Rain Forest. But then, at the top of ‘Killer Hill’ in Karen’s neighborhood, nature’s been corrupted by human hands. They’ve literally ushered in a pest by sourcing cane toads [a natural predator for some animal population they wanted to bring into balance], but unnaturally created a breeding frenzy for what’s now become a new nuisance. Just hundreds of cane toads scurrying from your foot before it squishes its guts. Nature’s a weird one that swings both ways, I think.

It was all just a glaring reminder at how seeing and observing and doing first-hand is truly the best way to learn—the best way to fuel an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

Cairns, I just love you. You made me think. You made me do. You made me relax but aspire. You made my hair look a hot mess, my skin sweat beads like never before and nearly gave Kara a heat stroke. But you’re one hotbed of beautiful views.

Karen hugged me goodbye at the airport this morning and fared me well with a ‘you’ll be back; so we’ll see you later.’

Yes, I’ll be back, Karen. That just makes sense.

Wish you were here from the Great Barrier Reef

So we took more than a few moments to relax [trash TV indulgences jncluded] in Hervey Bay…necessary moments I keep reminding myself, for travel endurance sake. Anyway, an ad came on TV that read ‘wish you were here’ and it got me thinking… Who exactly do I wish was right here with me right now? I didn’t think about it long enough to answer my own subconscious question… But today I did. And it was obvious from the moment we boarded our little sail boat, built in the 1950s, down at the marina in Cairns, Australia.

Mr.McCoy likely doesn’t know how often I think of him. But he is responsible for imparting some pretty important learnings on me…

The way he holds hands with Mrs. McCoy is a love I adore and one that I wish for all of my people. His giggle is infectious. And he made me my first Old Fashioned on the deck of his beautiful boat as we topped off a day at Greers Ferry one salty summer night years ago. To this day, that is my favorite drink. To this day, the Old Fashioneds that Mr. McCoy makes me on his boat are the best serve to be had in the country [[I’ve come close to proving it ]]. To this day, I cannot sip on one without thinking about sweet Mr.Mccoy.

old fashioneds

His daughter is one of my most long-lived best friends. But when I’m back at ‘home’ in Arkansas, Mr. McCoy treats me as his very own…and for a moment I really am Bcoy’s sister. Oh I’m smiling.

And when I fly home for a weekend and they’ve booked me a day out on the lake…once everyone is settled in and are happily sipping a drink and floating on rafts soaking up those southern rays, Mr. McCoy slides on his flippers and face mask and quietly slips off to explore the lakes bottom.

When I win the lottery, I will bring that sweet man to visit Doug, from Key West, who will scoop us up at the Cairns marina in his old refurbished sail boat, called the Falla,. Doug will drive us 90 minutes off shore to the outer reef where we’ll spend a day snorkeling one of Gods great natural wonders. It will be one of those ‘I don’t think we’re in Greer’s Ferry Lake anymore, Todo’ moments.

The Great Barrier Reef

We will perfectly replicate today [[except our GoPro will have a full battery…omg #fail]] floating through the teal blue water spotting erradescant everything. We will find the incessant Barramundi the size of Layton, clams the size of smart cars and brilliantly colored parrot fish the size of my leg.

Yes. That's a Barramundi
Yes. That’s a Barramundi

We’ll listen to the tinkering sound of millions of fish, big and small, stunning and strange, all in their own unique way, feed on the coral, and then watch as they spit out the yucky bits. We will ooh and ahh over coral–every kind of coral you could ever imagine and then LOTS that you never could have imagined–coral that Nat Geo doesn’t even do justice until you see it for yourself. We will lather sunscreen time and time again, but still hope for a tan, feast on a lunch of salad and deli meats, make friends with an intimate crowd of fellow snorkelers from France and Germany and Colorado. We will take photos of us jumping into the water from the sails ladder 15 feet up.

The Great Barrier Reef

Then when we see a shark… A real big shark, it’ll scare the piss out of us enough to send us hauling butt back to the boat where they’ll serve us cheese and fresh fruit and wine from a coffee mug  [[which we’ll appropriately swap for some bourbon and bitters]] as we cruise back to shore.

The Great Barrier Reef

If that day is anything like today, I think Mr. McCoy might move to Cairns.

It was an incredible second trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, and all I can think about now that we’re pulling in to the dock is, Mr. McCoy, I wish you were here.

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