The Road

Last weekend was my ten-year travelversary.  As I used to keep a diary, I actually have a record of it: on 10/5/04, I wrote an entry entitled ‘Je suis prest’, saying that

I’m off!!
Thus did “Laura’s Big Adventure” begin.

My friend Luke was actually standing behind me at the time, and when he saw the title—’I’m ready’ in French—he started laughing.  I wasn’t even moderately packed.  Some things don’t change..!

To sort of celebrate the ten-year mark and because, obviously, it’s awesome, I spent 5 days last week with two of my best girlfriends, doing a nearly 2500km road trip in south-eastern Australia.  We started in Melbourne, where we stayed with my friend V, before camping in Mildura the next night (Thursday), spending Friday and Saturday in Mungo National Park, Saturday night in (R)Adelaide, Sunday tripping to Mt Gambier, and Monday along the Great Ocean Road back to Melbourne.  I live in New South Wales, Jess in the ACT, and Nikky in Queensland, and we travelled through NSW, Victoria and South Australia—so we had all of the eastern Australian states covered between us!

Jess picked up the car and drove until we were half clear of Melbourne, and then it was my turn.  Haha and my turn didn’t stop—I didn’t relinquish the wheel thereafter.  I love to drive!  I mean seriously, is there any freedom like it?  I love that there’s no ‘last bus’, and almost no reason to stop at all.  When I’m driving I feel like I could go forever!  I’d love to drive across Asia and Europe someday perhaps, if I find someone to do it with.  Of course, that begs the question—car or bike?

I love trains too, incidentally.  I love that the moment you’re on board, you completely relinquish control, and you get there when you get there.  Haha which is I guess how I meant to get a train from Prague to Vienna, and found myself so unwilling to de-train that I wound up in Romania.

Travel by both train and car is way better than by plane—it’s more tangible.  Getting on a plane, you leave one world and find yourself in another like travelling from red to blue; by road, rail or river you get to see the shades in between, and it feels more real somehow.

Considering the roads we’d be driving on (everything from winding ocean roads to gravel to rutted dirt tracks), we hired a Nissan X-Trail.  It reminded me of my friend Karl, who lent me his 4wd for the second snow season I did.  I have no idea what type of car it was, can’t tell you what colour, and actually could never recognise it in the car park until I walked around the back to check for beer cans and shotgun shells.  Oh Karl.  I had such a love-hate relationship with him.  He was one of my flat-mates, and there would be weeks at a time where I was too pissed to even look at him.  He was always drunk or hungover; had right-wing political views; watched 4 Corners just to get angry at it—he’s one of the angriest people I’ve ever met.  When I wouldn’t do what he told me to, he’d sit on me until I submitted, and he was a freaking giant.  Sometimes I’d forget how massive he was until he was nearby, then find myself sort of gaping up at him exclaiming “you’re so big!” without even making a dick joke.  I mean come on.  80% hatred, but the rest is all love.  I mean, if there were some kind of apocalypse, and I was a magical genie, he’d be one of the first people I’d save.  I’d be such a good samaritan of a genie.  I like to think I’d be purple.

I’ve lost the SD card with photos and video from the first two days of the trip, but will do a follow-up post with photos and actually talking about where we went instead of wildly warbling.  In the interim, here’s a video playlist of the final three days:


My favourite videos from the playlist:

Heading off on the Zanci Homestead/Heritage walk

Leaving Mungo NP

The three of us at Tom’s place

Adelaide CBD and Nikky’s impressions thereof

Leaving Adelaide again

Driving into Coorong NP

Not Beach Weather (swimming in the Southern Ocean)

Units of Measure near the Arch

Bikinis and trees

The Twelve Apostles

Santa Marta

Uncharacteristically, I am hiding from Happy Hour, so it’s a happy coincidence that I have a lot to write about!

Colombians are freaking awesome.  Really.  They’re the friendliest, happiest, most helpful people ever.  I caught a series of buses to get to the airport today, and at every station people walked up to me (it’s pretty easy to see I’m not from  here) and made sure I was okay and I knew where I was going.  When I got to the end of the line—awesomely named ‘El Dorado’—a man who had discovered I was going to the same airport showed me the way, taking me to the next bus, and dropping me off at the check-in counter.  Once I got to the gate, I was then adopted by two further Colombians (these ones spoke English).  The lady moved our seats so that I was sitting next to her on the plane and translated everything.  When we landed in Santa Marta, they even gave me a lift to near my hostel, saving me the taxi fare.  They were just outrageously nice!  And that is what all Colombians are like.

My Spanish is progressing as disastrously as ever.  I got a taxi earlier and the man kept trying to talk to me.  He’d throw the occasional short sentence out in English (which I’d think was in Spanish, thanks to his accent, and therefore not understand), between long clause-filled sentences in Spanish.  I got the point eventually, but it was laborious!  I’m getting slightly better though.  Slightly.  I went to dinner just now and when they didn’t have an English menu, explained that I was vegetarian.  They showed me the vegie options and I said that I didn’t know what the ingredients are.  I even managed to explain that I don’t like everything.  (Namely mushrooms, btw.  Which seem to be the go-to ‘vegetarian option’ in most places.  Eugh!)  They actually understood me, it was crazy.  I do need to stop saying “da, no, si” though, it’s a little misleading.

Santa Marta is gorgeous, and exactly what’s necessary.  The town’s nestled between a curving beach and the Sierra Nevada mountains: absolutely stunning.  The place is full of people, stalls, and colour.  I even saw a lady carrying things in a basket on her head!  Weirdly, men here clap if they think you’re hot.  I mean, does one take credit for that kind of thing?  In more interesting clapping-related news, I went to a fantastic busker show on the seafront.  Two of the most brilliant buskers I’ve ever seen.  Somehow I managed to injure myself during the act, taking off my elbow while balancing a ball on a pen.  I took it far too seriously, evidently.

There are a lot of North Americans here.  More than I’ve ever seen in one place at one time before: I feel strangely like I’m in a sit-com.  Haha there’s probably only ten, but still!  I’ve also seen American flags flying, which weirded me out for some reason, and even two “Dunkin’ Donuts” stores.  So weird.  This is my first time in either of the Americas, so the proximity of the US is very strange to me.

On an almost-final note, two guys in my hostel room introduced themselves before, and shook my hand.  I’m sure I would have mentioned at some point that men in Russia don’t shake womens’ hands, and my hand always used to feel left out.  But now, I find it slightly confronting when a man shakes hands with me.  How effective is culture?

Finally, I somehow neglected to share this video some of my students made at summer camp in Finland.  I’m the disembodied voice behind the camera.  Enjoy!

Lolly, Naz and juggling.

It was Naz’ last night in Russia last night, and we were sitting in a bar when she turned to me and asked in all seriousness, “Have you ever been given bullets by a student?”.  Apparently she has, multiple times.  Oh, Russia.  I think my friend Lana put it best when she said that we have to stick together, because anyone who hasn’t lived here will never actually understand what it’s like.  We can go back to Australia and tell people about it, but unless they have actually experienced living here for themselves, they’ll just never get it.  I’m not even sure I ‘get it’, it’s usually me just trying to keep my brain from exploding!

Last night, before going to meet Naz at the bar (where some drunken and slightly seedy random started playing the piano, while some drank, others played backgammon, and the barman talked about his photographic career), I went to babysitting.  It was about 7.30pm when I was tied up and arm-wrestling a 6-year-old that I wondered how my life became so weird!  I think the grandmother of the family I babysit is confused by me, because though I’m nearly 28 (which she didn’t believe, as per usual), I act like a hyperactive child when I’m working with the two kids.  I figure that’s my job though—I was asked not to be a teacher, but a ‘friend’.  How can I be a friend to these kids if I’m not willing to play chasies and build sand-castles?!  And occasionally scare the living daylights out of them: last week the girl was running up and down the stairs in the apartment building, so I snuck up to a different floor and jumped out yelling ‘boo’ as she ran past.  She fully threw herself to the ground and screamed, horror-movie-style, for about a minute.  It was absolutely hilarious!  She was fine, she didn’t cry or anything, but she’s still trying to get me back.  Priceless.  On the other hand, the 18-month-old is really cute: he can’t say ‘Laura’ so calls me ‘Lolly’.

I’m not sure if I’m still going to Spain with the family or not.  They’re now only going there until mid-July, then coming back to Russia.  That presents visa difficulties for me, and moreover, I’m not going to be ready to come back yet.  I really need to be out in normalcy for a while.  The father said that if I couldn’t be with them all summer, then they ‘couldn’t afford it’.  Most hilarious attempt at manipulation ever.. but I’ve told them that’s their option.  I can go to Spain with them or not, and they have to let me know soon.  The father then asked if I could sneak in through Belarus.  Oh, legal immigration.

As it is, my summer plan is now sort of get a separate visa for Spain so I don’t use up all my Schengen, and spend 6 weeks in Spain with the family, 4 weeks teaching in Finland, a few weeks in the UK visiting my friends, then to Bulgaria to try and get myself a Russian student visa.  To be honest though, all of that could happen, or none.  I’ll take it as it comes, I just need to be out of Russia.  So at the moment my life is juggling jobs, visas, money, insurances, trains, flights and so on.  Lucky I’ve done this all before..!

Haha before I forget, and speaking of Finland, in one of my classes the other day my students told me that St-Petersborgians go to Finland to buy Fairy—as in the dish-washing liquid.  Apparently it’s much better than the Fairy here.  A student told me that it’s probably because people in the supermarket siphon it off and fill the rest with water.  And the thing is, I completely buy that story.  Oh, Russia.

Without further ado, here’s my chat with Naz yesterday, before she left the country.


Camera-shy: Justin in Russia

Yesss!!  Another willing victim 🙂  I spoke with Justin after class today, and while sadly he didn’t saying anything truly outrageous until after the camera was off, he’s given some insight into the Russian night-life, dating in Russia, cops, doors, and not speaking Russian at the metro station.  Enjoy!

Also, if anyone’s interested, there’s an article about the Navalny trial on the Economist this week.  Don’t mess with the President?