Restless Nomad

Friends and drink buddies have often asked me about my travels, where I’ve been and what I got up to, the jobs I did while on the road. So while not going into huge detail, I thought I’d summarise my travels for those who are curious…

1992

Head overseas for the very first time after breaking up with the first women I fall in love with (some may notice a trend to my heading overseas…), and head straight to the Greek Islands to – in a nutshell – party my bollocks off. I succeed in doing so.

Travel jobs #1 & 2: Hostel tout on Ios, pizza dude on Santorini

I spend most of my time on the island of Santorini, but making my way across to the infamous party island of Ios three or four times with new friends I meet on Santorini. On each occasion I party for a few days with my new friends, they head off to another island, I decide to stay and find work (hostel touting), I quit work within 4 days, stumbling to the 6am ferry back to Santorini drunk, dragging my hastily packed bag behind me, mumbling something along the lines of “Gotta get off Ios… it will kill me if I stay any longer…”. It is impossible to be in Ios and not get raging drunk every single night. I survive this repeating scenario for 3 months, fitting in short visits to the islands of Naxos, Paxos and Rhodes, though always returning to Santorini, where I do some work making pizzas in an Italian restaurant.

End of summer, I fly down to Egypt with a guy from Boston, Benny, who I met in Santorini. In Cairo we meet two Australian girls we hook up with and travel with them through Egypt for 5 weeks. I become possibly the only tourist to visit Egypt and not see the pyramids when I become so pissed off with the harassment one of the girls is constantly getting due to her long blonde hair that I rush to get out of the country asap upon returning to Cairo rather than take an extra day to see the pyramids. I was a very naive traveller at this stage still.

Highlights of Egypt before my dummy spit include:

  • Dahab: The “Amsterdam of the Middle East”, lying on rugs on the beach all day, smoking pot and eating pancakes with banana, icecream and chocolate sauce. Benny rides off into the desert on a camel at one stage to buy some weed, but is then left to walk back after money has changed hands.
  • Aswan to Luxor: Sail down the Nile for 4 days on a falucca, a traditional open wooden sailing boat.
  • Valley of the Kings: Amazing trip through the desert on donkeys to reach this amazing destination. Though I learn pretty quickly that riding a donkey without a saddle can be very painful, walk like John Wayne for the next week.

Travel jobs #3 & 4:
Working on a farm, working as a labourer on a construction site, Israel

Head to Israel to work for the European winter and replenish rapidly dwindling funds. Get work on a Moshav in the middle of the Negav Desert, Moshav Ein Yahav, picking vegetables all week, and getting absolutely hammered every Friday night at the volunteers bar/club before Saturday shabbat rest day (we “volunteers” do get paid for our work). During this time I grow a goatee for the first time after having a bet with fellow volunteers about who could grow the best goatee. I lose but have had this fluffy chin off and on ever since.

I spend Christmas 1992 in Israel on Ein Yahav.

1993

After 3 months on the moshav I head down to Eilat to work in construction for a month. Right at the end of my month (thankfully) I crack a rib playing rugby for one of the pubs against another pub.

From Israel – Tel Aviv – I catch a ferry/cruise ship to Turkey. The ferry puts all us budget backpacker types into a large ballroom/hall for the 2 day trip where we sleep on the floor. Elsewhere on the ship, Russian holiday makers are in their cabins enjoying a week long cruise, so we end up with the situation of us hippy looking backpackers and middle class Russians mixing in the bars and clubs on board the ship. A motley bunch of every there was.

We arrive in the Turkish port of Bodrum, and a bunch of us jump on a bus and head to the absolutely stunning beach town of Oludeniz, one of the most beautiful places in the world. I stay here for a week, try to get high on ground down nutmeg after hearing rumours it was possible, burp up nutmeg for days after finding out it wasn’t, and meet the beautiful Jenny from Sweden, the second woman I fall in love with. We end up being together for a year and a half.

From Oludeniz we (Jenny and I) head north, first to the amazing ruins of  Ephesus, and then on to Çanakkale, the town closest to Gallipoli. It is a couple of days before ANZAC Day 1993, the 75th Anniversary.

Canakkale is obviously full of Aussies and Kiwis making the pilgrimage to Anzac Cove, the bars are full, the beer’s flowing, Cold Chisel’s blasting from the speakers. The day before Anzac Day we play a football (soccer) game in the main town square, Aussies & Kiwis against the locals. Watched by thousands it’s played hard but fair, and god knows what the score was this many years after the event. I hope this is a tradition that continues today.

Anzac Day eve we spend sleeping on the beach on Anzac Cove. It’s bloody freezing, but quite an experience considering how many young Australians and New Zealanders would have done it 75 years earlier shortly before losing their lives. The Anzac Day ceremonies are very moving, as is seeing the environment and locations where so many thousands lost their lives. Walking through the cemetery at Lone Pine, it strikes me that all those who died were just the same age as most of us backpackers are. This was their “overseas adventure”. That hits home.

After Anzac Day we head to Istanbul, and truly one of the great cities of the world. From there it’s a mad bus ride back to the Greek Islands, where my original intention had been to spend another summer. Jenny convinces me to come back with her to Sweden for the summer, and she even pays for my flight. What is a poor boy to say but yes?

So summer ’93 is spent in Malmo, Sweden, enjoying the loooooooong summer nights, working for Jenny’s father renovating a house, and basically spending every day wondering how on earth a beautiful, blonde haired Swedish girl took a fancy to me.

Travel jobs #5, 6 & 7:
– Renovating a house in Sweden.
– Porter in a 5 star boutique hotel in London.
– Barman in an Aussie/Kiwi pub in London.

From Sweden it’s then off to London for the winter, and to put a good workshift in saving money for the following summer and the World Cup in the US. I get work as a barman, and then also as a porter in a 5 star boutique hotel where I get to meet Kylie Minogue and Patrick Swayze, and find huge bowls full of pot left out by Arab businessmen in town for Ramadan (sleep all day, party all night). Jenny gets a job as a nanny.

We spend Christmas ’93 in London.

1994

Jenny heads home for a couple of months before we head to the US, the first cracks of her not being 100% happy with the lifestyle we were leading. I continue to work two jobs with the only aim to save as much money as possible.

May and Jenny’s back in town in time for my birthday, and then it’s off to the US of A. We drive halfway across the country in a free driveaway car, watch the first game of the World Cup in a dodgy cowboy bar in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, and then fly to San Francisco where we base ourselves for the month of the World Cup. In a bar I meet a couple of Aussie blokes who tell me I’m living the dream – travelling the world with a Swedish girlfriend. I can’t disagree with them. I go to the quarter final game, Sweden v Romania, with tickets I bought from a scalper in the street. Jenny, her friend and myself are painted in body paint with the Swedish colours. I sit down in my seat, and feel a tap on my shoulder. It’s my father, sitting behind me in the stadium.

End of the World Cup and we buy a car and drive across the US, via Vegas and then heading south east. We cover 7,000km before our car reaches its last legs near Washington DC. Thankfully I have a friend near DC, my American friend Jay who I met in Ios two years previously. I turn up on his doorstep Swedish girlfriend in tow, he doesn’t turn us away for some reason.

By this time Jenny has decided to return to Sweden. She’s not enamoured of the gypsy lifestyle, I’m still too emotionally immature to settle down in a “real” relationship. She catches a bus to New York to catch a plane. We say goodbye at the Greyhound bus depot. I’m not sure how I feel at this time.

At first I feel a sense of freedom, suddenly I’m single again and can live the single life, get drunk, hunt for women… Jay shows me around the place, I enjoy his mate’s bachelor party in Philadelphia, enjoy the local bar scene… but not really sure about it all.

Anyway, I’m off again, this time another driveaway car from DC to Seattle, but I take a “little” detour (ie. not allowed in the driveaway rules) up to Toronto, Canada, to see some other friends I’d met in the Greek Islands. So some very looooooong driving days to make up for the extra travel time I would need for this detour, I spend a few days with my Canadian friends, and then leg it to Seattle. Drop of the car and head up to Vancouver to catch up with more Greek Island friends. But by about this time…

I had really started to miss Jenny, and was wondering if I’d made a huge mistake. This impacted on my time in Vancouver, so I wasn’t quite the best company right about then. After a week in Vancouver I decided to head to Sweden and get back my girlfriend.

Now being on a budget, this meant I had to catch a 3 day greyhound bus trip across the whole US. And it was the bus trip from hell, including drunk Russian diplomatic staff pissing on passengers in the middle of the night, and a drug bust outside New York City when the cops inspected the luggage below. But eventually to NYC, then a flight to London, followed by another flight to Sweden.

Unfortunately it was all in vain. Jenny wasn’t sure what she wanted, I didn’t know what to say or do… and so a week later I flew back to London, leaving both of us in tears… and that was the last time I ever saw Jenny.

Heartbroken and cold in London, I did the only thing I could think of: Worked my ass off for as many extra hours I could land, and tried to get drunk and laid as often as possible.

Travel job #8: “Hygienist” (cleaner) at Covent Garden Soup factory

Christmas ’94 in London, not the happiest I’ve ever had.

1995

A year or so beforehand, some Kiwi guy in Europe had given me the number of a place he had spent the summer working, Herm Island in the Channel Islands, next to Guernsey. He had spent the summer working in the campground, I called to see if they had any similar work for that summer. I was in luck, they had one job opening left: as the Harbour Master. Huh? Yep, that is correct, I spent the summer of ’95 working as the Harbour Master on Herm Island. With no previous relevant experience of any kind.

Travel job #9: Harbour Master on Herm Island

So what did my role involve exactly? Well it wasn’t that hard actually… every hour the ferry from Guernsey would arrive, I would ensure everyone waiting was lined up, I would catch the rope and moor the ferry securely, and then help with the offloading and onloading of passeners and cargo. Between times I would make sure the few yachts that did some into the tiny harbour moored up neatly, and pick up rubbish from the harbour beach. Which considering everyone went to the beautiful beaches on the other side of the island, wasn’t very much. So mostly I just sat around with my shirt off waiting for the next ferry, and got the best tan I’d every had.

Oh, and I met girls. Lot’s of them. And what better way was there to get over my heartbreak from the year before. Well, that was my excise anyway, and I’m sticking to it!

That summer was one of the best a backpacker/traveller could hope for: easy, fun & decent paying job; great weather, best UK summer in 25 years or similar; great staff parties; and loads of women.

At the end of summer it was back to London, and I enrolled in a TEFL course. Four week course, Christmas in London once more, and then to decide where I would take my first English teaching job…

Christmas 1995 in London once more.

1996

So where did I go? Well my course director had convinced me that Macedonia (former Yugoslavian republic) had really beautiful women, so I was sold, and so headed off to Tetova in Macedonia for my first teaching position. I soon found out that my course director had lied to me.

Travel job #10: Teaching English in Macedonia

But I enjoyed my time all the same… to a certain extent. About this time I had got the feeling I’d been gone from home long enough… 4 years by this stage. So my time in Macedonia was a little clouded by this, and by the time my 6 month contract ended I had decided it was time to head home. So first it was back to London, and then to work out my route home. I wanted one big travel experience to end with, so chose to go via East Africa, flying into Kenya, leaving from J’Burg to home.

I was home for Christmas 1996.

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I stayed home – and stable – for 8 years, during which time I gained myself a career and finally completed a degree after dropping out twice years earlier. But come late December 2004 and the spark arrived that got me out of the rut I’d been in…

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2005

I had celebrated New Year’s Eve 2004/05 at the Falls Festival in Victoria with a friend, and was at the airport a couple of days later waiting to head back to Sydney. On the TV at the airport were reports and imagery from the Asian tsunami that had hit a week beforehand.

I got back to Sydney unable to get these images from my head. At this time I had actually quit fulltime work to finish the last 6 months of my degree, and was working part-time as the weekend night manager in a pub in the Eastern Suburbs. So when I had the decision to act on the thoughts and feelings going through my head it wasn’t as if I was throwing a career job away. My decision: To go to Sri Lanka and help in anyway I could in the clean up following the tsunami.

So I did.

I don’t think anything will ever compare to my first sighting of the devastation. The photos I took don’t convey it fully, nor do the inadequate words I wrote at the time. I don’t really know if my time there brought the locals any real benefit, all I can really hope for is that I didn’t do any damage, and that hopefully I helped even a little bit.

The work I did included:

  • Helping out a small French engineering NGO, just 4 of them with no machinery, to pull down partially damaged buildings that were a danger while they still stood.
  • Helping a local NGO plan and then coordinate with local government and other NGOs on the building of temporary shelter for the local community.
  • Project managing the construction of sanitation blocks within devastated communities in the south west of the country.

I also met the third women I fell in love with, Emily from the US, which had a lot of influence on my next overseas destination.

So after three months in Sri Lanka I headed back to Sydney, initially for a mate’s wedding, and then it was time to consider my future…

(To be continued, with India, Kenya and then South America still to come…)

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