24.2.15

"A Year of Living Courageously" By Hollie Rowe-Roberts (Alderney Journal, January 2015


Sixteen months ago I left Alderney for a trip to Australia. Five countries later and I am yet to return. I have cuddled Koalas, fed kangaroos, wrapped snakes around my neck and camped out in the bush. I picked blueberries in a factory line & learnt to shoot. I rode motorbikes around fields twice the size of Alderney. I was a modern day Cinderella, scrubbing kitchen floors at midnight to pay my rent. Before leaving, none of this could have crossed my dreams. Time changes everything – so does travel.
            I started out in Melbourne - a city that is alive in every sense of the word. As a place it has it’s own personality – artistic, young & exciting. After two months of hostel living (it now feels strange to not sleep in a 14 bed dorm) I moved down to Tasmania for Christmas to get to know the half of my family that lived on the other side of the world.
By the end of January I was experiencing my first outback country town before moving to a 25°C Brisbane for autumn. By this point I’d decided I wanted another year in Australia. So I set off to do my 88 days of regional farming work to a town called Boobrowie, population 153 & counting.
In what warped world do Australia and snow come together? It felt like I was back home; fog, frosts and biting winds every day as we went out to the paddocks of sheep. That in itself was a shock to someone with only one sleeved jumper, but it was nothing compared to how I felt when I found myself in a shed watching as sheep were killed, gutted and hung up. My next job was to help chop them up (apparently I am shockingly good at it) before cooking a roast.  Six months later and I still haven’t eaten lamb.
Around about then I learned to look at everything I did – exciting, terrifying or sometimes disturbing – as an experience I would never have had had back home. So I decided on the next step: back to South East Asia.
Four months of solid work later and I was back to Bali. I went through the mountains to a town called Ubud. I hiked through rice paddies, played with monkeys, climbed volcanoes and spent hours admiring Balinese temples. I even drank coffee that came out of a cat.
When arriving in Cambodia I knew only one thing: that mum went crazy when my brother visited years ago. Exploring the Killing Fields, I learnt about a horrific communist genocide that killed a quarter of Khmer people. Cambodia, a country that is only now growing out of trauma is fast becoming a fascinating paradise where travellers gather to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat.
In desperate need of another small beachy island, I found Koh Ta Kiev. With no paths, shops, cars, or even electricity, it truly deserted. You arrive by longboat, swim to shore and sleep under the stars leaving it all behind – even your shoes (we regretted this as we walked through swamps at dusk, praying the spiders and snakes wouldn’t find us). 
Vietnam, yet another country with a tormented history holds charm like a necklace – beautifully, with pride. From the south to the north we went, abseiling down waterfalls, kayaking at sunset and sailing around the infamous Halong Bay. By then it was time to return to Thailand for the last few weeks to cuddle baby tiger cubs, bathe and ride elephants bareback and relax in the sun.
A couple of pages cannot do it justice. I have far too many stories to tell, too many memories and experiences to hold onto. This is just a snippet of what lies out there – I was lucky enough to take my chance when it came. I’m not saying it’s been easy. I’ve worked 80-hour weeks. I’ve scrubbed the filthiest houses and hostel floors. Travelling alone is unbearably lonely at times. I have had to force myself to stay, not to book that flight home.
But here I am, back in Australia. You find a new job. You meet new people. You move to a new town. Christmas has come and gone and my return home has been put off once again.
This year I will sail the Great Barrier Reef, swim with dolphins, walk Ayers rock and cage dive with sharks. If I’m lucky, I will make Australia my permanent home. Whatever you dream of doing – do it now. It is not the things that you do that you regret, but those that you didn’t.

Hollie Rowe-Roberts



Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane, Australia

Volcanoes in Bali, Indonesia

Monkey Chats, Ubud, Indonesia

Time alone with his prayers, Angkor, Cambodia

Abseiling Waterfalls, Dalat, Vietnam

Temples and Prayers, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sit Tall, Like a Tiger - Chiang Mai Tiger Kingdom, Thailand

Elephant Kisses, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sunrise over Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Beach Dreams, Naked Beach, Koh Ta Kiev, Cambodia


Kayaking, Halong Bay, Vietnam

4.2.15

Vietnam Diaries: Halong Bay




Halong Bay

Authentically beautiful, this wonder of the world worthy of any travellers bucket list. Budget, mid-sized or luxurious – there is a trip for everyone who wants to see the sea of 1969 islands.

Halong, meaning ‘Bay of Descending Dragons’ was supposedly named after a captain reported seeing a giant sea snake while sailing the waters. Some of it’s 1969 islands are inhabited, such as the famous Cat Ba where many tours stop for a night. Many parts of the bay are protected by the UNESCO World Heritage Site name, ensuring development and subsequent ruin do not incur.

The easiest way by far is booking through a travel agent in the northern city of Hanoi. Our entire trip, including transfers, meals and accommodation cost us around US$80. This was a budget, 3 day two night tour and our boat was…questionable. But we got everything we had wanted out of it, from the caves to kayaking at sunset.

Others we met had differing tales. One group had travelled to the coast of Halong City and booked a trip from there – they had paid about $10 more than us for exactly the same trip. Others had turned up, jumped on a boat to Cat Ba and back for about $40. They had explored the caves and kayaked, but had not slept on the boats or had food provided. Instead, they were dropped off on Cat Ba on the first evening to find basic accommodation and to fend for themselves. Minus a dead fish head fight and a badly infected thigh, they did pretty well. In fact, if you can do it this way – do. You have far more freedom to enjoy the scenery than you would on an organised tour. If I had been able to spend longer on Cat Ba I would rather than in another metropolis like Hanoi.

The Boat:
Rickety, filthy with a stench of sewage if the doors were not locked shut, our boat was a sight from the start. And yet at the end of the day, it never really mattered. We only slept in it the one night while the days were spent on the island or up on deck, taking in the views. Our guide, Banana, was irritatingly chipper at the start. But he turned out to be helpful, funny and reassuring. On our final day we woke to be told that the weather too rough to travel, so boats had been stalled by the government. No one was allowed back to the mainland. Banana and the other guides got us all back to port, 50 crammed into a 25-person bus, to get onto the vehicle ferry. The journey was long and exhausting but we made it in time for dinner – our last evening in Vietnam.





The Bay
Halong brings images of epically grandiose natural caves, turquoise waters and peace. There were in fact hundreds upon hundreds of boats, making the water look rather polluted and oily. The caves however were the biggest disappointment. Lit up by artificial coloured lights it felt more like a school disco than a natural wonder. The bins were strange penguins and there were more oversized American tourists than could surely fit up the wobbling platforms of our rickety boats. While kayaking to a red sunset over the mountains was an other worldly experience, the caves were better left forgotten. Cat Ba, a beautiful island with a hint too much tourism in the south, included a hike up a hill with a tiny Vietnamese joker who liked to scare us and run up steep trails squawking like a monkey. At the top, a female cement mixer pointed at my belly and said ‘pregnant?’. I said no. ‘Baby?’ she said. No. I awkwardly giggled, nearly cried, and quickly made my way back down the hill, distressed and terrified as the rest of the workers/travellers hysterically laughed. Thankfully, a Canadian threw his water bottle straight into my womb pretty soon after that (aiming for his other mates head), and took care of that matter. NOTE: I WASN’T, WAS NEVER, AND AM NOT PREGNANT. Take that cementer mixer/fortune teller woman.

Advice:

Never miss out on this trip. Whether it’s a single day excursion or a three day cruise, take in the beauty of Halong Bay and try to ignore what tourism is destroying. Because there is still far more raw beauty than there is ruin. If you can, pay that extra 20-30 dollars. The comfort will take you further than you need, making it truly a perfect experience.


And remember, don’t throw dead fish at your friends leg. Even if you are from New Zealand.