An Extraordinary Encounter While Exploring Mackay Australia

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As I walked through the doors of this older building that was now a restaurant and karaoke bar, the ex-nun I was with, who was in costume as a streetwalker, introduced me to everyone at the tables where we would be sitting. As the introductions ensued, she came to a man who appeared to be in his late twenties to early thirties. She introduced him as the head chef. As our eyes met I could tell immediately, that my presence made him pretty nervous. He was noticeably uncomfortable, and his impression of me made him a bit flustered. I decided in that instant, I was going to sit right next to him. His name was Mick, a nickname for Michael in Australia, and I noticed that even sitting, he appeared to be quite a large guy.

As the night went on, he hardly said two words to me. I asked him a couple questions and got short, simple answers in return; I guessed he was a man of few words, or at least with me. He was up and down from the bar to our table, sometimes talking with those he knew, and he even got up a few times to sing karaoke. As he gave it his all and belted out Mustang Sally, everyone got up and danced, including me. With his six foot five, strong athletic frame and medium brown hair, he had a considerable presence and didn’t appear to shy away from attention. However, in the next moment, he’d sit back down towards the back of the room a bit removed from everyone else and exuded a more mellow, relaxed presence.  When he spoke had a strong Australian accent and it was abundantly obvious from his rough, rugged exterior, he was very country.  After a few hours, I said goodnight to everyone, and left with the neighbor who brought me.

A couple days later I joined my neighbor for a beach walk and, out of the blue, she casually mentioned Mick knew I wanted to explore Queensland. She advised me it wasn’t the safest to do on my own, so it may be wiser to allow him to show me around a bit. She gave me his number and asked me to give him a call. That evening I decided to give him a quick call before I started to make dinner. I figured it would only take a minute. After all, he hardly had anything to say when we met. He kept me on the phone for an hour, and asked me a million questions! Amongst the million questions, he asked me what kind of things I liked to do and what I wanted to see. We decided he would pick me up at around three in the afternoon the next day, after he got off work. It was quite convenient that he worked an early shift and was off by two in the afternoon.

The next day he showed up in a giant ute, a truck with a flatbed on the back, a popular vehicle in Australia. We went to a lookout with a beach down below, and after exploring the beach we grabbed dinner on the pier. I remember looking at him, as he was inspecting some rocks up at the lookout, and asking myself if I could possibly be attracted to him. I quickly dismissed it and thought nope, he was a nice guy, but not for me. He appeared much too “from the outback”, rough around the edges for me, and I just didn’t feel an attraction. I had a quick, piercing but fleeting thought, “He is your husband’. It jarred me. I quickly silently laughed at myself and thought,” Shut up Melanie, no way! You’re losing it. Oh man, I’ve been traveling solo for so long I’m now hearing things.” I brushed it off and quickly and determined I was thankful for the friendship and the company, but that’s where it ended. As he dropped me off that evening he asked what I wanted to see tomorrow. “Oh, we’re doing something else tomorrow?” I said a bit caught off guard. We quickly planned another adventure for the next afternoon. From then on, he showed up, every day, to pick me up and take me somewhere new.  Every day, he showed up. A few nights in, he offered to make me dinner, crispy skinned salmon with baked crunchy potatoes, chipotle dill aioli, and Thai citrus salad. That’s when the attraction began. It wasn’t just good; it was divine.

We went into the bush to hike in Eungella National Park, and swim in its cold waterfall to escape the hot, scorching sun. We surveyed for platypus and fresh water crocodiles. We drove further north to Cape Hillsboro for more beautiful hikes and views, while also able to enjoy crocodile free beaches with kangaroos and wallabies bouncing around everywhere.

While coming to The Leap, a giant hike-able cliff, he told me the story of The Leap Massacre. In the 1800s Australian “police” were known to capture and sometimes murder Aboriginals. While being pursued, an Aboriginal mother, holding her baby, ran up The Leap, a cliff dropping hundreds of feet below, to escape. Holding her baby, she jumped. Story has it that her baby survived and grew up to marry, have children, and she lived a long life.

Mick took me too his family’s property for an Australian barbeque. We spent every day together during my time in this part of Australia, and we were able to explore so much of the area. I was at a crossroads of needing to find a job in the U.S. and spending more time here. With a bit of help from Mick’s persuasion, I decided to extend my stay a couple weeks and he helped to put me up in a beautiful hotel overlooking the beach.

My time in Australia was winding down and I began planning my way back to the states, when I got a phone call from a friend whom I hadn’t spoken too in a couple years. She worked for an online resort travel company, and they needed a new content director. She had read my blog and forwarded it to her boss. After a couple phone calls and negotiations, I landed my new job as a content director and could work remotely. The timing was, well, it was miraculous. I would be starting in three weeks. Training would be in Noosa, Queensland just north of Brisbane, so I’d be flying out soon. My long-term visa was for New Zealand so that’s where I’d be based once training was complete.

On the second to the last evening in this part of Australia, we decided to have dinner out with Mick’s family. As we sat in the parking lot of the local pub, winding up the windows of his old ute. I turned to him and hesitantly asked him, “So, what are we? What are we doing? I mean, I’m leaving in two days, and I don’t have a plan to come back.” His immediate reply was “We’re together.” And then there was an awkward pause. I was so uncomfortable asking but I needed to know. I continued, “Okay, but… if we’re together then what’s the plan? I mean, I won’t be here. What’s the point of doing long distance if there’s no plan to be together in the future? We’re not even going to be in the same country. What are your thinking about all this?” He sat there listening to me and I uncomfortably shifted in my seat as I got to the cringe-worthy part of the question I needed an answer too. “If we stayed together long distance…do you see this as like possibly leading to marriage or…” I loathed that I even asked that but with me about to leave the country I needed finality, a simple yes or no.

“Yes, I definitely see that happening.” He said without hesitation. “Okay, so we’re just going to date long distance a while and see how it goes.” I say as I’m wrapping my head around how in the world this would even logistically work. “Like how long are you comfortable dating long distance?” I asked before really thinking about what was coming out of my mouth. “I don’t know, like two years?” “Two years?! I’m not only dating you, and be in a long-distance relationship, for two whole years!” I immediately replied. “Well I don’t know! I’d marry you tomorrow! I just thought that’s what you’d want!” We both just sat there shocked, and in complete disbelief of the direction this conversation turned and what was just said. “Well… definitely not tomorrow, but… Okay everyone is waiting for us inside so let’s stop talking about this. And let’s not bring this up to anyone that we even talked about getting married yet.” I quietly said a bit shaken by this entire talk. “Okay.” he agreed.

We walked inside and sat down with his whole family. Mick, his brother, his mom, and his brother’s girlfriend went up to the bar to get drinks for the table. When they came back, the mood had changed and they all were trying to hide their smiles. Mick sat down next to me and I had a feeling he’d said something. I whispered to him reminding him that I we agreed not to tell them anything. He responded, “I didn’t tell them we ARE getting married. I told them we MIGHT get married.” I had no words.

Two days later I was on a plane to Brisbane to train for my new job, and then on a flight back to New Zealand. We kept in contact daily. Two months later he flew over to New Zealand to visit. We ventured around the north island a bit while I worked remotely, and he proposed while we were on a picnic near a small waterfall. Three months after that we got married in Hawaii.

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Setting Sail in Northland New Zealand and Being Reminded that Ships are Not Built to Stay in the Safe Harbors

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“You, you want me to do what?” I stammered as I looked up at the captain completely puzzled. “Well I can’t do this all by myself. Raise the sail. Pull that rope; hand over fist.” He commanded loudly as he’s rapidly moving around the deck of the sail boat doing I don’t even know what with other ropes that looked to me like they were haphazardly strewn all over the place. I jumped to my feet with a willingness to help but a startled nervousness not knowing what in the world I had just gotten myself into. “Oh, this sail is heavy.” I thought to myself as I really had to muscle the rope down to move the sail up the pole. “What in the world did I just get myself into” was the thought that was stuck on repeat in my head.

The first place I was eager to see in Northland was the picturesque Bay of Islands and to get to the islands, well you have to go by boat. I walked into the visitors’ center in Paihia to book a ride on a boat. They told me about a handful of boat options and all were very normal touristy options that entailed getting on a larger boat with a bunch of other people and spending the day laying on the beaches, basking in the sun on the peaceful relaxing boat rides along the way, and sitting back and enjoying the scenery. That is exactly what I was looking for, a serene boat ride to the islands and the ability to lay on the beaches. A calm relaxing day on the water sounded perfect… minus all the extra people that would be on the boats and then the beaches. I asked if there was anything smaller to charter to the islands. The woman at the counter told me there wasn’t much else. A gentleman behind the counter who was listening in interrupted, “Well, there is a man who will take out small groups of about five people on his sailboat. I’ll give him a ring and see if he’ll go out tomorrow.” After a quick phone call I was booked, to go on a sailboat.

The others on the sailboat with me were his close friends, a single Maori mother with three young boys. As she was busy keeping up with the boys, I was thrust into learning to sail. “You’re going to have to steer the boat too. I can’t do it the entire time.” I think he sensed I was just now understanding that this was not a sit back and relax ride I’d thought it would be, this was going to be a very hands-on experience.

As we navigated out to and then through the Bay of Islands I learned how to read the depths of the sea and steer. We all took turns and when it wasn’t mine I laid out on the nose of this beautiful sailboat and took in the beautiful sights of all the different islands and sea life.

We anchored in the bay of Waewaetoria Island. There wasn’t another soul in sight. The woman who was on the boat with me took me on a hike to the top of the island; we were barefoot which was another first-time experience, hiking barefoot. We enjoyed the views and the beaches for the rest of the day. It was one of the most beautiful places on earth I have ever laid eyes on. We all talked and laughed together as we enjoyed each others company on this expedition. Doing things together, figuring out how to work together to complete a common goal, even for just a day is a bonding experience; and even with me at the helm steering we all made it back in one piece.

There are few places on earth more magical than Northland New Zealand. This is probably my top travel destination and a place I will explore again. Traveling up one coast line to Cape Reinga and then down the other is a trip that is worth taking as much time as you can. I chose to venture Northland for about three weeks. This meant three weeks far away from most civilization, no Wi-Fi for sometimes days on end, seeing tiny old settlement towns, and lands still rich with Maori culture and history.

Traveling up and down the coast I visited the Waitangi Historic Reserve where the treaty that made New Zealand a British colony was signed, went on several hikes some to waterfalls and others to lookouts and beaches, stopped and enjoyed the water’s edge and bites to eat in small fishing villages, went to old colonial churches, and walked along beaches where if you go at the right time, after lightening as struck, you can dig up glass made by the lightening and sand. I took the risky drive on 90 Mile beach, basked in the almost vacant beaches just before Cape Reinga. (I highly recommend traveling these dirt roads to get to these beaches. All the tourists miss them and go straight to the Cape beaches.) One of my favorite areas to venture on the way back down was the beautiful Opononi area. The walks, the town, the lookouts, and the beaches were jaw-dropping. However, I do think this of the entire area of Northland. I stayed a large portion of my time in an Airbnb in Opua. It was a bit outside of the more touristy Paihia and has perfect trails to jog along to my heart’s content.

During my time, away from the majority of civilization and forced to do without phone reception and internet service for most of this time, coupled with my unexpected sailing adventure I had time to dig deep and pray about my next steps. Money was dwindling rapidly and the logical answer would be to go back to America and find work, settle back into a routine, and nestle back into the safeness and security of desperately missed friends and family. I had been searching for jobs in New Zealand to no avail. I was forced to think about making some logical decisions for my future and so I was in heavy prayer ever night, listening, waiting for affirmation from God that it was time for me to return home. I didn’t want to give up pursuing writing, but I equally wanted to be able to provide for myself, be a responsible human being able to contribute more to the world than I was taking, and use wisdom in my decision making. Why did I have this unnerving, guttural feeling that my travels weren’t done? Everything logistically was affirming that they were. I went into the town library to check my email and there it was, a three week housesit request in Australia. I immediately thought “Well that’s nice but God, You and I both know three weeks isn’t long enough for me to spend all that money to fly to Australia, rent a car, drive to this house and then have to fly back out of Australia because I wouldn’t be able to afford staying longer.” I randomly put in an application for another housesit that literally started 3 days after this one ended. I went back the next day to check my email… and there it was, a letter from the owner that she chose me to housesit and this one was for four weeks. The wild ride of faith begins where logic ends, and the doors were clearly opening.

I was on my way to Australia.

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Divine Appointments on The Road Less Traveled and Around the Lakes in Rotorua and The Redwood Forrest

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Inspired by the unending beauty of this area, I set out to see as many of the fresh water, pristine lakes as I could. This is one of the many astounding sights God has placed in this small country of New Zealand. The fresh, crisp, yet to be polluted lands and waters of this area continuously give me motivation to start each day earlier than the last with an excitement not knowing exactly what I will see, but confident my mind and heart will be full by the end of the day; mind full by everything my eyes are taking in and heart full because for some reason God has placed this blessing upon me to experience what many never do and not just once but over and over again for several months now on end. And I’m still not exactly sure why me; why the woman who would have been content with staying in Hawaii, getting married, and having 2.5 children (or whatever the average is now). Why this journey, why this girl? I’m still not sure but I love watching His story unfold…

My first stop was the famous Tikitapu (Blue) Lake and Rotokakai (Green) Lake.  There is a look out hill in between the two lakes and when you look to one side you see just how blue the blue lake is and just how green the green lake is. It is quite incredible to see two lakes so close together be such vibrantly different colors. I see that Lake Tikitapu is supposed to have a walking trail the entire way around so I decide to go for a long, long walk. It was a beautiful sunny day out and I think to myself I can find my way. About 20 minutes in I am thoroughly confused as to where I am and if I’m even still on the right track. It had rained for several days on end just prior and I begin wondering if now the lake has pushed its boundaries over the trail. I look around and see a couple coming out from the bush and I ask if they know. It turned out they are guessing their way around the lake as well. We begin talking and I opened up about what I was embarking on and that I was blogging along the way. I talked about how I loved writing but it was something that I had put on the backburner for too long. We ended up talking about travel and life the entire way around the lake. Isn’t it just phenomenal how that happens? Relationships built in mere minutes, and all because we were enjoying nature, open to life, open to talking to each other, and got lost, haha. We stopped and all took photos on our trek and just enjoyed each other’s company learning bits and pieces about each other. They let me know they owned a New Zealand outdoors magazine and the wife, the editor, would take a look at my blog.

We parted ways for the day; I continued my adventure to Lake Tarawera, which out of all the lakes is probably my favorite, its span is broad and the trail around it leads to salmon streams, lots of bush, and a sandy beach area perfect for swimming during the warmer months. I took my picnic lunch to include a celebratory bottle of wine, and a blanket and had my lunch in a near secluded area of the lake front. I watched a man flying fishing from a semi-near dock, and a couple of paddle boarders paddle by. These are the peaceful moments I unendingly crave.

After exploring the lakes, I went into the nearby Redwoods forest that is filled with treks that will fill anyone’s day and potentially get you very lost. I headed into the woods and soon felt lost. There were families and people passing by so I wasn’t too worried. I stopped and asked a man who was bent over putting creek water into a test tube which way was out. I was intrigued at what he was doing and found out he is a German scientist who coming once a year to study this area of New Zealand and monitor it. He told me all about it but if you asked me to regurgitate any of it, well that wouldn’t happen. I admired the scenery of the way back out and decided to have dinner then come back for the lantern and lights canopy tree walk they do at night, and oh was it more than worth it. This is something I highly recommend if you’re in this area and it’s not too crowded. It truly magical.

When I got home late that night I checked my email and the couple who own the New Zealand magazine had emailed me. The editor told me one of my articles greatly touched her and I had a gift; she loved my writing. This couple, the editor and owner of New Zealand’s longest standing magazine, were soon to become one of my greatest encouragers and advocates for taking steps to become a writer. One simple chance meeting, with an open heart, leads to further divine moments of destiny.

Leaving Room for Miracles

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Fear of failure, the gaping black hole that steals so many promising dreams. What my life will look like in six months I truly have no idea, and the amount of conversations I’ve had about this very concept are plentiful; most look at me in either complete awestruck amazement due to the amount of courage this takes, or I get a look of bewilderment and incomprehension of why anyone would risk everything. I have no exact end date to my world travels, and as I step forward into what often times feels like deep waters, a single stepping stone appears sometimes the split moment before I feel like I’m going to lose balance, tumble in, probably hit my head on the way down, and drown. I was like most for a good long while, in that I had an idea of what my life would be and I had created a pretty cozy safe life for myself. The problem was no matter how much I attempted to convince myself that I could feel content with my life the way it was I couldn’t shake an unquenched desire to search for more, to find the gold in life with the unique life I was given.

For those who are venturing out and pursuing a new goal or direction in life because internally you know it fills your soul and has the ability to touch others you come in contact with, take the risk, step out in faith and courage. When you step out in faith you are creating a space for miracles to happen.

This is where God works mightily, in the appearingly void spaces of the unknown, in the risk. I’ve had several conversations with those of you, my readers, my friends, who feel void in one way or another, but you have this one amazing idea that would bless so many around you. I wonder if that is where God is waiting to show you just how mightily He will work in your life, on your behalf. He is waiting for you to move, to step out in complete blind faith, not knowing the outcome. He wants you to choose the possibility that could lead great failure and no provision, a crushing fear for many, because this is where His great sovereignty lies, over outcomes only He can control. This is where this piece of His Greatness is revealed and He desperately wants you to see Him, to trust Him. My pastor once said it is easier to turn the steering wheel of a truck when the truck is moving, but have you ever tried to turn the steering wheel of a truck that is in park, it’s not so easy. God wants you to be courageous and move, even in the struggle, He may be calling you to keep moving. If you have a heaviness in your heart that you want more, that you want to see the gold in life, this maybe you.

For those of you who have a friend in the midst of taking huge risks in life, show up. Be there. Love them when they are celebrating even the smallest of milestones and achievements, and love them even more in their failures, reminding them of who they are and celebrating that. Love them more when they are completely discouraged and their heart is hanging on by a thread; when they are down to one mustard seed of faith. When they want to give up remind them of how God sees them and be a listening ear for their pain and then their new ideas. This has been my saving grace in this journey, my friends and family overflowing with so much loves it spills onto me. Those who get excited with me over the smallest of things, and celebrate with me through words, calls, or messages, the astonishing adventures I’m embarking on and relationships that have been built. The (mostly women) in my life who have sent me constant encouraging words and reminders of truth, and have been a listening ear, your strength and perseverance is humbling. Thank you is an insufficient phrase. I love you does not express enough.

For those of you who have opened up to me, I will always write back. I am thinking about you, I am praying for you, and I am rooting for your success through Jesus. In the unknown, in the risk, the miracles lie. Step out, and leave room for miracles.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching. ” Hebrews 10:24-25

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus did.” Romans 15:5

“If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

“but if I were you, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before Him. He preforms wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” Job 5:8-9

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A Quick Moment in Phuket and Time for Reflection

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As I landed in Phuket I felt a sense of deep relief as I knew rest and refuge for my soul was just around the corner. I am so thankful for everything I’ve been able to experience thus far however, I am ready to slow down. I am looking forward to waking up and having time to journal about devotionals and readings on a daily basis, having time to just be and listen to what God is trying to tell me and where He is leading me next. I’m only spending two days in Phuket and then off to a new location for an entire month. I so need this.

As I sit on the beach in Phuket, I realize it’s not so much that feel like I’ve had any epiphanies about myself over the last two months, it’s more that I’ve just had confirmation about things I already knew. One being, I enjoy traveling slow. Traveling to new locations every few days is exhausting and, yes, I get to say that I’ve been to this specific place but the places I feel a connection to are the places I was able to spend time in, create relationships usually beyond one conversation, and not have my mind filled with a to do list before I leave because my time is so short. Also, I love not being worried about getting the great Instagram worthy photos. Those are great and I absolutely love it when I get one but to be honest many of pictures you see on Instagram do look that beautiful from the angle they were taken; what you don’t see are the dozens of people standing in line waiting for you to hurry up and take the picture of yourself over the ledge. These locations are usually the most touristy and cost a lot of money to get to because you have to buy a tour with dozens of other people to get there. Which brings me to my next received confirmation. I’m not that into guided tours. Especially if it’s in large groups. I do love guided tour groups revolved around things I just wouldn’t be able to by myself like taking a boat to swim with giant manta rays or riding an elephant, but if it’s something I can do on my own or with a friend or two I’d rather go that route.

I’ve been so busy these last couple months I haven’t had a clear mind to really just be with God without the busyness soon distracting me. I’m continually hoping and praying one of the reasons for this journey is to provide clarity on where my life is going next. I left a job I wasn’t in love with, sold everything, and said farewell to so many loved ones not just to travel the world, but to also find what I can add to it. I have asked God for a revelation about this time and time again. Time and time again He provides the next stepping stone of what He wants me to do next, but never the whole picture. There are moments when I hear nothing but silence and feel nothing but inaction on God’s part and I can be brought to utter frustration. It reminds me of Habakkuk. Not that I am surrounded by a world I feel is falling apart due to evil, although I’m not saying this isn’t happening; it’s just not my point right now, but that I have had extended dialog with God about various areas of my life and many times I see inaction and wonder why. My testament to walking by faith and not by sight is being built mightily. What I love about Habakkuk is although he had moments of complete frustration and not understanding God’s inaction or timing he didn’t run from God as Jonah did. He poured his frustration into prayer, over and over again. I will choose to continue in this way.

As I lay on the beach in Phuket, I look back and can see all the things in my life I grew tired of and knew it was time for me to move on, but I also see all the good I was able to pour into some of these heavy tasks. I am thankful God used me and worked through me in these moments and lie in anticipation of what He will have for me next. As impatient as I get for the story or my life to hurry up and unfold I remember that the purpose of my life isn’t for me or my story at all. This is all God’s story and Him revealing who He is to the world, and I get to be a small piece of the puzzle.

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Chiang Mai, Thailand – A Bustling City Nestled Amongst the Mountains Holding True to Its Roots

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Northern Thailand, with its lush greenery and multiple rivers flowing through, has seemingly kept so much of itself untouched and untamed. Just below these mountain tops lies a bustling city alive with markets, activities, and so many delicious cafes and authentic restaurants it’s difficult to choose which one to go to. My time in Chiang Mai and the northern region of Thailand was memorable and I left still knowing there was so much more to experience and explore.

Through advice from a friend who lives in southern Thailand I decided to stay in the Old City part of Chiang Mai. This area is rich in history and is still surrounded by the old moats and crumbling city wall ruins. These moats and walls were built, I believe in the 1200s, to keep out neighboring countries prone to invade, primarily Burma. Now, it lends itself to keeping people like me from getting too lost while wandering the many small streets lined with shops and vendors. While staying in this area everything I needed and more was within a 5 minute walk and laundry could be dropped off right across the street. The walls are built in a square to surround the city in about a mile or two radius, I could be wrong on the distance. This area of Thailand has as many temples as Bali does, but these temples are Buddhist as opposed to Hindu and the structure and artistic design is very different and unique.

Every afternoon the locals would bring their produce, meats, and cooked foods into the city to sell fresh on a daily basis. Many of the shops would have a multitude of things you could get from that one small shop. Often times I could buy a meal, rent a scooter if I chose, and buy some groceries all in the same tiny shop; maybe even get my laundry done or buy a tour. At night, there were plenty of things to do and over all I felt safe walking the inner city streets of Chiang Mai by myself. Everyone I met had a helpful and friendly demeanor and there was always a tuk-tuk at the corner ready to give you a ride if you were done walking for the evening. The streets are filled with tuk-tuks, little motorized carriages, and I took many. It’s an inexpensive and fun way to get around and see the rest of the city outside the Old City walls. Every Sunday evening there is a big night market that includes everything all the other markets hold, clothes, crafts, foods, etc, but adds music, performances and is just on a much bigger more crowded scale. Be ready to be around a whole lot of people if you decide to go. Also seeing an authentic Muy-thai boxing event is a worth it event.

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By far the most memorable experience I had in Thailand was visiting, learning to care for, and riding bare-back, the elephants. The Asian elephant has been used in Thailand for hundreds and hundreds of years as a way for transportation, farming, and fighting in war. You will see elephant figurines and paintings mostly due to the fact that the elephant is recognized by many here as highly intelligent, strong, hard-working, loyal, and a huge help and asset to the survival of Thailand for centuries. For many here elephants are to be appreciated and respected. With that said I feel it is just as important to be aware that due to many factors, tourism being a big one, elephants are now often mistreated and abused. There are many elephant tours and sanctuaries claiming that they are good to or saving the elephants when in fact they are not and if educated even a little you will be able to tell before giving your money to a group. I never had a desire to learn about elephants or create an awareness about their treatment until I met one and she gave me a hug. My heart melted. It was then I realized they create strong bonds and have heartfelt emotions. Elephants feel love, joy, grief, compassion, trauma, stress, and in times of stress they give each other hugs. She must have known I was having an emotional morning because while the other elephants were doing occasional naughty things she was so gentle with me and seemed so patient even when I was stumbling to do things correctly for her. I am convinced she was just an emotionally intuitive creature, as most women are.

There were only three of us who did a little research and chose this smaller elephant camp. There were only four elephants on this large property that included a river flowing through it on the bottom portion of this giant land that stretched as far as my eyes could see with mountains in the background. Each elephant had its own keeper, a mahout. The mahout for the elephant I cared for had a special relationship with his elephant, it was obvious. They were friends and it showed. I was able to feed giant sugarcane stalks to my elephant to build a good vibe, then we just kind of hung out while she smelled me and we just got used to each other. Then I mustered up enough bravery to climb up onto her neck. She lifted her leg to give me a boost. Yes, it is a trained thing to do but I took forever and she waited with no impatience. I learned the motions to slowly guide her and we trekked for about half an hour down to the river. She then got down on one knee so I could get off without completely injuring myself. She gave me a good ride and took me through these scenic lands, so in appreciation I gave her a bath in the river. Sure, she can bath herself but who doesn’t like getting a sponge bath and someone else cleaning behind their ears. Bathing her took a while. She is huge and I did both sides, haha. We then hung out in the river and I was rinsing off and finishing up. Apparently, she was so appreciative she wanted to give me a bath too. She took water into her trunk and sprayed me. More than once. It is possible she knew I needed a good laugh as well. After all the fun she helped me get back on her neck and we were one our way back up to the top for lunch. We then had to say our goodbyes.

A couple things to know about elephants if you are looking into having an experience with one. They sleep a lot, not for long periods of time but shorts naps many, many times throughout the day. If you are going to an elephant camp and the camp allows for more than two short 30 minute rides per day than the elephant probably is not getting enough sleep or the kind of sleep they need. They work in spurts and a true sanctuary allows a short time with people once maybe twice per day and the rest the elephant will sleep and exercise on its own. If it is used for farming they will also work in spurts and eat and sleep in spurts. Another thing to know is the baskets on their back hurt. Having a human or two on their strong muscle-filled necks is equivalent to wearing a necklace, but those rigid giant baskets with seats used for riding tours are not good for their backs and actually hurt. I saw many camps who had these on the elephants giving ride after ride for hours on end. It was heartbreaking to see. Also it is good to pay attention to the relationship between the mahout and the elephant. If a mahout has more than one elephant, often it is not a good sign. If the mahout walks around with a big metal thing that looks like a hook that is probably how the elephant was trained and it likely was trained in an abusive manor.

Another must see in this northern region is the famous white temple. Guided tours aren’t my favorite thing to do but this temple is a ways north near the border of Thailand and while up there seeing the “golden triangle” is another accomplishment and something just kind of cool to say you did. The Golden Triangle is the border location where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet via intersecting calm rivers. There is a small island in the center of this border that is unowned by any country, I don’t advise getting out of a boat and stepping foot on this patch of land. It is known to be the place that criminal activity can happen and no law enforcement can enforce and accountability for anything that happens there. The Golden Triangle is also one of the world’s largest and the center for drug trafficking. Largely in part due to the amount of opium that can grow here. This tiny area produces 25% of the entire world’s opium, usually then made into heroin. A guided river tour is advised and I wouldn’t take it upon yourself to wonder off alone. I briefly stepped foot in Laos but it was through the guided tour.

All of this and I feel it is all only the tip of the iceberg to all the wonders northern Thailand holds. There is much more to be educated about, see, and experience in this enchanted part of the world.

The Sacrifice of Warm Showers and Clean Sheets: On the way to Amed, Bali

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Yes, you read that right. I had little idea of what I was getting myself into and no idea it was going to be a camping adventure until I got there, but it was worth its weight in gold for the life experience. My friend joined me in Uluwatu and we made the trek to Amed to experience a different side of Bali. But first we had a good size list of things we wanted to do while on the way there. The drive was several hours so we made sure to enjoy the treasures Bali had along the way.

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Bali is known for a few things, one of them being silver. Some of their silver is high quality, at a good price, and the craftsmanship to make their Balinese style jewelry is unmatched. There is so much silver being sold in Bali that it is worth your while to take the time and ask around to verify that where you are planning on buying yours is high quality. A lot of the not so high quality silver has a higher mix of iron in it and much of it is sold at higher prices in the areas with higher tourist traffic. We asked around a bit and decided to stop at a silver shop outside of any main city where we were able watch the silversmith make the jewelry. I don’t normally purchase jewelry for myself but on this occasion, I did a little splurging.

Another art and craft Bali is known for is Batik. Batik is a technique of wax resistant painting. And this of course was another must on our stop and see list. To watch these women painting intricate patterns with such ease and grace on usually silk and cotton fabric was astounding. It is truly a talent and an art. Many of the pieces they are painting on are worn for special occasions in Balinese culture and a good quality batik silk dresses or saris are a bit expensive. It does make for a beautiful dress or long skirt.

Onto temples and the prettiest most intriguing water palace I’ve seen to date. There are so many temples in Bali; it really does seem that there is a temple on every corner the way there is a Starbucks on every corner of Seattle. Through talking with a few newly made local friends in Bali I was told there are three temples in each village. This makes for over a thousand temples on the island of Bali alone. Each temple has its own meaning; one is to represent creation, one is for daily maintenance of health, luck, life, etc., and the third is for destruction or “the destroyer”. The village cemetery is also always by the temple that represents destruction. Disclaimer: I do not claim fully understand Balinese Hindu; I am merely just regurgitating for you what I was told. I may in the near future write a blog on all I learned about Balinese Hindu which is different from Indian Hindu and why Bali is the only island left in Indonesia that is predominantly Hindu. That being said I have seen so many temples. The water temple is one worth taking the time to visit.

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We didn’t arrive to Amed until well after dark and the street, if you can call it that was windy, narrow, and very broken. When our taxi stopped at our stay I thought “Is he sure this is the right place?” We were escorted back to these cabins on stilts. I couldn’t see much because it was so dark outside and there weren’t any lights along the path. There was just a faint glimmer of lights coming from other cabins. “Oh, good there is electricity!” I thought. We walked up ladder like steps into a cabin. The man escorting us turned on a light. There was one light, I think one electrical socket, with a mattress on the ground and a ladder to a loft with another mattress on the ground of the loft floor. I’m thankful for the mosquito nets provided over the beds. The man left and my friend looked at me and asked, “Are you okay?” I could tell she was wondering if she was okay as well. We both just looked at each other realizing we both smelled the not so good aroma coming from the mattresses and whatever was under our cabin. We opened the back door of the cabin that put us back outside and there was another small light. We flipped the switch and saw the hose fastened to a concrete wall that was our shower and a toilet that was less than clean looking. I looked at my friend and just said “We’re camping.” She replied, “that’s what I was telling myself too.” “We just have to tell ourselves we are camping and then it’s not so bad.” I said back to her. We both smiled and laughed.

 

In Amed I slept in and wore the same clothes with a swim suit for 3 days because I refused to let anything else I owned touch the mattress. I just couldn’t pinpoint what was in or on the mattress that was creating that smell and I wanted to subject as little as I could to it. And I got fairly clean feeling under the cold-water hose of a shower. I still however enjoyed the rustic and serenely beautiful landscape of this area. When we awoke the next morning, walking down the ladder-like steps, we were greeted by the calm ocean waters just feet from our doorstep. The few days we spent there were a good switch from where we were. We walked up and down roads and small paths that led to fresh spring water and rice fields along with other crops to be harvested. We snorkeled and saw a completely different ocean than the one I am used to in Hawaii. And my most memorable moment was capturing the small glimpses of an entire community coming together to prepare and build for a Balinese wedding that was soon coming. If you follow my Instagram you may have seen these stories. There were men building archways and women and children all helping. I thought they were building homes until I asked and was told the whole village comes together to prepare for these extravagant celebrations. Amed was worth the trek, just choose you accommodations carefully.

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International Travel Beginnings in Airports and the Uluwatu area of Bali Indonesia

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Arriving to Bali was a thirty-seven-hour event full of learnings and experiences that made me quickly realize how covered in grace I was. I’ve done limited international travel and never attempted the budget travel airlines until now. For anyone traveling internationally, if the airline has an option to purchase baggage allowance as you are booking, purchase it! And purchase enough. I thought that like the major none budget airlines I would just pay for my baggage at the airports but soon found out that the fees at the airport for those who don’t prepay are astronomical. My large checked bag would’ve been almost $500 just for the first flight. I had 2 more flights to go! Long story short the woman at the service desk pulled a few strings and let me check my baggage for $160 then at the next airport grace and mercy flooded down again and I only had to pay $70 instead of almost $400. There was a moment I wasn’t sure I was going to be getting on even the first flight, and in hindsight the experience allowed for me to not have any other option but to receive grace and multiple huge favors from complete strangers. There are people who want to help and want to see you succeed whether in large or small feats.

As I got off the plane with just about everything I own in my two suitcases, I saw a couple wave me down, I assumed they were the couple there to pick me up and take me to my first place to stay in the Uluwatu area of Bali. I suddenly realized I had no clue who these people were; I am completely unfamiliar with where I am, and here I am, standing with everything I own, needing a ride, and forced to trust them enough to get in the back of their truck. Yes, I was on edge, and yes, I prayed for safety. Talk about stepping outside of my comfort zone. I am naturally pretty weary of people until I get to know them and see them as trustworthy. My first experiences were filled with huge language barriers, not knowing much about where I am and despite all that compete strangers showing me an abundance of patience and a sincere desire to help.

One of the major hurdles in Bali is transportation. Yes, in comparison to the United States things are much much cheaper. However, even what seems to be small expenses add up quickly. By far the most affordable way to travel is by a motor bike or scooter. The traffic and just the way people drive in Bali terrifies me. The rules of the road are there are very few rules of the road. People on various types of transportation honk endlessly and enter oncoming traffic as they zoom passed each other. I will say there seems to be very few accidents however for the most part, so far, I’m more comfortable paying for rides to where I need to get. I’ve also walked miles every day.

I’ve walked and gotten rides to several beaches around Uluwatu and they are just breathtaking. My favorite is probably Nyang Nyang. It’s more local and much less crowded then the more popular surf beaches which are filled with travelers in search of amazing, thrilling waves. While in Indonesia one of the moments I really take pleasure in is drinking their fresh fruit juices. I cannot emphasize enough how delicious a tall glass of local papaya juice, or watermelon juice is. The local cuisine is phenomenal and for the most part pretty healthy which just adds to the flavor of paradise I’ve experienced near Uluwatu and South Kuta.

Next I am trading in my first world amenities (air conditioning, and warm showers) and leaving the more popular touristy area to head into a much more secluded and local area rich in Balinese culture and tradition.

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Thought-filled Tastes of Reality as I Leave Molokai

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It’s my last morning on Molokai and I’ve got a million thoughts and emotions racing through my mind. Most of my thoughts encompass how different I feel like my life appears from everyone else but how I’m probably more similar to everyone around me when it comes to wants, needs, wishes, and desires than it appears. I’ve got one more week in Hawaii and one more island to explore then I’m off on my international travel venture that I’ve decided to take. I’ve heard how excited so many are for me and how they too wish they could’ve done something like this and I’ll be honest; I think doing something like this when looking from the outside has an overly glamorized appearance. When in reality the only reason I’m doing this is because this is where God has me. Nothing else fell into place in my life the way I thought it would in the timing I thought it would happen in but this opportunity did; so here I am. And I am confident that this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m anticipating moments of great adventure and mind-blowing happenings, but also I am very aware of all the work, budgeting, not showering when I want to, planes trips, airports, and tiring days that quickly turn into nights that traveling is. I am positive there are going to be moments when I just want to be in my own home in my own room, snuggled in my own bed but I sold all those things so that’s not happening anytime soon, haha!

My time on Molokai was spent with a close friend of mine. This was good for two reasons. First, we talked about where I am in life and all the good and bad that comes with it. It was a time of great talks and lots of processing. Second, as usual we had a blast together exploring Molokai. We are known to take on adventurous situations together and this time on Molokai did not disappoint. Some of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii are on Molokai but very difficult to get to and a vehicle that is raised and made for taking on rugged terrain is necessary. Many times there is literally no one else on these beaches or at the very most, just a few. These beaches are still filled with shells waiting to be found and haven’t been over-picked by the masses. Most of the larger more sandy beaches are on the west side of this more remote island but there are beautiful beaches all over.

We went hiking up in the mountains on Molokai were the climate quickly changes to a much cooler and wetter one in some parts of the mountains but on the dryer side you can feel scorched with heat. There are deer everywhere. Residence from other islands come here for hunting pretty regularly. There aren’t many places to rent but a great place to camp, and hunters do.

On the east end of Molokai there is the more well-known Halawa valley and waterfall to explore. I recommend spending an entire day to do this. Make sure you contact someone for a tour to hike to the falls or residence of this area may not take to kindly to you venturing back here by yourself. There is private property that you have to pass to get to the falls. And this fall is beautiful.

One of my favorite experiences is just being able to fly over the north part of Molokai coming from Maui in a smaller 8 seat commuter plane. I have never seen such breath-taking views. There are so many hidden waterfalls that I’m guessing no one has even been to because of where they are and you can only see from the air. The steep, jagged and very green mountains and sea cliffs are like nothing else I’ve seen in the world.

My time on Molokai was a beautiful one and I am sad to leave, but excited for my next stop and last leg in Hawaii, the big island…

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The Sweet Taste of Freedom and the Hope in Goodbye

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Freedom has a multitude of various meanings depending on who you are speaking to and their personal experience with it. Starting out on this venture is expanding mine.  I can’t say I was completely embracing of the thought that I may need to let go of so many things I wanted to keep, things I’ve worked hard for, and ultimately value, in order to have hands that are open and able to receive whatever is coming. To be bluntly honest I’m still hoping that what I’m going to get even if it’s in experiences, outweighs all that I’ve given up. I have no idea of exactly what’s coming even next week and I have no words to explain what an odd feeling that is. But what a thrilling thing hope is. It’s a feeling that is at its peak, pours over spilling on those around you giving the entire group an excitement and anticipation for only God knows what’s around the corner.

In order to have open hands to receive what’s to come I realized I needed to let go of what I was already clenching tightly on to. I needed to free myself up from all the securities most of us grow so accustomed to. I had a good size studio apartment that was just a five-minute bike ride to the nearest beach on the north shore of Oahu. It had everything I needed, and not to mention I thoughtfully and carefully worked on its aesthetics to make it the cutest coziest nest of a place for me to come home to and feel relaxed after a long hard day of work. I had globe lights and twinkle lights strung throughout to give off the softest most comforting lighting, I had saved money and searched the island for a while to find real wood antique and/or rustic pieces that would go well in my space, there were flowers everywhere, and sentimental, some even handmade items that just made my space feel warm and inviting. I loved having people over and letting them enjoy the warmth and comfort of the place I lived while I enjoyed their company. I had worked hard for years to have the ability to create a second home on Oahu and the initial thought of giving it all up to physically have nothing but a suitcase was not appealing to say the least.

As I began going thru my closest and selling my clothes, giving a ton of things away I thought people would need or just enjoy, selling my furniture some that had stories behind them or I had built myself, the feeling of freedom began bubbling up. Wow, I was in the midst of creating an abundance of room for what could be the wildest, riskiest, but most abundantly blessed moments of my life and getting rid of all these things I had accumulated to just be free was the most liberated I’ve felt to date. I now have nothing tying me down. Everything I wanted to sell I sold and for the prices I asked for. Even down to my car. I remember telling God “Okay God this is what I want to make selling my car. This is what will make me feel good about selling it.” Down to the penny God showed up. I got a call from a friend back home and he asked me how I was doing in the process and if selling everything was going well. I told him the details of what I asked for and what I received. I’ll always remember his response. “Melanie, do you realize every single thing you asked for you got?! Down to the penny you got it.” It was just another clearly defined moment that reconfirmed this was exactly what God wanted me to do. He was showing up, going before me and paving the path one stepping stone at a time.

As all this was happening, one of the sweetest things to come out this was my friends seeing how God was parting the red sea so I could walk thru and the elation and joy they had for me. There are moments when I don’t know who is more excited, me or one of my friends.

One of my most cherished possessions are my relationships. I am constantly in awe of the amazing, strong, faithful, trustworthy, loving, honest people I have surrounding me. My community is an incredible one and saying goodbye is never easy. It is incredible to see how each one is cheering me on and over joyed, waiting in just as much if not more expectancy for what’s to come. These goodbyes are difficult but it’s a great thing to know that they are difficult because what I have in these relationships are rare treasures. I’m not so much saying goodbye as much as saying I will miss you until I see you again.

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