Exploring Brisbane, My Favorite Large City

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Leaving Mackay and the man I would soon marry wasn’t easy, however beginning a dream job and exploring the world a bit more wasn’t the worst thing to be walking towards. I excitedly hopped back onto a plane and headed south to Brisbane, the city of sunny weather. Some of the best things Australia has to offer are in and around this sizeable city. If anyone were to ask me which large city in Australia they should spend their time in, and I’ve been to both Sydney and Brisbane several times, I would tell them hands down, Brisbane.

Brisbane has a warmer climate and all around, more sunshine than its akin city, Sydney. With so many options to exercise and keep those endorphins flowing, this urban area exudes an outdoorsy vibe. I chose to stay in Kangaroo Point, which is just over the river, outside the city center. My mornings often started with me stepping outside my door and jogging along the beautiful foot path that paralleled the Brisbane river and led to the walking bridge that brings into the city center. No other large city I’ve been to has had this kind of accommodation to access its central business district. Every morning, local folks, in their business attire, would walk out of their homes just outside the city center, wearing their sneakers and backpacks, and walk along these well-groomed sidewalks, to work. These footpaths connect residential areas just outside the CBD, and lead them over a large beautifully built bridge that stretches across the river and was built solely for those on foot. Along these footpaths there are rock-climbing walls and exercise stations with well-kept equipment. Once over the bridge, there are a mass number of restaurants, shopping malls, and my favorite, Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, with an entrance lit up with twinkle lights at The Domain. This city makes living a healthy lifestyle easy and enjoyable.

The free city hopper ferry is another advantage Brisbane has over so many other cities. With several stops along the Brisbane River, it makes sightseeing all over Brisbane easy and affordable. For my foodie and shopper friends, Fortitude Valley is a must visit location if you are even remotely near Brisbane. It holds some of this region’s top restaurants and choice apparel, accessories, and homewares shops. I strolled this district more than once. With greenery winding through trellised ceilings and walls, and large open air windows perfect for people watching and enjoying the breeze, The Chow House was my go-to, affordable restaurant.

Just south of Brisbane lies the well-known Gold Coast. With lots of large built up areas just across the street from beautiful but very crowded beaches and tons of fast fashion shopping, this place attracts those who want to be seen and enjoy being a part of the crowd. I decided to keep driving and spent a bit of time in Burleigh Heads, a city with a bit more of a quaint, family charm. Soon I was off to my next destination, the notable Byron Bay. With a few days to spend in Byron Bay, I was able to do a bit of hiking and lots of strolling the town and beaches. Byron has an eclectic vibe and is filled with healthy eating options and some eco-friendly, sustainable clothing brand shops. The beaches are filled with surfers from all over and the waters are warm and inviting. Though this area is a bit crowded, and I can see why it attracts those from all over. There are many beaches to choose from tucked away in this beach-lover destination.

Brisbane and its surrounding areas is worth a stand-alone vacation. Now taking a car north of Brisbane to Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast, to begin my new job training. Noosa, in itself is an astonishing place and one location I loved so much we’d soon call it home. But first, after job training, with no long-term visa in hand for Australia, I would head back to another place I love and have made long standing friendships, New Zealand.

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Experiencing Sydney and the Harbour

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My next stop had me entering the hustle and bustle of city life. I entered Sydney not knowing what to expect but only knowing that God opened the door for me to travel through Australia and so here I was, a country girl at heart, beginning this leg of my journey smack-dab in one of the world’s largest cities. I didn’t have much time to ponder this due to the mass amount of people in suits hurriedly power walking past me to get to their assumed appointments. The streets were filled with taxis and just a few blocks away ferries were continuously going from one Sydney harbor to the next. The Central Business District (CBD) is filled with food options from small sidewalk carts for those on the go, to fancy fine dining restaurants with world renowned chefs, and the shopping… oh I wish I could really let loose and go on a shopping spree. However, due to a travel budget I reminded myself the pretty dresses aren’t worth the sacrifice of travel experiences to come.

This was also the first time in my travels I chose an Airbnb that was a room with a shared bathroom in someone’s home. I would be sharing a living space with a complete stranger and not just a living space but HER living space. I was hoping and praying that this would forge a friendship and not be too awkward.

As fate would have it I roomed with a soon to be friend named Claire. She too was single and slightly older than I. We stayed up talking about our lives and how we found them so different than we ever thought they would be. I shared my faith and my belief that though very different than most women’s lives my age, there must be purpose in the difference. She too had traveled around the world quite a bit. These talks and the company was the much-needed girl time that I had been craving.

The weather was warmer than I had just come from in New Zealand and I welcomed it. Sydney has many beaches and I went to several. I was also quite impressed with The Royal Botanical Gardens with its views of the harbor and the art museum that is right next to it.  It is a perfect spot to go for a long walk and have lunch, as the walk is right along the harbor which is lined with restaurants next to the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney, with its newfound friendship and sun drenched beaches, did not disappoint. And then, I was ready to leave the city and drive south.

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My Journey Through the Waimangu Volcanic Valley of New Zealand

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With its striking presence, rock formations so grand they tower over the boiling thermal lakes, the Waimangu Volcanic Valley is the youngest geothermal system on earth and the only one entirely created within written history. Nothing compares to trekking through these unabashed lands. On foot this trek takes about two hours to each way; it is a longer walk but with very clear paths and not much uphill unless you decide to take the cut-off which leads to an extraordinary uphill workout with an eye-catching view of Inferno Crater. With this much time walking along, surrounded by nature, there is plenty of time to walk, think, reflect, and to take in all that surrounds you.

For the entire two-hour trek to the lake I only passed one other couple who were taking this journey on foot. I was in complete solitude for most of my walk. I was thankful for the solitude in part due to the complete uphill trek to Inferno Crater left me panting for air and dripping sweat. There is nothing like being surrounded by nature with little human interference. This walk left me feeling at complete peace and invigorated.

Inferno Crater is filled with an aquamarine jewel toned lake that is a jaw-dropping treat at the end the uphill climb. Along the way there are a few lookout points where you can see just how far this park stretches. Filled densely with trees you can see just how far you are going to walk and where the park ends at the lakes edge.

At this point I am five months in to traveling solo, exploring this earth, and discovering more of what it is I feel passionate about. As I round the corner I see constant steam arising from a lake. It literally looks like the lake water is boiling, it was. Frying Pan Lake was given its name very fittingly. And shooting up from its edges stands Cathedral Rock. This is the moment I was so lost in thought and wonderment I turned to say “Wow, Incredible…”  out loud and there was no one there. This is the point I realized I have traveled to so many places and for most of my journey I maybe had a stranger to share in the experiences with, and through that I’ve made so many connections, but I’ve craved a partner to share with all there is to marvel. Someone to do this walk with and gazed with astoundment at all that has been created. Someone to listen when I decide to say something out loud and then after pieces of this journey, to sit, have lunch and converse, ask questions, talk, or just be with companionship.

I continued my trek all the way to the lake, passing streams that were steaming with heat and geothermal activity, a lake so black to me it looked like the gateway to the pits of hell, terraces marbles with different colors from iodine and I don’t know what else, but I was more just lost in thought. I could now see and feel clearly, with a much greater depth than before, of what is most important, partnership.

The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

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This title is only semi-descriptive of the jaw-dropping amazement this naturally thermal landscape in Rotorua brings to the eyes and imaginations of both young and old alike. Pools of vivid colors I have never before seen naturally appearing through these lands, sprinkle this trek with abundance. This fascinating destination quite impressive if you find yourself anywhere on the North Island of New Zealand.

The trek itself is just under 2 km and very easy, however due to the changing terrain you may want to still opt to wear your tennis shoes. The popular attraction, Lady Geyser, is just before the trek starts and she erupts every morning at a prescheduled specific time, so I highly recommend getting there early and not missing out on that experience. It is a man induced eruption which was a bit of a disappointment, but in all fairness, there would be no other way to guarantee the, what starts as bubbling over then quickly changes to a rocketing eruption shooting several meters into the air, show for the anticipating audience.

Filled with names like ‘Artists Palette’, ‘Devil’s Ink Pots’, ‘Champagne Pool’, and ‘Devils Bath’, there is literally another stunning sight to see around every corner. There is a small spur off the main path to take that leads to Lake Ngakoro; a vibrant seafoam green lake to rest your eyes on after taking a few stairs to get there. I was completely enthralled with its aesthetic. Along this trek take a moment to notice that even the foliage has bright greens, coppers, and rust colors dripping from every branch. Once done with the trek there is an option to walk or drive over to the mud pools, another unique thermal experience to view with spouting pools sometimes in unison as if they were choreographed.

This path through Waiotapu is truly a wonderland, but is also touristy and usually quite populated. The experience, however, of seeing the myriad of native sceneries holds its value, as there is none other like it.

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Things To Do in Mount Maunganui

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Although the South Island, with all of its grand beauty, is any outdoor enthusiasts dream, it is whipping with southerly winds blowing in from Antarctica that bring a startling chill, and I was ready for some warmer weather. My North Island discovery began with the explorations of Mount Maunganui.

This little beach town has become quite a popular surf spot and its soft sand beaches with warmer summer waters bring in tourists from all over the world. As I strolled through the main stretch of shops I heard European accents from the student workers behind the counters of several privately-owned shops and cafes. This place does draw a younger, energetic crowd that fills the atmosphere with a youthful upbeat vibe.

A must do while on The Mount is to hike up to the top. The hike itself is beautifully line with shrubbery and green foliage which also helpfully provides a bit of shade from the intense sun this mountain can get. The panoramic views of the multiple shorelines, various inlets, and the city of Tauranga are a more than worth it reward. Many people do this hike for either daily exercise or simply for the views as a visitor, so I highly recommend going early. While at the top venture out a bit and explore the various paths along the peak that will take you to different viewpoints.

The Mount has multiple hikes going around the base and to the peak; there are days filled with exploring at various fitness levels so a leisurely scenic walk with an ice cream from one of the various ice cream shops is a fun way to end the day and watch a sunset. Coming down from the hike puts you right on the main beach and the beginning of side streets filled with shops. The main beach is beautiful and full of activity from volleyball to kayaking to surfing and of course, lots of people watching.

The multitude of restaurants and cafes make where to eat a perplexing decision. The mount has food choices for every desire, from vegan cuisine, to Mediterranean to Thai this place leaves a hungry person bursting with decisions. The Mount is a great getaway for beachgoers looking for a small but lively surf town to explore and enjoy.

Stopping to Smell the Roses in Christchurch

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Botanical gardens that will make any flower lover swoon with delight and bustling outdoor cafes filled with life is what I discovered and where I spent most of my time in Christchurch. This larger city, the largest in New Zealand’s South Island, is still recovering and rebuilding from the major earthquakes that rattled its core and caused some buildings to crack and crumble in its wake. The steadfast determination of this city and the persistent drive of its construction workers is an invigorating sight to see and be in the midst of while this city is being revitalized.

I was able to stay right in the heart of the city center, and what I loved about this city is it wasn’t so big and spread out that I couldn’t walk anywhere I wanted to go. I was blessed to enjoy beautiful sunny weather with a crisp breeze cool enough to not feel overheated on the longer walks. Cafes, pubs, food trucks, art stands, and musicians singing tunes while playing their instruments, lined the streets and created a welcoming and vibrant surrounding while enjoying all the sights of the central business district. High Street, Cathedral Square, and New Regent Street with a train running through, are the must-sees of this area. For more upscale shopping The Tannery is the place to visit. My favorite indoor/outdoor place to sip coffee or wine and eat delicious fresh food while working away on my laptop was the Arbo Café. With its unlimited Wi-Fi, perfect location on High Street for people watching, beautiful but simple décor, and outdoor seating options, I spent hours here in between walks around the city. Also for a quick bite, the food trucks in Cathedral Square are a worth it stop when the weather is nice.

Walking a bit further, past all the hustle and bustle of the inner city and into a peaceful, floral, fragrant ambiance is Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens. These gardens are an endless sensory wonderland abounding with all kinds of flowers in full bloom during its spring season. With the Avon river calmly flowing thru and gondola rides to tour part of the gardens via water, there are numerous ways and paths to take. These gardens are so large it is easy to find a quiet spot to enjoy a bit of silence, apart from the sounds of nature. I am a woman who loves flowers, and being in the midst of the bountiful lavishness of this expansive enchanted paradise I was in complete elation. Needless to say, I came to the gardens almost on a daily basis just to sit amidst the gardens and enjoy a good read or a quiet walk.

Adjacent to the gardens is the Canterbury Museum, another deserving visit. A museum dedicated to Maori culture and history, its excellent displays are truly educational of this region of the world. While walking in to some of the rooms you hear authentic Maori music and language and view the authentic clothing, artifacts, and replicas of the housing.

Christchurch did not disappoint, and being in the midst of the rebuilding of this city added a sense of rejuvenation and determination to this much-needed experience.

Women Empowering Women

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During my explorations in New Zealand’s South Island, where I spent over a month exploring, I decided to visit local churches and walked into Elim Church in Dunedin. I was immediately welcomed and befriend by some loving, extraordinary women. They invited me into their homes, fed me, and together we shared pieces of our lives and stories. I was asked to share my story to a women’s group within the church; I’m usually not much for any form of public speaking, but I felt prompted and said yes before the words “no way” could escape my mouth. This was one of those raw moments that, like a domino effect, led to other women opening up, sometimes despite the tears streaming down their cheeks. These are the pivotal points in time we as women can choose to really support, uplift, and empower each other in both emotional and practical ways.

I started out feeling nervous and realizing that no one in this room really knew me. In those first moments, I was unsure how I would be able to relate to all these different women when I had no idea who they were and what their experiences have been.

“My life hasn’t turned out the way I wanted or ever expected it to go, and I thought I’d share a piece of my story with you, and why I’m doing what I’m doing.” As I began with those first words to just lay it all on the line, I saw every woman’s eyes I looked into, looking back with complete connection, understanding, and waiting with expectancy for what I was going to say next. I went on and talked about my achievements, my heartaches, my disappointments, and why I walked away from a good paying career to explore the world and at least give myself a chance to pursue things that fill me with passion and a sense of purpose. (If you want to know more about this please read my “About” page, and feel free to contact me with any questions.)  I talked about faith and what that looks like when God hasn’t given you the life everyone else seems to have and you so badly wanted. I talked about how I hear God, how I’ve listened to Him asking me to step out of the boat, then feeling like I am sinking. How in this entire adventure I am stepping out not knowing where the next stepping stone will be or when it will show up. Similarly, how the Israelites were called into the wilderness and continually cried out to God wondering if He brought them there to die because they too felt like they were walking blindly with everything resting on their faith and trust. How Hagar was cast into the desert with a child and had to lay Ishmael down under a bush to die because they didn’t even have water. I shared about my confusion in this season and how here I sit, amongst a group of women speaking about faith, and I myself am unsure how I am going to keep a roof over my head.

Most importantly I shared how I saw God show up, sometimes at the very last minute, every time I made the first move to step out, and take these huge risks. I’ve always chosen to walk forward until I see God close the door; and then sometimes He opens a window and I crawl my way through that. He is always there, and He always answers in some form. God always provided for the Israelites and a spring of water for Hagar, in the last moments. Ishmael thrived and grew into a great nation. God ALWAYS provides when we follow His promptings in our journeys; sometimes it just looks a bit different than we expected. I shared that I really do believe our lives are made to be stories of God’s mighty work, and for there to be room for Him to truly reveal Himself there has to be great imperfection, lack, and despair. There has to be a need, a deficit, for Him to fulfill. Our stories aren’t just for us to have this outwardly appearance of a good life. Our stories aren’t just for us at all, but for God to reveal Himself through us to the world. Our ultimate goal shouldn’t be to have a cookie cutter “good” life, but to connect with others through the life we have and share our stories.

After I shared my stories we had great discussion. Multiple women opened up about the heart-wrenching struggles they are facing and have faced in their own lives, and how they too have lives that don’t look like they’d ever imagined. Stories of husbands leaving, having no means to support themselves let alone their children, struggles of depression, and just not being where they thought they would be in life. These are the moments we as women can speak life and hope into each other, reminding each other of who God is and His love and sovereignty over our lives, or we can completely miss this opportunity. We all have shortcomings, but these are the times we can really connect and push each other forward in our faith and in our lives. It is a beautiful thing, when women allow themselves be completely be striped of any pride and share their struggles. Take these opportunities, when we see the needs right in front of us. Be conscious that sometimes we are called to not just listen and embrace, but to act in any way we can provide help. Empowering isn’t just verbal but sometimes requires action and provision. So, there I was the next day, with no income myself, no knowledge of where the next roof over my head was going to be, arms filled with grocery bags, walking up to a doorstep I was seeing for the first time, and leaving all the groceries for someone who’s need was greater than mine.

Women empowering women.

The Road to Queenstown is as Beautiful as Queenstown Itself

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Pulling my tiny rental car over to the shoulder became a much too frequent occurrence on the way to Queenstown, but I just couldn’t help myself. The scenery had an untouched beauty that is rarely scene in more developed areas. I was planning on the drive being about four hours due to icy conditions but it turned into about eight, and I don’t regret a single second. Dressed warmly for the snow thanks to my dad who sent me some money because he knew all I has was summer clothes, I was well prepared for some freezing weather sightseeing and snow- filled experiences, cold weather hiking boots, wool socks, and all.

Along the way, the landscape is continually changing. There are dry, rocky areas that have boulders the size of large houses strewn long the fields, lakes that seem to have no end to them, and quaint towns that sit along the shores. The architecturally impressive bridges allow passage over rivers with such clears water you can see the stones that lie at the very bottom. Though it was cold and icy, the sun was shining and I could feel its warmth as I took breaks to walk along the lakes and rivers. The small little cafes were worth the stops as well, for their fresh brewed coffee and homemade baked goods. There are wineries, vineyards, farms, and orchards all along the way and they are all fun places to stop and buy goods for the stay in Queenstown.

And alas Queenstown, a town that sits among snowcapped mountains and is filled with snowboarders and skiers all along the streets walking with all their equipment to the buses that come every twenty minutes to take them to the lifts. In the town center the narrow streets are lined with restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops for every need. As for me, I skipped the tourist trap shopping and went straight for the snow.

Skiing and snowboarding is a given must do while you’re up here but one of the free and usually missed and incredible experiences is the hiking that starts right in Queenstown. It is a cold climb however it is such an uphill climb I warmed up rather quickly. The mountainous views from hiking were stunning and the fact that most of the time there was no one else on the trail was astonishing to me. I passed the occasional guys carrying their skis up a trail to apparently back country ski but that was about it. I had found the beauty of Queenstown away from the crowds.

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And Wanaka is a treasure all its own, therefore owed its own blog post.

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.

Solo Traveling through Ubud and the Wondrous Sights up to Bangli

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As I stepped away from the beach culture that a large portion of Bali is and into the cooler mountainous landscape richly seeped in Balinese culture, tradition, Hindu temples, and shrines, I had many conflicting emotions. This increased as I made a local friend who I could ask candid questions too, not offend him, and he would reply openly and honestly. Most of my discord stemmed from the fact that with every fiber of my being, to my core, I am deeply in love with Jesus. I have done nothing to deserve what He has done for me, I could aim to do nothing more for Him, and still He would love me unconditionally. I would still be His daughter and like a Father He would still have His arms reaching for me to help me up when I fall. This kind of love takes my breath away and  humbles me to the extent that it brings me to my knees with eyes brimming with tears. My relationship with my God is every day, very intimate, and impenetrable. When chaos swirls around me He is who I go to. I block everyone else out, so I can hear specifically from Him and the outside noise is muted. I crave for every person I come in contact with to have this. This is what sustains me when all else fails. With this said, I walk with open eyes still able to admire so much of the tradition, dedication, and amount of faith these people walk with day after day, year after year, generation after generation. I look at those qualities with admiration and can clearly see some things I am lacking in.

Ubud has so many holy temples and shrines; the craftsmanship is breath-taking. I took a trip to the Water Purification temple and witnessed locals coming in to a place believed to have fresh water that comes up from a spring that purifies and cleanses them of anything unholy and any wrong-doing. They bring offerings to their God in faith it will be pleasing and bring good things for their life and the life of their families. The commitment to give offerings on a daily basis, though smaller daily, is another quality of commitment that stuck in my mind. The emotion I saw as men, women, and children stood under the spouts to be cleansed by this water was convicting. Another moment of me reflecting if I am in each moment with God aware and feeling the emotions that come with it or has some of my relationship become routine and monotonous and I need to be more emotionally there. My relationship with God is like any relationship in that it needs to be fed and attention and care need to be given. One of the many questions I asked my newly made friend surrounded the cost of these rituals and he openly explained that with all of the offerings and ceremonies held he spends quite a bit of his money each year and so does each family. He explained that he like many families in Bali lives in a small house with his extended family and they live in poverty.

Another sight that should not be missed are the rice fields in Tegallalang and the lake among the mountains in Bangli. Go for the pictures you can take alone. The views in these areas you just won’t find anwhere else. There is a hike you can do to the top of the mountain but it starts at 2 am so I was out for that one. My trip to Ubud was a time for me to enjoy and regroup after bouncing from location to location so quickly. While is this region you can also visit and see a Luwak, a tiny animal, that makes apparently the most expensive coffee in the world. I tried it; it wasn’t my favorite but it was worth the experience. Apparently this animal poops out the coffee beans and the enzymes in the animal do something to the beans. They are then traditionally roasted in a pan over fire.

Lastly, Ubud is filled with some great shopping. Yes you have to dig a little and not all of it is good quality but some of it is and at a much cheaper price than sold elsewhere. I stayed in a nice boutique hotel that was a 15 minute walk to the main downtown like shopping area, and 10 minutes in the other direction was the monkey forest. Let me not forget to tell you there are monkeys everywhere. These one are not mean like the ones in Uluwatu and they are playful. And when I say they are everywhere they really are… hanging on telephone wires, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, crossing the streets with the people. It will put a smile on your face that these more non-aggressive monkeys mingle with people on a daily basis.

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