Wine Down Wednesday in Napa Valley 

This post actually starts with Tuesday evening…which is a bit deceiving from the title.

We landed in San Francisco at around 5 pm, picked up our rental car and made our way out to Napa Valley. Once we had made a quick check-in to the hotel, we went to a restaurant nearby for a 9 pm reservation. I ALWAYS use yelp to help me pick places to eat, especially while traveling, and it never lets me down.

This was no exception. Since we were really the last party seated for the night, we got a great table. We sat outside with a direct view of the fountain which was all lit up. It was beautiful! We got some delicious food and just relaxed into our surroundings.

I had a posh cosmo, which was just a cosmo with sparkling wine. For food I had beef carpaccio and manetlli pasta with pesto. Yum!

I’m really excited to be here with my mom, who is very supportive and loving. This mother-daughter trip is a chance for each us to have fun, but most importantly for us to have fun together. The relationship between my mom and me has only gotten stronger as I’ve gotten older. Which I suspect is the norm. For one, I lean on her for advice and see her role with more gratitude. Second, I see myself taking on more of her habits and personality, which makes me feel closer to her. It’s a cool connection!

Once we got back to the hotel, we went straight to bed, given that there is a 3 hour difference between the west coast and east coast. Tomorrow, we would wake up and start our winery tour of Napa!


We woke up, for breakfast at the hotel and started plotting. We honestly didn’t plan anything for this trip, besides hotels, flights and the cars. It has made me a little nervous because I’m used to at least doing a little research beforehand. But, I had the internet, so everything was going to be fine.

I like using TripAdvisor for planning out activities. So, I went on and found a list of the best activities to do in Napa. We went back to our hotel room and I made reservations for the places that needed them. Then, we were on our way!

Our first stop was Sterling Vineyards, which had quite the tasting experience, since there was a cable car involved. Basically, the tasting venue is on top of a mountain, which you take a cable car up to the platform. This made for some stunning views!

Once we got to the top, we were directed through different rooms, with great views and info about the place. It was a great first stop for the scenic aspect.

We honestly just chatted with everyone there, so we what was supposed to be an hour, took 2 and half hours. So we were unable to get lunch in between our next tasting.

Our next tasting was at Hess Vineyard, which has a stunning private, contemporary art collection. That was our main reason for going there, since both myself and my mom like art.

We did a tasting of the wines and then headed up to the private art collection. The one that we both loved the most was a typewriter with flames coming out of it. It was created by an artist who uncle was killed for writing an inflammatory story. We thought that the typewriter was quite apt for the current political climate as well. News on fire!

I had made a reservation for a local restaurant called “Redd.” It once had 1 Michelin star, but lost it. Oh well! We knew it would be great, without the absorbent prices that come with the Michelin rating. I’m pretty sure that Napa Valley has the most Michelin rated restaurants per capita in the US. The food here was good!

We got dressed up, aka I wore heels, and headed over. No one in Napa dresses up! It’s all very casual, so my mom and I were usually the most dressed up wherever we went. Oh well!

Even at this restaurant everyone was casual. I used yelp to help pick out a dish, and again, yelp didn’t let me down! I got seared scallops which were delicious. After drinking wine all day, there was just no way I was going to get wine with dinner. I needed a little break!

Since we had such an early reservation, we decided to go to downtowns napa to see what was around.

Besides me talking constantly about wanting to go to San Francisco, my mom had gotten an email from her alma mater, Johns Hopkins, about an alumni tour of Napa valley. It was way out of our price range, but it spurred us create our own trip.

We headed back to our hotel and crashed, given that we were 3 hours behind and had been drinking wine all day. Tomorrow was going to be filled with even more wine.

Off to the West Coast 

My mom and I are off to California for a girl’s week vacay! Yay mother-daughter time! 😊

Our first stop will be Napa Valley to taste the California wines. Then, later we’re heading to San Francisco. I’ve been talking about going to San Francisco for over 6 years now, so I’m excited to finally make it out there and explore for a few days. Though it will only be a week away from everyday life, it is very much needed.

I’ve been super stressed and using so much mental and emotional energy to make it through each day. There are just so many ideas and decisions to make soon, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed. My 25th birthday is coming up later this month, and I’ve been feeling the pressure of the imposed maturity needed to handle that age. As if I need to suddenly take myself more seriously or something. I’m pretty sure I could actually loosen up a little…😆

I read this article recently on Gweneth Paltrow’s website, Goop, which talked about the pressures that millenials are going through. The author, who was describing the issues, related everything to the achievement mentality that we have been pressured to adopt by society. We’ve been working hard to make goals happen, in hopes that we’ll finally feel successful and fulfilled. In actuality, most of the time, we’re not happy with the outcome because though it could boost our confidence, it’s not satisfying. Achieving goals is not soul food in the least.

The author was advising millenials who are feeling burnt out and confused to return to some of the hobbies they enjoyed when they were children. So it got me thinking about the things that I liked when I was a child…

I loved to dance! I took ballet, tap and jazz classes that took almost all of my Saturday’s. My true love of the 3 was ballet. So I found a class through the rec center for adult ballet. I took my first class and felt totally at home and so many wonderful memories came back. Unfortunately, I twisted my ankle and broke a bone in my foot doing an excercise class later that week. Ironically, the break is nicknamed the ballarina’s fracture… so, I was no longer able to go to my adult ballet class. 😭

But, I had other ideas and more hobbies that I’ve been thinking about. One is hosting dinner parties, which I did a lot. I love cooking for people (not myself, boring). When I was in 7th grade and my dad had not yet retired, I would make dinner for the family all on my own.  For instance, we would have sword fish, rice, salad and homemade ice cream! I even would talk to an audience if I was on a cooking show. Adorable, I know…

Similarly, I love food! I’m a foodie and so is the rest of my family. When I was 3 and visiting my family in Maine, I decided I wanted to order my own lobster. My dad said sure, knowing that he would get all the left overs. I don’t remember ordering many meals from the kids menu, preferring “adult” food. There is just something so amazing about eating something new, experiencing the tastes and textures. It’s a sensory experience which I crave, literally.

Another thing I have loved since I was young was art. I am very visually focused and enjoy looking at beautiful things, who doesn’t?! Before I went to kindergarten, I was at a daycare where my parents worked, which was right on the National Mall. I have many memories of field trips to the free museums that were literally right next door. I would say that I almost grew up in art museums.

My point being, that all these hobbies I am working to explore to fuel my soul. I think that this trip will allow me to explore these more, given that we will be going to lots of museums and eating tons of good food. The food and wine will ignite my senses and remind me why I love food so much. The art museums and architecture will excite my visual side. And, I guess I can dance whenever, wherever, so I’ll be that weird person in the park just moving to my own beat!

Hopefully, I will come back refreshed and my creativity renewed. This vacation is my soul food.


Bucket List: Scuba in Great Barrier Reef

Today was the day I had been waiting for all trip! It was New Years Eve and I was about to accomplish one of my bucket list items for my life: scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

I’m a big believer in the power of setting goals. I like to set goals for each new year. Usually, there are around 2-3 of them and at least one get accomplished. This year, I did have a few, but the main one was going abroad. And, here I was, on the eve of a new year, in the midst of it all. It felt good!

Not only was I accomplishing a 2016 goal, but I was about to accomplish a larger life goal. It was happenstance that this activity would fall on the same day as the end of 2016, but it was a very happy one for me.

I gladly woke up early and headed down to breakfast with the girls. I made sure my GoPro was fully charged and ready for action. I wanted to remember the sights for the rest of my life!

We got on the boat and headed to the dock. We then headed to our boat, which would be taking us on a 90 minute ride out to the Great Barrier Reef. It was strongly encouraged that we take some sea sickness pills, so I took two and was very glad I did about 30 minutes later.

The ride out there was rough and many people were sick to their stomach. I didn’t want to risk anything getting in the way of my scuba.

I have never scuba dived before, but it has always been something that I was interested in because the beautiful sights in books and movies. It seemed like something exploratory as well, like you were this awesome adventurer looking at sights that possibly no one had seen before. A bit romantic, but possibly just a truly wonderful and fun thing to do.

I had signed up for literally just about everything you could do out there. This was THE thing I was most excited about.

My scuba time wasn’t until later in the day, so I hopped onto a “sea bob” tour. I didn’t want to just sit around my activities, so I jumped at the chance to finally get in the water and see the reefs.

A “sea bob” is basically a motor that helped you move faster through the water than if you were to swim. It goes in front of you and pulls you along while you hold on. It’s especially nice because it can take you farther out than you can do swimming.

Two of the girls and I got our snorkeling gear on and headed out to meet the guy who would show us the ropes.

Once we got out a bit, we started to look down at the Reef. It was incredible to see the coral and fish living in the water. I turned on my GoPro to catch some footage to share with my family. The sun was bright, so the water was clear and the colors were really shining. We got to do some deeper diving with the sea bobs, which was great to do leading up to the scuba.

We were all wearing stinger suits, which protect against jelly fish and other stinging sea creatures. Even though I wore my suit, my chin bumped up against a jelly fish which stung me. As it was put to me earlier, it felt a bit like a spicy oil got on my face. It stung a little, but not too bad.

Once we got back to the boat docking area, it was already my time to go up in the helicopter.

We got on a boat that took us to a helicopter landing pad in the middle of the ocean…cool. We got in and they started going up. I took a few videos and pictures of the Reef from above. It was stunning to see how large the Reef was and how far it extended. I loved how clear the water was, so much so that we could see larger sea creatures from above.

We landed on the pad, and I caught the next boat back to the boat-dock, just in time for lunch. After lunch, it was my time to scuba dive!

I headed over to the area, stinger suit on, ready to do this!

It seems I was a little too early for my group, so I had to wait, a bit impatiently, for my time. I sat with my flippers on and mask ready, tank attached. Finally, my intro dive group was going!

The tank was incredibly heavy while out of water and the fins were hard to walk in. But, I made it down the stairs into the water chamber where we would learn basic dive instructions.

Our instructor went over the basics like how to signal you were okay (👌🏻), how to get water out of your mask, how to get rid of pressure in your body and how to remove the breather and then put it back in. We mimicked the movements to show we were capable of finally scuba diving.

He gently led us down in pressure and closer to the ocean floor, checking to see we adjusted okay. I followed the instructions and didn’t feel much pressure. He then had us link arms and make our way into the open water area.

The sights were breathtaking! Quite literally, not only because it was beautiful but also breathing solely out of your mouth is such a weird feeling. Honestly though, I took to it really well and loved the feeling of surviving under water. It had been something I worried I wouldn’t like, given that I had hyped the experience in my head. But, it was even better than I could have imagined.

We were under water exploring as a group for about 40 minutes.

When we returned to the surface, I quickly grabbed my GoPro to be able to take it down for my second dive which was almost right after the first dive. They don’t let you take your cameras with you on your first intro dive.

In between getting my tank filled and getting ready for the next dive, I chatted with some of the scuba instructors. We talked about the most amazing sights they had seen scuba diving and how they got into their roles. They all had similar experiences, mostly did it once and got hooked. A lot of them loved seeing sea turtles and dolphins when diving. They encouraged me to get my PADI certification, which I had already been thinking about.

We went down for our second dive and the instructor gave me a little more leeway to explore on my own a little more. This time, with my GoPro, I captured some awesome sights.

One of my fave videos is of Wally, a friendly fish who likes to interact with scuba divers. He is pretty large, probably a grouper fish, with blue and yellow scales. He came up and swam towards me, then got a little pet from the instructor. It was just very cool to get so close to wildlife out here, in this amazing piece of nature.

When I got back up from the second dive, it was just about time for the boat to leave the platform we had been docked at all morning and afternoon. I was surprised as where the time had gone, but felt good that I had used my time wisely.

I got back on the boat to head back to land. We headed to the top deck to relax for a little after an adventurous afternoon. We even got some chocolate ice cream…best day ever, right?!

We docked and got off the boat to head back to the hotel to get ready for our New Year’s Eve night. I had to get ready faster than everyone else, since I had a meeting about our next couple days, where we would be sailing.

I got in my “play suit” and headed down to the meeting about preparing for sailing. After the meeting was over, I met up with the girls and we got on the coach to go to the local bar Contiki had gotten us into.

The woolshed is a local bar with a dance floor on the top floor. It had a fun vibe, with good music and cool lights. We got dinner and drinks there, while it was still relatively calm. Then, at around 10 pm, it got a lot wilder. We danced and had fun, bonding with all the new group members.

At around 11:30 pm, we headed out to the coastal area to see the fireworks, which were great. It was an awesome last day for 2016, and I knew tomorrow would be just as awesome.
I headed back to the room, eager to sleep after a long day.

Falling into 2017

We woke up a little later than normal on the first day of 2017. 8 am wake up, and breakfast at 8:30 am, to be able to catch our ride to our very first adventure in 2017…bungee jumping!

It just so happens that bungee jumping is on my bucket list. It was pretty good timing for me to check this off on the first day of 2017. 

The bucket list keeps getting longer as I get older, but the original was most just adrenaline pumping activities and things you can’t do before you’re 18, like skydiving (20th birthday activity) and getting a tattoo (still haven’t done this, maybe I won’t ever?!).

We got in a van that took us to the location, which was closer to the mountains and outside of the city area. We were jumping with AJ Hackett’s company. He is infamous for bungee jumping off the effiel tower and then getting arrested for it. We knew we were in good hands with this company because they had a spotless safety record and their founder was obsessed with the sport.

When we got to the location, there was this great sign that made me laugh.

We got inside and signed our lives away, which we were used to doing by this point. All the activities had waiver forms that needed to be signed, just in case.

I was doing the “Mingin Swing” first with a friend who wasn’t bungee jumping. Our previous tour manager said it was best to start with the swing because it was a good warm up for the bungee jump. Just enough adrenaline, but nothing compared to the jump.

We were the first to go, out of the group. My friend was a bit more nervous than I was for the swing. She isn’t an adrenaline junky, like I can be. I was ready to “hold her hand” and make sure she had fun, even if she was terrified.

For the swing, we were hanging on harnesses, with our stomachs to the ground. Basically, we were pulled back and then released, swinging back and forth.

The supervisor of the swing gave me the lever to pull when we made it to the top. We were slowly pulled back and up, into the jungle area. We could see on the ground a red light that would turn green when I was supposed to pull the lever to release us. As we went up, I definitely started to feel the fear washing over me. It was a lot higher than I had relaxed…

We clicked into the top and my friend screamed, thinking we were falling already. But, I hadn’t gotten the go ahead yet. I saw the green light and then the supervisor give me the thumbs up. I yanked the lever as hard as I could and we began to fall. My friend gave the biggest “freak out” scream, I have heard. I screamed too, it was fun!

We felt our stomach drop as we fell, just like a roller coaster. When we made it to the height of the other side, she asked to get off, but this time there was honestly nothing anyone could do. We were going to swing back and forth until we slowed down and the supervisor could stop us.

I tried to keep her calm and having fun, for the rest of the swings. By the time we stopped, she was smiling and seemed like she enjoyed the experience. We got a great video, which is pretty epic.

Next up, was the bungee jump. I was feeling a mix of nervousness and excitement, after having completed the swing, which was going to be nothing compared to falling straight down from a higher platform.

The supervisor of the swing advised that I down a beer before going up and not to look down before jumping. I do not like beer, but I thought alcohol could be a help.

Both my friend and I got some coronas and relaxed after our heart racing time on the swing. We had a front row view of people jumping off the platform, towards the still water. They would scream and bounce a couple times, before a staff member would go out in a small raft and pull them into the raft and bring them to the edge of the pond.

While relaxing and also skiing myself up to up, one of the other group mates was up to jump. She was terrified! We couldn’t tell exactly what was going on, but it seemed like she was crying and have panic attack like symptoms on the platform. They took her off the jumping platform for a little, probably sitting her down to relax, before she reappeared of the platform again. She was still clearly freaking out, but this time she did jump. She screamed the whole time and seemed slightly relieved when she got pulled into the raft.

This whole situation did not help my confidence, and I could feel myself becoming more on edge. So, I decided I would go up and jump before my rational mind talked me out of jumping off a platform 100 meters off the ground, towards a pool of water.

As I climbed a stairs, I gave myself a little pep talk. Trying to remind myself why I was doing this and how symbolic it was the “jump into 2017.” I just had to jump, that was it. Easy!

When I got to the top of the platform I met up with a couple other group mates who were about to jump. I watched as the platform staff harnessed them in and got them ready to jump. There was an intricate pully system used to make sure the person fell only a certain distance.

When my group mates were ready, they brought them to the jumping platform and didn’t give them much of a chance to turn around or think about it. They just said, to just jump. I thought that was truly the best way to do it. If I looked down or gave it a second thought, I might not take that leap. At that point I wished that they would push us, but where is the fun in that?!

I watched a few of them jump pretty effortlessly, so I felt better knowing I was in good company of people who were building my confidence in jumping.

It was finally my turn. I got on the harness and they began to strap my legs together and attach everything. At that point, I was just focused on making sure they did everything for safety, just as they had done for everyone I watched before. They asked I wanted to touch the water and I though “why not” so I said “yes.”

They stood me up, and guided me as I waddled with my feet wrapped together to the jumping platform.

I did my best not to look down, and look at the ocean view from this high point. But, they asked that I get my toes to a certain line, near the edge, so I did have a look down. It didn’t freak me out, but the sight did remind me of how high up we were. They did the same “verbal push” that they had done with everyone else. They counted down and said “jump.”

In the most unnatural thing, I leaned forward and fell off the platform (you can’t really jump with your feet tied together) and fell head first towards the water. My stomach dropped and I screamed, before barely touching the water and bouncing back up. By this time, I was laughing a little, feeling relieved after making the first drop and bouncing back again. I bounced a couple times, before slowing enough for the staff member of the raft to come out towards me on this pond and helped me grab a pole, while still hanging by the cord upside down. He grabbed my hand from there and they lowered the rope, so I would land my back on a pad. My blood was all pooling in my upper body, since I was upside down, which was an uncomfortable feeling. I was happy to be lying down in the raft. He brought me to the edge of the pond and had me step out of my harnesses and such. My hands were still shaking from the adrenaline rush, so I had a tough time getting the harnesses off. When I finally did, I stood up slowly, to not get a head rush or any thing. I walked out of the area and towards the viewing area and got a few claps, like we had been doing for all the jumpers.

My heart was still racing a little and I felt energetic after completing the bungee jump. It was a good feeling! The first thing I really wanted to do was watch my video from the GoPro that had been attached to me. I headed to that area and watched my awesome video, which was a great takeaway from the experience. Something fun I could show my family and friends.

I then FaceTimed my parents, since we had wifi there and told them of my jump. They both laughed and remarked how they thought it was a little crazy. Happy New Year!

We watched everyone else jump and chilled out before leaving to go back to the hotel.

I was exhausted when we got back and would have preferred to nap for a while, but I had signed up for whitewater rafting in the afternoon. I was supposed to eat lunch, but just snacked, before taking a 20-minute nap.

Another friend who was going whitewater rafting woke me up to go to the lobby to catch a bus to go to the river. I was zonked, completely out of it most of the way through the bus ride, getting on the gear and floating during the first part of the trip.

That was until we hit some serious rapids (not sure what number it was on the rapid scale, but I know the max we would see was a 3). Almost falling out of a raft will wake you up real fast.
We finished down the river with a much more awake Alicia.

After an exiciting ride down the river, we took our boats out of the river and changed out of our soggy clothes to head back to the hotel.

We had a great group dinner ahead of us! We got all dressed up, and I took my first selfie of 2017…

We headed down to the harbor to an Australian restaurant. We had the chance to decide before hand what we were going to eat. One of the options was none other than a kangaroo.  Being in Australia, I thought, “why not?”

This was the kangaroo main dish (entree in Australia means appetizer). The kangaroo was like beef, only a little more gamey.

For dessert we had the Australian delicacy, pavlova! I’ve made this dessert before and absolutely loved it. It was awesome to be able to eat this yummy dessert in its home country. The dessert was named after a famous ballerina.

We had had quite a few late nights on the east coast so far, so we went back to the hotel and called it a night. Tomorrow, we had a long day of driving ahead of us before we would get to the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands. 

Goodbye Outback, Hello East Coast

We got the chance to sleep in this morning, at least compared to the two mornings before where we woke up before sunrise.

However, this morning was a little somber, since the “walkabout” trip was splitting off from the “outback” trip and heading to cairns. We had made good friends with some of the people who were headed back to Alice Springs to finish out their trip there.

Our trip manager and driver cooked us up a storm of brekkie: eggs, bacon and toast. We all sat and talked about how we would keep up with each other.

We went back to our rooms to pack up everything and check out. Then, we headed to the coach to say goodbye to our friends we made in the Outback. We couldn’t stop singing “home among the gun trees” and hugging. Finally, everyone drove off and the “walkabout” trip was left.

Everyone that was left went their separate ways. Most went to the pool to cool off in this very hot and dry weather. I had honestly had enough sun and just wanted to relax and get things ready for the east coast.

Our room had been near a path up a hill, which promised a great view of Uluru and Kata-tjuta. I made the trek up the red sand path, finally making it to the top to see that red rock we had been staring at for almost 3 days now. I must have at least 100 pictures of this rock from difference angles and different times of the day. However, I couldn’t get enough.

For the aboriginal people, this rock is very spiritual for them and has great meaning. For Australia, it is basically in the center of the country, and is sometimes called the heart of the country. I felt very strongly that day the spiritualness of the rock and all the many meanings of this freak of nature.

If I’m being honest, I cried, by myself, just looking at this large red rock in the distance. It was like I finally realized I was in Australia, making my way around the country and taking it all in. I did this for me and I felt really proud and happy. So of course I cried…

I stood there for a while just looking out and taking in the stunning view for a while. But, I had things to do, so I made my way back down.

I had a list of to-dos to get done before we caught our flight so I immediately headed off to the laundry room to clean my clothes. I sat on the washer and updated my journal.

A mother and daughter were washing clothes in the washer diagonally across from me and clearly were American, from their accent. I said “hi” to the mom and asked her where she was from. She said Virginia…fairfax, Va! I excitedly told her I was from fairfax!! We quickly exchanged the similarities. Her kids actually went to my elementary school, but not my middle or high school. We talked about people we knew and where her kids went to college. It was nice to talk to someone from home, especially halfway through the trip.

She was excited to hear I was traveling around at my age and shared her large trip around Africa when she was younger. It was such an education for her and remarked that I would come back with such a rich world view.

She left to get lunch while I put my clothes in the dryer. When she came back with her daughter we talked for a few minutes more. Her daughter was studying broad to learn more about excercise science and was loving life.

We said goodbye and good luck to each other for the rest of our trips. It seemed like a cool happenstance that I would run into someone from my hometown just when I was leaving this amazing experience in the Outback.

I found some of the group mates hanging out and eating lunch. I ate with them while we all talked about our excitement to be continuing on to the east coast.

We got our luggage from reception and waited impatiently for the airport bus to come and get us. Before we boarded the bus, I took some red sand in plastic baggies and put it in my suitcase. It is bad luck if you take something from Uluru, but this was from the resort area. I wanted to remember this place forever.

We got the airport just in time to board the quantas plane and leave for Cairns.

On the plane, I updated the blog and relaxed, trying to transition my mind for the new leg of the trip: the east coast of Australia.

As we descended from the clouds, we could see the mountains and ocean, clearly a more tropical climate than we had experienced in the past few days.

When we landed, we were greeted by our new coach driver and taken into the city center of cairns (pronounced: cans). We then our new trip manager on the bus to go over the plan for the day and to help us transition into this new environment.

We were joining a large group. All together, we were 56 people, who just barely fit on the coach. Most of them had done the first day of the trip the day before in the Daintree Rainforest. We were going to be outsiders in some way. But, also, we were told not to cluster around each other, so we could meet others and not seem exclusive.

We then went inside the hotel to our rooms and were pleasantly surprised. While staying in the Outback, we had to deal with average accommodations. There were lots of bugs, bunk beds and basic bathrooms. Here, we had large beds, a jacuzzi, a balcony and more. For us, it was luxury after the Outback.

We were pretty tied from our long trip in the Outback and decided we would take it slow this night and relax. We wanted the night to transition back into society. So we of course decided to get pedicures. We had many beach days ahead, so we needed to have our toes looking pretty.

We ventured down the main road to the main shopping areas. We found a salon that could take us, but in turns. I was in the second group, so we went to the local woolies (i.e. woolworths) to get a quick dinner. I picked up some beet root hummus, which I had discovered the day prior and had become obsessed with. Also, some sweet chili chips to dip with. We abolsutely need beet root hummus in the US!

When we got back from our grocery shopping adventure to the nail salon, we ate and talked about how excited we were for this upcoming adventure. We were now in a large city and felt a bit out of place. We missed our friends from the outback, but knew we would make new friends with the group!

I got in a massage chair to get my pedicure and quickly relaxed. It was nice to get a little pampering after roughing it in the Outback. Treating yourself is especially nice when you are on holiday 🙂

After we all had our toes done, we headed back to the hotel to get a good night’s rest, for an exciting day on the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow!

Uluru Sunrise and Sunset 

We got up early again…ugh! But, so very worth it. We got a quick breakfast at 4:15 in the morning and made our way into the national park.

Because Uluru is known for its beautiful color changes during the day, there is both a sunset and sunrise viewing area. We made our way to the sunrise viewing area of course.

We got there early and I set up my GoPro to do a time lapse of the sunrise.

The sunlight reflecting off of rock gave off beautiful colors. It was definitely worth it to wake up early for this sight. I took a bunch of pics with this red rock and so many more over the next 24 hours…

From there, we headed to the base of the rock to walk around the rim, which is normally a 10 km hike. However, this morning some of it was closed because of large puddles, so we didn’t get to walk the whole thing.

It was stunning to get closer to this red rock and see how imperfect it was up close. From far away, it looks so round and red. But, there are many colors on this rock and many holes and hidden caves. It felt like a intimate look at Uluru.

From there, we headed back to our accommodations to relax a little before our helicopter ride to see a whole other side of Uluru Kata-tjuta National Park.

We were picked up a little after lunch time to make our way to the helicopter ride.

We headed up and made our first stop to see Kata-Tjuta!

From there, we made our way to see Uluru!

I LOVED seeing the rocks from the ariel view because it gave you another view of these massive monolithic red rocks in the middle of Australia.

We then made it back to the accommodation in time to get all dressed up for our special event tonight to end this Outback adventure. We actually got to put on makeup and tried to care about what we looked like, which was a first for basically this entire trip.

At 6:15 pm, we left our accommodations to go back into the national park

for a campagne sunset. We arrived at the sunset viewing area and I again set up my camera to take a video of it all. Unfortunately, the battery was so I didn’t get the whole sunset…

But, we enjoyed some bubbly and snacks! Most importantly, I discovered beetroot humus, which is insanely good! Haha

We took lots of group pictures, to make sure we would remember this moment. We were so happy to be together and to have met each other.

We got back on the bus and sang our new favorite song: home among the gun tree! It’s an Australian fave and we learned all the dance moves. Now it is stuck in my head…

We headed back to the bar at our accommodations and danced until late. Some of us would be continuing on to the second leg of the trip on the east coast, and some of us would not. We had all survived the conditions of the outback and just didn’t want to say goodbye.

Uluru = Ayers Rock

I woke up to people around me shuffling around in the dark and bright beams of flashlights shining in my face. It was 4:15 am and we were heading out to Kings Canyon for a sunrise hike.

I had already gotten dressed the night before in my hiking clothes just so I could easily get up and on the coach, no hassle.

The stars were still stunning when we were heading to the coach. I quickly ate my breakfast bar and gulp down water for the hike ahead. We were about to do a 6 km hike, which our tour manager said could take us up to 3 hours to complete. I plugged in my headphones, still sleepy for waking up earlier than normal, and blasted some EDM to help me get ready for a great hike.

We got to the base of the canyon at around 5:15 am, just as the sun was beginning to rise. I quickly put on my sunblock, being the incredibly pale person that I am, you never know if the even in the rising sun will give you a sunburn. Also, I sprayed some bug spray, to make sure bugs didn’t want to be close of friends with me on this hike.

Our tour manager had let us know that there were two options for hiking this morning. The first was a 6 km hike, which for the first 30 minutes would be straight up the canyon with seemingly never ending steps. It would exhaust you at first, but after the first 30 minutes the rest of the hike was not a heart pumping. The second option was shorter and through a creekbed. I of course wanted to do the 6 km hike, knowing the view would be worth the sweat this early in the morning.

We started up the steps and damn was it tough. Non-stop steps for about 30 minutes. A few people headed back down the to do the creek walk instead of completing the rest of this 6 km hike. When we made it to the end of these delivish stairs we had a great view of the rising sun just beginning to hit the tops of the canyon. It was a pretty sight!

The rest of the hike was just as beautiful and stunning. It was relatively easy for the most part. The way the rising sun hit the red rocks of the canyon gave off a beautiful golden glow unlike anything I had ever seen in person. I was just so happy to be there, taking in the view.

We took some steps down and crossed a bridge over what was called the “garden of eden” and then climbed more steps up to get to the other side with a really gorgeous view over the whole canyon. We stopped here for a while to take some photos.

Having a tour manager/ someone to guide you around places is great for so many reasons like having special insights, someone planning and organizing activities, and someone to look after you if anything happens. But, in this moment we were happy to have Mark because he knew all the best places to take great pictures to capture the moment. Especially in the tricky lighting of the rising sun. We got some really cool photos.

We continue on and down the canyon, down many steps until we made it back to our starting point.

We felt absolutely elated as we joined the rest of the group, high off of endorphins and beautiful sights. We boarded the coach and headed back to the station for some brekkie.

Brekkie in oz (Australia slang) is mostly fried eggs, bacon (more ham like), beans, toast and tomatoes. Put it all together and you’ve got a great sandwich. I am loving it!

After brekkie and a quick shower, we loaded onto the bus to go to Yulara for our final days of the trip. On our way, we stopped at fool-a-roo, which can fool some people who think it is the real Uluru. The sand was getting so red, we knew we were getting closer to the red center.

By lunch time, we had made it to the town square and got lunch from the local grocery store. I picked up some boomerangs to bring back at a gift store.

We then boarded the coach again, this time to go into Uluru Kata-Tjuta Nationa Park!

So before I go further, I want to better explain the park. Uluru is more commonly known in the states as Ayers Rock. Kata-Tjuta is a rock formation nearby, which is less round compared to Uluru. In fact, Kata-Tjuta literally translates into many heads, referencing the 26 domes of red rock. Both are huge monolithic rocks made of sandstone with high amounts of iron in them, which exposed to the elements, give them the red color.

The first thing we did was go to the cultural center to learn more about how this park came to be. In the mid 1970s, the land was given back to the indigenous people, who then leased the land back to the government for 99 years to have this park. There are many stories about Uluru, which is the most sacred of the two rock formations. Though Uluru is quite round, it does have some holes and discoloring on it, so there are many aboriginal stories to explain how the rock came to be.

From a geological perspective, the rock was formed over thousands of years from sediment. Then, it was pushed by up through the ground, turning exactly 90 degrees. Though Uluru is quite tall from the ground up, it is not as tall as Kata-Tjuta, which has some domes taller than Uluru. However, Uluru is considered the largest monolithic rock in the world because geologist believe that it goes as far at 6 km below the ground.

Geographically, it is basically in the center of Australia. So people consider it the heart of Australia.

It is truly incredible on all fronts: both spiritually and scientifically.

We then got back on the coach and took a lap around the rock which gave us a better perspective of how massive it really is. We would get to interact with the rock a lot more tomorrow!

We spent the rest of our time in the park with Kata-Tjuta, specifically doing the whopper Gorge walk. It was a bumpy one and the second one of the day, so I was a bit tired. However, being up close with the rock gave you great perspective on spectacular this lesser known rock formation is on its own.

Once we completed the hike, we went back to our lodge style accommodations, got a good shower and ate dinner. None of us wanted to stay up very late, given that we had gotten up before sunrise today and would do it again tomorrow.  We passed out happily!

Sleeping in a Swag in the Outback

We woke up to more rain this morning. Though it is supposed to be the dry season here, it has been rainy and overcast the entire time we have been in Alice Springs. In fact, this is true for most of the desert area of the Outback. Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock), which is our grand finale to this leg of the trip, was flooded out yesterday and the national park was closed. We were starting to get worried we wouldn’t be able to go into the park, which would put a damper on the trip. Our tour guide kept a positive attitude and lined up a plan b, c, and d for us, if the park was closed.

I am keeping positive thoughts, no matter what!

We got up early, packed our overnight bag for camping, ate breakfast and headed out for the day at 7 am. When we were talking about what we were looking forward to most at the beginning of the trip, I said what was going to happen tonight: camping outdoors in swags. It’s a very Aussie thing to do, plus we would be deep in the Outback, so I wanted to see all the stars. Because of the rain, we wouldn’t be able to do a ATV ride around the campsite and might not be able to camp outside…I was a little disappointed.

Our first stop of the day was on the outskirts of Alice Springs to learn about Aboriginal culture. On the way there, we passed the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service, which helps assist people in remote areas. It was established a while ago by a famous Australian who even made it onto the paper money.

When we pulled up to the shelter where we would meet our guide, it started raining even harder. We ran under shelter. One thing I have noticed is that no one but me brought a rain jacket. Our tour manager said that Americans and Canadians seemed to always have the best rain gear. I love my Gore-Tex rain jacket, which has been incredibly useful here. Trying to bring back the rain jacket trend!

Our guide was very knowledgeable about aboriginal people, so I was looking forward to hearing his thoughts. In particular, I was interested in comparing how the US has worked with Native Americans and the Australians and Aboriginal people. From what I could tell in my travels so far, there was a bad unemployment problem. There was also some health issues and quite possibly alcoholism.

Besides learning about the culture, we would also be able to try Bushtucker, which is food from the bush that aboriginal people would eat. There were some normal fruits and vegetables, but also some insects we might be able to try…

The guides started off by talking about how the aboriginal people got here and survived in the bush. They came over from Shri Lanka a while ago and have survived in Australia for over 40,000 years. They slowly moved from the Northern Territory to lower down in the continent. They moved in small tribes and kept their numbers small, allowing for more adaptablility. They had survival rules like sharing their food with everyone or there would be serve punishment and if someone was gravely injured, they would be left behind.

They had some very interesting marriage traditions as well. Apparently, a long time ago there was an inbreeding problem that they wanted to avoid, so they created strict rules about who could marry who. You could only marry people who were 4 families removed. How you would know which lines someone came from was their name. In fact, there were only 8 names in their culture. You would receive your name from your great grandmother or great grandfather. That meant that if you had a sister, you both would have the same name, since you both has the same grandmother.

The girls were married off at around the age of puberty, so around age 12. This was because of the harsh conditions, many of the women did not receive the nourishment to have enough body fat to have a menstrual cycle, so having a baby at a young age was really your best bet for reproducing. The man who the girl would marry, however, was in his early to mid twenties. The boys would need to go through initiation with their fathers and uncles to learn how to provide for his future family, which took time.

The mother was the one who picked out the husband for her daughter, choosing the best to provider. After the daughter married to the husband however, the mother-in-law and son-in-law did not interact. This was because of the closeness in ages. If you married at 11, had your first child at 12 and then married off your 12 year old child when you were 24 to a 24 year old man, then the husband was closer to your age. There would be issues with attraction, so this rule was put into place.

We got the chance to try some bush tea and bush bread, which was delicious. It honestly was just like black tea and scones.

We then got into the learn about the bushtucker. We got to look at vegetables, fruits and seeds that indigenous people found in the bush.

We then got to learn about the whittchity grub, a caterpillar like insect found inside trees. One of our group mates was the one to try it..

We then also got to try kangaroo tail. It was like a really fatty piece of beef or pork.

From there, we went over to see some of the art that aboringal women had created. I even bought a piece that would go nicely in a kitchen or dining room.

Finally we went to learn about the weapons that they used, including spears, shields and boomerangs.

I even got to try my hand at throwing a boomerang, and realized I would not have survived in those days.

We then drove off to our next destination, kings creek station, to camp under the stars.

On the way, we stopped at an emu farm.

When we finally got to Kings Creek Station, there was a noticeable difference in the climate, which was much drier.

It was an absolute beautiful sight, with red sand everywhere. The sunset was gorgeous at nighttime.

We got to sleep in swags outside, under the beautiful stars, which was awesome. We had been so worried about missing this opportunity. A Swag, for those who don’t know, is a canvas covering for your sleeping bag, so that you don’t have to use a tent.

We listened to some guitar, watched all the bugs dance close to the light and just gazed at the stars. Being so far away from a city, I saw the most spectacular sight of stars I had ever seen. We saw the Milky Way and just stared in awe. We even got to see the southern cross, which is on the Australian flag. There is not picture because it is very hard to capture the stars without a proper camera.

We fell asleep outside in hot weather, with nature all around us. And, I’m here to say, on the other side, that I survived!

Boxing Day in the Outback

It’s Boxing Day, whatever that means?! The aussies said that basically it is like the American Black Friday.

I got up earlier than everyone else to FaceTime with my family at 5:30 am my time and 2:30 pm their time. It was great to see them and wish them Merry Christmas. They told me about their plans for dinner with some of my family and thanked me for their presents. I expressed how thankful I was to them for letting me not be there during christmas, since I knew they missed me during this time when families get together. They were very supportive of my decision and even empowered me when I was having doubts. I couldn’t ask for a better family!

After hanging up with them, I saw a Snapchat that my sister had sent me of everyone opening the presents that I got them. It made me feel like I was there, which was a good feeling.

We got on the bus and started our next adventure to Alice Springs, which is literally in the middle of Australia. We’ve come so far from the very top of the Northern Territory to the middle of the country.

Our first stop of the day was to see the Devil’s Marbles, which is a rock formation in the middle of the outback. It got its name from some of the first pioneers of this area who called the area Devil’s Country because it was so hot. These round rocks in the middle of the outback made sense to be called the Devil’s Marbles.

The rocks are made of granite and due to weathering and such, are in round shapes. It is pretty amazing when you think about it, since the round shape was created by Mother Nature.

We got some cool pictures in the area.

We then got back on the coach and headed to a roadhouse about 20 minutes down the road. This was an extra special roadhouse, because it is the the UFO capital of Australia. It was basically alien themed and even had a fake alien in a tube in the back, because why not. I’m just not sure whether the owner actually believes in aliens sighting here, or this is just a marketing ploy.

We got back on the road for another 2 hours.

Though the outback is quite remote and we often don’t run into other cars in front of us, there are some different types of traffic jams here than there are in the city. First, since it is wet season we have seen quite a few flooded roads, which we then raise the coach to cross over. The next is wild animals hanging out in the middle of the road. We had to slow down a few times for wild cattle in the road. You know, your everyday traffic jam.

We had about 2 hours into we would make it to Alice Springs, where we would meet about 16 new group mates.

In between making it from lunch and Alice Springs, we stopped at the Tropic of Capricorn, which is the imaginary line that divides the tropical climate from the temperate climate. Basically, we were leaving the wet climate for a drier one. All of us were quite happy about that!

After sitting on a bus for so long, I needed a bit of activity. One of the aussies and I raced across the imaginary line from tropic to desert and didn’t feel a thing, haha.

We continued on our way to Alice Springs. A good friend of mine actually spent her Christmas here for 2 years to be able to be with her family, so I let her know I had made it to town.

We got to Alice Springs, met the new group, did a “ninja” check-in to our new accommodations and hopped back on the coach to head to our first sight here.

About 30 minutes away was Simpsons Gap, which is a gap in the massive ranges out here in Alice Springs. Rain weathered away basically a slice out of a hill. The rocks out here are much more red, since we are literally in the red-center of Australia.

We got out and started heading down to the gap. I met a new guy who is originally from the US, but is on a holiday-work visa in Australia. It is only open to Americans under 30, and gives you the chance to work in Australia, then maybe apply for citizenship. Good to know…right?! (Mom, don’t worry, yet!)

Simpsons Gap area was very windy. There was sand all around that was flying into us as we got closer. There was a pool at the bottom area. We got some cool pictures of the gap.

Our next stop was Anzac Hill, which has a memorial to Australian Vetrans. It also is a great overlook over all of Alice Springs.

From there, we headed to the reptile center to learn more about the types of reptiles that inhabit this area. Our speaker was very funny and quite crude, all in good fun. He was clearly excited about reptiles and loved his job.

As many of you may know, Australia is home to the most venomous snakes in the world. However, there are some upsides. First, if you find yourself close to one in Australia, they cannot sense heat, so its best to just stay still. Second, they have very tinh fangs, so you can wear long pants and not get bitten. Third, if you are bitten, you can rightly wrap the infected area with a bandage and expand your time alive by almost double. This is all in comparison to snakes from the rest of the world.

Though people are bitten in Australia by snakes, only 2 people die each year, on average. That is compared to a country like Shri Lanka, which has a similar amount of people, but 20,000 people die of snake bites each year.

I got to hold the well-trained python for a photo opt!

We also learned about lizards in the area. We got to hold two different types of lizards, one was a dragon lizard and one was a blue tongue lizard.

Here is me kissing the dragon lizard.

Here is me being a lizard momma to the blue tongue lizard.

We also got to look around and see some more crocs, which I am slowly realizing are so much more dangerous than I first thought. Crocs in Australia kill in order of country 1. Australians 2. Germans 3. Americans 4. Chinese. This speaker also made fun on Germans hard core, not just because they seem to have a lot of run ins with crocs. There was a small croc behind glass, who if you got to close would snap at you. I just thought about how I had swam with one earlier in the trip…

We got back into the coach and headed back to the hotel to rest before dinner. Plus, there was wifi, which made me happy!

At dinner, we got to know the new group mates better. They all seem great and they bring good energy to the group, who had been with each other for a while on the road. We needed some new blood!

It seems like there is an abnormal amount of rain in the red center right now and Uluru (also known as Ayer rock), our grand finale of sorts, might get cancelled. I’m hoping that in 2 days time the flooding clears and they reopen the park. Fingers crossed!

I got some laundry done, repacked everything and got ready for our swag camping tomorrow night. Goodnight everyone!

Christmas Outback Adventure

It’s Christmas here in Australia!!

I woke up early, got everything together and went to the coach to start the day. Our tour director decked out the coach with green, red and gold garlands, along with beads across the seats that made it look like a sleigh. It was a nice sight to see first thing in the morning on Christmas!

I put my Secret Santa gift in the pile of gifts with everyone else’s. As the coach started to move onto our destination, Christmas music started. Our Christmas Outback adventure was on!

Our tour manager handed out all the secret santa gifts. I got my secret santa person nice Shea butter lotion, given all sun we would be encountering. My secret santa got me a tabloid magazine and some nice chocolate protein bars, perfect for our trip!

We drove for a little before coming upon Mataranka Thermal Pools. There was short path through a palm tree forest to get there. We could see red tailed bats on the way to the pools.

When we got there, we jumped in a loved how warm it was, even though it was pretty warm out already. The water was so clear and flowed over a little brook into a larger stream. We hung out there for a little and decided to go back to the bus early after about 40 minutes in the water.

We hopped back on the bus, ready for a long day of travel. We had over 700 km of travel ahead of us for this Christmas Day.

The next stop was at lunch time. We came upon the Daly Waters Pub, which is the oldest pup in the Northern Territory. Airplanes used to land nearby to deliver goods, so this pub was created. It reminded me of Jack’s Browns from Harrisonburg, with all the knick knacks and such. Outside, there was an old helicopter was santa inside and a beer keg Christmas tree. Inside there were bumper stickers everywhere, bras hanging from the ceiling and funny posters everywhere.

We sat down at a table near the pool outside and relaxed. Though the pub wasn’t open, they had a few staff members there for us. They gave us a eskie full of beers. No, ciders or anything. So I thought I would actually try the beer and see if this could be the one that changes my mind. And…. I actually liked it! It was called Summertime, it was an Australian lager with a hint of mango. Literally a Christmas miracle that I enjoyed a beer!

Our tour manager and driver cooked us up a delicious lunch on the Barbie. Patties (hamburgers), snags (sausages) and more. We had a real Aussie barbecue, which was awesome!!

There was even wifi there, so I got to FaceTime my family to say hello and wish them a merry Christmas, even though it was only the 24th there.

Once back on the bus, there was lots of candies to eat, like Cadbury chocolate, pink marshmellows, Tim-tams, and gummies.

During the next drive, I was noticing the Termite mounds were sometimes dressed up in human clothes. Which, from far away made it look like people were on the side of the road. It was funny and interesting.

We watched a couple movies given the amount of driving time. When we finally made it to the accommodations, it was very welcomed to be standing and walking around after such a long drive. And, there was free wifi, amazing!

After relaxing and catching up with the world for a little, we headed to dinner at the restaurant next door. Tennant Creek is a very small town, and there was not many places open on Christmas night especially. We had Chinese food, which was great. One of the girls on the trip is Jewish and she loved it since the unofficial American Jewish tradition is to go to the movies and eat Chinese on Christmas.

This restaurant is also where I learned about Christmas crackers. They are a U.K. and Australian Christmas tradition. Basically, it is a bon on shaped cardboard thing, with two does. The idea is that you partner up with one other person and you each pull yourside until there is a popping noise. The person who gets the middle section wins, technically. Inside there is a small toy, a corny joke and and a Christmas crown. The crown is made of tissue paper and comes is every color. Everyone from Australia talked about their favorite memories wearing a Christmas crown.

I went to my room not too long after and fell asleep quickly, knowing I needed to wake up very early tomorrow. I had let my parents know I would FaceTime them on their Christmas Day at 5:30 am my time, 2:30 pm their time.