road trip

Off road: A misadventure by Jessica Lee

There's an interesting story behind this photo.

There always is.

Why am I ankle-deep in mud, holding a jug of milk and a folding chair?

While driving, we were looking for a beach to set up and eat lunch at. According to Google Maps, the place where I was standing was supposed to be a "beach".

Not all beaches are equal in Australia, apparently.

This is what we got when we drove up:


And this is what I got when I didn't realize how deep the mud really was:

I was trying to get across the river so we could set up to eat somewhere nicer without the pungent smell of whatever was rotting in the mud/clay. You know that quote "the grass is greener on the other side"?In this case I never got to see what was on the other side of the river as the guys called me back. They decided to set up on a little unimpressive stretch of sand a few meters from the car. ...clearly they're not into the whole "exploring" thing like I am.

Oh well, to each their own. Maybe they were just hungry and wanted to eat.

Great Ocean Road, Victoria by Jessica Lee

I woke up on a beach this morning. There was dew in the grass and mist on the outside of our van. The waves rose and crashed in gentle caresses and the sun shone brightly, beckoning us to get out and explore. And so we did.

It was night time when we drove into the humble town of Port Fairy, Victoria. We saw signs pointing to the beach and decided to park there for the night.

When we woke, it was to this spectacular sight:

Port Fairy is a quiet, coastal town. There was only one person waking his dog when we got up. It was the kind of serenely peaceful quiet people hope for in their retirement.

I wanted to stay for longer but we hurried on and got back into the car as we would have a lot of driving to do that day.

As we drove, there were many fields. I asked to stop by this one to take a photo of some cows.

What was interesting is that when we stopped the cows were all lying on their front, but when I got closer to them, they must have felt threatened as all of them "mooed" at me and stood up.

Then they all faced me and tried to stare me down.

And finally when I still stood there taking photos, they moved in as a group.

I thought this was awesome because I had never seen anything like that. Though cattle aren't really "wildlife", when you go to the fair and meet the cows, they don't do this sort of behaviour. In petting farms and fairs, all they do is eat off your hand, which is cool as well, but I sort of felt like a National Geographic photographer watching the cows protect themselves.

We drove for a bit and got to our first lookout point.

Australia used to be used as a colony for criminals because it was so far away from the rest of the world. Honestly though, whoever made that decision clearly didn't realize Australia was paradise.

This place is not jail-like at all!

It was quite lovely.

This is somewhere near the 12 Apostles.

This was called Thunder Cave because every time a wave crashed into the cave, it's supposed to sound like thunder. I think it would be a good rafting spot.

If you walk further down the trail, it will take you to a beach.

It was too cold to swim that day, but I bet this is a popular spot during the summer.

Below is a photo of me. We tried to get one of those photos where the waves are crashing behind me but the timing was a bit off.

That's okay. The photo will forever capture the moment where I stood on a rock and got spritzed by the mist and saw rainbows in the light. The air was cold and refreshing and I could look out into the distance and see miles of the endless turquoise sea.

Later, we arrived at Gibson Steps.

As we had started our traveling early, the beaches were still pretty empty as people were probably eating breakfast at that time. (We eat breakfast too, we just eat things on the go and straight out of the box.)

Secluded beaches are my favourite kind of beaches. It felt like I owned the land for miles around.

Below was a photo I took while the wave was curling in. It looks like snow on the ground but really the water was just super foamy.

The Great Ocean Road was definitely one of my favourite moments in Australia and you should definitely give it a go if you're ever in the area, or if you've never done it before.

Aspiring for natural holes in my pants by Jessica Lee

I wrote the following back in July, after my road trip through the East Coast of Australia:
Living with two guys out of a campervan for the last few weeks has been eye opening. It’s in the smaller details where you will find out more about a person, his values, and the way he lives.

After the trip, I was hanging laundry for one of the boys when I noticed some small holes in his jeans in a part that was obviously worn in, but not noticeable while the jeans were worn. This is one of the pairs of maybe two to three pairs of pants this guy owns.

I think it’s great he can be so simple. As I like to constantly improve myself, I make it a habit observe the way other people are, then try to pick up their good traits and incorporate them into my own life.

I realize now how ridiculous the amount of clothing/luggage I’m carrying around with me is. One of my resolutions for 2012 was to be more minimalistic, but obviously it didn’t work out.

I still buy loads of things and acquire items. I am also sentimental about the items I own, which is terrible for traveling, as it’s much easier to travel light.

I once read a book about a person who only owned 80 items, which I find amazing. Even if he was given something, he didn’t keep it unless he parted with one of his previous items. Items included clothing, electronics and toiletries. It was fictional, but I’m sure there are people in the world who do this as well. I liked the message of the book as it commented on the materialism of the world.

I don’t think it’s possible for me to buck down to just 80 items (come on, I have way too many interests), but one day, I would like to be so committed to a pair of pants that they develop natural holes in them.

For me, natural holes in clothing mean 1. Adventure 2. Being able to have a favourite item of clothing to fall back on 3. Focus, as opposed to being lured in by fancy store windows 4. Contentment in what you have 5. Environment conservation and being earth-friendly.

What are some strange details you love related to traveling that other people might think would be weird?

Petting kangaroos at Pebbly Beach, New South Wales by Jessica Lee

We almost drove by Pebbly Beach on our way to Melbourne but that would have been a shame.

Where else would I meet a real live wild kangaroos who aren't afraid of humans?

Honestly if you visit Australia, and don't even pet a kangaroo, you have failed.

I was trying to see if kangaroos actually live up to the stereotype that they like to box, but it just looked at me strangely when I held my fists up.

Then I tried to play "paddy cake" with the kangaroo. (see photo below)

Skippy clearly wasn't having any of it by the look on his face.

I then wandered to the actual beach and was greeted by more of Skippy's crew lounging on the grass.

What a life right?

Pebbly Beach is a wild life preserve so it guarantees these kangaroos will not see their homes destroyed in the years to come.

As long as the grass still grows, the kangaroos will have a home and a source of food.

You can actually camp in Pebbly Beach, which is what we were going to do initially but when we arrived, we found that there was a camping fee of $10 per person and on top of that, $7 per vehicle. And why would we pay for camping in our own car when we could camp for free elsewhere, outside of the park?

Which is why we came back the next morning.

I had way too much fun with the kangaroos.

When it was time to go, as we still had a lot of road to travel that day, I was blessed with the icing on the cake when I watched a kangaroo hop across the park.

It was a magical moment.

Kangaroos travel a lot of distance through a couple of hops.

For a Canadian girl who had never seen an animal move in such a way in her home country, this was quite phenomenal. I cannot describe it in any other way except it was like the kangaroo had springs in its legs. Within a couple of seconds (but long enough for me to grab my camera), the 'roo was half way across the park. Being that it was quite heavy-looking, you wouldn't expect it to be able to travel so quickly, but it did. And that's what amazed me.

Kangaroos are definitely a top-ten "must see" in Australia and I would recommend stopping by Pebbly Beach if you're on the way to Melbourne from Sydney. Or at least find somewhere else where you can meet Australia's mascot.

Impromptu road trip to New York by Jessica Lee

When I woke up this morning in Toronto, I didn't know I would be going to bed tonight in New York.

I started my day the way I usually do except around noon, I got a message from Sarah, the University of Toronto sailing team coordinator, saying someone had dropped out for the weekend regatta in Hobart and would I like to go?

Umm... YES!

And so, I hurried to the university, finished my midterm, rushed back home, packed, ate and registered in a matter of 30 minutes (a new record) and met with the team downtown.

Five hours of driving later, we are settled in a little motel on the outskirts of Geneva, New York.

Here are some things I have learned about Geneva so far:

1. The food is cheap

Check out how much it is to buy Ben and Jerry's ice cream here, which is a staggering $16 in Australia, and $8 in Canada.

I know, crazy right? Guess who has a pint of Ben and Jerry's Pistachio ice cream in the motel fridge right now.

2. You don't actually need a physical passport to cross the Canadian border to the U.S.

One of the girls on the team forgot her passport, but had a photocopy of it. The guard let her through and we breathed a sigh of relief.

I'll leave you to this practical fact for now. I need to get to sleep. There is lots of sailing to be done tomorrow.

What are some cool things about the U.S. that I should check out?

The story of the mix CD or why I know all the words of a random Portuguese song by Jessica Lee

About a month ago, I set off on a road trip with a couple of friends around the eastern coast of Australia.

We had all been on road trips before but we all made the same rookie mistake in not bringing along music for the long 3500 km drive.

We were in luck however as we found out the person who rented the campervan before us had left a mix CD in the player. The twelve songs on this CD would be the only music we had during the full two weeks of our driving. As a result, we became extremely familiar with all the songs.

Though it has been more than a month, I can still tell you which song is on which track.

We didn't mind most of the songs, in fact they were songs we would have listened to anyway. There was some Coldplay, Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" (very fitting for an Australian road trip), Michael Jackson, Mumford and Sons, and some indie bands.

One song stood out in particular because it was in a language we didn't recognize and because the tune was more cultural than the rest of the songs on the CD.

I immediately took a liking to this strange and mysterious song and soon learned the words after playing it many many times repeatedly to the chagrin of my travel buddies. They liked the song too, just not as much as I did.

It's refreshing and a little exciting to not know what the words you sing mean. Or to not even know the language of what you're singing. We had deduced the song was European, but that's as far as we got despite my repeated google searches to find out more about the song. In my travels, I met a lovely German couple who recognized the song when I sung it to them, but they didn't know the origins either. However the fact that they knew the song confirmed it was popular in the European market. I didn't figure out more about the song after that. My search to find out more about the song ended soon after the trip finished.

That is, until the other day.

I met three Italian men on the beach in Bali. We got to talking about music and they revealed the song was actually Portuguese. This time, I managed to find out the name of the song through Google after adding "portuguese" beside a lyric I sounded out. After a month and a half, I FINALLY found the name of the song.

The song is called "Ai Se Eu Te Pego" and is performed by Michel Telo. In English, the title is roughly translated to "Ah When I Get My Hands On You".

Basically for the past month, I've been singing in Portuguese of the naughty things I'm going to do to some hot girl at a dance club when I get my hands on her. I think this is hilarious because now I know how to pick up chicks in Portuguese. I mean, if I ever wanted to.

It's a really catchy song so you can't really blame me for singing it nonstop. Even now that I know what the lyrics mean, I would still sing it aloud in public if I ever went to visit Portugal.

Listen here for yourself and let me know what you think:

Readers, I'd love to hear from you! Do you have any strange or funny stories involving language on your travels?

Life in a car by Jessica Lee

You would think that driving along the coast with friends would be romantic and fun and all.

Here is how I imagined it:

Driving while the sun sets in the distant horizon over cornfields; finding a beach to camp in, falling asleep watching the stars and waking up to sunrises; cooking breakfast to birds chirping, roasting marshmallows at night…

In reality, living on the road is not like that at all.

We have driven to sunsets in the background and we have encountered a couple of beaches, however life on the road is quite rough. Here is what I've discovered so far:

1. You never know if you will get to shower, and on the off chance that there is a shower on the beach, the shower is usually cold water.
2. If it's cold and you just want to drink tea, it's not so easily accessible. I've come to realize how much I take hot water for granted, especially since some restaurants have a nasty habit of charging money for hot water.
3. Depending on where you are, you may or may not have to pee in some questionable places. I'm not going to go into further detail on this...
4. Sometimes the car smells because someone wears the same pair of socks over and over again. I am not naming any names except for the fact that this person's name starts with the letter D. And he is reading this as I am typing this... I hope you get the hint. *Ahem.*
5. Driving for long distances and waking up early because of the sunlight wears you out pretty fast. Despite being on the road only for a little more than a week, I am quite tired.

It's not all bad though. Some of the landscapes are really quite pretty. I wish I could have taken more photos from the road.

These were taken early in the morning on our way to Noosa.

Another benefit (or disadvantage- you decide!) of road trips is that you get to know your friends really really well. Like who snores for instance (you know who you are).

You can also understand someone just by the way he drives. This would be 1. without a seat belt on highways, 2. while looking at the GPS on his phone 3. sometimes not holding the wheel at all, and 4. hitting as many curbs as possible in a single block while remaining completely relaxed.

I have never been in a car where so many people have honked their horn at us!

I have also never encountered the police so many times in such a short period of time.

It is okay though. We are still alive!

Don't get mad, Dan. These are just the facts. And it's not so bad because throughout the years, you've become quite proficient at handling cops (no tickets so far! woohoo!).

Another benefit (for real) of driving on your own as opposed to taking a bus from one town to another or going with a tour bus (these are generally a bad idea) is that we get to stop wherever and whenever we want for lunch.

In previous years, I have sat through more than enough crappy all-you-can-eat lunch buffets provided by tour buses or being dropped off at a random fast food chain somewhere along the road.

This is why I am glad everyone on our trip is onboard with being hedonistic in the sense that we pick beautiful, scenic places to stop for lunch at and we really pamper ourselves in terms of diet.

Look, we are on a beach!

I made grilled fish and steamed vegetables for lunch the other day.

Then for dinner, Dan made Kangaroo steak, which we had with mashed potatoes and more veggies.

We even celebrated a birthday on the side of the road!

Though nothing is perfect, and though I miss the luxuries of readily available electricity and hot showers; I would still heartily recommend taking a long road trip with a couple of buddies. It's a unique experience in that no two road trips are exactly the same and that the people you're with make up most of what you take in. It's cliched, but it's true: "It's not what you're doing, it's who you're with."

Road trip from Cairns: day one by Jessica Lee

Dear readers, hello from Townsville! We flew from Sydney to Cairns yesterday morning and after a couple of hours of driving, we are now in Townsville, known for it's "air of racial tension", according to my Rough Guides Australia guidebook.

So far though, Townsville has been disappointing. Not enough racial tension! So frustrating! I will update you if anything happens.

We started our journey yesterday at 3:45 am when we woke up for our 6 am flight to Cairns. We hit the road immediately after that and drove to Port Douglas.

This is the caravan we rented. I will tell you more about it later. Here is a photo of the boys at the side of the road on the way to Port Douglas.

So far, a theme of this trip has been beaches. We are driving along the coast after all, so it does make sense that we'd be seeing a lot of beaches.

One of the things that really made my day after we landed was feeling the hot, humid weather. It was starting to get cold in Sydney and I was getting ready to move back to Toronto because around this time of year, Toronto would be warm again. But weather in tropical Queensland is really nice too. I'm just glad to be back in shorts and a t-shirt.

What a beauty right?

This is our caravan. It is an absolute mess already even though we've only been using it for not even two full days, but we've learned to embrace it. It's got a sun roof and it converts into a bed at night! It also has a fridge and a stove. I'm pretty happy with it. It's how I imagine living like a traveling circus performer would be- sort of cramped and gypsy-like.

It's definitely not glamourous though. I never thought I'd be one of those people washing their face, getting ready for the night at a gas station. It's okay though, it's all a part of the experience. (For fun, can YOU spot the rock climbing shoe in the below photo?)

Here is Port Douglas, it's a few hours north of Cairns. It reminds me of one of the various towns I visited in Hawaii. It's got beaches and lots of tacky touristy shops that sell swimsuits, postcards, flip flops (otherwise known as 'thongs' here), and the like.

After tanning at the beach and walking along the main strip, we didn't stay for long.

We spent last night driving, going straight past Cairns and arrived in Mission Beach. This strip pretty much looks the same as Port Douglas, but smaller. There is really not a lot to see in Cairns (more strip malls) so I didn't mind not staying.

It's even got a beach too!

It was quite nice actually. We had the whole beach to ourselves for breakfast since it was nice and early and a little bit foggy.

Here is Dan cooking eggs.

Mission Beach was a really nice place to enjoy breakfast. We didn't stay long though.

We headed towards Townsville straight after filling our stomachs.

I feel quite like Sal Paradise in Kerouac's book. You know how he was rushing to get to Denver because that's where his friends and a job was? Well for us, we are driving towards Brisbane, passing all these towns quickly because supposedly Brisbane and Whit Sundays is where all the action is.

This is what Townsville looks like:

It was a grey day, so Townsville possibly looks better on sunnier days. The above photo is off a street near the water called 'The Strand'.

See the below photo. I can definitely see Townsville looking quite nice in sunnier conditions.

Besides the beach though, there wasn't much to do. It was a lot of industrial buildings and small stores selling... you guessed it: post cards, t-shirts, flip flops and swimwear.

To their credit, there were some nice cafes and lovely restaurants. We ate at the C Bar, which happened to be by the sea. How witty right?

It has been my favourite meal so far on this journey.

Tomorrow, we're going to climb a mountain (see background of the photo).

Just call me Sal by Jessica Lee

I started packing for my road trip around Australia already.

We don't leave for another month, but I'm pretty ready to escape exam season at school.

We are going to be driving from Cairns, making our way along the sunshine coast to the Great Barrier Reef, stopping at towns throughout the way and going down back to Sydney for around two weeks. There will be beaches, kangaroos and hopefully sailing opportunities. (I am looking to sail to Hobart, if anyone has any leads or a big boat with space for me, please let me know!)

Then we are heading to Melbourne and going climbing in the Grampians for another couple of days.

The final leg of the tour will involve going to Adelaide and hitting up Kangaroo island.

And then my Visa expires and I have to leave the country.

Six months really isn't that long of a time.

If I knew time moved so fast, I would have moved faster as well.