To the best of times.
I hardly know where to begin to describe the last 15 weeks I spent around this amazing planet. The whole trip grew from my dream to make the big circle one time in my life. Apart from Canada and New Zealand I chose most of my destinations more or less “just” because they were on the way. So to be honest I didn’t put too much thought into what to expect where. Though many say that the planning period before heading out is just as much part of the journey, I didn’t spent lots of time researching in advance. I figured I would somehow just take a look around when I arrived somewhere and take it from there.
And man, did that work!
I left Germany in the middle of a heat wave beginning of August. After weeks of 30+ degree I arrived in cool Iceland in the middle of the night. Exploring started right there when I had to find the only free bed in a 12-people dorm. But somehow luck just kicked in right from the start. My feeling that the breathtaking view of this jumping humpback whale just on Day 1 was a sign of good faith was not spoiled. Walking back into my room just that second night led to the first of an unbelievably number of great people I would meet over the next months. And jumping into an ice cold Icelandic river is just as unforgettable as hitting a Reykjavik karaoke bar with a bunch of locals and people from all over the world. Watching the sunset from this hot tub right next to the ocean or spending a day exploring the amazing landscapes of west Iceland with two Swiss hitchhikers I just picked up randomly.
All this took place already over three months and an incredible number of other great memories ago. Yet it my mind it feels as if it happened just three days ago. My stop in Toronto was even shorter and yet it brought me the best hostel I have stayed in during the whole trip, a super funny pub crawl and – pure luck again – more great friends and wonderful hours.
While western Canada greeted me with somewhat of a slow (and rainy) start in Calgary, it wasn’t long until the Rocky Mountains got me. Celebrating my birthday with new Dutch friends and good’ol beaver beer or spending a full day on a bike (yeah, that was me) with an always swearing and always laughing Chilean girl. Standing in awe at the most beautiful lake of the trip (nope, none of the many other waters could top Lake Moraine) or jumping into the coldest of all waters (Athabasca River). While still all grateful for a totally perfect couch surfing night in Kamloops, I experienced a home coming thousands of miles from actual home. Every thought about the time I spent at Lake la Hache still makes my heart jump.
Returning to the city that was my all-time favorite ever since I visited Vancouver 11 years ago just confirmed every memory I had. Even bad weather can’t ruin a stay there – especially if you assemble such an awesome Austrian-Dutch-German gang in Lynn canyon or tandem-cycling Stanley park.
But also on the southern side of the border only the best of times were waiting for me. Thanks to Yelp for leading ten people away from an overpriced club into The Bathtub (the best cocktail I found on the trip and maybe ever?!) and into the most-typical American diner at 3 AM. Strolling through the city or trying to gaze the sheer size of jumbo jets in the making. Meeting a colleague I shared so many evenings with before on the phone or watching one of the most beautiful skylines during nightfall. Even further south the next unplanned and totally unexpected adventure welcomed me in Portland, Oregon. A couch surfing host that takes you hundred miles to the first sighting of that ocean that would accompany me for the next two months? Just one of those incredible days you can never plan ahead – no matter if it’s a weekend trip or a year-long adventure.
Travelling further west than I have ever been before brought me to, well, first of all heat! Hawaii was honestly way to warm for me to be paradise. But how can that stop you if luck smiles you right in the face once more and offers you a free ride around Oahu and two days of astonishing views around every corner? Jumping into some rainforest waterfalls or laughing together at people who spend hundreds of bucks for the Polynesian cultural center. Hopping over to Maui to go snorkeling and be so amazed by the sea turtles in front of my face that even getting up at 2 AM and driving up to a volcano just to discover that there is not sun rise for you today can’t really ruin your mood. Circling the road to Hana and wondering if it was really a good idea to ignore the warnings about some “narrow and winding” road just to find one of most rugged and beautiful stretches of coastline.
On the Big Island I first got a glance of the very glowing heart of our planet before I overloaded my under-motorized rental car with geology students to drive up the mountain and take my first shots of the milky-way. The view at our sky from up there unfortunately spoiled me for any other star gazing anywhere around the world so far 😉 The following couch surfing stay made me feel more like I owned a whole house (including a lovely dog) rather than only a couch! After more snorkeling (and yet again more turtles), the next change of flight plans brought me one more day at Oahu. And yeah, also that spontaneous change lead to the next lucky encounter. Another day around the island, jumping into hidden tide pools and an evening in yet another karaoke bar.
After crossing the equator for my first time, Fiji’s weather may have been up to a bit of a slow start but that finally allowed me to catch some really needed rest (yeah, I know, sounds strange after being on vacation for six weeks or so 😀 ). Spending a full day in a hammock or in one deep muddy mud-pool really gets you chilled out. And for sure it made for the cheapest-ever haircut and loads of new friends from all over the world. When the clouds cleared just in time for my island-retreat at the Blue Lagoon, I got the feeling that I may have found postcard-paradise after all. And oh, was I not mistaken! Jumping with full scuba gear into a hotel pool, beginning to explore the secrets of our world under water, playing the funniest drinking games ever and just watching the run rise and set on the beach. While probably the most relaxing, it was also one of the most intense weeks of the trip!
Leaving the tropics at least for a while, I was ready to explore the country that so long was on my must-see list. Joining the armada of campervans in NZ I headed out to find some of the most tantalizing places I have seen on this planet so far. From a windy and yet perfect sunset at the most northern point over countless Lord of the Rings scenes to the no-words-for-it landscapes of Fiordland. I fell out of an airplane, went whitewater rafting again, kayaked in Milford sound, sailed through Abel Tasman national park and went on this once-in-a-lifetime overnight cruise in Doubtful sound. I continued my new diving-hobby, witnessed a crazy girl swimming to an iceberg (I had plenty of cold-water experiences lately but that was even for me too cold!), saw penguins and dolphins. In short: Once more I could not have asked for any more lucky encounters.
Australia was by definition the most unexpected stop. From I-don’t-want-go-there-at-all to two and a half weeks exploring of all kinds. Watching the fireworks over the opera house and meeting up with friends I met along the way. Learning that McDonalds can be more than just a BigMac and relaxing at Bondi beach. Flying up to Cairns to catch up with an IT-guy who turned into a dive instructor on the reef. Seeing yet more corals, sharks and – of course – turtles. Finding new dive buddies and totally randomly running into an old one in the middle of nowhere. Spontaneously booking a group-tour to Brisbane and sleeping in the middle of a rainforest. Jumping into creeks and watching an awesome sunset on a giant sand dune. Coddling a koala and partying with more new Dutch friends (and way too many 18-year-old Germans). While I had to cut my plans for south-east Asia for this little detour, it feels nowhere like a sacrifice. And Thailand is closer to home than Australia, anyway 🙂
Returning to the tropics one last time, I caught at least a glimpse of Asia and met yet more old friends. While I wouldn’t want to live in that constant sweat, Singapore definitely has its places – and its food 🙂
So, I guess this is it now?! I had to realize more than once during this fast-paced journey around the world that you start to take even the most extrodanoring things for granted – oh, another huge waterfall; ah, another golden beach; well, another nice sunset. But every single time I pinched myself. I am totally aware that I have been more than lucky. I had nothing but the greatest experiences! I didn’t get sick, I wasn’t scammed and didn’t meet any people which I rather would have not. I saw an incredible number of incredible places in a shorter time than many people are able to in their whole life.
But most importantly: I met more new friends along the way than I could have imagined in the craziest dreams. This is to all of you guys: THANKS for your part in making this journey what it has become!
This trip created memories for a lifetime. I still fail to fully comprehend that I really spent the last three and half months on the road. And every time I try to wrap my head around it, it makes me shiver and broadly smile at the same time.
It has been a ride. And for all of that I am indefinitely grateful!
Now it’s time to return back to reality. I’m back home.