Tourist In My Own Town

My dromomania does not go away when I'm home, it's still there.  So I have to find a way to calm it down enough so I am not booking a ticket every five minutes.  One of the ways I learned to keep it under control is to travel in my own city. Millions of tourists come to Los Angeles every year to strut the Walk of Fame, to dip their toes in the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica and to hop on an embarrassing bus to visit the stars homes. Why can't I treat this city like a tourist?

Lately I have done just that.  I've visited the LA Arboreteum and walked the paths through "Africa" and "Australia" and gazed at a pitcher plant in the hothouse that I saw in nature on my trip to Sarawak.  I went to the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens and immersed myself in an Asian inspired garden paradise right next to bustling downtown.  Sometimes I hit up Koreatown and walk in a restaurant and try to figure out what exactly I can order from the Korean language menu.  It takes me back to when I was traveling around South Korea smiling my arse off trying to find someone that could order a tofu hotpot for me! Spicy, please!

There are many ways you can be a tourist in your own city.  Check out little known museums or find a locally owned market and get some lunch items then find yourself a new park and have your own little picnic! You don't have to coerce a friend into doing this with you either.  Go alone, meet someone new and ask them what their favorite place is, then go there next!

This week I might chase down a new food truck (they are LEGEND here) or check out an art gallery.  Maybe I'll pick a direction and drive for an hour and see what I find.  I need to be on the move, it's part of my addiction.  I have sacrificed relationships and found myself in debt over this mania.  Sometimes the urge to travel is overwhelming and nothing but a plane ticket will do, but when I CAN manage it, I find this stills the palpitations and holds me over for another couple weeks or so.

Happy travels!



The Unreality of Home

All the travelers I meet, when approaching the end of their trip, always say, "I'm going home, back to reality." If home is reality for most people then why do I always feel that, for me, travel is the reality and home is unreality? Maybe it's because I live in Los Angeles AKA La La Land. I work in the film industry which has always seemed like a fantasy world to me. I walk on set and suddenly I'm in a princess suite, alien landscape, or a down and dirty bar. Look around the corner and it's all flats and backdrops, nothing is real. I dress people up and make them pretty, sexy, homeless or nerdy but the person under the clothing is an actor playing a role. Faking it for the cameras. So for 20 years I have been working in a sort of unreality. And the city of Los Angeles itself is pretty unreal too. Everyone has had something enhanced, lifted, or altered whether or not they are in front of the camera. People will tell you that they're doing really well when in fact, they can't pay the rent. That their script is being read by an A lister when they actually just got word that the script never got past the intern at their agents office. Some of the streets have glitter in the pavement and some of the buildings are larger than life. We have the gritty reality here too but only locals see it, never tourists.

So if LA is unreality then why is travel my reality? 

When I travel I feel truly myself. Truly free and able to be exactly who I am. Some people feel that when they are essentially anonymous travelers they can be what they desire to be, they'll lie and spin a tale of grandiosity for whoever will listen. I tend to play down my job because it's really much more interesting to people who are far far away from Hollywood and they really don't want to know the truth of it anyway. And I am much more than my job. It seems like in LA you are defined by your career. First they ask your name, then immediately, "So what do you do?" When I travel people don't ask me that. They ask where I've been, where I'm going next, where did I stay? I ask them what they loved or hated about a place, whether they thought it was worth the money and time to get there, have they made any new friends? Sometime in day 3 of knowing them we talk about jobs, sometimes never at all.

There is also an interesting habit among travelers to spill their secrets to total strangers. We reveal our weaknesses and failings to a person that we know we'll never see again. I am able to open to others that which I would have great difficulty telling my best friend. When I come back from traveling I find I am much more open and able/willing to love once I'm home. Then after a month, the city beats it out of me again and I revert to closing myself off. I try to keep that spirit of openness alive for as long as I possibly can in the hopes of one day being able to keep that consciousness with me every moment of every day, not just when I pass through immigration. 

I am in reality when I travel because I am much more willing to try new things after I get a passport stamp. I believe that is my true nature: adventurous. But I fall into routine and habit when I'm home. My unreality is that I'm a homebody, quite introverted, and at times deathly boring. This is not my true nature. I refuse to believe it. My true self is a badass! When I travel, I live that reality. I feel like we become who we truly are when we travel, for better and for worse. That's why it's so important to travel with someone before you marry them. Honeymoon BEFORE the wedding! If you are a control freak in your heart it will manifest abroad. If you are easy breezy cover girl, that too will manifest itself. If you're intolerant and racist (this may be hidden from you), you'll have a very hard time traveling and will probably try to change others to fit your own ideal. Going abroad will help you in your path to burning the old ways and forging the new. My issues were: control freak (still working on it), my-way-is-better-than-your-way-ism (defo not true anymore), and concern of hygiene (got over that on my first trip). It will also expose latent fears that you will have to conquer. Mine were: cliffs (not heights), the deep, spiders and various creepy crawlies, and bungee jumping. I'm done with all those fears but the last one. I'm a work in progress.

I cannot wait to go on my next adventure (already?!?!) because I will get to experience my core again. Maybe this time the feeling will stick around a bit longer. Maybe that will be the souvenir I bring home.



Married To My Passport

The water was calm when I left on the boat from Bunaken Island. It was in stark contrast to my arrival when the boat was being hammered by waves and rain was pissing down and finding a home puddling on my seat. The sea matched my mood this time. I didn't need an adventure any more. I needed to think and reflect on my trip which was coming to an end. This trip was a lesson in letting the Universe take whatever course it wants to take without little human me putting up any obstacles. An exercise in letting go and just trusting that everything, always, will turn out for the best. The guy from the resort was trying to engage me and chat about whatever it is that he wanted to chat about. I wanted to think and to watch the birds, the small local boats, and watch the water turn every shade of blue in the crayon box.

As much as I was looking forward to going home I was sad about the slow wind down of my trip, I feared it would give me too much time to reflect. First it was a boat to the "mainland" of Sulawesi, a flight to Surabaya, a flight to Kuala Lumpur then overnight to Sydney. Spend the day in Sydney and the next day direct to LA. It was to be a brutal and non-sensical route home but since I hate to plan ahead, it was what I got. I'll give tight schedules and easy connecting flights for freedom any day. I need the freedom to spend 6 days instead of the 2 I thought I'd need in an awesome little random village that I found. Not to mention the luxury of riding out a bad bout of food poisoning near a toilet and not on a bus across bumpy roads because I've got a schedule to keep, dammit!

With the wind blowing my hair back I could barely recall what it was like to be home: the routine, the frequent showers, the lack of bugs. I could, however, remember cuddles from my cat and my luxurious bed quite clearly and that's what I was craving. The beginning of my trip was a bit of a blur, I was having a hard time conjuring memories of hiking and blue holes. Sometimes I worry that I'll run out of room in my brain for all the memories of people and trips. Maybe that's why my blog is so important to me. I need a refresher, a helping hand because so many unbelievably awesome things are stuffed in there and I don't have an accurate system to get them all out. But I feel like it's better to constantly make new memories and let some of them slip through the cracks than to dwell on five good memories for the rest of your life. 

People always ask me how I travel so much and if I'm secretly an heiress. I simply say that it's a choice I have made. We make choices every day: buy those sexy stilettos, splurge on a spa day, even grabbing a Starbucks every day. I choose to save my pennies. I choose to have a credit card with miles. I chose not to have a child (HUGE money hole right there!). I choose my life over my work. And guess what, the work is still there! It doesn't go away! I choose to drive a used car into the ground and NOT get a new lease every 2 years. This life is easy to choose, you just have to know that you have the option to choose it. Give yourself permission. Buy a ticket and get the hell out...



Unicorns and Rainbows Exploding in Orgasmic Joy

Today I turned a page. Hell, I started a whole new bloody chapter! I have officially gotten over my fear of the deep! When I came to Sulawesi I knew that I was coming to a diving Mecca. I came to snorkel and to maybe possibly perhaps to do an intro dive depending on how I felt when I got here. When I arrived to Bunaken Island it was pissing down. The crossing was jarring as the boat leapt over waves and then crashed down again. As I wondered how the boat didn't just break apart I heard a giant crack. It was part of the roof coming apart. When we neared the island I couldn't see a damn thing. Actually I was laughing my ass off cuz I couldn't see the shore or even more than 10 meters ahead of us. I figured the captain had been here plenty of times and would figure it out. 

The boat stopped and I could see a bit of mangrove ahead of me. We all got out of the boat in waist high water and, fully clothed, I walked through the mangroves getting soaked to the bone. All I could do was laugh. I giggled the whole way there. I think the captain thought I was nuts because he kept looking back and laughing at me/with me. I couldn't tell the difference and didn't care. I was having fun. 

That evening after dinner the dive guy came in and asked who would be diving the next day and I told him I'd do an intro dive. I told him about my Philippines experience and he said he'd take care of me. After he walked away I thought, "What the hell have I done?!?" The rest of the night was consumed with past fears and thoughts of "I can't".

In the morning I was calm and clear and strangely ok with everything. Maybe it was the book I've been reading about how it's merely our perception of things and not the situation and how if we change our thoughts, we change our minds and we change our reality. On the boat I was neither eager nor scared to dive. I simply "was". When we strapped on my gear the lessons came back to me and I remembered a lot of the technical stuff. We practiced mask clearing in shallow water and he taught me a different technique to clear my mask than I one I was taught. This was was simple and had no problem with it at all. I had a quick refresher and went into deeper water. 

Jun, my instructor, was patient and kind. As we went deeper and deeper my mask started slowly filling with water. I was apprehensive about clearing it so deep. What if I had problems? Freaked out? Dropped my regulator? I did exactly as he showed me and aced that shit! I ended up clearing my mask more than I needed to just because I could, dammit. This time I enjoyed the fish and coral. Unlike in the Phils when I hated every second under water! I was able to breathe without panic and enjoyed the deep inhalations and exhalations, almost like a meditation. We dove a coral wall and there was so much life and beauty there. Beauty that exists not for us but just for themselves. I was a privileged spectator only allowed to watch for a very short time, then kicked out. Banished to my own world. 


When the dive was over I was happy but calm. I was looking forward to the second dive of the day. That dive was even better as I could look around more, relax more. I saw turtles and big schools of fish. At one point I looked up and saw hundreds of fish darting around me. Instantly I thought, "It's raining fish! Hallelujah it's raining fish!" They glittered above me, yellow and white, grey and neon blue, even the plain silver ones were like mercury slipping through the sea. I got it. I finally understood why people love to dive. Before, I couldn't figure it out. Now I know. It takes you somewhere private both mentally and physically. And once I learned how to get over myself, get out of my head, change my thinking and therefore my reality, I damn well got it. 

I signed on again for the next day too. Just one dive and a snorkel. And here I learned another lesson. And of course it's never the one I thought I was going to learn. 

I feared the deep. When I snorkeled I would keep to the shallows never going anywhere near anyplace remotely deep. And a reef wall? Forget it. No thank you. Thar be sharkes in them thar waters! This time all I wanted to do was swim on the very edge of the reef wall. Where the shallows met the interminable blue. In crystal clear water I could see no bottom. Just a deep blue with shooting rays of light looking exactly like a star sapphire. That was where I wanted to be. The sharks weren't in my mind anymore. I didn't care about them because I saw turtles flying by. The unknown of the deep wasn't a fear anymore. I knew no fear. It was such a turning point. My brain turned off fear and what was left? Wonder. Sheer wonder. 

And I discovered my new favorite thing: swimming through scuba diver's bubbles. When I was snorkeling I was enveloped in a cloud of bubbles. It was pure magic. The glitter of the bubbles in front of my face and popping on my skin felt like unicorns and rainbows exploding in orgasmic joy! I followed the bubbles for an obscenely long time until I saw a huge turtle nesting in a cave. Then more turtles swimming in the distance. Then a school of needlefish. Then... Well it just keeps on going. 

It feels good, really really good to have one less fear. One more door opens when there is no monster lurking behind it. One more thing I can do when I travel. Now I just have to get certified. I know just the man to do it too! I'm so excited!!!



Bali, But Oh You Should Have Seen It

Bali. I have such fond memories of ceremonies, of empty streets, and locals genuinely happy to see me. I went a bit after the Bali bombings of 2002. In 2005 there was still no tourist presence as all foreign governments were warning of more attacks. The attacks came, but it was after I left. The Balinese were hungry for tourists. For the work and prosperity that comes with them. They hoped I would tell my friends that Bali was safe again. That the deals were good and that no one was going to hurt them. Because of the lack of tourists the place was heaven for the few that did venture here. Prices were cheaper than normal and you could navigate the sidewalks without being shoved off by a fat Aussie and his sweaty girlfriend.   Cut to 8 years later and Bali is now called the Australian Village. 

After Jogja I flew to Bali and hotfooted it to Ubud. I wanted to chill out in the rice fields, maybe visit artisans and learn a little Legong. I did not recognize Ubud. It was like someone had taken away the quaint workshops and dirty market and put down a mini mall with every store selling the exact same thing. It was like a shopping Groundhog Day. Where were the rice paddies? The cool little shops where expats and locals worked, tapping into the magic subconscious of Ubud? All I see are variations on the same silk dress and silver Om symbols everywhere. And yoga stores! What the fuck with the yoga stores?!?  Selling yoga clothes, yoga classes, juice cleanses, mala bead after mala bead! I've traveled thousands of miles and only gotten to Santa Monica!  Where are the people making anything different? Something, anything different?! For gods sake I couldn't even find anything to buy because after walking one block, anything I liked in the first store I had become sick of by the 7th.   After seeing entirely too many skinny bitches walking down the street, yoga mat under arm, requisite mala beads with crystal dangling from their neck, I fled. But not before taking in a couple of gamelan and Legong shows. I love the music and style of dance and even in a really staged setting with sweaty Chinese flanking me, it still has the power to transport me.   


After recouping in Gili Trawangan I hit up Seminyak for a little shoppy shop. Seminyak is more chill and chic compared to Kuta. I booked in to a hotel and when I got there it wasn't central at all so I asked the driver to drop me on the main drag of Seminyak and I would suss a place out on my own. I went to one that wasn't a hotel at all, one was too expensive, one too hotel-like, one I couldn't even find. It was like Goldilocks in Seminyak. I asked Ganesh to please find the perfect place for me. I asked the universe to please not let it be expensive. I see a sign across the street and I walk to it. I'm hot and my back is drenched in sweat. Please God. This is the one. Ganesh, lets make this happen. I walk into a perfectly manicured courtyard. There's a beautiful girl in the blue blue pool and there's five massive walled villas. Paradise but at what cost? A man with a tenuous grasp of English explains that it's 400 a night to stay. Of course it's $400 a night. The place is a stunner! Then he says its 400,000 rupiah a night. Wait, that's $40. I try to clarify. I don't want to get hit with a massive bill when I leave. Yes!!! It's rupiah! I basically throw the money at him making it rain rupiah on this skinny old Indonesian man. I run into my awesome walled private 2 story villa and giggle my ass off. Thank you Ganesh! Thank you universe! I'm so utterly grateful. And every morning when I wake up and when I come home I have a huge smile on my face.   


At first I think Seminyak hasn't changed that much. Then I find where I used to eat breakfast. It used to be surrounded by rice paddies, an idyllic way to begin your day. On this trip I did a double take when I stumbled upon it. Now it is surrounded by stores and a huge new building is going up just opposite of it. I guess it's good for locals that there's lots of work now and new opportunities, but the new constructions are ruining why Bali was so amazing and different in the first place. Now I hear "transport" followed by "Valium" from all sides when I walk down the street. I guess I've become one of those annoying people who always say "You think it's good now but 10 years shoulda seen it!!"