Split – Month one is done!

Time has flown! Yes, it is a total cliché, but it doesn’t make it any less true!

It feels like only yesterday I was applying for Remote Year and here we are one month in. The transition into this nomadic life has gone pretty well. Maybe it is because I love to travel, maybe it is because I have travelled before. It could be that I had gotten over what I was doing prior to going away or that with technology it is so easy to feel connected with those back home (I do need to be a little better at actually getting on the phone with family though, sorry guys).

Anyway, Split. It was awesome. Being right on the sea, experiencing beautiful weather, seeing a new country and meeting locals, while at the same time getting to know this motley crew who are now my travel family was special. I mean just look at this city!!

A key factor in making this journey as awesome as it can be is absolutely the group that I will be travelling with. In a very short time we have become close and gotten to know each other well. Naturally there are those who you gravitate towards and others not so much but ultimately things are great! We are slowly learning who makes the best dinners, who are the best explorers and who are the best dancers to name a few!

Something that has astonished me is what you can do with your time when you do not have to have a large chunk of it dedicated to being in an office. Complete strangers have come together and supported each other in many ways. With the generous help of my Remote Year compatriots I have started a blog, am on the way to kicking off another website and seen Croatia. Truth be told, I probably spent more time on the latter than the former but hey, shoot me!

Enjoying some time with the locals

Our next stop is Prague where I will be attending a close friend’s wedding in the Czech mountains, visiting some Spanish friends during a side trip to Madrid and much more!

The reflective stuff

Time is flying and just when you realise how awesome something is, it is part of your past. We spend a lot of time talking about the great things we have done while at the same time having an eye on the future. Focussing on the present moment is something that will be a key thing for me going forward. It is all we got in the end!

Another thing that I recognised is that of course it feels liberating to not have to be in a certain place but what has also been freeing is recognising the fact that we all don’t need to have certain things. Travelling light is great, the regularity of washing sucks though!

Also, you never know about the vibes that you are giving off. I recently had someone come up to me and say that in exchange for some help they would give me for some business ventures I would help them be a better person. Here’s to each one of us having that experience!

Just a lazy shot of the islands of Croatia

As always, take what you will from this post and scroll down to subscribe!

Dubrovnik – Welcome to Kings Landing

So it is not often that you have a moment that really blows you away. I had one in Dubrovnik!

After a couple of weeks of organising ourselves and much anticipation we piled onto a bus (or ferry) and headed to Dubrovnik from Split. On the way down we had to pass through Bosnia and were lucky enough to get a token photo in a country that for me while growing up, was known for war and disharmony. It is incredible that in a relatively short time since the conflict we were able to freely pass through this area.

Just chillin’ in Bosnia

We re-entered Croatia and after another hour or so arrived in Dubrovnik. After quickly dropping our bags off at our accommodation walked in the direction of old town. On the way there we visited this interesting old villa which a local explained was a summer house for a wealthy family hundreds of year ago. We were also shown the chapel across the street that was part of the estate until Napoleon decided to build a road straight through the property. It was a reminder of how war has shaped this part of the world. And who am I kidding, unfortunately a reminder of how war has shaped every part of the world!

We continued towards the old town and began to see a steady increase in the number of tourists about. When we got to the gates of the old town we were part of the swarm of people entering the city.

It was at that point, while in a large crowd of people, when we entered the city, I was blown away.

When you enter Dubrovnik, you step back in time. The old town is like nothing I have ever seen before. The photos don’t do it justice! The city has been used extensively in the Game of Thrones series and once you enter the city it is easy to understand why.

The main promenade in Dubrovnik, shot from the city walls

We headed up to the city walls and began to very slowly walk around the old town. The scenery is stunning, architecture is impressive and the general vibe is something special.

Gelato is cheap and really good, I can suggest the flavour Pino Pinguino for Nutella enthusiasts. Just awesome. Along with one of my fellow travellers, we were on a steady diet of 2-3 gelatos a day.

We were entertained by “super Mario” for one lunch where we ate at his restaurant and also enjoyed many a beer on the cliffs overlooking the water.

The crew with “Super Mario” in old town

A big night out at Revelin followed by an afternoon kayaking adventure around the island of Lokrum and we had done Dubrovnik. Check out the video and you will get a good feel for the weekend!

The reflective stuff…

Although it sounds cliché, while walking around the city I couldn’t help but think about how privileged we were to be there. We are all enchanted by these places and the history they hold but the people who lived there hundreds of year ago most likely never got to leave their towns and see the world as we do today. The era that we live in and the opportunities that we have to see this stuff really hit me. Just a simple reminder to be grateful.

So just a short post this time, but I hope you like the video.

As always, hit me up in the comments and take what you will from this post!

Nick

 

Oh shit, this is happening!

So I am currently sitting at Heathrow Airport, terminal 5 thinking “oh shit!”

If you look closely you can see the 3 hour wait for my flight to Split

After travelling around Sri Lanka with 3 friends for 10 days I left Colombo about 20 hours ago and am now waiting to board a flight in 3 hours to Split, Croatia. I have deliberately disconnected from the wifi to make the most of some of my time sitting in the departure lounge.

To recap on some of the stuff that I wrote in my about me page I have just quit my corporate role in Sydney, Australia and am about to link up with a Remote Year cohort (www.remoteyear.com). I will be travelling with 50 other people living in a new city, every month, for 12 months. Our first stop is Split where I am landing this afternoon and will meet all my fellow travellers.

Right now, I am tired but alert, excited and trepidatious, relaxed yet somewhat tense. I feel that a lot of travel writing can come across as a little idealistic in the way experiences are portrayed and on that note, this experience right now I can’t really say is great…

Arriving here I have had the stark realisation that I have no job, no income, no familiar networks and other than some very rough ideas, no plan forward. It’s a weird feeling to not have anything set in stone. Liberating to some degree but weird. I am not sure of exactly how this blog will pan out but as someone who has travelled a little bit, lived in a few different countries and had some awesome…and not so awesome experiences, people may enjoy reading a few of my stories.

One thing that you should know about me is I often find myself having what I call “real conversations” with people. They just kind of happen for me.

What are these “real conversations”?

They are the ones about experiences that have shaped you as a person and often you feel uncomfortable talking about. I don’t really like small talk too much, it’s pretty mundane (having said that, it is important to remember that small talk is very different to shit talk, which I love doing with friends!). What I am really interested in is hearing about about your passions and love including you in mine. To that end, I honestly believe that there are only 2 things that people need to get along. That is to be interesting and to be interested.

Who doesn’t like some patronising definitions being thrown their way…?

To be interesting – what is going on for you, what are you up to, how are you influencing the world and those around you in a positive way.

To be interested – basically each of us remembering that the world doesn’t revolve around us and making sure you are giving a shit about other people and what is happening for them.

So I guess this blog is going to be a collection of travel stories and experiences mixed with a few life lessons or moments when my points of view are challenged or changed. Dare I say, things might get deep. We are all trying to figure “it” out as we battle with our own “stuff” constantly. This battle is not uncommon, it actually unites us, but at the same time can make us feel isolated because we view our circumstances as unique rather than common, and therefore isolating rather than unifying.

With that said, I invite you to read this blog and take what you will from it.

Some of you might love or hate what I write, that’s cool just be respectful in the comments.

It would be great if you would sign up for my mailing list (which will just let you know when a new post goes up, I’m feeling maybe 1 or 2 posts a month) and please let me know what things you would like to hear about as well. (See the form below)

So yeah, holy shit, this is happening! As a good friend just said to me, “Nicky, this is the first day of the next 12 months of your life” to which I responded with “Every day is the first day of your next 12 months of your life” but I got what he was getting at!

Sri Lanka – Great friends, great country and not-so-great transportation. Sorry mum, all this happened…

So one night several months ago I was in Seoul, South Korea with two close friends enjoying a traditional Korean BBQ dinner.

Tristan: Boys do you want to head out on a tuk tuk race around Sri Lanka?

Nick and TJ: What? Really? …YES!

A few weeks later we were booked and ready to roll with the basics. And I do mean basics, passport, international drivers licence, visa sorted and tour fees paid. Other than that, we were the most disorganised bunch of idiots. One more was added to our crew and with Liam on board (more affectionately known as Sticks) we were on our way.

I should probably let you know exactly what this trip entailed. Over a period of 10 days we would be travelling over 1000km around the northern region of Sri Lanka. This trip is organised by a tour group Large Minority and we would have to do without our smart phones and GPS, just an old nokia brick for emergencies, a map and reliance on directions from locals. Along the way we would complete challenges like cooking a meal with a Sri Lankan family, selling fish in the markets, singing the Sri Lankan national anthem with locals, making our own roti, shot-putting elephant dung to name a few. This in addition to navigating some pretty rough roads on tuk tuks, machines we quickly found out could take a beating!

We arrived in Colombo the day before our training day on the tuk tuks. That night we met a few of the people we would be spending the next 10 days with, enjoyed a few drinks and then headed to our rooms for some shut eye.

The next morning the fun really began. We got behind the “steering wheel” of our tuk tuks and began to familiarise ourselves with our transportation. Some people took to it better than others. Signs were good for the four of us, however others had a tougher time of it. Having said that, one totalled tuk tuk out of 12 was not the end of the world.

And they’re off!

Time to rock and roll!

We took off up the west coast with a plan to arrive in Jaffna in the north of the country in a few days. We would then come down the east coast, through Kandy and back to Colombo.

Before we left the hotel we had a lot of media taking photos and asking us questions. After 30 years of civil war ending in 2009 tourism is taking off. The south is more tourist friendly so we were pretty pumped to see a very authentic Sri Lanka in the north.

One of our first stops was the fish market in Negombo (or as we like to call it NEEEEEGGOOOOMMMMBOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!). After selling fish in the market (see the video) and getting to know the locals we headed north. Something I didn’t mention is that we all pimped our tuk tuks out in one way or another. Us being the disorganised bunch that we were, we didn’t have anything in mind before we arrived in Sri Lanka but settled on tying large furry animals to the roof our our tuk tuks. Tuk tuk 1 had a panda and cub on the roof while tuk tuk 2 had a bunny eating a carrot. We also had Raoul, a large bear as a passenger in the second tuk tuk. Every now and then he would lean out of tuk tuk and wave at passers by! Good on you Raoul!

Unfortunately, these furry animals were implicated in an unfortunate event while leaving the fish market. A man riding a motorbike with a woman on the back was thoroughly enjoying the novelty of seeing these animals on the road only to forget to look directly in front of him and at the van that had stopped ahead. It wasn’t a high speed collision however, his head did go through the rear windscreen of the van, shattered the glass and ensured that it wasn’t one of his best days. Ultimately he was fine but it was an eye opener for us very early on. Sri Lankan roads can be treacherous!

Having unusual tuk tuk’s drew plenty of attention from the people we drove by. We would get waves from kids, smiles from their parents and confused looks from grandparents. The police would pull us over every now and then looking for official documentation (which we had provided to us from our tour organisers) and then they would send us on our way with helpful directions.

Along our travels the accommodation was incredible. We stayed on beautiful beaches and in some amazing hotels. One night of camping was fun to “rough it” a little. It would have been better if we had listened to instructions and brought a pack with a change of clothes for that night but hey, wearing the same clothes for two days in over 30 degree heat never hurt anyone…

We saw some amazing sights along the way including a place known as ‘World’s end’, Wilpattu national park (the largest national park in Sir Lanka), a multitude of temples and towns as we were driving, and just the coast in general was superb.

A key thing about this trip was how we would just stumble into things. One was seeing a soccer game in Jaffna and being part of 5000 people in the stadium for a local match. Just awesome. Another, brilliant turn of events that I have to mention is when we were completely lost and came across a volleyball game in the middle of the jungle. We asked for directions but the guys were more interested in getting us involved in the game. It was incredible!

Just a casual game of volleyball in the jungle

My favourite challenge that was officially part of the trip was one involving us gathering ingredients to make a traditional dish called curry rice with a family in their home. I loved this because it was so far from anything that we would do back home. It shocked me how easy it was to find a family to take us in and teach us how to cook this dish. The hospitality of the Sri Lankan people is special.

Sorry mum…

As you can imagine, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. We went through the national park on a road that was more suitable to a 4WD vehicle not a 3 wheel tuk tuk. We had never been more excited to see tarmac in our lives than when we exited the national park.

Probably our most epic story involved running out of petrol in the mountains outside of Kandy. After driving into the mountains we not only ran out of petrol we also had our brakes fail. Possibly due to the driving style of a particular tuk tuk pilot. We pulled over to the side of the road and I walked into the front garden of the nearest house. I spoke to two brothers who ran inside to get their father. Through a conversation of broken English, he understood that we needed petrol (brakes were an issue for another time) and walked over to his motorbike. I thought he was going to syphon petrol out of the bike into a bottle to put in our tuk tuk. I was mistaken…

He jumped on the bike, beckoned for me to get on the back and we went for a ride through the mountain roads to his friend’s shop to fill up an empty 2L Sprite bottle. No protective gear was worn on this trip. I also saw that the speedometer didn’t work on this bike either.

After adding the two litres to the tuk tuk we managed to get to the closest town with a petrol station only to run out of gas 100m from the pump. When we stopped in the middle of this intersection who do you think just happened to show up on the side of the road…none other than our Sri Lankan saviour! With the help of our petrol provider and 6 other Sri Lankans we managed to drive to the petrol station fill up and head towards Kandy. By this time, it was well and truly dark.

Driving into the traffic of Kandy is not something I would recommend. I also wouldn’t recommend it at night, in a tuk tuk, without functioning brakes and a Panda on the roof. We had to use the gears pretty extensively to make sure we controlled our speed. When a lorry blocked the road ahead and I managed to find neutral rather than first gear it was a pretty scary experience.

At 10pm we arrived at our hotel to a hero’s welcome from our fellow competitors. Sorry mum, but it was one of the best days of my life!

The responsible travel stuff…

As part of the trip we also stopped at a couple of schools that the organisers, support. It was a truly humbling experience to meet the kids in these schools, play games with them, see their choirs perform and hear their teachers speak with passion about their students and education in Sri Lanka. The kids also came to school to perform for us during their school holidays, something that I doubt would happen in the western world.

We left Raoul with these girls confident he was happy to be off the road

The reflective stuff…

You probably didn’t pick this up in the video but during this experience I have to say I was often out of my comfort zone. Never have I done many of the things that I did in the space of a week on the road in Sri Lanka. It really got me questioning the way that we live in the western world. Don’t get me wrong, there are huge issues in the country however there were a lot of people we met who although they didn’t have much, were so generous with their time for us.

Recently I saw something about the mistake that we often make as humans where we treat happiness and fun as the same thing. If we are not having fun, then we are not happy, and we are not happy, unless we are having fun. While spending time with the locals I experienced this happy contentedness that existed as a result of their strong connection with their families and neighbours. It was a privilege to see and something that I think we can all learn from. I am now more conscious of the way that I connect with those around me and now have no option but to take in a stranger to cook a meal at my place in Sydney if they needed a hand!

So where did we place?

In the end, we came second out of 12 due to all the challenge points we had accumulated. Not bad for really flying by the seat of our pants each day!

After a heap of selfies and talking about cricket with the locals, broken down tuk tuks which received better service from local Sri Lankans than traditional roadside assistance could ever provide, a LOT of roti and curry, it was time for the trip to come to an end. Thank you Sri Lanka and Julian and Rachel from Large Minority, so damn good!

Until next time Sri Lanka…