What I Learned From My 2 Months Away

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My biggest takeaway from my 2 month trip is I like the person I’m now a lot more. I wasn’t self loathing before I went on my trip and I wasn’t traveling for a soul searching purpose. However I did go with one major unrealized downfall and that is I’m a workaholic, which I kind of cringe typing the word “workaholic,” because the crazy person in me still thinks I could’ve worked harder, even though I filled every waking hour with a to do list. 

At the height of my workaholism last year I had a full-time job, a demanding start-up app job (that I did before and after work), non-profit volunteer work, a product that I did social media for, extra design freelance, and hosted my local TEDx events. This also included the energy needed for my fiancé, my pets, my friends, exercising and own personal sanity. I should’ve taken how many times I was told I was a workaholic as a sign from the universe to just slow the bleep down. 

I now vow to slow myself down which includes, handling work in reason and give people my absolutely undivided attention. Another part of my overworking means I was always on my phone, I would wake up and go to bed checking my email, check social media multiple times a day, and my dreams were filled with the next day’s agenda. Whether I was wake or sleeping I was just constantly distracted.The more we spend time loving oneself instead of overworking ourselves, it will make us more personable and kinder to one another. 

The person I’m now also eats much healthier. The food I ate on my trip were not filled with preservatives, pesticides or from a pre-made box. The grocery stores are about a 1/3 of the size of an average Los Angeles grocery store. I started getting comfortable eating fresh fruits and vegetables. On the way home from the airport I stopped by Whole Foods and bought tons of colorful veggies and fruits. I’ve been everything pretty much raw and I feel like I have a ton more energy.

I want to be constantly submerged in nature. Living in Los Angeles I’ve been completely desensitized by how much concrete that I see on a daily basis. I drive 40 minutes each way to work in traffic on one of the busies freeways and I also work in a high rise in a cubicle that is completely sterile from nature. I didn’t even realize how completely unhealthy it is to be this removed, you need the oxygen boost that the trees give you. You need to be outside to fully appreciate what the universe is filled with. 

At one point of my trip I heard “What if you knew your last day was in a day, an hour, a year, in five years… how would you live differently?” I’m sure I’ve been told this before, but during the trip it really stuck with me differently. At that moment my answer was “I would live completely differently...I would be more honest and genuine to everyone. I would enjoy the present, and not be looking to the future. I would live my authentic self, without worrying about the opinions of others."  

Holy Fire II Reiki Level 1 Certification

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I wanted to write about my experience taking an 8 hour Reiki certification course. Reiki is a healing technique based on the principle that the therapist can channel energy into the patient by means of touch, to activate the natural healing processes of the patient's body and restore physical and emotional well-being. Even the words Rei and Ki can be broken into the pieces of meaning (see photo). 

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The type of Reiki we learned is called Holy Fire II, which is an evolved version of Holy Fire I. Holy Fire uses energy is noticeably more refined and comes from a higher level of consciousness. The best way to explain is that they use an energy channelled from a higher power, this can be whichever God or source that you believe in. 

The teacher's name is Julianna Davis aka Jules is an Usui and Karuna Reiki® Master, Master Crystal Healer, Sound Healer, Spiritual Teacher, Psychic Medium and owner of Auralux in Los Angeles. She had a wonderful inviting personality that made a long day go by quickly. She studied under William Lee Rand who is the founder and president of The International Center for Reiki Training (ICRT), The Center for Reiki Research and The Reiki Membership Association. We used William Lee Rand's "Reiki The Healing Touch, First and Second Degree Manual." 

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We learned how to give a step by step Reiki healing. It starts with prayer hands with thumbs at heart (keeping a small space between palms) and doing Gassho meditation. The mediation goes like this "Just for today do not be angry. Do not worry and be filled with gratitude. Devote yourself to your work and kind to people." Then you bring your prayer hands to your third eye called "Reiji-ho" in which you ask a higher power to intuitively guide you in the process. Following this you go through a "Byosen Scanning" in which you scan the body with your hands to find places that have my energy can be heat, vibrational or tingling that you need to go back over during the treatment. "Chiryo" is the name of the treatment portion of the class in which you go over the entire body holding your hands over the troubled spot for at least 3 minutes. The whole treatment can be anywhere 30-90 minutes. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the class, at the end of the day I received a certification for Holy Fire II Reiki Level 1, in June I will be taking the Holy Fire II Reiki Level 2 certification. 

The Day's Schedule:

  • An Overview of Reiki
  • Guided Meditation
  • History of Reiki
  • Lunch Break
  • Attunement and Placement
  • Japanese Reiki Techniques
  • Practice

One Week at an Ashram: Krishna Village

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I spent the final week of my two month trip at the Krishna Village Ashram in the city of Eungella in NSW Australia. The ashram covered a 100 acres in a lush forest within a volcano caldera. The premises had a temple, village, farm, two lakes, school, goats, and cows. 

I signed up to do the Karma Stay meaning I get a 2-up shared room (made from a shipping container, divided into thirds) for AUS$340 for the week and get all three meals a day, plus twice daily yoga classes, daily kirtan, and yogic living class. I was also expected to volunteer 20 hours a week or I’ll lose my AUS $50 deposit. 

The daily schedule is:

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  • 5 - 6am morning vinyasa yoga
  • 6:15am - 8:30 am volunteer session 1
  • 8:30am breakfast at the temple
  • 9:15am - 12pm volunteer session 2
  • 12:30pm kirtan 
  • 1pm yogic living classes 
  • 2pm lunch at the kitchen
  • 4:15pm - 5:15pm evening yoga
  • 6pm dinner at the temple 
  • 7pm wellness talk
  • 9pm lights out

It wasn’t until the week before my stay that I realized it was a Hare Krishna ashram and I didn’t know what exactly that entailed until I got there. It means that the ashram, practices paying respects to the Hindi god Krishna and his wife hare. We did prayers before eating vegetarian sattvic food and sang the Maha Mantra multiple times daily.

"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare"

The devotees of the temple had mala prayer beads and would recite this mantra  1,728 times (108x16) a day, this would take about 2 hours. 

I had such a great time in my one week at the Krishna Village and can have easily stayed there longer if I wasn’t so homesick after being away for so long. I would definitely recommend Krishna Village to anyone, religious or not it was just a wonderful place in nature surrounded by great people. 

 

DAY 1

We arrived in the evening and Henrike gave us a tour of the grounds. Then we headed to the temple on the hill for dinner. The food is vegetarian here and  so delicious we had a salad, vegetable pasta, rice, sweet rice, cooked vegetables, and Dahl. 

 

DAY 2

My friends drove to Spirit Fest in Byron Bay and I stayed behind at the ashram. It was my first full day here and I wanted to get grounded, settle in, and take classes. 

I woke up at 4:30am and attended the morning vinyasa flow yoga at which was really well led. Then I met for my 6:15 volunteer meet up where I was assigned village kitchen help. I spent the morning chopping fruits and vegetables for the lunch meal. James the kitchen cook showed us different healthy vegan recipes to make at home.

This followed up with breakfast at the temple then a yogic living course about the Values Pendulum. This was followed up with a restorative yoga then dinner. I was so exhausted that I fell asleep by 9pm.  

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DAY 3 & 4 

I signed up for the Balinese massage 22 hour certification course. This was taught by Karen and Dee, this was a wonderfully thorough physical, spiritual, and emotional experience. We learned how to give a 75 minute full body massages with oil.

Intuitive Balinese Massage combines a variety of classic whole body massage techniques with the practitioner's ability to tap into their intuition and create a meditative state of relaxation and healing for their client. The program gave us massage therapist accreditation by the  International Institute for Complementary Therapists (IICT),

The first day we learned how to do the warmup (5 minutes), back of legs (10 minutes each) and the back (30 minutes).

The second day we did the front of the body, legs (2.5 minutes each) front of body (15 minutes), and our final the full 75 minutes. 

This was such a wonderful class where I was able to learn new massage techniques and meet new friends. I’m unsure if I will ever use my new massage license, but it can’t hurt to be certified. This class inspired me to signup for a reiki healing course where I’ll be getting a level 1 & 2 certificate.

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DAY 5

The following days I was so sore from massaging so many hours over the weekend and my head was nauseas due to receiving so many massages. I ended up skipping morning yoga for the rest of my stay at the Krishna village.

The following days I was assigned volunteering duty in the temple kitchen.  Working in the temple was a job only given to volunteers they trusted to follow the temple rules. It was quite an honor to be assigned this position and during breakfast & lunch I served the meals. Guests were not allowed to serve themselves the food, I believe this was to make people take a pause and feel gracious about the food they were receiving. The duties of working in the kitchen is to clean the floor of the dining area (everyone ate seated on the floor), prepped the vegetables for breakfast & dinner, and served breakfast & lunch to the guests (dinner was served by the devotees).

Working in the temple area felt very calming and spirituals, it was quite amazing to be surrounded by the devotees while they were doing their daily rituals. 

After my volunteer shift I attended the “Shedding the layers of identity” yogic living class and it was about the five different levels of koshas. It was about taking care of all five leveled of a persons essence, so one can live their true authentic self.

After this we took the rental car and drove 30 minutes away to Springbrook National forest where there is a natural bridge made by a waterfall that flows into a glow worm cave. 

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DAY 6

After I volunteered at the temple I attended the afternoon kirtan class, followed by a ceremony performed by Reagan. The ceremony he preformed was influenced by the local indigenous tribe and included: 

  • Sage smudging
  • Okra painting
  • Bangala tribe dance: fire, wind, water, okra painting earth, emu, eagle, wallaby, thank you
  • Blue lily Tea ceremony 
  • Digridoo nidra

Later on I attended a relaxing Hatha yoga class and attended the wellness talk by the devotee Sarvi Dashi.

Wellness Talk Notes

  1. Epigenetic (above genes): Change your genes change your life. Only 2% of your genes locked in for preconditions. Expose to outside conditions such as the diet, chemicals, pollution, etc we can trigger our genes. Don’t vaccine kids? Redux biology - what do the molecules do? Improving cell to cell communication. Can take 4 root hairs $100 and tell you what you have been eating the last 90 days and actually read your genes. 
  2. Gut health: We have bacteria living inside and outside our body, more of these cells then our own cells. As long as they all live in balance we stay healthy. You keep it in balance by not stress and eat healthy (fruit and vegetables). 2k species in rural and 200 in the city. Human biom/micro biom. Dr. Susan Humphrey. 
  3. The question of supplementation: magnesium escobat, organic AGM Foods - Whole food fermentation probiotics. A2 cows, stress taken away too early, blood for mechanical.
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DAY 7

The last day at the ashram made me stop and appreciate all the small things of the day. Such as the beautiful morning sunrise, noises of nature, and all the wonderful people at the ashram. 

After volunteering I attended the yogic living class about “Living in Balance” and then attended a challenging vinyasa yoga class. 

We ended the evening watching a movie about permiculture (creation of permanent agriculture) called “Inhabitat.” This was shown by the instructor the 3 week permiculture course by the teacher Damien. 

After the movie I said all my goodbyes and gave lots of hugs, then packed my bags and headed to the Gold Coast airport for the long journey home. 

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The Gold Coast

The gorgeous Gold Coast with multiple fine sand beaches filled with warm blue ocean water. We stayed at Paradise Island Resort, which was conveniently located to the beach. We also rented a car, so we can do a day trip to Tamborín Mountain and Byron Bay.

 

DAY 1

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We arrived in Surfer’s Paradise on the last day of the Commonwealth games, so there was a lot of art exhibitions and performances happening from artists around the world. For example we played on musical see-saws and sang in a giant sing along. We saw performances from Holoscenes with actors inside a water tank and Blocks an acroyoga troop.

The Australian government scared the locals about the amount of traffic that would happen in town, most locals went on vacation and the town was unusually quiet. We were told that local businesses were actually suffering during the 3 weeks of commonwealth games.

The food in Australia has been incredibly delicious, it seems that most of the restaurants serve locally grown food. We had an açaí bowl and poke bowl and not only was it tasty, we had great ocean views.

 

DAY 2

On the second day we drove 15 minutes south down the coast to Burleigh Heads Beach to surf. However since we didn’t get there until 11am, we didn’t see any surfers and chickened out. We heard reports of shark attacks and felt unsure to have just the two of us go. Also later on that day we learned that Burleigh Heads is where the sewer run off is, so it’s good we didn’t go.

For lunch we went to California Tacos for some fresh and delicious fish tacos. The owner was from San Diego and his tacos were award winning, they also had a deal for Taco Tuesday. Afterwards we wandered the town and did some window shopping. On the way back to our Airbnb we stopped by Mermaid Beach to catch magic sunset hour at the beach.

We then met up our friend from the states Charles, who’s been traveling and teaching yoga for dinner at You Japanese. He brought his friend Clarence to dinner as well, afterwards we visited Clarence’s apartment in the Q1 high rise which used to be the tallest building until the Dubai building and is now the 4th largest building

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DAY 3

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Our final day was a relaxing one, we initially wanted to spend the day surfing, however it rained the night before and didn’t want to be in the dirty run off.

Instead we decided to make this a chill day and had delicious vegetarian brunch at Cardmom Pod. I highly recommend this place even if you aren’t vegetarian, every dish was extremely colorful and full of flavor.

We spent the afternoon watching Netflix and washing all our laundry. Then finished the day with a trip to Lord of the Fries a vegetarian/vegan fast food chain a local friend told us we had to try.

 

DAY 4

We packed up early and headed off on the road for a nature day. We headed back to our favorite restaurant Cardmom Pod for their breakfast menu and was not disappointed. The food here is so ridiculously good!

Then we drove to Tamborine Mountain, which was an hour away from Gold Coast. This beautiful outdoor area that we thought we could see everything in a few hours, but turns out is huge and you need about 2 days to see everything. We stopped to see Cedar Creek Waterfalls: a beautiful short hike that takes you to see 6 waterfalls.

After this we headed to our yoga ashram as Krishna Village where we will be spending the next 7 days practicing yoga and working on a farm.

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One Day in Brisbane

Brisbane is the third largest city in Australia and is often skipped by those visiting the country. One of the things I wanted to do was to hold a koala and wanted to do it in an environment healthy for the animal. The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the first and largest sanctuary with a 130 koalas and other Australian animals. 

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The sanctuary is a hour and a half from the Gold Coast airport and it was an easy drive. I recommend purchasing the tickets on the Lone Pine website directly to save $4 on admission of AUS$36, The holding a koala pictures are an additional AUS$25. The sanctuary also has an actual coffee stand outside and makes delicious brew. This is also the perfect time to bring the selfie stick.

The koala holding is a very quick few minutes, because koalas are fussy creatures. They also need 20 hours of sleep today and I’m sure being constantly moved from person to person is quite annoying.

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The other main attraction at the sanctuary is the kangaroo feeding area. Visitors get unlimited amount of time in this area and these kangaroos are use to visitors petting and taking selfies with them. In the general store you are able to purchase kangaroo food for $2, however the kangaroos seemed uninterested in the food because they’ve been fed all morning by other visitors.  

We attended the sheep dog show and learned about the Kelpi breed. This dog was bread from a border collie and a dingo, to help with sheep sheering. The border collie is the dog to herd the sheep, but then a kelpie gets into the sheering pen and makes sure the sheep is behaving. They were bred to ride the sheep, so they don’t get trampled. The Kelpi was still a puppy and was full of licks. The sanctuary also had viewings of other animals such as wombats, dingos, Tasmanian devils, cockatoos, bats, lorikeets, and owls.  

After the full 6 hour afternoon at the zoo, we headed to Brisbane city. Monday’s are an off day for Australians and it was difficult to find places that were open. We had dinner at the busy and popular restuarant called the Charming Squire. Then we were met up by local friends Martin and Tim for a walk by the river, with a tour through the gardens and drinks at a heritage home called The Little Big House. 

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Sydney “Harbor City”

Sydney is a beautiful city surrounding the harbor and definitely worth visiting. We were told that it was a super busy city, with tons of people, traffic and therefore not fun to visit, however we found plenty of fun things to do. We had 4.5 days in Sydney and easily could’ve stayed here for a few days. During our time in Sydney I was battling a cold, so the heat wave was very welcomed, the average of each day was high 80s.

DAY 1

The first day we arrived we decided to do the free Walking Tour (http://www.imfree.com.au/sydney/sights/) to get better acquainted with the city. They have the city tour twice a day at 10:30am and at 2:00pm, they’re 2.5 - 3 hours long.

We started at the Town Hall, walked through Macquire Street, Hyde Park, the Rock’s district, and ended up at a scenic overlook at the Harbour. Our guide covered Sydney’s beginnings and development from it’s early days as a convict colony right up to the major developments that have made Sydney the world city that it is today. We learned that the Australians coat of arms include a kangaroo and emu because those are two animals who can’t walk backwards, symbolizing the forward movement of the country.

Then at 6pm we joined their second free walking tour at The Rocks. This was a short 1.5 hour tour where they delved deeper into the history of The Rocks, the site of Australia’s first European settlement. We explored its lane ways, pubs, and historical buildings and learned about murders, muggings and mysteries.

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DAY 2

The next day we visited the Taronga Zoo across the bay. We purchased the Captain Cook combo pass and we found an Optus customer discount, so it was only $50 for the adult pass to the zoom and a 48 hour ferry access (adult zoo entry alone is $49). The zoo had so many animals that we ended up staying for 5 hours. I highly recommend this zoo to see all the different types of Australian marsupials.

We ended up taking the last ferry back at 4:30am and did the full ferry experience seeing all 10 harbor stops with the audio tour commentary. We finished the day at the Sydney opera house, watching the free projected light show at 7pm, and caught a symphony at 8:30pm. If you have a student ID card you’re able to have a tremendous discount on the shows. I highly recommend a show for the full Opera house experience.

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DAY 3

We started the morning with a free 10:30am tour of the Royal Botanical Gardens. Our tour guide Lynn covered so much in 1.5 hour tour. I highly recommend this tour, because she covered more then what was on the informational plaques. The park is also so large and I wouldn’t have known to visit the things she pointed out. There is also a helpful brochure that points out notable interesting plants.

After this we took an Uber to Bondi (bond-ai) Beach which was less then 30 minutes away. We stopped off and had a deliciously healthy poke bowl lunch at Speedo Cafe. Then we spend the next few hours relaxing on the beach, watching some locals volleying a soccer ball. Then we started the beautifully scenic walk from Bondi to Coogee, but the walk was so beautiful we ended up taking lots of pictures and only made it halfway to Bronte Beach.

On the way we passed by the Bondi Iceberg sea bath, this has to be the coolest pool in the world. I really should’ve taken a swim here, but I wasn’t prepared for a really Olympic distance pool. I recommend you to pack goggles and a swim cap and trying out the pool.

We finished the evening at a restaurant called the Three Blue Ducks and had a delicious candlelight meal.

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DAY 4

On this day we visited the Blue Mountains, we purchased the sunset tour from Wildlife Tours which was $89 and included lunch. The Blue mountains are about 2.5 hours away and I highly recommend paying for the tour instead of doing it yourself. There are a lot of things to see, different trails and I don’t know how we would’ve found our way around by ourselves.

We learned that the abundant Eucalyptus trees release an oil into the air and with light refraction from the sun, it makes the mountains look like a hazy blue. We took a  1.5 hike to see a few scenic vistas, two beautiful waterfalls and stopped off at a cave to hear about the aboriginal origins.

We returned back right before 8pm and had dinner in Chinatown then strolled through the night market. We walked to Darling Harbor where all the night life was. There were kids playing in the fountains, acrobatic street performers, lots of night club, and a giant Ferris wheel.

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DAY 5

The last half day in Sydney we visited the harbor one last time to soak in the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. Then we visited the Museum or Contemporary Art of Australia which is free to visit. They had fantastic exhibits and if you’re a museum fan I recommend a visit. At 2pm we headed to the airport for our flight to the Gold Coast.

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Melbourne "The Most Livable City"

Melbourne is definitely justly named the world’s most “livable” city, it’s clean and modern with the most gracious people. The few days we spent in Melbourne went the quickest of any of our travel days and spent it with old friends and with new ones (The Melbourne locals are known as Melbournians).

The trip started after 30 hours of traveling on four leg flights. We arrived early in Melbourne at 5:15am and we were exhausted. The time difference from Africa and the multitude of flights and layover was intense. At the airport we purchased a 24g sim card for 30AUS ($24 US). Then we uber-ed to a friends house, who graciously let us stay over in the Brunswick area. If you have two people traveling it’s cheaper in an uber, then taking public transportation.

Then we took the train into the city centre for the Free Melbourne Walking Tour. We spent three hours walking around the city learning about important buildings and the history of the city. We saw various laneways, graffiti art, the old jail, Carlton gardens, world’s fair building, the library, the river, and the city skyline.

Melbourne’s History:

  • 4000 years ago the aborigine tribes walked over from Papa New Guinea when water the levels were low.
  • 1835 John Batman from Tasmania bought land from aboriginals
  • 1836 British asked for lands back from Batman and claimed it for Britain
  • 1880 Melbourne was the richest city in the world, due to its gold resource
  • 1901 Federation happened
  • 1951 Area named after Queen Victoria and separated from South Wales
  • 1956 Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games first country to host outside Europe and North America
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Later that evening we met up with a friend named Jeanette and 2 of her friends for drinks at the Cabinet Bar. Afterwards our walking tour guide Desmond met us up and we had dinner at a street cafe called RMB. We then met up some other Aussie locals and went bar hopping: Rooftop Bar, 1806, and pizza pizza pizza. A notable aspect of Australia is that everything is fairly expensive, most notable is the price of food even with the included tip and tax in the price.

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The next day we taught vinyasa yoga at Princes Park and then we had an acroyoga class taught by one of the students named Ceasar. We learned a lot of new acro moves and met some more nice locals. Then we headed off to another local friends (Nicole and John) going away party at Edinburgh Castle.

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For dinner, we ate at Etta with local friends Jeanette and Kylie. Afterwards we had a ladies night with cocktails and pool, at Atticus Finch Bar and Amelia Shaw Bar.

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The next morning took an uber to St. Kilda beach and had brunch at Republique with another local friend named Nina.  We walked around Luna Park and saw their crafts. We then spent the afternoon watching  local breakdancing competition called Mortal Kombreak that we were invited to by one of our yoga students named Linx. Another one of our yoga students named Lyndsay came with us to dinner at a delicious Moroccan restaurant called Moroccan soup, each person pays 25AUS and gets a complete vegetarian meal.

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The next morning we hit Sydney Road and spend the entire day wedding dress shopping. This street has about 15 bridal shops most allowing you to purchase straight off the rack. The dresses in Australia are quite beautiful, but the prices are similar to US amounts, however at the airport you can get the tax back. This was an exhausting ordeal considering the multitude of shops. I ended up purchasing a dress that I’m happy with that needs quite a bit of alterations to fit properly. We finished the day with a final meal at Vegie Bar, a trendy vegetarian restaurant that had good food. We were also able to treat our hosts to dinner.

Overall Melbourne was a fantastic city and I could definitely see myself living here!

10 Travel Tips for Africa

Africa is pretty incredible and easy to get around. Everyone here speaks English and there are plenty of ATMs.

The two main things I wish I had knew before coming was...first there are so many different places you can visit wildlife that I hadn’t considered (such a Botswana and Kenya) and most people while visiting Africa will visit multiple countries to see different wildlife. There’s also the great migration in Kenya that happens twice a year that sounded quite interesting.

Second the time of year makes a huge impact on not just the weather, but what you will see. We went in March where the plant life is green and lush, making it harder to see animals at a distance, however the trade off is you see baby animals. Victoria Falls in March has high water levels and it created white outs while viewing, it would’ve been nice to see it slightly dryer which is later in the year, however it was still wonderful.

I would recommend anyone visiting to check on conditions before coming, so you know what to expect. We were extremely lucky to have randomly stumbled on a pretty good time of year. Below are some additional tips to help

  1. Give yourself time for this trip, there’s lots to see, most visitors visit at least 2 weeks.
  2. Bring Malaria Pills and get a TB shot, are very important this is an extremely high risk area.
  3. Open a Charles Schwab (http://www.schwab.com/referred) checking account to withdraw from cash from foreign ATM. 
  4. Have a Chase Sapphire (get 50k points) to use as a credit card to have no extra foreign transactions, it also comes with $300 yearly travel reimbursement, and priority pass for access to lounges for free.
  5. Purchase SIM cards from the Vodacom store for $12 for 1gb data from the airport or a neighborhood store.
  6. Mosquito repellent
  7. Binoculars to see wildlife
  8. Bring a zoom lens for your camera
  9. Kruger specific - Get a map/animal chart from the park store for $12. It has many roads that the signs don’t show you and you will lose GPS server in the park.
  10. Victoria Falls specific - Waterproof clothing, ziplock bags for your money & passport, and camera protection for the waterfalls.
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Victoria Falls from Zimbabwe 🇿🇼 & Zambia 🇿🇲

Our experience of Zimbabwe is that it is touristy, but in a good convenient sort of way. The local people can speak clear English, it feels extremely safe to walk around at night, and the local currency is US dollars. This does make everything more expensive, but it feels worth it for a few days. We also picked up a Zambia visa since you can see the waterfalls on both sides. This side its a bit more rough, with aggressive hawkers and there own currency that you have to exchange for. You do need a visa that you can obtain from the airport to see both sides. We also learned from many of the other tourists that they also added a Botswana safari package to their trip, so if you do come please

From Johannesburg to Victoria Falls is a short 1 hour and 15 minute flight away. At the airport we were picked up by our hotel shuttle ($14 per person each way) Shearwater Explorer’s Village. On the way to the hotel our driver had a gave us a brochure of different Victoria Falls activities. 

Since we only had a day and a half in town and made no prior arrangements, we booked our activities immediately. At Victoria Falls there are just a few travel companies and the prices are all pretty much about the same, so not much need to compare. We booked the sunset river cruise, helicopter ride, and Victoria Falls park tour through Shearwater Activities, this ended up being $250 each with the Victoria Falls park admission. This definitely made it our priciest city so far.

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The Shearwater Explorer’s Village is centrally located and is just a short 10 minute walk to the falls and the town. We had an hour to relax before we were picked up for the sunset river cruise down the Zambezi river. Before boarding the open air boat, we were greeted by dancers from the Zulu tribe, dancing the warrior dance. This two hour boat trip includes unlimited drinks (including bar) and snacks. As we floated down the river we were able to see wild hippos, elephants and a crocodile. 

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The next morning we had our pre-booked 8am, 15 minute “Flight of Angels” helicopter tour. This was my first ever helicopter tour and I was extremely surprised at how steady the ride was. We flew over the 1700m vast curtain of water known locally as the “Mosi oa Tunya” (the smoke that thunders) aka Victoria Falls and along the Zambezi River and the Zambezi National Park. 

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At 10am we had our two hour guided Victoria Falls tour, which we could’ve done easily without a tour guide. If you need to choose from the two countries to see it from, I highly recommend from Zimbabwe side, 80% of the falls is located on the Zimbabwe side, while only 20% is on the Zambia side. We ended up almost immediately separating from the group the falls are very wide and needed more then 2 hours to comfortable take photos and soak it in. Speaking of “soaking” it in, you will get drenched, so waterproof ALL your belongings. We saw lots of people who just decided to come in a swimsuit and flip-flops. There are 16 view points moving from left to right and they get wetter as you go along. The walkway is nicely paved and it was nice to see the falls from the lush rainforest. 

This time of year the waterfall is filled with water, making it hard to see the individual lines of the water and causing white outs of mist. This was a completely different experience then I had at other waterfalls and so I completely loved getting drenched, but if you decide to come definitely research what the water solution is like at that time. The high water levels also makes certain activities unavailable (Devil’s Pool, rafting, and sky diving), due to strong unsafe currents. Upon arriving we also learned of a phenomenon called a “moon-bow” a rainbow that happens on a full moon, we missed the full moon, but if you can arrange your trip at this time and watch it from the Stanley terrace at Victoria Falls Hotel (If its in your budget to stay there, do it!). We ended up staying in the park for 4 hours enjoying the waterfall viewpoints at a leisurely pace and taking lots of pictures. 

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After we finished with the Zimbabwe side we crossed the Victoria Falls Bridge, on the Zambia side we watched the bungee and zip liners. Then did a walk through of the small museum dedicated to the construction of the bridge. We walked to the gate of the Zambia falls and then decided to skip this additional view point, we were comfortably dry and the view looked similar to the one we saw. 

We ended our evening at the historic Victoria Falls hotel, where you can see the bridge and falls from here. We had dinner on the terrace and watched the sunset. 

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Johannesburg, South Africa 🇿🇦

Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa with over 5 million people. It’s a large modern city, with 9 different precincts, each with a very different vibe. We gave ourselves 3 and a half days to explore the city.

We decided to do a self guided trip in the city by relying on our phones directions. I highly recommend purchasing a sim card or having an international data plan because driving in the city can be confusing. First you’re driving on the opposite side of the car and other side of the street (if you’re American), some streets are clearly marked and then others look more like an alley then a street. We purchased SIM cards from the Vodacom store for $12 for 1gb data (it is possible to purchase from the airport, we heard this was a lot more expensive). The local buses also routinely cut you off, people cross without intersections, and the locals are known to drive drunk at night. Throughout our trip we were consistently warned to not drive at night, lock our doors, and keep our windows rolled up.

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Due to the large wealth difference between rich and poor, Johannesburg is one of the highest crime rates in the world. This was the first time for both of us reading about the numerous precautionary measures tactics in the city guides, such as keep a constant eye on your valuables and keep you purse or wallet in front of you. We ended up meeting and hanging out with some really cool local girls and even one of them had their phone stolen when we were out.

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We stayed in an Airbnb location in the Maboneng precinct, due to its reputation of being a lively nightlife filled arts district. It was also incredibly affordable st $35 a night, it was called 309@drivelines. It was just two blocks from the restaurants, stores, movie theater and pubs in this area. The building we staying in and numerous buildings around us were made out of shipping containers.

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The first night we went to a restaurant called the Living Room. This was walking distance for our Airbnb and located on the roof club. This cool restaurant and bar was really modern and made you feel like you were inside a greenhouse. Afterwards we went to a dance club called Social Club, which is known for their Thursday Night live performances. The guest star of the evening was a 90s singer named Ishmael.

The next full day was Good Friday and because it was a recognized holiday, most places were closed. South Africa had only three nationally recognized holidays New Years, Good Friday and Christmas Day. We decided it was a good day to do a driving tour of the city.

We visited the historic city of Soweto, its name is an abbreviation for South Western Townships. It is a sprawling township located at the edge of Johannesburg, and it was the site of a violent uprising in 1976 that helped to bring international attention to the struggle against apartheid. The city while poor and densely populated (housing 40% of joburg residents) is a highly visited tourist site.

We then visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg tells the story of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. The apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa between 1948 and 1994.

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Then we visited Constitution Hill a former prison complex that bears testament to South Africa's turbulent past and is today a museum and home to the the country's Constitutional Court. Originally held to hold white male prisoners, but ended up unfairly holding African and minority prisoners, some memorable prisoners being Gandhi and Mandala.

The next we Hector Pieterson memorial, which is a tribute from Mandala to a boy that was killed during the Soweto uprisings. At the memorial there is an iconic image from the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa of the dying Hector being carried by another Soweto resident while his sister ran crying next to him. This memorial is dedicated to all the youth that died fighting against the apartheid.

We the visited the inside of the Mandela House at 8115 Orlando West, on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane Streets, Soweto. He was to spend little time here in the ensuing years, as his role in struggle activities became all-consuming and he was forced underground (1961), living a life on the run. You can see memorabilia, awards, possessions, pictures, and even the bulled holes in the wall here.

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The next day we started the morning by having brunch in the Melville district of town at Pablo Eggs, I had the best red shakshuka. Afterwards we headed to Emmertia Park to teach a yoga class. The rest of the day was pretty laid back, we had our clothes laundered and cleaned up our nails at a salon called Tenfold. Then we went to the rooftop bar called Sky Bar and met up with some local Joburg friends.

On our last full day we woke up early and drove an hour to the Cradle of Humankind in Maropeng (means “returning to your place of origin”). Here they have made some of the world’s most important discoveries. The Cradle of Humankind is one of the world's most important fossil sites because it has produced: The first adult Australopithecus, found by Dr Robert Broom at Sterkfontein in 1936. A second kind of ape-man found at Kromdraai and named Paranthropus robustus by Broom in 1938.

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After this we visited the Lion and Rhino Safari Park. This was a zoo like safari experience where you can drive through the park where the animals lived in fenced off quarters. For me it was a bit sad to see animals in such small quarters after seeing Kruger National Park. We visited primarily because we were unable to see a rhino previously, here we saw a small group of them. Rhinos are heavily monitored and parks do not disclose their locations even in their own parks, due to poachers. We spent 15 minutes with a baby tiger that decided to land a chew mark on my knee. 

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Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park is known as the world’s greatest game park and is 4 million hectors large. For a total of 3 days  days we took our Avis rental car ($19 a day to rent and about $45 for a whole tank of gas) into the park and conducted our own safari.

Each person and car needs to pay an admission price per day, which works out to to be $52 for the car and two people. The alternative will be paying for a guided all day safari at $193 each. The gates are open from 5:30am and close at 6pm daily, there are huge penalties if you are in the Park after hours. We had to pay attention to the map we purchased in the gift store to make sure we allotted enough time to get to the exit in time.

The experience is a lot like visiting the wild animal park in San Diego, where you stay inside the car and drive on the roads, however since this is the wild the animals are more spread out. There is also a lot more plant life, so the animals are a lot more hidden by the wildlife. We are visiting during their spring season, so a lot of green trees and tall grasses that hide the animals, however on the plus side there are babies.

Everyday we just drive around on a combination of well kept asphalt 50km/hr and dirt road 40km/hr. There was one day where we were speeding on the dirt road trying to make the closing time and ended up fish tailing on the loose gravel. It’s surprising how fast 10 hours goes when you’re trying to spot wild animals!

 

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This is what we saw day 1, from Paul Kruger Gate driving north to Orpen Gate:

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  • Red billed hornbill
  • Kudu
  • Charcma baboon
  • Crocodile
  • Impala
  • Waterbuck
  • Hippo
  • Lion
  • Elephant
  • Hinged terrapin turtle
  • Oribi
  • Hyena
  • Steenbok
  • Giraffe
  • Duiker
  • Impala

 

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What we saw day 2, entering and exiting through the Phalaborwa Gate:

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  • Impala
  • Duiker
  • Blacksmith lapwing
  • Black stork
  • Helmeted guineafowl
  • Warthog
  • Giraffe
  • Nyala
  • Hippo
  • Elephant
  • Chacma baboon
  • Side striped jackal
  • Agama
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What we saw Day 3, entering and exiting through the Orpen gate.

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  • Warthog
  • Blue wildebeest
  • Impala
  • Elephants (about 50)
  • Zebra
  • Ostrich
  • Chacma baboon
  • Millipede
  • Pin-tailed whydah
  • Giraffe
  • Lion
  • Turtle
  • Emu
  • Leopard vulture
  • white headed vulture
  • Steppe buzzard
  • Vervet monkey
  • Lappet faced Vulture

Journey to Sabi Sands

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We decided to rent a car and self drive in Africa! However it did make it challenging to drive on the other side of the road and in a manual car. The drive took about 7 hours from Johannesburg to a private game reserve located below Kruger National Park called Sabi Sands and our hotel Umkumbe.

On the way we took the scenic route to see the Panorama Route, Pilgrim’s Rest, God’s Window, the rainforest and Sabi Falls.  

This was a beautiful hotel right in the middle of wildlife. The hotel included all meals, safaris, and bush walk. Unfortunately for us the bush walk was cancelled due to heavy winds, making the animals unpredictable and unsafe for us.

We attended their 5:30am and 4:30pm safaris. This included our guide Danny, tracker Moses, and a 4x4. Then we go cruising into the forest trying to spot some animals in their natural habitat. There was about 10 other cars out there from various parks as well and they radio in different finds, so all the cars have a chance to see.

They all speak a bush language called Shangan, which is a bush language originating from Tonga that derived it off Zulu. There are 11 official languages and there is 1 language that sounds like clicking that us unofficial (the language in The God’s Must Be Crazy. Here are some words we learned:

  • Male - mono or madaga
  • Female - mfuzi
  • Lion - gala
  • Wildebeest - kanu
  • Zebra - maaaangwa
  • Impala - mala
  • Rhino - umkumbe  
  • Elephant - ndlovu
  • Group - slambi
  • Large - mukulu
  • Hello - kun jan ee?
  • Good - ya pee lah
  • Thank you - ya bong qa
  • Rain in the Air - manigi vula

We saw lots of animals, but the most impressive was the elusive leopard and we saw two of them. We also saw several huge herds or Cape buffalo. Both of these animals are in “The Big Five”: this consists of elephant, leopard, rhino, Cape buffalo, and lion. This name was given to the hardest animals to hunt and it doesn’t mean the rarest to find. Animals we saw:

  • Cape buffalo
  • Leopard
  • Zebra
  • Kudu
  • Impala
  • wildebeest
  • Duiker
  • Vervet Monkey
  • Hyena
  • Bandit Mongoose
  • Shrub Hare
  • Warthog

In Kruger National Park there are 793 different species of birds. We saw so many and it was nice that he named off a few:

  • Marshall eagle (2.5 meter wing span)
  • Lilac breasted roller
  • Tawny Eagle
  • African fish eagle
  • Blue Sterling
  • Zazu hornbill
  • European roller
  • lap wing
  • Shelley’s Franklin

did not anticipate going to Africa for a safari when we packed our luggage. We did not bring binoculars or my camera lens that can zoom 😫.

We ended the evening with a delicious dinner around a fire and slept early for a 5am wake up call. 

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