Things I saw tonight whilst driving home, in order

11PM, Monday.

A female on the back of a bike shouting “WEEEEE!” whilst waving her arms in the air in absolute glee.

A frog, hopping across the road. I narrowly missed him.

Dogs curled up and snoozing in the middle of the road.

A car parked at the bottom of a hill, on a bend. Ugh.

A couple (an older white man, a younger Indonesian woman) ferociously making out on a parked scooter.

Two dogs having an intense play fight.

A man driving the wrong way up the opposite side of the road.

A motorist turning left with his right indicator on.

A dog stealing old rice out of a bin.

Goodnight, Bali, I still love you.

What to do, when your home betrays you?

What do you do, when the place you’ve poured your heart and soul into for the past 18 months, turns and bites you in an irreparable way?

My dog Leo – who I’ve had since he was 9 weeks old, from September 5th 2018 – has been through the good and the bad, through house moves and friendships and trips away and sickness and health, was stolen from my yard whilst I was out on Monday 21st October 2019. I have no way of knowing why or how it happened, but I know the act was sinister.

I feel betrayed by Bali. In this place I’ve dealt with hurt and homelessness, I’ve been broke and lived a high life, I’ve experienced joy and beauty and pain, and all of it has helped to shape me to who I am today, but I think this heartbreak is one step too far. No sadness can match having your reliable little best friend snatched from you for a reason you will never know. Since rescuing Leo, I only envisaged a future with him in it. He was coming back to the UK with me, steps were already in motion. Wherever I went, he was by my side, a constant companion. And now that future has been stolen from me – and for what? Is this a lesson I’m supposed to learn? A sick, twisted feat of karma? I can’t believe I’ve ever done anything to deserve this.

For me, being happy doesn’t equate to having a career goal and a million pounds in my bank account. It’s about collecting experiences, living a life that’s true to me, that my heart feels honestly proud of. This is how I’ve always lived. Leo helped me see the world through another’s eyes: a nervous, skittish, loving, loyal little dog’s eyes. He helped me to think about a being other than just myself. There’s no way he would ever run away from me. He doesn’t even go a few minutes running on the beach without coming back to check I’m still in the same place. But now it’s been nine days of nothing. No leads, no sightings. I know my dog, and this isn’t him.

Yes, I will eventually accept what’s happened and start to move on. But I will never forget. And now, driving these streets, constantly looking side-to-side for that familiar curly tail, I can’t relax, I can’t rest, I can’t feel like I’m home. My heart has been trampled by this place and I will never see Bali in the same way again. I am broken. 😥

OVERCOMING HEARTBREAK: A momentary memoir from August

The following was written in August, when I was still in the throes of healing from my toxic relationship. I think it’s quite beautiful, as I look back and see how far I’ve come and how amazing and strong I feel now. It was too raw to post at first, but now I’m ready.

I remember when I was scared to tell you my successes because I knew your eyes would just see me fail. They only wanted to see that. I remember when I used to overcompensate all the time, with excitement, with humour, with touch, trying to draw a favourable reaction — my soul was so dry I think just one droplet of emotion from you would have sustained me for weeks.

“That’s just me,” became your anthem. Anything I needed negated with this simple phrase. It was basically you saying “take it or leave it”. Our pendulum would swing from “you’re too much” to “you’re not enough”. We were never the right amount of anything for each other. I still wonder how much of that was true and how much was a result of purposeful sabotage on both sides. It was like we couldn’t stand to see each other happy. From my side of things, when a woman feels they have put their all into something and are greeted with nothing but utter disrespect, she becomes a little bitter.

I found myself resenting you. Making assumptions about how you would act or what you would say. This wasn’t helpful, I’m aware, not for me and not for ‘us’. But it just shows the utter disconnect of you and I, doesn’t it? My mind knew it wanted to leave long before my heart agreed to follow suit, even then dragging its heels and circling back more times than I’d care to admit… because the first dose of humiliation obviously wasn’t enough. But it’s okay. I don’t hate myself. I know I had to do it, to purge you, to get you out of my system, to allow me to start again.

Which brings me to now. I feel like being quiet. I feel like watching. I want to observe the world and guard my most precious belonging: My Self. I too easily let the wrong in last time. And I too quickly turned a blind eye to the many things signalling me to “GET THE FUCK OUT. NOW. GO. LEAVE. GO!” So now I sit. I wait. I talk with my friends. I paint. I sleep. I eat well. I walk every day. I read. I study. I plan. I gather my strength. And I do what women do best: I survive.

Life still happens in paradise

What, or where, is ‘paradise’ to you?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been searching for mine. I always thought that once I’d found it, I’d be in a bubble of eternal happiness. My dream has been to travel the world, meet new people, live in as many different places as I could. I’d felt like a caged bird at home since my early teens. My idea of paradise has always been somewhere with sun, nature, a laid-back lifestyle, working to live (not living to work) and meeting people who share my mindset. Growing up in a majority-white town in South Wales where the ‘norm’ is people buying a two-up, two-down a few doors up from their parents, hasn’t always exposed me to people on the same wavelength as me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that way of life if it makes you happy, it’s just never been me. My spirit has always yearned for freedom, for new experiences, for human connection, and my stomach for new foods! I’ve searched for paradise on multiple continents, seen so many ways of life, met some truly wonderful people along the way and tried more strange dishes than I can count. Amongst many other adventures, I’ve boated at twilight on the River Danube in Budapest, swung in hammocks in Koh Phangan, trekked the Himalayas in Nepal, partied in secret locations in the Philippines, and driven (and lived in) an old beaten-up van across the width of Australia. I’ve worked difficult, strange, fun and awful jobs along the way (such as hostessing at clubs, grape picking and working as a receptionist at a ‘happy ending’ massage parlour), all in search of that thing I yearn for – paradise.

For the past 13 months, I’ve been calling Bali home. Finally, I’d made it – PARADISE! It had everything I’d ever wanted! Sun, fun, people, beaches, nature, good music. I work three hours a day five days a week and can afford to live on this tiny slice of an island in Indonesia, surrounded by coconut trees and the greenest rice paddies you’ll ever see. There are cute dogs running around everywhere. I mainly spend my time going for brunch with friends, sunbathing and swimming, dancing to techno and obsessing over my puppy. I have the perfect life, right? I keep getting messages about it. Life is so easy when you live in paradise.

I was inspired to write this because I want people to know the truth. Yes, Bali is amazing. It has captivated my entire heart and soul. It has taught me so much more about myself than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Every single evening there’s a different sunset, each totally beautiful in its own way. It’s sea breeze and beaches and a man with four dogs on one scooter. It truly is an island full of magic (and did I mention dogs? So many dogs). Many people come here for a holiday and never leave (that’s what happened to me), because there is something special about Bali… something no one can quite put their finger on. It sucks you in and doesn’t let go.

But, life still happens in paradise. Heartbreak happens – and you’re dealing with it a million miles from your family and home comforts. Sometimes all I want is a hug from my mum and dad, but I’d have to travel 12,690km to get it, so I have to make do with words on a screen. Friendships come and go, not because you argue, but because people don’t stay in Bali forever. You get used to saying goodbye, but it never gets easier. You worry about money and you wonder what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. It can be lonely, because it takes time to really meet people you want to be friends with because you like spending time with them, not just because you’re both expats living in another country. Indonesian bureaucracy is confusing and inefficient. There are earthquakes – Indonesia’s volcanoes are among the most active of the Ring of Fire. The traffic is enough to make you a stressed, sweaty mess within five minutes of leaving your house. There is no real recycling, or waste disposal. There are fires burning on the side of the street, toxic fumes permeating the air around you. People push in front of you in line. You get charged more than locals; people assume you’re rich because you’re white. And no one is ever on time.

I don’t want you to read this and think I’m just whining, or ungrateful, or bashing Bali, because I genuinely love this place and I feel extremely fortunate to have the chance to call this crazy and lovely place home, for any length of time. I’m so thankful for the lessons it’s taught me so far. When I leave and come back, I feel like I’m arriving home when my plane touches down in Denpasar. I’m just trying to be real, so those who think everything is hunky dory all the time can know that it’s not. Like I said, Bali has taught me more about myself than anywhere else I’ve ever lived – but that’s because sometimes, life here is bloody TOUGH. And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way, because the road to growth shouldn’t be easy.

Yes – paradise is nice. But when you live there, the cracks start to show and you realise that nowhere is perfect. After all my years of searching, I’m beginning to understand that the key is finding paradise within yourself before you can find it anywhere else. And that, is still a work in progress.

I also write poetry: http://www.instagram.com/poemsbyavb

Amazing Stargazing

If there’s one thing I learnt on Gili Air, it’s how to find the Scorpio and Gemini constellations in the night’s sky whilst half a bottle of overpriced cab-merlot down. That, I think, is a positive lesson. The rest of the zodiac, however… let’s just say they’re a “work in progress” (and, to be fair, I didn’t have my glasses on, so it’s a wonder I managed to find two).

A second thing I came to realise, was that sometimes cutting the cord of people in my life who are no longer serving me in a positive way, doesn’t make me a bad person. It simply means I like myself way too much to put up with your crap. I’m enjoying saying that lately: “I like myself way too much to… *fill in blanks*”. Positive manifestation in it’s perfect form; it’s taken just a week of saying that regularly for me to realise I actually mean it. It’s a refreshing change from the past few years where anxiety over people’s opinions of me got inside my head, or worries that I’d said or done the wrong thing, or that I was unlikable. If travelling has made me realise anything, it’s that I am likable, and sociable, and I love to make people laugh and share in their journeys, thoughts, ideas. Spending precious time worrying about the little niggling insecurities in the back of your mind is futile, because the voice in your head doubting and criticising yourself, isn’t what makes you ‘you’. So love yourselves, people!

My visit to the Gili islands has been pure perfection. As if I thought Bali wasn’t paradise enough, the trifecta of the Gilis (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) are another world away once again. There are no cars or petrol-run mopeds allowed on any of the three tiny islands, meaning the only methods of transport around are horse and cart (which I didn’t really want to buy into), bicycle, or by taking an old-fashioned stroll! The horse and cart is such a tradition on the islands, no one bats an eyelid, but something inside me felt like I didn’t want to put my money into this trade. The horses are worked hard, in the sweltering humidity, pulling heavy carts often piled with a family-of-four plus luggage and the driver, and they always have to go at a trotting pace. I have to be fair and say the horses themselves don’t seem mistreated, especially compared to the terrible treatment of many animals in Asia – their owners do really seem to be fond of them. However, as someone who’s spent their fair share of time around horses, I could see many of their hooves weren’t in the best condition and they were often standing around in the hot sun for long periods of time.

To get more specific, Gili Trawangan (or ‘Gili T’) is very much the more ‘party’ of the three islands. This was my first Gili and to get there I caught a ‘fast boat’ by the company Scoot. Scoot are highly rated and love plastering “the most awarded travel company in Indonesia” all over their boats. I have no idea why. It cost me 600,000 rupiah (just over £30) for one way. This is expensive by both Indonesian and backpacker standards. Our boat left 40 minutes late (not the biggest deal – this is Asia after all), but then it proceeded to break down in the middle of the ocean, leaving all 50+ passengers and crew along with all our luggage violently swaying in the sea for 20 minutes with not a word said about what was happening, just the noise of hammer against metal on deck. The little boy next to me was throwing up in a plastic bag, a 20-something year old girl was crying, clutching at her stressed-looking boyfriend. I just breathed deeply and pretended I was one with the damn ocean to stop myself retching over the side of the boat. After that 20 long minutes, we were sent back to the nearest island to await a new boat, which arrived about 1.5 hours later and was far faster and better. Finally, relieved, we were on our way. I don’t expect things to go wrong, but they so easily can, especially in Asia! When they do, I try to accept that maybe it was supposed to happen this way so something else can fall into place. You’ve gotta have the really bad to make the good even better. Yin yang. Rough smooth. Light dark. On the beach whilst waiting for the new boat, I found one white and one black rock washed up next to each other on the sand. They felt like an omen confirming my thoughts; something saying “this is exactly what was supposed to happen”. I waited peacefully.

I’d booked three nights on Gili Trawangan, and I have to admit that was enough. If a strip of bars and clubs reminiscent of a European ‘girls/lads holiday’ is your scene, you’ll love it. But I’d just spent two weeks partying in Canggu, Bali, where the music variety and choice of venues are amazing and felt more ‘me’, and I was really looking to switch off from the drinking-every-night vibe. That said, I had a lot of fun there, and the Night Market is incredible. For 50,000 rupiahs (around £2.60) you can get 3 kebabs (calamari, snapper, beef, pork, chicken, etc) plus 3 salad sides and homemade sauces, which are MOUTHWATERINGLY good – but be warned, the hot sauce is no joke for Westerners.

I stayed in the Pondok Wahyu hostel – a good way to save money at only around £4.80 per night with breakfast included, but you do get what you pay for! When I checked in, I was told I had a roommate, and I don’t know why I expected a female, but when I opened the door to be greeted by a 6ft3 Polish man, I was a little taken aback! That said, Cezar turned out to be a great roomie and perfect gentleman, and we had a good time cycling around the island in search of the best sunset spots. Our bathroom also had the literal meaning of a skylight – a hole in the roof. It was perfect for stargazing, but not so perfect at keeping the critters in our room at bay.

I also met up with the new best couple I know, Georgie and Alex, and we went snorkelling with turtles, had many delectable meals and a lot of laughs together. Georgie I’ve known vaguely for a long time through a schoolfriend (holla, Bobs!) but it was the first time we properly hung out and I’m so happy to say I have two great new friends after this trip! The openness of travellers is so beautiful. Back home, this meeting probably wouldn’t have happened. But when you’re away from home, meeting someone you know – no matter how small the connection – is something you jump at the chance to do.

Empty lovers swing representin’ (my life)

Sunset chaser crew

After being advised that Gili Air had a little more life and a lot less couples than Gili Meno (and when I’d already seen some of Gili Meno on my snorkelling trip), I decided that Air was the next stop for me. I’m so happy I went there. Days spent dipping in the ocean, the colour of which I can only describe as the lovechild of the colour azure and milk. Evenings spent enjoying fish kebabs barbequed by the beach, all you can eat sides and happy hour glasses of red. Conversations and time spent with locals which opened my heart and eyes to new ways of viewing the world, from people who have lived a life so different to mine.

My accommodation was called Old Village Gili Air, and I slept on the upper floor of a big bamboo structure, sharing a room with one other girl. The owner was Japanese and you could see that in some of the ways the guesthouse worked. For around £8 per night, you got breakfast included, a clean and very comfortable room with amazing AC, a shared but clean bathroom, and free (iced) tea, coffee, water whenever you wanted. I was so impressed, I’d definitely go back.

Bamboo balcony views

My final word is: snorkelling with shipwrecks and underwater statues, swingin’ in hammocks, delicious food, the most tempting of oceans, incredible people. If you’ve ever considered the Gili Islands – take it from me, you should go. If you’ve never heard of them before… well, now you have, so what are you waiting for?!

Until next time…

Ana x

Solo in paradise

Here is a draft of a blog post I wrote back in early December 2017 but wasn’t brave enough to publish:

“Haha. Hahahaha. Hahahahahahahaha. (I’m only laughing hysterically because if I don’t, I might just cry hysterically).

If you’d told me when I posted my last blog that by the time I wrote the next one I’d be newly single and travelling solo (in Speedy, of course) in the flat and arid countryside of the state of Victoria, in the sweltering heat with no AC, and not a kindred spirit in a 50km radius, I’d probably have just shot myself then and there and got it over with. However, since I wasn’t given a heads up about the path my life was going to take, here I am. And boy, do I have a lot of time to mull over the life decisions which have brought me to this point.

I’m here to complete the 24 days of regional work I have left (out of 88) which I need to acquire to be eligible for a second year working holiday visa here in Australia. Sure, I could have done what a number of people I know have, and applied without doing the countryside toil… but seeing as a) I already have 64 days under my belt, and b) the universe is seemingly enjoying throwing surprises at me right now, this is something I didn’t particularly want to leave up to chance. Oh, did I mention that I only have until December 20th to get this done? And that I’ve been here a week, in a campsite with no Wi-Fi and barely any other guests? And also that I haven’t even started work yet because there have been thunderstorms every day? Yeeeeah.”

Life had become a little… erratic. Or maybe that was just my mental state. So let me fill you in, from a better emotional place, on the rest of the story.

I’m in Bali right now, and I thought I’d take some time off from the tentative tightrope I’m walking between enjoying generous clean green smoothie bowls and, on the other hand, copious amounts of rum, to write a little about my experience thus far and what brought me here (both literally and figuratively). I find I’m better at expressing myself through writing and reading things back can give me a better perspective on situations and myself.

This is, of course, my first time travelling abroad solo. In case anyone didn’t know, Rob and I broke up last September. I know – I’ve heard it all already: “I thought you’d be together for life!”, “I can’t imagine you with anyone else!”, “WTF!?!”. I’m feeling good with the situation, but maybe those hearing this for the first time will take some time to get used to it. Please don’t ask me questions about it, it’s just one of those things. When you think your life is pretty much mapped out and then everything changes oh, so suddenly, it’s more than a little overwhelming. Without getting into any gory details (as much as that’s probably what everyone wants to know), let me put it here that I wish him the very best in everything he does in life.

Now. Why Bali? Well, firstly, why not? It’s beautiful. Full of young, open-minded, entrepreneurial, good time folk. And after a hectic few months in Australia navigating life after four and a half years with the same person, juggling new friendships and romances and a heck of a lot of hours in work, I felt like I just needed to break free and ‘do ME, girl‘. Nine months in one city whilst travelling is a long time, and I had some of the most fun of my life in Melbourne, but by the end it felt like it was getting smaller and smaller, closing in on me until eventually I felt like I was choking. I definitely wasn’t quite myself – for the last few months especially – after completing my last month of farm work alone in a total hillbilly town in northern Victoria, my only consistent companion being my beautiful van Speedy. A loyal friend (and home) she was, but not the best conversation. Whilst I was up there, struggling with the lack of human contact, I found out that my wonderful Gramma passed away back in Wales, leaving a strange combination of grief and relief. She was 96, her health had been deteriorating for quite some time, so I knew she was now at peace and felt no pain, but I felt so helpless. Due to complications with applying for my second year visa, I couldn’t fly home to attend the funeral, so closure was something I had to get by myself on the other side of the world. I don’t think I did a great job, because I felt a black cloud over me for the coming months, like an itch that couldn’t be scratched, and I felt supremely homesick. Then came the second part of the double whammy. Dan, a beautiful soul I and many others called a friend, passed away this Valentine’s Day, a few days before his 28th birthday. After this devastating news, I just knew I needed to be home and around ‘my people’ as soon as I could scrape together enough money. I had been living with the rainstorm over my head for too long already. If one doesn’t prioritise their own health and wellbeing, who will? Only I can make change in my own life if I’m not happy. I sold Speedy (a task I’d been really half-assing because I wasn’t ready to let go), gave notice to my douchebag of a manager (which felt amazing) and booked to go home via Los Angeles and San Francisco, to catch up with some friends and family en route. I hadn’t seen a soul from home for almost a year and a half. And seeing them was just what I needed. But after a few weeks, there was the question of “what next?”. Stay home? For good? Nah, thanks. I still have a powerful wanderlust inside me, like a wave crashing over and over, that I need to see more and meet more likeminded people. I needed something that home couldn’t provide.

This trip is certainly somewhat of a soul search as much as a time to relax and recharge. I’ve already realised that pretty much everyone in the world is walking around not really knowing what the darn is going on, some just camouflage it better than others. Everyone is just trying to navigate this tom-foolery called life and find their niche. Their people. Their ideal job. The place they feel most at home. And it’s okay that I haven’t necessarily found mine yet, because I will, but right now it’s in the pockets of my backpack. It’s on Balinese beaches sipping on a fresh coconut. It’s in meeting a beautiful soul in the morning and becoming roommates by the afternoon. I have no magic wand – I’m just trying to keep afloat in this new chapter of being… little old me. At home, I started to panic that I wasn’t doing enough, achieving enough, working enough. Seeing what people I went to school with are up to made me doubt the decisions I’d made. I don’t have a degree, I don’t exactly know what career path I want to pursue, and hell, I’m definitely not ready for a house, a marriage, kids. And those are the symbols of ‘success’, right? Sure – if you’re happy. But you couldn’t pay me enough to live that life right now. And I’m proud of myself for having the guts to fly across the world on my own and be doing okay. It’s scary and exhilarating. I’m making daily mental notes not to let pressure from peers, society or myself marr the amazing time of self discovery and freedom I’m so fortunate to be able to experience.

So, right now, I’m gonna focus on smoothie bowls ‘n’ rum, and chasing my dream, cuz this beautiful, cultural, eclectic island isn’t gonna explore itself. 🌴

What I’ve learnt in Australia so far

A lot of people embark on long-term travel these days, and experience all those normal feelings one would get before setting off into the unknown: excitement, hope, trepidation. You have ideas of how things will be, but you can never really know, and you can never truly prepare for what your travels will throw at you.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt whilst being in Australia since December 2016.

1. Don’t panic about money.

By February of this year, Rob and I had $0 between us. We spent the last of our money on canned food and rice and made it last. I cried, and then I got over it. Luckily we are on a working holiday meaning we can pick up jobs, so we started picking grapes in local vineyards. The pay was shockingly bad and the 4am starts were tough, but by being savvy with our cash, we eventually replenished our funds enough to drive across the width of Australia and continue our travels. I don’t worry about money now. If I have to spend out on something and end up with no money again, I know there’s always a way. Rob and I will help each other out. I’ll find another job or sell some stuff I’ve accumulated. No biggie. I’d rather have another great memory than a fatter bank balance. And another thing is that Rob and I really don’t need much money – living cheaply, if we’re careful, is so possible and teaches a valuable lesson. As long as I have food in my belly and somewhere warm to sleep, I feel so overwhelmingly grateful.

2. I really can do anything I put my mind to. (Maybe sometimes with a little help).

This sounds cheesy, but it’s true. After my first day of grape picking, I so wanted to give up, but I didn’t. And by the end, I was picking enough daily to earn minimum wage (no easy feat, let me tell you). Rob and I succeeded in measuring and building a shelf in the back of our van for our fridge to comfortably fit on. We removed the old and fitted the new car radio (with a little help from a fellow Welshman). We took our entire dashboard apart. We fitted Speedy’s roof rack with a few borrowed tools from Old Knocker’s scrapyard. We knew nothing about any of these things – but now we do. We drove from one side of Australia to the other. We are unstoppable, especially as a team!

3. I can go out on my own and have a really good time.

I used to get too nervous to go out on my own, because back home no one really does that – and when you know a lot of people, there’s not really any reason to. But with Rob and I working different hours in Melbourne and having a lot of evenings to myself, I’ll be damned if I’m spending them in the flat alone! I now have the confidence to go out and meet people, have a few drinks over some pool and enjoy Melbourne for the social place it is. After losing confidence the past few years, it’s so good to have it back.

4. If the boss is a dick, leave.

It’s not called a working misery visa, it’s a working holiday visa, and my travels are too precious and short to spend miserable working hard for someone who doesn’t appreciate it. I could be doing that crap back home. My last boss was a paranoid psycho and after a month of never getting anything right and being berated because I couldn’t read his mind, I walked out and never looked back. In the normal world I wouldn’t leave a job until I’d found another, but my sanity and enjoyment of life here is much more important than some stupid cash-in-hand job. And guess what? I found another job the next week.

5. Don’t plan too much.

Having a rough outline of must-see places and being aware that my time here isn’t infinite is good, otherwise I’ve seen people waste almost all their visa in one place, but I hate micro-managing everything. I like not knowing where I’ll be in a week or a month’s time. It leaves us free to add things in last minute, like recommendations of people you meet along the way, and keeps things fresh. Going with the flow lead us to buying a van and driving across the country, meeting so many good people and having some awesome unexpected adventures. I don’t know where I’ll be in 6 months’ time, but I can definitely feel the pull of buying a new plane ticket upon me, and I’m excited!

I’m sure I have much more to learn before we leave Australia, but those are the lessons I’m going to carry with me from now on.

Until next time…

Ana x