Avignon

After the busy city of Marseille, Avignon was a medieval oasis of calm. It was by far my favourite city in France. The walled city, surrounded by a moat looks like a town from a fairytale. The famous Avignon Bridge (that now stands only half completed after being destroyed by the river years ago) and the Palais de Pape (a castle that served as the papal residence during the 14th century) make for some stunning backdrops to a picturesque, old brick town. I spent four days in Avignon, even though you can circle the outside of the city in a little less than an hour. I had high hopes of using Avignon as my home base for exploring small towns in the area like Les Baux and Arles. But in the end the rains came in, buses were scarce in the off season, and private tours were expensive. So I used my time in Avignon to relax: drink coffee, eat pastries and crepes, read a book. It was perfect! I walked around the city when the rains slowed, and even made the trek over to the new city one afternoon to take some more photos back on Avignon from across the rivers.
I don’t know if I could use words to describe quite what the town was like, and so, I’m going to let the photos explain for themselves how beautiful the little town was…

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Marseille

I had absolutely zero expectations about Marseille. Which is probably the reason I loved it…
Whenever I’d mentioned to anyone that I was headed to Marseille their reaction was always the same: “eeeeeeh, yeah, Marseille, sure”
It never seemed to be anyone’s favourite stop, but it wasn’t terrible. It didn’t really matter to me; Kelsey and Peter were flying back down from London to meet me on the Saturday. Kels had found us a nice AirBNB to stay at in the city center, and if we hated sightseeing, we could always just drink wine, eat cheese and catch up on life.
But it turns out I really loved my day of sightseeing before the two of them arrived. For starters, the day was perfect: 20 degrees, sunny, not too many tourists with the off season. It was perfect.
I’d gotten a basic rundown of everyone’s favourite sites from some friends at the hostel the night before, and after a lazy morning drinking coffee, I set out for a day of exploring!
I walked for about 6 hours that day, only stopping for a short break to eat a baguette on the beach. I meandered all along the coast, through parks, and over stunning walkways that ran right along the sea. I ended up a couple hours South of the city at Prado Beach where I stopped for a snack. Then I worked my way back inland until I hit the famous Notre Dame at the top of the largest hill in Marseille.
You can see the Notre Dame church, and the golden statue that sits on top, from all over the city. It is the landmark of Marseille! And it comes with some stunning panorama views of the mountains, the port and the islands just off the coast.
I had been taking photos of the little islands off the coast all day; from every angle it seemed! I had photos from the port, from my walk along the coast, looking back at them from the beach, and now from the viewpoint at the Notre Dame. As I stood above the city, looking down at them I decided right then and there that I needed to see them up close!
So I cruised down the big hill to the port where I found a boat that would take me out. Being so late in the afternoon, I could only choose one island to visit: I chose the Isle D’If.
The isle D’If is very tiny. You could probably walk around the entire thing in 15 minutes. On the island sits a large fort. The fort was originally built to protect the port from pirates entering the area. But since it was so poorly designed as a defensive fort, it was soon turned into a prison.
The chateau D’If, as it was called, ran as a prison for many, many years. Over the years, it was home to numerous important dignitaries and military men. But in the end, the chateau D’If is famous for it’s fictional prisoners instead.
The Isle D’If was the setting for Alexander Dumas’ famous novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”. When the novel was released, the chateau D’If became famous worldwide. People travelled from all over to come see the famous prison where Dante was held captive. Over a century later, it was again the setting for the film “The Man in the Iron Mask”.
As it turns out, very few people remember any of the real life prisoners that were held in the jail. And so, even today, the chateau caters towards the Dumas fans, selling paperbacks of “The Count of Monte Cristo” in several languages, and even highlighting the room he was supposedly held in. As touristy as it is though, the chateau was great to explore. Plus the views back on the city as the sun set were worth the 10€ ticket out there alone!
The next day, Kelsey and Peter arrived in the afternoon and we had fun wandering the port area and the city’s famous fort for the sunset. Then we headed back to the apartment for a night of wine, beer and an epic cheese and meat spread we bought from the grocery store. We adopted a friend of mine from the hostel for the night, and the four of us played drinking games and caught up well into the night.
The next day it poured. Our plans to hike back up to the Notre Dame and sightsee for the afternoon were quickly thwarted. The rain had easily convinced us that a big lunch at the port and then naps back at the apartment was a much better plan of action for the afternoon.
So we spent the day relaxing as the rains continued, before finally all saying goodbye and carrying on our separate ways!

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Roo Barbecue

I spent most of the next day exploring Cairns and avoiding the rains. It seems that the rains just refused to stop for my entire stay in the city. Luckily, I’m from Vancouver, so a downpour doesn’t stop me from exploring.
Cairns, even in the rain, is a cute little town. Although there is no beach, that hasn’t stopped the locals from enjoying the waterfront. A long boardwalk curves along the edge of the city, and a man-made lagoon, fully equipped with faux-sand beaches, sits right in the center of it all. This is where locals and tourists alike come to enjoy a swim, have picnics or just lounge in the sun… If there is any.
The lagoon sits right between the ocean and the Esplanade. The Esplanade is the bustling front of Cairns’ 4-squared block city center. It’s lined with cafés and hostels and restaurants of all kinds. I parked myself on the covered patio of a little cafe, ordered a flat white and half read / half people watched the morning away.
The food and drinks in Cairns are pricey. (Although not quite as much as Perth as I have recently found out). I knew I was going to experience sticker shock, but it still caught me by surprise. One could easily spend 35 – 40 dollars on lunch and a beer in Cairns. I opted for buying a coffee and eating makeshift sandwiches from the supermarket.
To be fair, the weather did clear up enough to give me five minutes or so of Sunshine by the lagoon. I walked the length of the boardwalk, had some lunch, did some more reading, and ambled my way back to the hostel to prepare for dinner.
It was the famous Tropic Days BBQ night at the hostel. For $12, the staff cook up a ridiculous amount of Australian meats for the out of town backpackers to enjoy. That night’s meal consisted of Kangaroo, Emu, Crocodile, Sausages and some local fish. On top of that, there were salads and bread and all sorts of sauces to go with! Apparently, in 15 years, they have never run out of food.
“Come up for seconds, thirds, fourths… I promise you’ll never finish it all” said Gabriel, the owner of the hostel.
The food was sensational! I had to try the Kangaroo and Emu three times just to decide which on I liked better. In the end, I deemed it a tie.
Everyone I ate with had similar opinions, and most of us hadn’t tried kangaroo before. Before long we got to chatting about the strangest food we’d eaten over the years. I realized my list was quite extensive after 6 years of traveling around. I’d tried pretty much everything that was thrown at me over the years.
“Have you ever eaten ants?” Asked Paul, one of the guys in my newest group of friends.
“Actually no.” I replied, “Although I did hear in Laos that there were these strange lemon flavored ants that exist. We tried to find them but never came across them” I had to laugh as I remembered my buddy Tadd eating random ants he found on the ground in hopes of picking up a lemon flavoured one.
“Yeah! I’ve had them!” Said Paul.
Turns out, Australia has them too. It also turns out, that Paul loved them, found a nest of them in the forest, took it back to the hostel and has been cooking with them for days.
“You want one?” He asked.
Oh hell yes I do. Any excuse to try weird foods.
Before I knew it, the six of us were staring at a bowl full of big, flying ants with huge greenish yellow bottoms. Paul ripped off the wings and the head and handed me the bottom.
“Here you go!” He said.
I took the ant and, much to the disgust of the onlooking boys, threw it in my mouth. It make a weird popping sound and squished as I ate it, but the thing wasn’t half bad.
“I don’t know if I would describe the taste as lemon flavoured” I said “but it’s not bad”
“Well you should try it in tea!” He said.
So we brewed some ants in boiling water and made a tea. And you know what? It tasted just like a sweet lemon tea. I could have SWORN that there was sugar in it, except that I had watched Paul make it. It was simply delicious!
Once we’d tried the tea, we convinced Natalie to have an ant.
“C’mon Natalie, think of the story! You’ve gotta try it!” And she did! And that meant the battle was on. The only two girls had done it and now the boys has to man up. Some did, some refused, but in the end we had some great laughs.
Just as the ants were losing their novelty, Gabriel announced we were having a musical competition. Fabulous. I’m musically inept. This should be fun.
Luckily, only 3 of the 40 or so people would be competing.
“Okay!” Said Gabriel “I’m going to choose some competitors to play the didgeridoo!”
He scanned the crowd, looked down and me and grinned.
“Hilary, why don’t you come up and play this for us!”
Damn.
Surprisingly, I’ve actually played the didgeridoo before. Way back in Elementary school for a play we’d put on. I wasn’t good. But at least I could make the sound!
Turns out, I still kind of remember how to do it.
Natalie was another victim, and a girl from Taiwan. The three of us, standing there in front of the other 40 people we were living with, looking like fools. Well this won’t be embarrassing!
It was a good half hour competition. More of Gabriel making jokes than us performing, but he had us all in stitches. Innuendos, flat out making fun of us, and tangent stories that had nothing to do with anything. I think everyone had a great time.
In the end I ended up winning a $100 voucher for the Minjin Swing. Similar to the Gorge Swing in Zimbabwe, the Minjin Swing sends you flying through the jungle, face first, at warp speeds. Yup, I’m in!
Natalie won wake boarding lessons for two and the Taiwanese girl won a highly sought after Tropic Days T-shirt. Everyone was a winner because we were all so incredible… Haha yeah right.
After that the BBQ was over, some people stayed for more drinks, others headed to the Woolshed for some table dancing, and others to bed. I had to be up again in 7 hours for my reef tour, so it was bedtime for me. But overall, a successful evening of trying new things!

(To note: when I went to book the Minjin swing later, everything was booked up. I was a little upset, but made Gabriel promise he would pass it along to a worthy adversary! Next time!)

Cape Tribulation

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The rains stopped just long enough for a stroll along Cape Trib beach. The beach was gorgeous, and being stinger season, it was completely deserted as well. Cape tribulation is the only place in Australia where the jungle meets the ocean. Here, the Daintree Rainforest spills out into the sand and right into the sea, making for some pretty spectacular scenery.
I walked up and down the beach for close to an hour, taking photos and walking in the surf. Unfortunately, the skies soon opened up again and it was time to go home.
The lodge I was staying in was just feet from the beach in the middle of the jungle. The place was fairly empty… Except for the spiders.
Every 10 feet along the path I ran into another spider on steroids. Massive orb spiders the size of my face hung in webs along the side of the little road to my room. Great. The one bug that I have a huge issue with. Why would I choose Australia as my travel destination when I hate spiders?!
After hearing close to 100 tales of killer spiders from George on my way to Cape Trib, I was slightly unnerved when I was left alone in the jungle with all sorts of crazy insects.
I had a room to myself, with my own bathroom, and was ridiculously over cautious about bugs for the first few hours. I turned on the light of the bathroom and stood carefully at the doorway, peeking in. I looked up at the ceiling, behind the door, under the toilet seat, in the shower curtain. I felt like a ninja sweeping my way across the bathroom looking for tiny enemies. In the end, I deemed the place safe… Until I found the hundreds of tiny ants crawling all over the toilet paper roll. C’est la vie, time to head to the bar.
I spent the evening in the only communal place in the lodge: the restaurant/bar. Food prices were outrageous, with the cheapest meal going for about $25. I was glad I brought some makeshift sandwiches from Coles. So instead of eating I had a beer, read my book and watched the torrential downpour of rain. Monsoon season… Shoulda known.
Still being ridiculously jet lagged,
I was impressed that I made it to 9:00 before finally heading to bed. Of course, not before ninja-ing around my room for bugs first.
The next morning was more of the same. Rain. Rain. Rain. So much rain I couldn’t believe there was still water in the sky. I had planned on going hiking, but the forecast said otherwise, so I had a much needed lazy morning before my bus at 1:00.
Peter came and picked me up at 1:00 and took me and 10 others on a tour back to Cairns. Peter was just
As ridiculous as my previous two guides and had even more jokes to tell along the way.
We stopped off for some homemade ice cream at this local shop in the middle of nowhere. Every day they make their own ice cream from fruits grown in the area. Each day there are four flavours and you must get a bowl with all four types. Sounds like an excellent plan to me!
The four flavours of the day were passion fruit, jackfruit, soursop and wattle seed. All of them were incredible! I had tried jackfruit in Zanzibar and loved it! A sort of mix between a banana and a pineapple, it was one of the stranger fruits I have ever tried. But soursop and wattle seed were new to me! The soursop tasted like a lemony sherbet, and the wattle seed tasted exactly like coffee! Go figure!
From the ice cream shop we carried on to Mossman Gorge.
Despite the rains, Mossman was gorgeous! With a huge, raging river winding it’s way through lush green jungle, it was a great spot for photos. But the skies opened up again and so we cut our trip short and headed back to the van.
On our final leg to Cairns we drove through the town of Port Douglas. Otherwise known as the gateway to the reef for the filthy rich. This is the place where celebrities and politicians and the rich and famous come when they want to see the Barrier Reef. Peter said it was a rare day if you didn’t see a celebrity walking down the main drag of Port. We drove up and down, trying to celebrity spot, but the rains apparently kept all the famous people away.
If you had the money however, Port Douglas would be THE place to be. It’s beautiful and well kept and clearly a favorite destination for weddings. Having said that, the place is outrageously overpriced. Peter had said that a friend of his was told to leave and shop at Walmart next time because she ONLY spent $400 on a pair of sandals! He had thought it was much more acceptable to spend $2000… Pocket change, really.
After Port we finally made it back to Cairns. A long day on the road in the pouring rain! I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow as I climbed into bed…

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Into the Daintree

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Apart from being dreadfully long, my flight to Australia was disaster free! My first 13 hour leg I sat next to a girl named Jennifer. The two of us probably chatted for close to 10 of the 13 hours of the flight (as only girls can do) and the time passed by like the blink of an eye!
Then followed a layover in the boring Shanghai airport. There I tried to guess the conversion of Yen to dollars by looking at the items on the menu. I quickly realized that I didn’t even know what half the items were… Such as a “hot stone bibimbap with bulgogi”. For 48 yen I had no idea what I would be getting…
After a quick bite, I met Spandy Andy. An apparently famous young guy, dressed in a tight spandex onesie with purple, pink and blue smiley faced polka dots all over it. He had a fanny pack strapped to his waist with speakers in it, blaring 80s beach tunes and dancing the running man. He let out frequent fist pumps along with a lot of “wooooos!” and “See ya at the beach yaaaa!” He was hilarious. Apparently his mission is to spread cheer and happiness through spandex outfits… And to start a petition for smiling photos in Passports.
You just never know who you’re going to meet on a plane.
Another 10 hour flight and I arrived in Sydney for my second layover. Here I had my first Aussie beer and chatted with a girl from Canberra until my flight to Cairns was ready to go.
When I finally arrived at my hostel in Cairns I was like a cast member from the Walking Dead. I’d been up for 2 days and gone through pretty much every time zone Earth has to offer.
To put it even more into perspective, I shaved my legs before leaving for the airport in Van. When I arrived, I had to again…
Yet somehow I managed to keep myself awake long enough to go for an evening stroll through Cairns. I walked the Esplanade, checked out the Lagoon, and listened to the horrific and piercing screams of thousands of fruit bats in the town’s trees. I had made it!
With only 5 days in Cairns, I wasted no time and booked a trip up the coast to Cape Tribulation for 6:45 the first morning. The early start was nothing to me, as my body still couldn’t make out what time it was.
Our driver was George. A smiling and charismatic little old aboriginal man. He had endless jokes, loads of facts, knew everything there was to know about the flora and fauna of the area… And he was fascinated with telling tales of misfortune and death. For the next 7 hours, every one of George’s stories ended in disaster.
“This is where the young hippies come to hang out and drink beer!” He would say, “til that one girl fell off a cliff and killed herself! Just one day before going back to England, can you believe it?”
“We used to kill all the crocs in this area… As a kid it was rare to see them unless they were skinned and dead on some guys front lawn! … Now there’s a ban on killing the crocs, so they’re everywhere! And now the crocs take the little children that stray too close to the river!”
George also has a strange vendetta against Turkey’s…
“Sure, you can feed this stuff to turkey’s to plumpen them up! Then KILL the turkey and eat ’em for yourself!” He would laugh to himself.
“See those birds over there? They mate for life. When one of them dies, the other dies of heartbreak… They are the most romantic bird. Unlike those damn turkeys! They’re players, they like to play the field! No monogamy there! Those turkeys…” He would mutter.
All in all, George was full of entertainment! He took us to beautiful lookout spots, then for a hike through the Daintree itself.
We stopped partway through the day to take a riverboat down the Daintree River. Our new guide’s fervor and enthusiasm for all the creatures in the area reminded me of Steve Erwin.
“LOOK! A CROC!!” He would yell, jumping barefoot across the boat to get a closer look. “Look at ‘er, she’s about 5 meters! What a beauty!”
A little further along one of the river’s tributaries we heard a little screeching coming from the mangroves.
“There’s a baby bat in here” explained our guide. “She’s been here for a coupla days now and hasn’t eaten. Poor thing must be starving, but I can’t find her!”
A few of us stared into the thick bushes towards the screams coming from within. A couple minutes later one guy saw her.
“There she is! Just about a foot above the water on that branch there.”
“RIGHT!” Yelled our guide. He jumped back to the controls of the boat and steered the vessel right into the thicket of the trees. We crashed into the mangroves, bushes coming in over the sides of the boat.
“I’ll get ‘er!!” Yelled our guide as he stepped off the boat, half supported by branches, half in the muddy waters, just meters from where we’d seen the 15 foot croc moments earlier.
Is he getting the bat? I thought.
Then I heard some squeals, some branches breaking and some wing flapping and my suspicions were confirmed.
“GOT ‘ER!” He exclaimed, holding a flailing bat above his head.
Amanda from my tour turned to me, “Did that just happen?”
“I think so”
He wrapped the baby bat in a red towel and thrust it in the hands of the man in front of him.
“Here. Cuddle her. But careful, she’s probably gunna want a nipple to suck on!” He cackled a laugh as the poor guy on front of him cautiously cradled the starving animal.
We continued on our tour, as if nothing strange had happened. The bat was fed bananas and finally calmed down. From there, she will be taken to a sanctuary where other bats will reintroduce her into the wild… Just another day in the Daintree.
After lunch, it was time to drop me off at Cape Trib. Just as we neared the turnoff to the beach, we spotted something big and blue on the side of the road: a wild Cassowary.
I heard Cassowaries were extremely rare to see in the wild. The lady at my hostel said she’d been living there for a year and hadn’t seen one. I was ecstatic. After looking up Cassowary Attacks on you tube for close to an hour with Ian last week, I made it my personal mission to find one while I was up in Cape Trib. Sometimes considered the most dangerous bird, the cassowary looks part Emu, part Turkey, with the top half coloring of a peacock. And they are deadly vicious! Fortunately for us, this one seemed subdued. We snapped some shots from safety and carried on to the beach.
From here I left George and the group and carried on alone. A successful and exciting first day in Australia… And it was only 2:00!

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A New Adventure

For those of you that sent me concerned emails about whether or not I died in India, or asking about Kelsi’s well-being, thank you. Once I met up with Myles, my daily routine changed drastically. Whatever Internet I found, I used to contact Kelsi instead of writing travel updates. In the end, I utterly failed and the stories are too far gone to remember in detail now.
To sum up, it took 2 weeks before Kelsi sat on the floor of the Sri Lankan embassy, refusing to leave until her visa got approved. When it did, she flew back to India to meet Myles and I in Kollam after our tour of the backwaters.
She got off a tuk tuk at the docks to a man running towards her “Same face! Same face! Same face!” He yelled to her. “Come, I will bring you to your friends!” And he dragged a confused Kelsi to an empty dock to wait.
We had told a man two days earlier that we were waiting for a friend. “She looks like me” I said to him in passing. He held on to that idea and watched out for a girl with the “same face” as me all morning. What a guy!
From Kollam the three of us worked our way North. Gokarna, Palolem, Anjuna, all through Goa and eventually on to Mumbai. We missed half of what we wanted to, but had a great time! We spent most of our time on the coast, and managed to catch the Thrissur Pooram festival as well! (With similar experiences as Holi Festival, we came to the conclusion that festivals in India just aren’t made for blonde white girls).
Overall, our second month was a lot more positive than our first. Maybe it was our mindset, maybe it was the fact we had Myles with us, or maybe we just stopped caring about the stares. But by the time I left Mumbai I had a much more positive outlook on the country than my previous posts may suggest.
It was a teary goodbye for Kelsi and I in Mumbai.
“I’ll see you when the first one of us gets married” said Kels.
We both laughed sadly, knowing that would be eons away.
“Deal” I said.
And we went our separate ways.
Coming home from India was the biggest culture shock for me. I find I never really get culture shock GOING to places, but instead realize the changes when I get home.
My first day back I went for a walk with Adrienne after a stop at the vet with Cola. The vet had explained so sweetly how she cleaned Cola’s ears on top of the checkup just because. In my mind I was angry. “Great, how much is she ripping us off for that? Now she’s going to expect a big tip from us! Sorry lady, you did that on your own accord, I’m not paying you!” I was skeptical around everyone…
Later I couldn’t remember how to cross a street at a cross walk.
“What are you doing?” Adrienne asked as I stood anxiously on the sidewalk, looking every direction before darting across the road “It’s a crosswalk!”
It had been 5 months since I’d seen a crosswalk. The idea was so foreign to me.
Those were just two of a million little things I had to adjust to while I was back. 7 months later I still avoid crowds and I jump a little when someone I don’t know points a camera phone at me.
3 months after being home I got itchy feet again. Decide what I want to do in life? Or avoid Canadian winters and head south. The question is almost ridiculous.
So two days ago I hopped on a 37-hour journey to Australia. I am now sitting in the Daintree Rainforest in Cape Tribulation, hiding under a tarp from the torrential rain that has been bucketing for nearly 12 straight hours. Looks like I left the rain for more rain… At least it’s warm!
And thus begins my new adventure…