Hello people! Here it’s Giulia Puntin “speaking” from Friuli (the most unknown and underestimated region of) – Italy!
Spending my last days at home before leaving for the “tropical semester” in Malaysia, I managed to fit in some writing time between planning, drawing up lists, dreaming and compulsively checking the status of my visa.
No matter what the reasons for doing it are, travelling always carry a great deal of excitement and emotions. As we’re all approaching that moment, I thought this was the appropriate time to bring back to light and share (on our brand new blog!) a bit of writing of mine from two years ago, after I came back from a “gap year” of backpacking in Australia.
It might sound a bit off topic, since we are meant to talk about our current experience, but I probably wouldn’t be here, doing what I’m doing with this beautiful folks with which I share time, knowledge, passions and ambitions, if it weren’t for this very journey. But, to be honest, I am not just going to talk about this one specific journey, as I think (hope) many people will find pieces of themselves too between these lines. Through my own personal experience I’d like to write it as a celebration of Travelling itself, and all its bearings.
What are we, if not the result of all of our experiences? Not only we can’t ignore our past, we owe the good things that happened to us be remembered and be given the value they deserve.
Here I’m going to share with you some of the thoughts and impressions that left the deepest marks on the person I am and, looking backwards, led to a chain of events I am still not ready to fully appreciate.
Holding my one year working holiday visa, I travelled around the Land Down Under following this basic “plan”: from Sydney, moving northwards towards the tropics through Queensland, Northern Territory and then West, exploring the remoteness of the Western Australia and descending it to Perth.
I didn’t really care too much about the Southern Coast (it’s not tropical, you know…ahah!) , but then it just worked out to keep going through it and back to Sydney again, that also allowed me to “close the circle”.
I didn’t get to see some places I thought, before, I couldn’t really miss out. I ended up loving places I didn’t even know existed.
I made my own mistakes, accepted compromises (mainly with myself) and hold some regrets that maybe, from a different point of view, have no reasons to exists. But I’ve learnt a lot. Beyond the usual, so acclaimed “personal growth” that in the common view goes hand in hand with this sort of experience and that everyone inevitably expects: I’ve learnt a lot of practical skills, curiosities and heaps of facts and insights about the Australian wildlife and how to explore it.
As a junior biologist, I’m not going to say that I’ve learnt what can’t be tought by books, instead, I’ve got the chance to see and touch what books talk about, finally in 3D and High Definition.
Personally, I hold this feeling that travelling doesn’t really change the person you are, it rather enables you to get in touch with some hidden aspects of yourself that you didn’t know existed or couldn’t properly express. It allows you to witness and experience aspects of life that otherwise you wouldn’t have, maybe better defining your inner self. But definitely not, travelling doesn’t change the essence of your person. In simple words: if you’re a dic***ad, you’ll stay a dic***ad, and trust me, I’ve seen many around.
When I came back home, I felt changed more “outside” than “inside”. Besides the much more blond and longer hair and the suntanned skin, features which easily standed out among the european winter look of the rest of the people around me, I received a lot of compliments about how “grown up” I looked (apparently I’m still in the age in which getting older is considered a good thing, or at least something not to feel upset about). Several times I’ve been asked if I were grown taller, and this still puzzles me.
I thought many times how I will have found myself once back home again. Come back to the same place I lived in for nearly my whole life, overlap my old and new me, and spot the differences.
It seems I aged more than the year I actually spent away. For sure, that year seems to me to have lasted longer than an average “normal” one. My eyes have seen and maybe got accustomed with a huge number of different and always changing views, my body had started to adapt to different environments…but it was still me, it’s still, just, me. With a much better English, and a backpack full of anecdotes.
In the heat of the moment, that was my impression.
At this point a premise (or better a clarification) is needed: my first travel solo was when I was 18, and that has probably been the very experience that enlightened me. Four weeks in Queensland volunteering in a wildlife Sanctuary, then two weeks to travel a bit around the north. So this first time was the most “shocking” one, the one that I came back and felt overwhelmed by emotions. Going to Australia for the second time, I found the way kinda smoother, as I had already been through some intense stuff…
Something stupid like staring for the first time at the Departures sign of an international airport, whose destinations reach every corner of the world, and yours is among them. You feel just one step from Everywhere.
My very first flight, 20-something hours, crossed the equator and both the tropics, finally got to see what the southern hemisphere looks like.
I felt I could go everywhere and after that I couldn’t anymore picture myself living a whole life in the same place. There’s a whole world out there, not that out of reach as you were induced to believe…
it took me weeks or even months to realize the real extent of my “personal growth”, which, as I said before, consisted not in a change of my own person, but in a widening of my perspectives. A slow process, a journey of little steps…
WHAT IS REALLY TRAVELING? Is it about how much we see or how we feel? Quality or quantity? To me, the real breakthrough is not when you face a different reality, but when you start considering it “normal”, the everyday life. In that context, you don’t fully realize the real magnitude of the set of things you, at that moment, take for granted. I kept staring in owe at the view of my beach kissed by the sun, at every sunrise and every sunset, every turtle, at the view of the forest from my kayak, feeling among the few blessed ones who can call it home, but as time went by, week after week, the astonishment faded away. That was my place, my ordinary life. My real life. Cape Tribulation will always be in my heart, but only when I left I could understand the grandeur of that piece of paradise of mine.
My life, even if for only six months, has been about working as a bartender next to a beach right between the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, considered one of the world oldest tropical rainforest. English was my language, my house a sort of upgraded quirky shack, surrounded by any sort of life. You can’t see my now, so I’ll tell you: just thinking about it got me goose bumps and shiny eyes.
AN UNUSUALLY NORMAL LIFESTYLE. I got accustomed to a lot of things, a lifestyle I’d say, that usually people would consider as an unacceptable compromise. Beyond the situations described above, there are other habits I acquired and feel proud of, that changed the way I see travelling: as budget is limited, there are heaps of superfluous stuff you can easily get away without yet have an awesome experience. Actually, I’d say it allows you to have a better experience.
Examples: of course, camping and/or sleeping in the car instead of hostels; using public showers and toilets, and if they are not available a bucket of water and a hole in the ground are good substitutes, which means that quite often you just pee on the ground (for example, in one place I got asked to use the toilet only for “solid wastes” and use the lawn for the rest), this doesn’t mean you have to give up to your personal hygiene, simply do it in a slightly different way (I don’t understand people who think travelling on a shoestring means being dirty, it’s so easy to keep decent!); cooking on public barbeques or on a camping cooker, powdered milk (it sucks, but doesn’t rotten); living with perfect strangers and sharing everything with them; couchsurfing; wwoofing; check if the water tank has enough water in it, if not, look for any tap available, from the one at the petrol station, to public fountains; worry about where your passport is, and you’re camera as well, as they are the most valuable things you own; the constant rain, its perpetual sound and the mould growing on everything, then the drought and the sun burning everything; dry you’re washing over every sort of structure, like fences, walls, chairs, cars or part of them, hedges, benches; use a single soap cake for all the purpose indicated on the box, namely as shampoo, body soap, laundry soap; got used to spiders, gecko pooh falling from the ceiling, goannas feasting with kitchen wastes and mice with your food, of any sort, that you didn’t secure/hide properly…and so on.
THE MANY THINGS I COULD HAVE DONE BEFORE, BUT I NEVER DID are maybe the biggest surprise. I’ve seen many weird things that I could have never seen anywhere else, but sometimes what hits you more is to realise all the things you’d been missing just because you had never bothered to seek for. I started camping, became a quite good kayaker, tried horse riding and couchsurfing for the first time, all in Australia. Also I cooked my first pizza in a real wooden pizza oven (and I call myself Italian?!). Why? I guess because when you travel you are in a more open mood: you know your visa is not going to last forever, you might not be there ever again in your life + you find yourself living in a totally different environment attended by people you were very unlikely to meet otherwise.
I’ve probably seen more sunrises during the first two month than in my entire life. I’m definitely not a morning person. But if you have an active life, spending the whole day under the sun, going to bed at dark because there’s not that much else to do, then the first ray of light that knocks on your eyes is more than welcome.Did I need to go to the other side of the world to start living according to the daylight, waking up at sunrise and going to bed at dark? No, I didn’t, simply the life I lead at home, in Europe, works against it.
“THE REAL VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY CONSISTS NOT IN SEEKING NEW LANDSCAPES, BUT IN HAVING NEW EYES”, as someone else said…and maybe I had to travel half the way around the world to find it out. Despite a lifelong innate interest for the natural world I started looking at it in a different way in Australia. There I was constantly scouting new landscapes, made of plant and animals I had never met before. Every day a new finding, I was growing competence. To give you an idea, there are fishes and birds whose counterparts are found in Italy too, but I have no idea how to call them in Italian. Furthermore, it appears to me I see more things now, I recognize birds and plants I had never noted before.
FEEL LIKE A FOREIGNER, at least once in a lifetime, everyone should experience what it feels like to be not understood. To worry about being scammed or mocked because you can’t speak properly. Or simply don’t understand jokes. I’ve been lucky I met mostly nice, very nice people, but sometimes it doesn’t take much to feel humiliated (this is something native English speaker will never get). Sometimes I’ve just been too hard on myself, maybe. This change of perspective revealed suddenly one day I saw an Italian insulting a black guy, who was doing his job, because of a “misunderstanding”. The black guy was right, but nevertheless the italian felt legitimated to reply with a “go back to work, or just go back to your home”. I felt personally offended, and wondered if he ever tried to make a living abroad, where no one cares about his family name.
FEEL FREE There’s something wrong about always living in the same environment: you have to keep playing the same role, listening to someone else’s opinion again and again, forcing yourself to agree on matters just because they’re generally thought to be good. I’m not saying that you have to renounce to anything, just go away from the general “real life” and try a new, exciting, momentary one. There’s so much freedom in the loneliness. Personally, I felt free to do so much bullsh*t in this year, things that I would not have dared to do while at home. You must allow yourself the privilege of totally screwing up on something, without having someone saying “I told you…”.
AN INHABITANT OF THE WORLD, THIS IS WHAT I AM. Only travelling makes you understand this, nothing can explain you better the reach of this sentence. Gives you the right perspective, the right proportion, makes you feel (just) a little part of this beautiful blue dot we live on. It first shows its beauty and then how we threat it, and it hurts. It makes you realize how important are all those little gestures like recycling, reusing instead of buying every time new stuff, reduce the use of plastic and so on … and how far they can get. This world is home, our own home, it deserves much more respect.
THINK IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE is another thing a recommend everyone to try, at least once. It’s unbelievable what our brain can do! I never thought I could have had problems finding the words in my own language. It was a funny moment when me and a friend of mine who lives in Australia, suddenly allowed to speak our mother tongue, simultaneously apologized to each other for our Italian being so broken.
BECOME SPOILT AND PICKY ABOUT SIGHTS: one awesome view after another, your standard gets so high you always want more. I several times found myself asking wondering if that place, that landscape, was really worth all the time and energy spent to get there. Would I recommend someone else to invest in such a journey? Funny is, looking now at the photos I took there (and photos, in my opinion, still can’t compare with reality) I just laugh at it. That place was awesome, just little less awesome than others, but still well worth!
THE SADDEST AND MOST ANXIOUS MOMENTS HAPPENED BEFORE TOUCHING AUSTRALIAN GROUND. Even if the enthusiasm overcomes the fear, the idea of a long-term travel may scare a bit. Will I feel alone, lost, miserable and have no one around to seek relief? It actually only happened in my mind, only before leaving. I had my down moments, doubts, maybe fears, but I never felt overwhelmed by them. Exactly because I was alone, I was too busy thinking how to make it work. The hardest moment of the whole year was the time to say goodbye, when I turned my back to my family and best friends and walked through the boarding check. I waved goodbye again and disappeared. The flight was dramatic in both the meaning: I got two sunsets and a sunrise all spectacular, but I was always about to cry. What the f*ck am I doing???. I didn’t know what I was going to find, but surely I knew (then even better) what I was leaving behind. Luckily an airplane is not something you can just jump off, it kept me safely locked until the end. A day and a half later, with no proper sleeping and 7 time zones forward, it dropped me off in the summer hot midnight Sydney. Totally recharged. Peaceful again.
THE BUCKET LIST SERVES ONLY TO INSPIRE, don’t take it too seriously! Its bias lies in the fact you write it before actually knowing what those things are about. It’s easy to fall in the mistake of overestimating: the most popular things not always are the most beautiful, but surely are the most attended! And maybe spoiled…
There are things I really wanted to do, but I had to give up for good reasons: extended my stay in places I couldn’t know before I would have fallen in love with, had to deal with seasons, weather, unexpected good opportunities… Work out your own way, be flexible, enjoy what you get, catch the moment. Don’t stick to a list, you’ll have the time of your life…
WHERE ARE YOU REALLY WHEN YOU ‘COME BACK’? It seems that your mind doesn’t always follow your body…who is you, and where? You’re head is still full of colors, sounds, feelings of a distant land. You can’t get rid of them, but you can’t even really share them with anyone else who hasn’t felt the same. In your wallet, a mix of ‘here’ and ‘there’ of currencies, debit card, business cards and receipt from places very far from each other. The backpack you packed in one day takes three months to be completely unpacked. In one year, you expect to find things much more different and you ask yourself, did it really happened? Was I really there? Was it real? It must have had, because you can’t stop thinking at it…
HOW YOU RE-EVALUATE YOURSELF ONCE BACK HOME is maybe the brighter side of the ‘aftermath’. You see yourself under a better light, you have a better comprehension of your capabilities, as well as of your weaknesses. You have proved yourself you made it through, and you can do it again. And it’s not only about yourself, but also about the things and people who have always surrounded you, you appreciate them more now. The sense of humor of your friends and the still strong bond between you, it’s wonderful! Making jokes in a foreign language is very difficult, but in my own language, omg, I didn’t remember being so funny! Having a pizza that really tastes like pizza is an awesome feeling too.
Actually, there’s something that has changed in you, and it’s an irreversible process: something that will stay with you forever and will never let you alone, like an unpaid debt or a work left half done. What about the rest of the world I haven’t seen yet?