I washed down the last fries with a beer. I had never been drinking beer. Tried it, yes, but never liked it. Too bitter, too strong. Now it suddenly tasted of golden sun, freedom and happiness, very much like a beer ad would suggest. It was not too strong either, just pleasantly cold and refreshing and the taste was a new one to add to my life, a new life in fact. My journey had only begun a few weeks ago but it had already dawned on me that this was the trip of a lifetime. Because no matter how many more trips there were going to be, this one was the first trip on my own. There is no trip like the first.
The best trips in life are the ones that happen after a break up.
About three weeks ago I had boarded the plane in Frankfurt in tears, leaving behind my then-boyfriend and family. I was sorry. I had to do it anyway. There was too much mental baggage to be dropped as the plane overflew the Indian Ocean. And so it dropped and was scattered across the Australian continent over the course of about six months. This is as long as it took me until the demons of the past stopped haunting me. The best trips in life are the ones that happen after a break up. And this was me breaking with school times, the small town blues and narrow minds. And there it was: The whole wide world at my feet. Scared at first, I soon realized it was filled with laughter, good people, spectacular sceneries and wilderness beyond my imagination. Its streams could be drunk from, its waters could be swum in, its fish be caught for dinner and its beaches were endless strips of freedom. This was the end of the world, the end of those annoying teenage years and very much the beginning of life.
As I sipped from my beer in that outdoor patio somewhere in Darwin, Jim finished a song on the guitar. I sat down my bottle to applaud. With a big grin he grabbed his beer bottle and came over to sit with me. The Canadian has been traveling Australia for months already and was trying to figure out how to make that permanent. “Marry an Australian”, I suggested. He laughed. “And you? Where are you to next?” Good question. I had flown into Darwin from Sydney for no particular reason other than that I wanted to start the trip around Australia from somewhere ‘less obvious’ than Sydney.
“If west is less crowded I’ll go west”
I had had no plans and ahead of me was, as it seemed then, this huge chunk of time to fill: a one-year-visa and return ticket booked for ten months later. It was thrilling, to say the least. So I asked Jim for a recommendation. At first he sounded like a guide book listing the surf spots of Queensland. There would be a lot of parties, a lot of backpackers, a lot of crazy stuff. “Ah”, I made. He showed his big grin again, framed by perfect surfer’s style blonde curls. “But”, he concluded, “you seem to be more of a west coast girl.” Whatever this meant, it sounded great. “If west is less crowded I’ll go west”, I said.
In 2006/07 I spent eight months in Australia. I never made it to Queensland, never to the Great Barrier Reef, to the Gold Coast or to the Whitsundays. I had the best time road tripping from Broome to Perth and camping out on the beaches of the west coast. I learned that following your instinct is better than following a guidebook.
Half way through I phoned my mother to tell her that I might be doing this for the rest of my life.
Whenever I felt like it and cash got scarce, I’d pick up a job. I worked on a cattle ranch in the north, as a waitress in Perth and even cleaned people’s houses. I liked that I got an insight into how Australians lived, how they decorated their homes and what was in their fridge, their book shelves and on their desks (yes, I was a bit nosy but careful they wouldn’t notice). My English turned from poor to decent, my skin tone went from pale to bronze and my confidence grew from almost non-existent.
Half way through I phoned my mother to tell her that I might be doing this for the rest of my life. I think I might have scared her. But I kept my promise – more or less. I returned home anyway. Just to travel and live abroad at every opportunity.
Right now it’s been five years away from home with plans to only venture further. I am still somewhere west, west of the Atlantic ocean in Colombia for the time being. And I cannot wait to hit the continent’s west coast all the way down to Patagonia. Because that’s what a west coast girl would do.