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  • The only thing missing was a machete, I thought. But I didn’t tell her that.

    Mostly because it would have been the creepiest possible thing to say at the time - as it really is at any time to say. But the atmosphere called for it. A machete, I mean. How many other times would I be trekking through puddles of mud and fighting the massive leaves of wet ferns that hung heavy in the path from the weight of the water on them? I was in the rainforest - come ON.

    I stepped outside myself and saw the hooded, unshaven and perhaps abnormally excited expression that could easily be mistaken for something other than simple giddiness. After all, why should I be so excited? It was raining. But the gloom lifted from the rainforest in sections of blue haze which drifted in a variety of ever-changing density, revealing the depths of the mountain range beyond. It was, in many ways, a truer perspective of the Blue Mountains. The locals of Katoomba were used to this kind of weather. But not us - two American’s who were perhaps too idiotic to realize that there were several reasons why no one else was hiking in this weather. It was strange how ridiculously secluded living in a hostel in the city felt compared to this moment. It doesn’t take much to make good company, but it goes a long way in the rain.

    Her name was Sarah. She was taking the roundabout way home from a year of teaching English in South Korea, and she was one of the only travelers, other than myself, who’d booked more than a night in Katoomba. It was foreign enough to me that she was the only the second American I’d encountered in my time down unda.

    “I’ve never been so far away from home,” I told her to break the ice. We’d only met the night before, and I got the feeling she was beginning to question what had possessed her to agree to hike with such a stranger. In the rain. Alone. In the rainforest. “I can’t imagine being away for a year, even if I did have teaching as something to keep me busy.”
    She practically had to shout to be heard from behind me.
    “I know, I didn’t know how it was going to be. But it’s weird - it’s not just missing my family and friends and all that… it’s just that I actually FEEL far away from them.”
    “I know exactly what you mean.”
    “But it comes and goes, ya know. It’s usually only when I’m traveling, like when I’m on a long bus or bouncing from place to place that it’s hardest. I call it the ‘Travel Blues.’”

    I was glad she had a name for it, and that I wasn’t the only who felt it. But I had to disagree on a point. It was the opposite for me. I felt best whenever I was moving. It was in places when I had no itinerary, and in mornings when I woke up to low energy that I found I thought most of home; of my dog; of my girl. In one of the most amazing cities (according to friends of mine), I’d found my lowest points of adventure. Aside from a trip to Manly Beach and a dramatic run to catch the last ferry back to the city, which resulted in an accidentally scenic view of the harbor at night, I had to face the hard truth:

    Sydney, it seemed, was a bust.

    “I want to stay in Sydney for the rest of my trip,” I told my friend in Tokyo via Skype. “I think it’ll be better for me than Melbourne.”

    Yet, after only 4 nights at a hostel in the heart of the city, I found that I had no interest in renewing my stay. Perhaps it was the feel of the hostel - nothing was exactly WRONG, in fact, everyone was nice and the manager even made personal calls to my cell phone to see if I’d found work. Perhaps it was the people, who weren’t abnormally more ‘clicky’ than other hostels. Or perhaps it was my roommates, who showed up on my last night - I’d first walked in on them in their underwear, immediately separating, but unable to hide their red faces and giggles behind their beards.

    It smelled weird in there.

    But when I have nowhere else to wander, I find my thoughts will do it for me. ‘What am I looking for?’ ‘What is it about this place that doesn’t do it for me?’ ‘Has this failed?’ ‘Has this even changed me at all?’

    It is 2 hours to Katoomba by train. Time I used to let go of any thoughts or doubt or fear or stress altogether. Staying moving made it easier for excitement to be drawn from the action of ACTUALLY traveling. As my mind began to sober (and I drank more coffee), pangs of guilt began to take hold for even fathoming that I might have wasted anything by being here. I’m always so on the go in the states, and I had to remind myself that this wasn’t just a random road trip or week out of the state to visit relatives or friends. This was the far side of the world. It felt good to run into another American who, after a year way, still shared similar episodes of being the one with the strange accent. But guilt of being downtrodden by homesickness didn’t linger long. For, outside, the Blue Mountains came into view - vast and unending the way they rolled and climbed for miles. Another glimpse at the true Australia.

    After finding that a day trip could only satisfy a fraction of the hiking I wasted to do, I booked a bed for 6 nights in Katoomba - a one street town, from the train station all the way to the mountains about a mile downhill. Along the way, shops and cafe’s lined the street, idle in the offseason rain. The hostel itself very much remind me of the hotel from Charles Dickens’ ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’. It wasn’t just that it had character that drew me to it, I think it was because the place wasn’t its usual self when I was there. The common room was a massive, open floor with a dozen tables and chairs to fill them, complete with a fireplace that set atop a ledge that made for a perfect place to read. The kitchen was another vast room separated only by table space for cooking at any one of the 6 ovens, each complete with 4 stop tops. Everywhere I went, it was obvious that the place was built for hoards of people at a time.

    Yet come nightfall, it was only me. Me and the whispers of warm weather that was coming from around the corner. Before long the weather would lift and the sun would come. The crowds would fill in and the music would play. The kitchen would bustle and their would be fighting to find a spot to sit and enjoy your dinner. That is, if you could even get a booking to the place. But I would not be here to see such times. Which is why I think I found so much joy sitting there by the fire, with no noise but the flutter of the fire.

    I thought back to months ago, when I’d booked me ticket to Australia. If I could see myself sitting here in this moment, when I booked my ticket all those months ago, I think I would have been ridiculously giddy. After all; my face is completely unshaven, my hair is still damp from hiking in the rain hours before, I’m barefoot because my shoes are drying back in my 12 bed dormitory in front of a questionable space heater, I’m eating soup from a can with instant coffee sitting next to it, coughing in between from a cold that was catching up to me from the weather and thinking about a new play. I looked like what I’d been through.

    And I don’t know that I’d ever been this kind of happy before. Such a full, exhausted, beaten, but more to the point - satisfied happy.

    ‘Has this failed?’

    I smiled and got lost again in the fire. This would be as far as I would come. In the morning, I was to head back to Sydney to catch an 11 hour train ride overnight back to Melbourne, where I’d catch a connection train back to Bendigo. It would be Bendigo that I would spend the remainder of my short stay in Australia, before leaving for Tokyo. In some ways, I knew this was the end of my adventure. There would be no more unknowns that lay at my destinations, or staying in hostels. It was all back the way I came from here.

    By way of trains and fire light, I knew I’d find more than just a return journey. There was no dramatic goodbye or sign from above. Just the flicker of the fire, and the bottom of a warm cup. A silent ‘thank you,’ and a promise that I’d see this moment again, many times to come.
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