I arrived in Brisbane and was lucky enough to stay with a friend, Denise. I met Denise in Santiago last year and we spent less than a week together. I knew however that we had a good, solid friendship and more importantly a connection. It was actually thanks to her, we were all sat around having breakfast one morning and I mentioned that I was going to go on a walking tour and she said she would join me. And there it was, the start of our friendship and which has continued ever since. She was headed south down to Pucon while I was headed for Rio. Of course it would have been ideal if we had met again somewhere in South America but it never happened. Then this year, when Denise headed back to Chile, I was in Africa.
However, we were able to catch up again in Australia after a year of trying. I arrived in Brisbane and caught the train to her town, Kingscliff. Thankfully I got the bags of spices my mum gave to Seema through immigration. I was pretty convinced that I would lose many if not all of them after declaring them but no, I got through with every bag! How lucky am I? These bags of spices are really like gold dust, I spent over a year in South America with hardly any spices and as I couldn’t cook in South East Asia, I didn’t even bother look. But in South Africa, I was reunited with heaps of them thanks to my mum and for Seema and Josh for carrying them over.
During my first week of arriving in Australia, I was able to experience Melbourne Cup Day. My understanding was that this was a day off work for Australians because of a horse race. I was wrong. Melbourne Cup Day is a big deal for Australians up and down the country. Everyone gets dressed up regardless of whether or not they are actually going to the games and they go down the local bar or pub to place bets and watch the race. It is a day which essentially brings the nation together and as a outsider, non-Australian, it was a display of true patriotism and unity. Going to work or having to work on this day is out of the question other than the bars and restaurants who show the race. I couldn’t understand why people, especially women get so dressed up but apparently this is also embedded in the culture and has been followed for years. It is a little similar to The Royal Ascot, only we don’t get a day off and not everyone gets so dressed up for it.
I was also fortunate enough to meet Denise’s two daughters, Amara and Pushpa. Unfortunately, there was and perhaps still is racism towards ethnic minorities especially in smaller towns like Kingscliff. I’m Indian and Denise’s daughters are Sri Lankan so of course we stand out from the average white, Australian. Thankfully, other than being stared at a few times, I didn’t experience any hostility or racism. But for Denise’s daughters, this was not the case. There were bullied and picked on because they are different. What sometimes gets me is so many white Australians or English people try to tan, to get as dark as possible so they want to be brown. Yet, at the same token, you have narrow-minded people who judge and discriminate you based on your skin colour. The amount of times I’ve been asked where am I ‘really’ from is shocking. I’m really from England and yes I’m also really Indian, you can be both.
Not too far from Kingscliff, I manage to track down a Hare Krishna Temple. I was pretty sure they would have one here and it was just about pinning one down. I looked one up and found one in a nearby town, Murwillumbah, and sure enough it is great. They provide accommodation, both rooms and camping grounds for those interested unlike the ones back home. When Denise and I went, we got talking to several backpackers who were volunteering at the temple and living there. It was quite the trip. It was very peaceful and a great to take a moment to give thanks to god. I hadn’t been to a temple for quite some time and I wanted to let god know how grateful I was for being able to come to Australia.
I’ve been on the road for over two years, managed to volunteer, explore, work and grow in so many ways. From South East Asia to South America to Africa and now to Australia. Had I planned any of this? No not really. The only thing I knew for sure, when I left home, was I wanted to volunteer in an orphanage and I would head to Saigon to fulfil this dream. Everything else, the experiences, cities and good times that followed were not foreseen. I didn’t plan or think I would be able to continue for more than three months. Makes me laugh now and many backpackers can’t believe I’ve been gone for so long and hey neither can I. Do I regret it? Hell no. I don’t have a long list of ‘what ifs’ either, what if I had stayed and worked in Vietnam? What if I had seen more of South America? What if I had gone back home? And so the list goes on. I don’t think about such questions and so I don’t think about what could have been or should have been. Rather, my focus is more on what is? What is right now? Today and right now, I’m on the other side of the world, in Australia.