That one moment.

Note: this post contains significant use of the F-word, sorry

Ever had one moment where your life changes forever? Where something just clicks, or changes, and BOOM, that’s it: life will never be the same again. Where you realise that you are capable of ANYTHING. That all the possibilities in the world are open, there for the taking.

I was reminded of mine tonight reading a post by the lovely Liz Goodchild (a fab life coach who I met in London once) who was writing about running and it’s effects.

My moment was in February 2011 in South Africa. Stood watching people throw themselves off Bloukrans Bridge, the highest commercial bridge bungy in the world (or at least it was then, not sure it still is, Macau might have that title now). I’d said before the trip I wanted to do it, we drove up went to the viewing platform. And well, fuck me, it’s HIGH. Fucking high. Thoughts through my head? Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Shit. Fuck fuck fuck. I stood there for ages deciding what to do.

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My brother took one look and decided it wasn’t for him (we’d both said beforehand that we’d do it). I on the other hand had already said I wanted to do it. I’d told people I wanted to do it. I reeeeeeaaaaalllllly wanted to do it. But, jesus shitting christ it was high.

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(In the picture above, there is someone dangling on a bungy rope but it’s hard to spot them as it’s SO HIGH and MASSIVE)

It’s actually 216 meters (709 feet) above the Bloukrans River.

High.

Anyway, long story short, I manned the fuck up, paid my cash and got harnessed up. No refunds if you wimp out. I wasn’t about to lose the cash and I also remembered telling Matt and Allister at work that I was going to do it. I just couldn’t change my mind. I needed to do it. All the while silently crapping myself.

The walk along to the middle of the bridge was terrifying. It’s underneath the bridge along a metal SEE-THROUGH walkway. What the actual? How to give someone a heart attack before you start. Amazingly, my absolutely-terrified-of-heights-ex-husband came with me onto the bridge, and I know he was crapping it worse than me. So that helped. He wasn’t about to chuck himself off though.

I can still remember as clear as day stood on the bridge. Realising there was no way out (well, of course I could have not done it, but that wasn’t an option) and I had to do it, there was no choice. Fog had started to come through the gorge and so I was looking at jumping into white mist. Better or worse? I couldn’t see the bottom or what I was jumping into. Okay, so I couldn’t see the bottom but then it becomes unknown. A white abyss. It felt just as bad to me.

Strapped up, ready to go. Anyone who’s done a bungy jump will know that feeling of stood on the edge, nothing to hold onto, and that brief feeling of panic because THERE IS NOTHING TO HOLD ONTO. Panic panic panic and then, JUMP. And then the feeling of falling. That completely unnatural feeling of falling.

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And then the pull and squeeze around your ankles. Then the upwards freefalling. And then bounce. And then eventually, STOP. And dangle. For what seems forever.

And that was the moment. My moment. Hanging upside down from a bridge in a South African gorge, legs shaking from adrenaline (so much that I did worry they’d shake out of the ropes), that I realised. Out loud. “I did it. I did it. I fucking did it. Hahahahahaha.” (cue manic near-hysterical out loud laughing) And then I realised, if I could do that, I could do ANYTHING. And I did. That year was THE year my life changed. The year I left my marriage and everything I’d known for over 10 years and started living my life how I wanted. Doing all the shit I realised I could do. And every year I’ve done more. Because I know I can do whatever I want, no matter how scared I feel. No matter how many times I stand and say fuck, fuck, fuck in my head, there’s a little voice that also says “you can do it, you can fucking do it.”

Live your dreams.

(PS: If you want to see the jump, the video is here)

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Sydney showdown.

There’s a bit of a rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. People living in each city defend them loyally, each proclaiming that one is better than the other. Of course they’re biased. And I am too. I love Melbourne, you know I do. So, Sydney had to live up to something to impress me. And well, I guess you could call my time in Sydney a bit of an adventure. It’s hard to compare to Melbourne because 1) I don’t really want to, I don’t think it’s fair and 2) I was only there for just over a week, compared to two months in Melbourne. A week is not enough time to get a real feel for a place, and certainly not enough time to really feel like you’re ‘living’ there.

So, I treated my time in Sydney as a tourist. To see the sights, to tick off some things to see and do, to meet up with people and just have a jolly good time. Now, we all know it started with an accident. The second day I was there I broke a rib falling off a bar stool.

This did impact on my time there. Mainly that I was in pain for the rest of my time there. In fact, not just pain but agony. But, I managed to do everything I wanted to do. See everything I wanted to see. Meet up with everyone I wanted to meet up with (mostly, there was one person that I didn’t because I just ran out of time, sorry Mark). All of it just took quite a bit longer though, that’s all. Oh, and just to let you know it’s really quite hard work to carry two rucksacks (combined weight of probably around 18-19kg), walk and get on and off trains, buses, trams and such with a (at the time unknown) broken rib. It’s even harder when you don’t look injured but are shuffling around, can’t walk faster than a snails pace and get out of breath going up a couple of steps. People have no idea that you’re in agony unless you tell them. I felt very self concious crossing roads as I couldn’t speed up, or if people held doors open for me, I couldn’t do the usual British thing of practically running through it. I’m not always good at asking for help so there were occasions when I had to take my rucksack on and off (like on the train) and it either took about 5 minutes or I had to do it very quickly and nearly pass out with the pain. I did learn my lesson and started to ask for help, especially putting my rucksack on and off; people are generally very nice (I should know this by now of course). Things did get a bit better after I’d been to the hospital and got some very strong painkillers which helped dull the pain a little bit.

So here’s a quick run down of Tara’s Tourist Trip of Sydney:

  • Walking around circular quay. This is where the harbour bridge and opera house are. You know, that famous harbour view. And yes, they are as impressive in real life. Especially the bridge. Although, I was a little tiny bit disappointed with the opera house. OK, when I saw it, it wasn’t bright sunshine. But, still, it was kinda yellow. Little yellow tiles. Not white. I wasn’t expecting that.

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  • Bondi. I stayed with Jason in Bondi, and so I got to briefly live the Bondi life for a while. Which, for me, was buying beer at the liquour shop, having to sort out an order at Domino’s pizza that they got wrong, eating a fry up two days running, watching the Neighbours omnibus and seeing the beach and walking to Bronte along the cliff tops in the rain. Obviously if I lived there for longer I’d be a bronzed beach babe working out on Bondi beach and drinking green smoothies all day in the sunshine at a trendy cafe a.k.a what I think the real Bondi life is like 😉
  • Botanical gardens and Hyde Park. I had a lovely wander around these green bits of the city. I do love a good walk around a park. I saw a beautiful couple in their wedding togs having some pictures taken. They were a stunning looking couple, and the groom had a wicked fedora-type hat with his suit. I probably stared quite a bit.
  • Couchsurfing. I stayed with a guy called Johahn in his apartment which was near to Darling Harbour and had a great view of the bridge from his balcony. He was great fun and took me to a couple of tasty and traveller friendly (i.e. cheap) places to eat. He also re-introduced me to An Idiot Abroad, a show that I’d watched before and hated, however we watched it again and it was much fun. I surprised myself. Maybe it was because Mr perfectly-round-headed Karl Pilkington had a friend tagging along, making it Not All About Him. I like couchsurfing. If you’ve not heard of it before, it’s a website that lets you get in contact with people who offer their spare bed/floor/couch to other travellers. It’s a way to meet other people from all around the world and learn about other cultures, exchange stories and ideas and just expand your horizons and all that. I love it because I get to meet local people and not just other travellers, I find I get a completely different travel experience. I get to see a country in a slightly different light. I’ve done it a bit in quite a few of the countries I’ve been to and loved every minute of it.

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  • Manly and the Manly ferry. I took the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. It’s the best way to see the harbour in all it’s glory, and a lovely little relaxing half an hour ride. Well, it would be if you don’t end up sitting next to an old guy who talks to you all the way (but you can’t talk back because he’s deaf and can’t hear you), and who slips racist comments into the conversation now and then. It was glorious sunshine on the ride over, which quickly turned into clouds and rain by the time I got to Manly. So all I did there was have lunch with Jo (and I also had my FIRST oyster. Surprisingly nice. I would have one again.) before she drove me up to the Northern beaches on a mini sightseeing tour. She also introduced me to Chai Lattes. Oh.Yum, yum, yum.
  • Home and Away filming. Jo took me to Palm Beach which is where they film H&A. I’ve not watched it in years but still got a little bit excited when I realised they were filming (at the SURF CLUB!!) and we could watch quite closely. We had NO idea who the actors were but I think they were probably some famous teen heart throbs in Oz. At least I like to think they were.

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  • Blue Mountains. I spent a few days here. I couldn’t really do much walking because of my rib, after only a few steps it would be agony and I’d not be able to breathe much. It was here that I had a little trip to A&E for the day, and where I found out I’d broken a rib. It actually ended up being a nice little relaxing break (the few days, not the time in A&E). I got to see the mountains and even managed a little walk in them (despite the pain). The hostel I stayed at was one of the best I’ve stayed it, just because it was so friendly and laid back, I met some great people there and it was just really homely.

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  • Wine tasting and a weekend with friends. I met up with some great girls for a weekend filled with fun, laughter, food and lots and lots of wine. I had a truly BRILLIANT time (so brilliant it warrants capitals) and have not giggled like that in ages. Which, when you’ve got a broken rib, is quite painful but I couldn’t stop.  It included airport delays and confusions, late night crispy bread, picnicking in a helicopter landing area, a pilot getting a telling off, innuendos with a wine seller, bridesmaids the film, the Australian national anthem, take out curry and an amazing breakfast. This was one great bunch of people who really helped make my last weekend in Australia a special one to remember.

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So Sydney, it was a bit of a whirlwind tour. I did the touristy bits (although I didn’t climb the bridge). I had a wander around your streets. I made it up to the Northern beaches and out to the Hunter Valley and Blue Mountains. I laughed more than I’ve laughed in a long time. I drank more than I’ve drank in a long time and broke my first bone on your soil.

You’re loud, noisy and brash. You put your best bits out there for everyone to see and admire. And admire we do. Yes, you’re pretty, and you know it. You’re a bit of a nightmare to get around. You’re so big, and your transport isn’t all joined up. But, it doesn’t matter. I’ll let you off. Your beaches are stunning and you have some of the nicest people.

I had a great time, and although Melbourne still wins for me in the ‘where could I live’ competition, I’d gladly come back and visit for a while. I didn’t even scratch your surface, but I knew I wouldn’t. One day, I’ll come back for much more.

So, until we meet again, ta-ra Sydney!

The Bridge over the River Kwai.

I’ve never seen the film, I didn’t really know what it was about but knew it was an old film, something to do with the war and so not my kind of thing. Apart from now I want to watch it. Because now I know what it’s about. Now I know what it’s based on.

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Kanchanaburi was the place we headed to after Krabi. Two buses and about 15 hours after leaving Krabi we arrived at the bus station before 8am where some unenthusiastic tuk tuk drivers were having a snooze. Usually, when you get off a bus you’re surrounded by them, all asking “Where you go?” or “Taxi?”, unable to move or even have chance to breathe. This time, not so much. We managed to get one chap to take us to the main street but it was a bit of an effort.

We’d not got anywhere to stay booked so we jumped off the songthaew, had a quick look around and headed to the nearest guest house. A quick check of the room saw it was clean, cheap (the cheapest one yet – about £2.50 a night) and set back from the main street so, after dumping the bags and a quick shower, we were on the search for some breakfast. We were STARVING.

We were worried that as a popular, touristy place there wouldn’t be much choice, or street food, but rather would just have loads of Western restaurants serving burgers, pizza and chips but we were wrong! A hop, skip and a jump down the road we headed into the first Thai street-food type place after asking if they did Pad-Ka-Prow. You remember, my favourite dish of minced pork with holy basil, chilli, garlic, rice and a fried egg on top? Their eyes lit up when we mentioned it, we asked for it “phet phet” (very hot) and they were clearly delighted to be serving us a traditional Thai dish. And oh, it didn’t disappoint. 9am in the morning, we ate the hottest, fieriest, chilli-laden Pad-Ka-Prow yet. And it was just delicious (aroi-ma). Set us right up for the day it did.

Our bellies full of fiery chillis, we headed to the bridge. Apparently the bridge in the film [Bridge over the River Kwai] doesn’t look anything like it does in real life (the film was shot in Sri Lanka) but I’ve never seen the film so I couldn’t really compare. And besides, we didn’t come to Kanchanaburi to see a film set, we were visiting to see and learn first hand about the awful history behind the bridge. Which we did, by going to the excellent Thailand-Burma Railway Centre as well as the bridge and the war cemetery. We got to see the bullet holes and bomb blast markings on the bridge which you wouldn’t have normally spotted thanks to a lovely Thai violin player who we chatted to a bit in Thai after he started to play Lady Gaga.

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Now, I’m not normally much of a museum person but the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre was extremely well done. I actually found it incredibly moving and struggled not to cry in some parts. Such awful conditions and treatment for so many brave men. We decided to have a few beers afterwards to toast to all those that died because of that railway, and I can pretty much guarantee than neither Nick or I will ever forget that day.

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We hired bikes the day after to go exploring the outlying countryside. Bikes from the smiling Yanee who no doubt was always smiling because she knew how HARD the bike seats were. I swear I’ve sat on softer floors. Despite this, we clocked up around 25 miles (yep, my arse hurt like hell at the end of it) trying [and failing] to find a waterfall. We did however, get to bike through some stunning countryside, past some (what we think were) Chinese graves and amuse staff in a remote 7/11 who didn’t really get Westerners there that much. Traffic and driving is different to the UK here. Thai people are so friendly and such tolerant drivers. They stop, and let you out. They have patience. They never use their horn (unless it’s a songthaew). You never see road rage. I’m probably safer here on an old rickety, rattly bike with no helmet, wearing flip flops and shorts through manic traffic than I would be in Lincoln. And I certainly won’t get cut up, swore at or overtaken aggressively.

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The final day was spent taking a journey on the so-called ‘Death Railway’. A slow, rickety journey through the Thai countryside, over rivers and through the jungle. Because of the history of the track, it was a thoughtful train ride, only slightly marred by the fact that it was a bit packed with tour groups. It was a bit hard to try and sit and reflect when I had a German lady’s wide angle lens in my face (literally, and it’s not a euphemism) trying to get photos out of the window. We ended up at a small station in the middle of nowhere, so we walked towards [another] waterfall which we never found. We did find however, the bus stop, so hopped on a local bus to make the shorter journey back. The local buses are great; the conductors are really helpful and friendly and it costs peanuts. Around £1 for a 2 hour bus journey. A steal! You wouldn’t get that in England.

Kanchanaburi is a strange place. Despite the awful history, it’s an upbeat place. In fact, it’s a bit of a party place, which surprised us. We stayed at a guesthouse on a road called Thanon Manem Kwae which we renamed ‘Bar Street’. Every other building was a bar. Not normally our first choice but our room was set well back from the street. Handy to get a beer, and during the day the street was busy with street vendors, traffic and people walking. At night though, it took on a slightly seedy feel. Which is not what we expected. The bars were full of older Western gentlemen being entertained by young Thai girls. Or older Western gentlemen waiting to be entertained by young Thai girls. You had young Thai girls so drunk they were falling over one another. Thai girls dancing around poles trying to lure us in to their bars. Bars where shots were only 10 baht (about 20p). Like a Thai Ibiza or Aiya Napa. Shudder.

We had one night where we had a few beers, some games of pool and chatted to other travellers but stayed in some of the safer bars. Mainly for Nick’s sake, I think some of those ladies would have not let him get out alive!

Despite that, I’m so glad we made the stop here though; it was an incredible few days, for all kinds of reasons and I won’t forget it.