When you travel, you tend to post cool pics and videos on Facebook and Instagram and your friends might get the impression that travelling is just a lot of fun. It can be – at times. The truth is, though, there are moments when you feel vulnerable, broken, hopeless and homesick. They mostly arrive when you get some health issue or when you feel that certain country simply does not comply with your energy or expectations.
I thought that Australia would be a golden path of amazement for me. A reward for my hard spiritual work in Bali and in Thailand. I thought it is a warm country with wonderful, warm, dry and sunshiny climate, welcoming atmosphere and chill-out ambiance where people´s only worry is which surfing board they should use on a particular day for their surfing adventure.
I thought it is a country of great system.
I thought it will receive me with arms wide open… like the first settlement of British prisoners who arrived here to start up a new life. Because at any point of our lives we can start anew and get things right!
I thought the energy of it would breathe with the wisdom and depth of the native Aboriginal settlement and that there would be traces of the ancestral connection simply everywhere.
I was naïve.
When I lived in England, I struggled to get connected with the country. My first weeks in Australia were a great struggle too… Australia reminds me of England in so many respects… they have things in common these countries… like driving on the left, “mind the gap” on the metro, the Queen on the banknotes and coins, Woolworths, Marmite (OK, it is Vegemite here) and so much more.
And the spring here (I should say rather winter time, with circa 10 degrees Celsius and rows of rainy days) up in the National Park of the Blue Mountains is more like autumn in Britain! An hour of sunshine once in four days feels like a gift!
Alright, being in a mountain yoga retreat centre with fireplaces, a heater in your room, beautiful views all around, plenty of books in the hotel library and various teas in the pantry, you might not mind the weather, except that you cannot really lock yourself in seclusion but have to go out and do things. And I WANT to go out and do things!
But, let me start from the very beginning…
Arriving to Sydney airport from Bangkok – a little more than two weeks ago – things felt just fine. The staff was very kind helping me to find the way to the trains, giving me advice on buying the Opal train card, helping me find the right platform at the Central Train Station for the Blue Mountain line. People on the trains seemed nice, smiling, advising me on which trails to take in the Blue Mountains to enjoy my hiking times. I was sure (though tired after the long flight with almost no night-sleep) that Australia would be just great and the sunshine of the day helped me feel good, though I was shivering on the train due to physical exhaustion, air conditioning (so strong and cold) and the outside temperature (19 degrees on that lucky day) was a drop by 15 degrees for me compared to Thailand.
I was already writing an article in my mind that would go on my blog saying how wonderful Australia was with all the smiling happy people around, especially when, after my arrival to Wentworth Falls, a girl at the convenience store helped me out to get connected with the managers from the place where I am staying. I only had my Czech sim card and a phone call to the centre would have cost me a lot of money, even if I just wanted to announce that I am at the train station and could someone please come and pick me up and give me (and my heavy suitcase) a lift to the resort. In Thailand or Bali there is wifi everywhere that you can use freely, just asking the staff for the wifi password. In Australia, this is not common. You go to a hospital, a clinic and ask for their wifi password and they won´t give it to you, instead will look at you as if you have just demanded the password to their internet banking. You ask for a wifi connection in a shop and they tell you they have got none, only data on their phones. You ask them if they use Whatsapp and they admit they don´t know what it is!
So, this girl simply picked up the landline phone and called to the retreat centre to say I am waiting in her store for someone to pick me up. That was truly nice of her, especially since she has done it free of charge and with a lovely smile. OK, generally, people here are really, really nice and helpful. Far be it from me to try to deny that.
One of the four people who run the place here has driven me to the resort and after showing me around the beautiful hotel, he took me to the Palace where there live all the volunteers who help with the retreats. That was when I got my first shock. The Palace housed at that moment circa 13 young adventurers by circa 13 years younger than me – and was as messy as you could only imagine, with various trifles, dirty clothes and dishes lying around in the living rooms, with kitchen filled with unwashed dishes and filthy tables, with the laundry room packed with unwashed and unidentifiable clothes, with chickens running everywhere by the pool, gaily, freely. Real community life one would say. Real mess I would assume. Being as neat as I tend to be due to all the energetic work I do (and the upbringing and education I received), I wanted to cry… the question on my mind was: “What am I doing here, dear universe, why do you want me here?”
I spent the afternoon cleaning the room that was given to me, where there were pieces of broken mirror everywhere, abandoned dirty knickers, half-empty water bottles, crumpled tissues and a heap of beddings (nobody probably used for some time) on the sofa. The room was called Harmony! A great paradox, as it was in this very room that I got to experience sleepless nights filled with tears and itching as on the second day upon my arrival small itchy bites started appearing on my body.
God knows what bugs or mites have caused them (and where they came from) as nothing was found in the room, even by the pesticide man (disinfestation man), who came to treat the room, except for one unidentifiable small dead beetle with mandibles. After the treatment of the room I repeatedly had to wash and tumble dry all my clothes so I kept running in between the yoga teachings, roster duties (checking the guests in, helping with breakfast preparation, sometimes cleaning up or housekeeping) and the laundry, while scratching my harmed body. Tough and heavy for my mental and spiritual balance. Especially when two people living in the Palace told me independently that Harmony is a “cursed room”. Thank you very much, that helped!
I started freaking out every time a new pimple would occur. Sometimes the old ones would reappear. I would wake up at nights to check what is on my bed – and there was nothing!
In my home country, I could go straight to a skin specialist (free of charge) to see into the issue. In Australia, the system first takes you through a pharmacist check-up (good for nothing in my case, just got a steroidal ointment) to a GP check-up (66 Australian dollars spent on an incorrect diagnosis and 15 on an ointment which only irritated my skin more) and finally, getting a letter of recommendation from a GP, you are allowed to go to a specialist, in my case an Indian-born dermatologist about an hour and a half away from the place where I am staying (a train or a car ride) who looked at me and for 200 dollars told me that I must have gotten some bites by bugs/mites (that he could not identify) initially, but that now (as the room got treated and I changed rooms anyway) my immune system is just reacting to the bites… I got another steroidal ointment and was told to enjoy my stay in Australia!
Now I live in a room that is called Serenity and though it is a tiny simple one, especially compared to the big and richly furnished Harmony, I am fond of it. The skin irritation issue is settling down and the house is gradually becoming tidier as the crew keeps changing and some people do like tidiness as much as they like community life and would simply go and clean up after others in their free time without needing to mention a thing.
Since the weather outside had been cold and rainy (except for a few dry and sometimes sunny mornings or afternoons when I immediately get out to go hiking or take a quick adrenalin bath in the freezing cold waterfalls), and it has evidently affected not only my mood, the managers bought a lot of wood for us to use in the fireplaces in the Palace so that the house gains inner warmth which I associate with the warmth of heart, home and cordiality.
The four people managing the place have given me so much love, care and support during the dealing with the whole health issue and I feel grateful and thankful to them. And generally, as mentioned before, Australian people are very kind and helpful. I was just sitting on a bench the other day in a shopping mall thinking what I need to arrange next when an elderly lady started talking to me, a small yet warm-hearted talk at the end of which she wished me a great stay and “god bless you”. It felt like meeting an angel. Well, as I believe in them, she might as well have been one.
Another time, I was asking a security guard at a train station for help with finding the train schedules when he and his colleague not only got me a booklet of those but also explained to me everything about the Opal app and how to use it and advised me to do most of my travelling on Sunday as it is the “family day”, so cheap train rides.
Yet another day, I had a craving for a freshly made sandwich after a hike near the town of Katoomba when my steps led me to The Yellow Deli – amazing food: in fact, so amazing that you forget the place is openly run by a cult… more on that another time… but yes, the people there – again – are lovely.
The only times I could not feel any warmth in the acting of the people here was at the clinics (for some reason the kindness there is just a duty and you feel it, it is not honest at all) and at the local post office in Wentworth Falls…
To start with… they have two types of postcards here: one usual type, and then a special type which includes local and international postage, so you don’t need to buy a stamp for it. A postcard would cost about a dollar, a postcard including postage would cost something over two. A stamp to most international locations would be about three dollars. Thus buying a common postcard and a stamp would cost you about 4 dollars; double the price of the postcard that includes the postage. Isn’t that ridiculous? Isn´t? Then let me continue…
I bought 4 cards upon my arrival to send to friends, three included postage, one did not. However, the woman at the post office sold me four stamps for those, not knowing herself – or not mentioning – that I do not need three of the stamps, so I glued them onto the cards. For some ridiculous reason, though I had told the woman where the postcards would go, she sold me three 3-dollar stamps and one 2.30-stamp which could not be used for any of my desired destinations as I found out later. The next day I arrived to the post office and there was a man who postmarked the cards without noticing that one of the stamps was of a lower value. When I told him, he took out three 20-cent stamps and placed them over my signature and a part of the writing on the postcard! When I told him that a 10-cent stamp was still missing, he looked at me as if I was a Nazi officer. I shrugged my shoulders, paid 70 cents and left the postcards (including the one lacking the 10-cent stamp) at the post office only to come back a few minutes later realizing that I need to send more cards. So I picked a few cards and went to pay for them and get the stamps for them. This time, there was another woman. She looked at my cards and said: “You don´t need that many stamps, most of these include postage.”
So I told her about the other cards that I have just left at the office… she looked at me and said: “Sorry about that.” in a tone and with a facial expression which lacked any trace of sorrow.
“I want my cards back.”
She brought them for me with an annoyed expression.
I spent the evening undoing the stamps on the postcards that included postage – over a pot of hot boiling water that was producing steam (a trick somebody must have told me about at some point in my life) – and gluing them onto the ones that did not.
The next day I went to the post office again to find the woman there who was present the first time I arrived. I explained to her everything, showed her the cards that still carried traces of the glue and bits of stamps, showed her the already postmarked stamps re-glued onto the other cards. She nonchalantly took them all, threw them to a “to-be-posted” pack and asked: “Do you want a refund?” Can you understand that? She asked me once all the stamps were re-glued… as if the woman the previous day could not have offered the same, sparing me all that effort and trouble…
I think I don’t want to see an Australian post office for the rest of my life… or at least a long while…
Another bizarre story came along as I tried to obtain my Australian sim card. I opted for a Vodafone start up pack as I mostly needed a lot of data since the wifi here in the mountains is not very good. They have a special offer of 40GB, 150 free mins of international calls and unlimited texts and calls within Australia for 25 dollars, including the card. I bought it online to avoid going to a Vodafone store; the nearest one is about an hour and a half away from here and the return train ride costs more than a half the price of the package. I was supposed to have my card delivered within two days. It arrived on the fourth, due to bad weather!
When trying to activate my card, all efforts failed. I simply could not do it online, myself. So, a friend of mine let me use her phone with an Australian card to call the customer line. A 50-min long phone call with a person who could barely speak English and to whom I repeated my email address probably seven or eight times, who asked whether my date of birth was 23/1/2018 and thought that the Czech republic was in Russia I was told that they cannot activate my card either because the validation of my passport failed. They advised me, as I complained and asked to speak to that person´s supervisor, to go to the nearest Vodafone store where they can see my ID and proceed with everything or to send a photo of my passport to the support service which was supposed to reply within 24 hours. They responded to my request in four days… and in the meantime I have settled the matter in the nearest Vodafone store… resigned and upset.
Those are the moments when you just want to grab a glass of good wine, close your eyes, feel the taste and forget and let go… but then we are not allowed to drink anything alcoholic here in the centre and as for Australia and obtaining alcohol, you cannot get even a beer or a cider in this country in a supermarket or a convenience store. Some bigger supermarkets would have the right to sell certain alcohol types, but basically you need to go to a specialized shop. Isn’t that a form of a prohibition in this country that everyone has referred about to me as free-spirited and hippie and boho-like? Anyway, I started drinking kombucha instead (yes, the great Australian certified product), deluding myself that it has also been fermented, it is bubbly and tastes almost like cider, but is cheaper (about 2 dollars per bottle in a supermarket, while it is about 5 for cider) and everybody considers it healthy.
Australia has thrown some crazy moments at me and I don’t understand why… what kind of an ordeal is it meant to be? Or is it just Consciousness at play?
I am surrounded by people here, yet unable somehow to connect deeply with anyone. The volunteers come and go in a few days, weeks. They just pass you by. There is no real touch, no depth.
Sometimes I get the sensation that I need the world more than it needs me. But then I understand that it needs me just as I need it, because we are one.
There are moments of genuine despair when I feel I just want to go back home to my family and friends, the people who have known me for so long and who are simply there, no matter what (I miss you, guys, badly) or go back to Thailand and its warmth, blueness and greenness and the beloved people I encountered there… but then, the volunteers would trigger off a drumming circle in the yoga shala and we would play and sing and shout and chant and dance, the Laughing Chef would arrive from Sydney to cook and would fill the kitchen with his strong and genuine laughter, Khan or Lina would come to share their passion for cooking with us and bless us with their food (like the vegan chocolate raw cake I will remember for long), Marco, one of the volunteers, would come around asking me “what is love, really” with so much curiosity that you feel the inner child in him and just want to give him a hug cause you sense the beauty of the enchanted, searching soul in him, Courtney, a yoga teacher, would make me a cup of her special spice and milk tea and would bring the lavender essential oil in a diffuser for me to use in my room, Martin and Marie, a French couple, would start speaking French with me (and just the sound of the language would give me a feeling of being caressed), Natalie (the wife of one of the managers) would come up with her wonderful smile and the sparkle in her eyes that shows great compassion, understanding, tenderness and care, Charu, the lady in charge of the Palace people, would join me on a walk and would get us Sam´s smoothie on the way back (one of the things that make me believe I can still fall in love with Australia), and the two managers, Athill and Ethan would look at me as if they knew, but were hoping that I would soon understand too, that I would remain patient and considerate and open to whatever I need to learn here… and at those moments, I feel I need to stay, because I am in the right place, at the right time… and perhaps Australia has plenty of pleasant surprises for me in store, but I just have to keep discovering them slowly, so that they resonate strongly with my vibes, so that the country wins me over step by step, not in an August-rush or a Saturday-night-fever style, but in a gradual, deep manner… let´s see…