Roadtrip in Tasmania, 2016
An incredible trip with an incredible man….and my first travel movie!
An incredible trip with an incredible man….and my first travel movie!
He wasn’t just trying to “mansplain” my valid reaction — he was trying to bully me into thanking him for sexually harassing me.
I WAS IN DARWIN, Australia and my friend Nicole and I had decided that our coolest fashion option would be to wear sundresses — but nothing flashy or revealing. Just normal cotton sundresses.
We strolled down Mitchell Street, a strip known for scandalous ladies’ nights and backpacker debauchery. We wanted to avoid the beer-soaked scene of our peers and instead set our sights on a small local pub with pool tables visible through the wide windows. There weren’t too many people inside, but I noticed a group of men in their 40s and 50s sitting outside smoking cigarettes, laughing and drinking beer. I groaned inwardly as I saw them look up at us in unison, elbowing each other like a bunch of teenage boys. I held my breath and stared straight ahead as I walked past, their leering gazes made me feel like I wanted to take a bath in hand sanitizer.
We ordered a couple of pints, paid for the pool table, and began an effort to have a normal night of drinking beer and shooting pool. But I never stopped noticing the men watching us, and they never stopped watching us. Their stools outside gave them a prime viewing position to stare at us through the window as we racked up, took forced sips of beer and chalked the cue. I said I would break, and the second I bent over to aim, a cheer went up from outside. I ignored it and broke. I was solids. We kept playing for a few more rounds, trying to act normal, like we couldn’t see or hear them. Nicole had to bend to hit the cue ball, and her backside was facing the men, so I stood behind her as she lined up the shot. I could hear the men sniggering outside, so I got fed up, whipped around, threw my hands in the air and yelled, “What the fuck are you staring at? Don’t look at us!”
I was shaking with anger and trying to chalk my cue when one of them stumbled in and on the way to the bar said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. We were saying nice things. Good things.”
“I don’t care. Don’t look at us,” I replied curtly.
He looked confused. “No,” he said as he shook his head, “You don’t understand. They were compliments. Compliments! We were saying nice things.”
“I understand, sir, but I don’t need your compliments,” I replied calmly.
His face instantly changed from good-natured drunk to ready-for-a-fight. “Oh, you’re really fucking immature, you know that? You’re a bitch. We were only giving you compliments. Grow the fuck up.”
“I never asked for your compliments, and what you were doing was invading my private space. It made me feel very uncomfortable,” I said, as if I were talking to a toddler.
I was trying to stay calm to keep him calm, but that didn’t seem to work. He walked quickly, threateningly toward me, calling me more offensive names and reiterating his stance that he had done nothing wrong. He was just paying us a compliment. I tried to ask him if he might understand that a group of men leering at two women might make those women feel uncomfortable and unsafe. He got right up in my face, so close that I could feel the heat of his beer breath and said, “You’re a fucking crazy bitch, you know that? Grow the fuck up.”
“Get out of my face,” I replied calmly, keeping my feet firmly planted and my head held high. My knuckles had turned white from gripping the cue stick, and I was already imagining throttling him with it if he turned violent. He wasn’t just trying to “mansplain” my valid reaction — he was trying to bully me into thanking him for sexually harassing me. Suddenly there was breathable air between us as one of his friends, who looked less like a violent rapist, pulled him away, trying to laugh it off while apologizing.
I spent the rest of the night fearful that the man and his pack of testosterone-fueled fools would wait for us outside and try to put Nicole and me in our place. It’s not the first time I’ve feared for my safety as a woman. From being followed down the street in Sicily by men asking me ‘Quanto?’ to being asked to dinner by random men on the street in Istanbul to being groped at Penn Station in New York when I was 14 to being hissed at and stared at like a tasty arepa con chicharron as I walked through the streets of Medellin. Whether we’re abroad or at home, females have a constant mental checklist in our heads relating to our safety and likelihood of being harassed or raped in any situation. I feel that this is in large part due to the things that are said to us, to sexist rhetoric that is deemed acceptable worldwide, but still shocks me when it appears in Western countries, like America and Australia.
We are seeing a rage lately, though — against a type of culture that allows men to continue with their ill-founded macho behavior. And that rage is worldwide. Right now, it’s in Argentina where women donned all black and marched to protest sexual violence after the brutal rape and murder of 16-year-old Lucia Perez on October 19. These women are demanding a cultural change in machismo culture in the Latin American world, in the same way that women in other countries, which boast equality of the sexes, should be demanding a rhetoric that demonstrates this shaky equality.
Australia and the United States are two very similar countries, culturally speaking. Both are English-speaking new nations with advanced democracies, and both aggrandize their forward thinking while they are simultaneously held back by conservatives. If countries like ours are to truly embrace their claims of equality for all, then we all need to take part in an active social change that stigmatizes sexist speech in the same way that it stigmatizes racial slurs. We need to accept the reality that sexist rhetoric can and often does lead to violence and sexual assault against women because it normalizes the attitude that we are objects. Let’s call this rhetoric “sexist slurs” because, at the end of the day, it is both hateful and founded in ignorance and a grasp for power that a certain class of people simply do not deserve.
by Rebecca Bellan
There isn’t a day or a time that I wouldn’t eat Vegemite on toast.
Most educated Americans have some inkling of how the US fails when it comes to basic Western World rights like health care and education. But growing up in the States, you don’t realize just how fucked the situation is. That’s just our reality and our way of life, and we just deal with it, shelling out monthly student loan payments that cripple our potential savings accounts.
Living in another country that actually supports its citizens has opened my eyes. Everyone here — including other travelers who have reciprocal health care agreements with Australia — is covered by Medicare. Students see some of the best benefits, including way cheaper education, INTEREST-FREE LOANS from the government, and a serious grace period on paying back those loans. They don’t have to pay until they’ve started earning over $47,000 per year. They also can reap the benefits from Centrelink, Australia’s welfare and human relations system, that offers students allowances to help them pay for books and other living expenses while they are studying.
Meanwhile, I’m hating my own country for charging me 5% interest on government student loans and giving me but a 6-month grace period from graduating university to start paying off just the interest.
Many Americans hate this word, but I’m actually into the liberal use of it. They say that in Australia, you call your acquaintances “mate” and your mates “cunt.” Obviously, it can still be a touchy one based on the method of your speaking, but in general, it seems that you can refer to almost anyone as a cunt here. It’s up to the listener to gauge from your context what you mean by it.
Here are a few translations from Aussie slang to American:
“He’s a sick cunt” means “He’s a bad motherfucker.”
“What a dumb cunt” means “What an asshole.”
“You’re a cunt.” means ”You’re a cunt.”
This video could explain it all a little better than I could.
The trick to Aussie slang is abbreviation. Almost anything can be converted into a two-syllable word with an ‘o’ on the end. (Everything except ‘hundreds and thousands’ for some reason.) For example:
I went down to the servo in my trackie dacks for ice to put in the Esky so that the tinnies of draft stay cold at the barbie s’arvo, but I’m devo because I forgot to buy durries. Can’t be fucked to go back, though.
If you need a bit more guidance, check out this video.
The slang is the best part, to be sure, but there are other small bits of my language that have evolved as a side effect of living here. One of the most noticeable is the way Aussies speak with an upwards inflection — kind of like they’re always asking a question? They even make statements by asking a question. Like, “How good is pizza?” or “How much is it raining out there?” Call it the Australian philosopher syndrome.
Also, nowadays, I’m asking people what they reckon and saying that we have heaps of time. I’m using the word ‘after’ as a verb, as in, “Are you after a coffee?” I ask people how they’re going or how they’re travelling instead of how they’re doing, and I answer almost every question with a “yeah.”
How was the movie? — Yeah, it sucked.
Want to go to the pub later? — Yeah, nah. Nah, yeah.
My first few months on a working holiday visa in Melbourne found me answering the same question a lot: “How do you like the coffee culture here?” I can’t say that we truly have a “coffee culture” to compare it to in the States. Sure, you’ve got your odd cafe here and there, but we all know we’re run by Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and the daily standard of a to-go cup. Our coffee, generally, is sustenance — nothing more than a burnt taste for a caffeine fix. Give me a venti drip with skim milk and two Equals please so I have the strength to continue with my day.
In Melbourne, however, the coffee begins with the milk. God help the barista who delivers a latte with the excess froth of a cappuccino. A fern or a heart is found in the foam of almost every cup of coffee, lovingly poured into the appropriate mug or glass to be drunk with patience at a hip cafe with an impressive, albeit pretentious, Aussie brekky menu (did someone say poached eggs and smashed avo?). It’s a daily event that’s something in between a treat and a necessity. It’s that moment when time seems to stand still. When all that is required of you is to sip and turn the page of a good book.
Aussies are all about the nicknames. I’ve been friends with some people for a few months, and still don’t know their true names. My own name, Rebecca, has been converted to Bec without question.
The Aussies can be pretty creative about how they go about shortening given names, carefully selecting syllables and strategically adding o’s or ie’s or z’s to the end as is deemed appropriate. Some of my faves are: Tash for Natasha, Donnie for Payden (don’t know quite how they got there), Jez for Jeremy, Sez for Sarah, Lukie for Luke…it goes on and on.
Vegemite, a yeast extract spread, has a rare flavor that falls under umami category, one of the five basic Japanese tastes. Soy sauce is also in this category, but Vegemite is a condiment all its own. There isn’t a day or a time that I wouldn’t eat Vegemite on toast. Just a light smear, the perfect amount, with some butter is enough to satisfy me, but I’ll never turn down a Vegemite and cheese toastie or a Vegemite with smashed avo open sandwich.
Australian Football League, or AFL, is a big fucking deal in Melbourne, and the first team sport I’ve bothered to pay attention to. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before — rough and athletic and non-stop action. It’s hard not to get involved in this city with 12 out of the 18 total professional leagues hailing from suburbs of Melbourne, where you’ve just got to pick a team if you want to live here. I go for the Geelong Cats, and I even got involved in footy tipping and joined a co-ed pub footy league with my housemates called the Bats.
Casual drinking is far more common in Australia than it is in any parts of the States I’ve lived in. In fact, I don’t think I truly understood what it meant to be fucked up until I lived here. Really, I’ve surprised myself in my abilities to consume copious amounts of alcohol and other substances and still remain upright. The nights spent at frat parties in college were mere practice for a weekend out in Melbourne.
People just walk around barefoot here, and it’s not a thing. It’s great, especially in the summer when you just cannot be bothered to put your damn shoes on. I myself love a good barefoot bike ride to the shops where I will see other barefoot people casually buying broccoli and slabs of beer.
In Australia in general and Melbourne in particular, there is a huge Asian influence apparent in the food. Whereas in America, our cheap and easy-to-cook food is either Mexican or Italian, here, it seems that everyone I know can master a curry sauce. Even the English style pubs usually have at least one meal with a Thai or Indian offering next to the classic Chicken Parmas and Pub Steaks.
Most of us are walking around wearing clothes we bought from op shops (thrift stores) like Vinnies, Savers, Salvo’s (Salvation Army), or even a local yard sale. Why go all the way into the CBD to spend hard cash when you can go to your neighbourhood op shop and buy a chunky knit or a denim skirt for a quarter of the price? Variety abounds at the Melbourne op shops, so it’s too easy to spend $20 and walk out with a whole new wardrobe.
“But even though I’m possibly making three times less here in Australia, I still don’t miss serving in the States.”
WHEN I ARRIVED IN Melbourne, Australia, I gravitated toward what I already knew: the hospitality industry. Serving is the old song and dance wherever you do it. You learn the menu, you learn the computer, you remember where shit goes. And I did catch on to the different names for things pretty quickly — ‘capsicum’ for bell peppers, ‘rocquette’ for arugula, and ‘lemonade’ for Sprite. (Although I still can’t quite wrap my head around that last one.)
And yeah, in Melbourne, customers obviously love to crack jokes at me whenever they hear my American accent.
“Oh, I bet the portions are much bigger where you’re from, eh?” They’ll say.
“Yes, we’re all fat Americans, aren’t we? Have another bowl of chips, cunt,” I’ll politely reply.
But my favorite remark is: “Must be nice to make a living wage over here, isn’t it?”
And that’s where they’re wrong. True, the hourly wage here in Oz is much higher than in the States. I make $20 an hour after taxes here, versus the $3 an hour before taxes that I made back in Boston. But as anyone who has worked the floor in the US knows, that good-old American tipping culture had me, more or less, rolling in cash. Twenty percent of that upsold check went to yours truly, so it wasn’t a big deal to walk out with $350 on a Friday night. (And that’s modest compared to a lot of big city bartenders.)
But even though I’m possibly making three times less here in Australia, I still don’t miss serving in the States. Here’s why.
Each shift started with a gander at the floor plan and either a sigh of relief that I got “the good section” or a wave of angst because I fucking hate “the cubby” and “I never make money there.”
In Australia, it truly doesn’t matter. I’m making the same money no matter where I serve.
It’s not my style to give bad service and it’s definitely not in my job description, but I am human and I’ve made mistakes. Shit happens.
I don’t know how many asses I’ve had to kiss, how many meals and drinks I’ve had to comp, all so that that one mistake doesn’t reflect upon my tip, and therefore, my livelihood. Hospitality can be a vicious place back home, but in Australia it’s far easier to let the little things roll off my back, and I notice my customers do the same.
It took me some time, but I learned in Australia that I don’t really need to be territorial over my section any more. Here, a team works together for the greater functionality of the restaurant. It’s no big deal to find managers or coworkers taking orders in your section and ringing them in for you. You needn’t worry that they are trying to steal your table, and therefore, your tip.
Back in Boston, every time I walked past a table of people who I knew were going to be there for hours, not ordering a thing, I’d get a pang in my chest. “Campers” come in many forms. They could be a couple on a first date, some lady with a glass of Chardonnay and a book, or some drunk sports fans who only want to order nachos and a pitcher of water. In the United States, campers are the worst patrons because they deprive paying and tipping customers from eating, paying, tipping and leaving like a good American diner.
But here in Australia, please, camp out. I want you to. Read the newspaper and sip your extra hot flat white all day, for all I care. I don’t have to wait for you to close out your check before I can go home, and I’m not relying on the girth of your bill or your generosity to pay my rent.
None of this: “I’ll have the roasted salmon please, but could you put the bechamel on the side? And I’ll have it with the caramelized carrots from the beef dish instead of the confit potatoes that it comes with. Oh, and I’m gluten free and lactose intolerant.”
Here’s how a typical Australian orders: “I’ll have the fish and chips, please.”
I’m not saying it’s the same at every restaurant, but who hasn’t had a manager who claims that staff asking to be cut first or early is their personal “pet peeve?” Why, I couldn’t say, but if a manager even gets a whiff of your desire to screw, you can almost bet that they’ll make you jump through hoops to get what you want. Because what do they care? They’re paying you chump change, so it’s nothing to keep you on the payroll until the place closes, even if it’s dead. “It might get busy,” they always say.
Maybe it’s not universally Australian and I just happened to find an incredibly accommodating restaurant, but if you’ve got something else going on and the restaurant can function without you, they will let you go. Have to study? Not feeling well? Got a gig you’re trying to see? A friend’s in town visiting? “Yeah, it should be alright. Do you want dinner before you go?”
Because, in the end, they’re happy to just not pay you that $20 an hour if they don’t need to.
I think I’ve worked one restaurant job back home that actually gave me a shift meal. I’ve never worked at one that offered me a shift drink. These are just mythical concepts in the States, rarer than a unicorn or someone from New Hampshire who wears a seatbelt. Here, I get both. Each and every shift. Sometimes the meal is swill, to be honest, but for the most part it’s edible and made by a chef, and I’m not paying out of my own pocket for it. Not even paying 50 percent for it. And because it’s Australia, that free shiftie can easily become two or three…no worries, mate.
By Rebecca Bellan
Source: Melbourne in a Day
Melbourne has been named the most livable city by The Economist for five years now, and it’s not hard to see why. Easy to navigate, full of beautiful parks, and teeming with trendy and multicultural cafes and restaurants, Melbourne is just a dream. It’s the type of place where you want to be stable because stability has never been so easy, yet so entertaining.
If you’ve only got one day to explore while the sun is still up, or if you live here and just want to have a splendid day around the city and inner neighborhoods, here’s a guide that highlights some of Melbourne’s main attractions:
Melbourne, like most of Australia’s major cities, is simply chockers with cafes. This is due to the Australian obsession with perfectly poured and frothed coffee and over-the-top brekky, which nine out of ten times consists of poached eggs, smashed avo and a local sourdough. You won’t be pressed for choices in any neighbourhood, but I’d go into the Northern suburbs for both the varied menus and the diverse atmosphere. I’m talking outdoor seating, dogs for the petting, gorgeous lace terraces and chilled out hipsters. I live in Brunswick, home of Lebanese bakeries, Aussie grunge and many vintage and op shops. You literally cannot spit without your loogie hitting a cafe along Sydney Road, Lygon Street or any of their side streets.
A few of my Brunswick faves are:
A cozy spot on residential Albion Street, A Minor Place has great service, is good for groups, and brews some of the smoothest coffee around. The Smoked Salmon with Mint, Pea and Avocado Mash over Sourdough Toast is to die for, and they’ve also got some great bagels.
103 Albion St., 03 9384 3131
Small venue with simple settings, a friendly staff and an Italian chef who cooks with love. Try the Calabrese Breakfast if you like a little heat in the morning!
822 Sydney Rd., 03 9383 2083
Adorable spot in an old bookshop. Great for flaky Hot Pies and inspired fresh juice mixes or teas. They obviously also make awesome coffee. The alley in the back offers beautiful seating to enjoy your meal.
115 Sydney Rd., 03 9387 1150
Large space with plenty of quiet seating, offering a nice Middle Eastern inspired menu and even a small grocery section. Have some Ricotta and Raspberry Hot Cakes or Poached Eggs with Babaganoush. Also keep an eye out for their specials board!
29 Weston St., 03 9388 8738
When I have the urge to eat in a different inner Melbourne suburb, I go to Fitzroy. Fitzroy is a beautiful neighborhood wedged in between Carlton, Melbourne’s Little Italy, and Collingwood, known as one of Melbourne’s oldest suburbs.
Brunswick Street and Smith Street run down Fitzroy, and both are perfect to showcase Fitzroy’s ever-changing, yet static bohemian culture, from cafes to art galleries.
While there are plenty of great brekky spots on these main roads, a short walk on Gore Street off of Smith will take you to Breakfast Thieves, a quiet cafe with plenty of vegetarian options, tucked away amongst the developing and industrial buildings in the neighborhood.
The owner’s inspiration for the name of the restaurant comes from the idea that, “We are all thieves when it comes to fine food.” And fine food you’ll get, along with a friendly staff, perfectly made coffees and an open kitchen so you can watch the cooks create your enticing plate. Sit outside if the weather is nice and try The Leprechaun, a plate of crispy Sweet Corn and Basil Fritters atop a creamy Mushroom Base with loving dollops of Avocado-Yuzu Mousse and some Parmesan and Spiced Lemon Thyme Crumbs for good measure. The Breakfast Chain is also a hearty dish, complete with nostalgia-inducing Soft-Boiled Eggs, Cheddar melted soldiers, Fig Yoghurt with house made Granola and Apple, Rhubarb, Ginger and Almond Crumble for a sweet finish.
420 Gore St., Fitzroy / 03 9416 4884
This giant historic landmark and market in the heart of the city is your one-stop shop for everything from fresh seafood and produce, to crafty dips and desserts, to recycled clothing and Aussie souvenirs. There’s heaps to look at and taste, and if you go on a weekend, it’s usually filled with people bustling to and fro, shop owners offering bites of food, and vendors yelling their wares in that way that only food stall vendors can do so well. I like to enter through the Dairy Hall, or Deli Hall, grab a melt in your mouth Salted Caramel Macaroon from the closest bakery to the door, and munch as I stroll, reveling in the chaos.
The Queen Vic Markets also have regular featured events, like the Summer and Winter Night Markets.
Tuesday/Thursday- 6 am to 2 pm
Friday- 6 am to 5 pm
Saturday- 6 am to 3 pm
Sunday- 6 am to 4 pm
Closed on holidays
Art, not tags.
Melbourne is very well known for its street art culture, which lends itself to a more diverse and urban society. Even their local government supports the form of expression for the most part. You can find artists working in the alleys almost every day, and it’s not uncommon to walk into, say, Caledonian Lane one day and find it completely changed the next.
From the Queen Vic Markets, you’re only a short walk into the heart of the city. Find your way to Elizabeth Street and walk in the direction of La Trobe Street. Keep on keeping on until you make it to Bourke Street, and make a left. Enjoy the bustling city energy and talented street performers while you look for Union Lane, one of Melbourne’s most popular graffiti alleys.
Hosier Lane is another famous graffiti alley. You can find it near Federation Square off of Flinders Street. Make sure to get a good view of Flinders Street Station on your way to Hosier Lane!
When you make it there, stop in at Good 2 Go, a small coffee shop/op shop that is also covered in graffiti and is run by Youth Projects, an organisation on the same street that helps individuals who are disadvantaged, unemployed, homeless or addicted to drugs/alcohol by providing them with a community, employment, education and training services. “Buy” two coffees, or really just buy one and donate the price of another coffee to the cause, and sip on it while you explore your edgy and colourful surroundings.
Across the Yarra River and 297 meters high, the Skydeck at the top of Eureka Tower will give you a bird’s eye view of the city, Port Phillip Bay and as far as Dandenong Ranges. You can also sit inside a glass cube that juts out of the side of the building for a thrilling Edge Experience, or reserve a table and enjoy a fancy meal with magnificent views. Tickets to the Skydeck can be purchased for $19.50 at the door.
The Southbank Promenade stretches around the south side of the Yarra. It’s packed with upmarket restaurants, shops, cafes, hotels and high rises. If the weather is good, the promenade makes for an easy stroll to Pedestrian Bridge that will take you back to the north side. Look out for Ponyfish Island, a bar and restaurant that is hidden underneath the bridge and is basically at water level. It’s a lovely place to sit in the sun at river-level and drink micro-brewed beers or house made sangria.
One of the best things about Melbourne is how they’ve managed to fill in what might have been creepy alleys with trendy and cheap cafes and eateries. Degraves Street and Center Place, both off of Flinders Lane, are probably the most well-known, as far as “hidden” alleyways go. They both offer a ton of seemingly nameless spots to grab a latte and/or a $5 petite baguette. I love the eggplant schnitzel and pio pio chicken sandwiches, but there’s plenty of variety with each shop.
If you’re feeling more Asian-inspired and are craving noodles and dumplings, Hardware Lane, off of Little Bourke Street, is the place to be.
From a hipster breakfast in the suburbs to shopping in the CBD to being swallowed by the artsy and alluring alleys, you’ve hopefully enjoyed a day that truly showcases what a diverse and animated city Melbourne is.
By Rebecca Bellan
I was sitting in the courtyard of my Cartagena hostel, el Viajero, sweating through my yoga pants, when the baddest girls I ever met caught my attention. There were five of them holding grocery bags, the thin blonde in front donning some kind of a grim reaper marijuana t-shirt. I remember wondering how these apparent backpackers had the means to be rocking cute outfits and makeup, whereas I only packed comfy staples and some tinted lip balm.
Later that day, I ran into the girls again in the hostel’s subpar kitchen while we made our respective dinners. I admired the way they all chipped in together, comparing their collective process to the countless times I had single-handedly prepared meals for my culinary-challenged friends. They were unexpectedly kind in offering me up their knives to use to cut up my red pepper and onion and were even more surprisingly friendly when I interrupted their meal to ask for a lighter to light the stove. As I handed the lighter back, I looked at the blonde one and said, “I like your shirt. If you’re ever in need, let me know.” I smiled and walked away, happy that I had already found a connect and wasn’t offering up an empty promise, and satisfied that they looked at me with hope rather than disgust.
I didn’t see the girls again until I was heading out to smoke a joint around the corner from the hostel. The tallest one with the most piercing blue eyes, Greer, was walking back to her room where I could hear the other girls howling with laughter. We acknowledged each other, she looking graceful in an Amazonian way in her long skirt that I soon found out were a staple of hers. I showed her the joint and asked if she’d like to come along, to which she happily agreed.
“You wanna invite your bitches?” I asked, hoping she wouldn’t be offended that I called them bitches. She didn’t flinch.
“Nah, they’ll just smoke all your stuff,” she replied.
I don’t remember what we talked about while we passed the joint back and forth, but I remember that she was easy to talk to. Long story short, the rest of her crew welcomed me into their group so seamlessly, I wondered how I hadn’t met them before or why I couldn’t find a group of girlfriends this laidback in the states. The last few nights we spent in Cartagena, lounging on chairs in the courtyard and chatting, I was astonished by how sweet and giving these girls were to each other. There was no cattiness, no jealousy. Just a few bad bitches having a good time, and I was honored to be one of them for the time being.
There was Katarina, or Kat, with curly brown hair and a septum piercing. Hanging with her was like being near a reiki masseuse; she somehow could always read and adapt to your energy, and she really took the time to make sure her friends knew they were loved and at peace. Greer, whom I mentioned prior, is nicknamed Groel, which is perfect for her if you’ve ever met her. She’s tall and a force to be reckoned with, and I’ve never seen such a small waist consume so much food and beer. Leah, whom they call Wrecky because she’s always wrecked (not really though), is the blonde with the grim reaper marijuana shirt. She’s thin and beautiful with bright blue eyes and the best Australian accent I’ve ever heard, and she’s always quick to dole out compliments. Julia, or Jules, is sweet, thoughtful and affectionate. She’s the type of person who goes with the flow and seems to never lose her temper, and you know you’re being taken care of when you’re in her company. Elise, or Leisy, is Jules’s sister, a fact what no one had to tell me- I could tell just from noticing their many identical gestures and mannerisms. Leisy’s got a raspy voice and a husky laugh and she is all heart. When I had to leave the girls in paradise to fly back home, Leisy carried my bags to the bus and hugged me about a million times before we finally said goodbye.
Since we had all planned to make Santa Marta the next stop after Cartagena, the girls excitedly and genuinely invited me to join them. I was skeptical of the easiness with which they included me at first, but it was all in my head. We ended up at the most beautiful hostel, the Dreamers, in the city that doesn’t offer much but a stopping ground to the rest of the coast, Parque Tayrona, and the Sierra Nevadas.
In the week I spent basking in their insanely good energy and superb, unparalleled, frat-boy-meets-celebrity style party skills, we sat around in hammocks and were lazy by the pool, drinking mojitos and beers and ordering pasta from the hostel restaurant.
We trekked to the forest in Minca, a small town nearby, to visit the waterfall at Pozo Azul, and we stayed at the Dreamers in Palomino where the only activity we truly engaged in was trying to stand up in the freakishly strong current of the ocean nearby.
They showed me an awesome time at a nightclub overlooking the bay of Taganga, called el Mirador, and kept me awake yet asleep on my feet, way past my bedtime, at an after party that lasted well past sunrise. I listened intently as they told me about their small town in Australia called Geelong, and watched with amusement a zombie apocalypse tourism campaign done by their crazy mayor whom they all voted for out of humor.
I politely accepted or declined bumps, shared clothes, talked about boys, exchanged travel stories, cooked meals, brainstormed on different uses for vegemite, got drunk, passed cigarettes, had heart to hearts. They even gave me a nickname, Bec, to match all of theirs, which I found very touching.
I guess this isn’t a post on things to do in Colombia, but this is what I did my last week of my backpacking trip. I found some good girls and rolled with it, because it’s not always about climbing every mountain or visiting every national park or joining every tour. More often than not, traveling is about the people you meet and what they teach you about yourself. These girls taught me that it’s ok to just chill and enjoy the company around you. They showed me that it’s possible to be accepted as family just by being a good person, and they helped me recognize that I have worth and that I am loved.
by Rebecca Bellan