Hit the Road Jack!

There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars. On the Road – Jack Kerouac

Have you ever done an epic road trip in the far-flung lands of a country with nothing but a backpack, a camera, and complete freedom?

From all the great life experiences, hitting the road and living like a gypsy is probably one of the most memorable and fulfilling adventures. The feeling of freedom is priceless and it’s worth every little misfortune happening along the way.

Road tripping for a year has been my best therapy after running away from 29 years of a comfortable life and quitting an office job in which I buried myself for 7 years.

I’ve tasted the quintessence of liberty being on the road, with no roof over my head but a blazing sun or a sky full of shiny stars. I have never felt so free and happy. I had the best time living an oblivious life, meeting extraordinary people and experiencing things I have never done before or could not even imagine achieving.

I was desperately in search of freedom, of authenticity, and excitement. Sometimes, the feeling itches me: the urge of hitting the road again and live exciting adventures.

What is the point of your life when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events are waiting to lurk and surprise you? Something else much more exciting was waiting for me and the time has come to pursue the crazy adventures I dreamed up while I was a young whippersnapper.

******

1st of October 2013, Mission Beach, Queensland, Australia, 5:30 am. 

A soft ray of sun tickles my face. I open my tired eyes, lulled by the song of the waves. A  pink light dazzles me. The sun awakes and offers me its most intimate moment. A stunning sunrise that I contemplate in silence with a smile from ear to ear.

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I shake my sleeping bag covered with sand. I fell asleep on the beach, the embers of last night’s campfire are still crackling. I look around and see the shape of my traveling companion Aurélien a few metres away, his entire body buried in his sleeping bag.

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After spending a month at the farm in Carwell, we have decided to go up north and stop by Mission Beach. Mission Beach is a little beach town of 5,000 inhabitants and well-known for its stunning 14 km long beach bordered with coconut trees. A real heaven on earth.

We have found the best spot to camp. 3 steps from the beach between two palm trees. I feel like living the adventures of Robinson Crusoe. I literally sleep, eat, cook, and live on the beach. Read a good book, have a rest in the shadow of a coconut tree whose perfect shape reflects in the golden sand. Some simple pleasures that make me forget about everything.

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Being on a road trip is a limitless freedom to enjoy to the fullest.

Hit the road, get lost, retrace your steps, find your way back and get lost again a few miles away. Stop to take a photo of the scenery, have a bit to eat, make a campfire on the beach, hit the road again and get carried away by the wind, listening to your whims and living in the moment. Wake up on the beach, lulled by the sound of the waves, or in the middle of the jungle woken up by the birdsongs. A priceless freedom that I will always treasure.

But driving thousands of miles across Australia has taught me that a road trip is a rock solid logistics organisation. It’s a daily logistical brain teaser to enjoy with true joy, lots of laughter, and a little bit of irritation sometimes!

Here’s my random list of the little things about what’s a road trip like. Please feel free to leave a comment if you wish to add any ingredient from your own recipe 🙂

A 5,000km road trip is…

* To check every two days that the car is in good condition;

* To look desperately for a petrol station because there’re only 2 litres petrol left;

* To do your accounts every day;

* To try to remember what you bought the week earlier because you forgot to do your accounts;

* To wonder where all your money went;

* To wear the same old outfit every day and not care about it;

* To appreciate the simple pleasures of life;

* To look for a free spot to spend the night;

* To have a policeman knocking at the window in the middle of the night because you’re parked in the wrong spot;

* To wake up with the sunrise and watch the sunset every day;

* To take off the bags on the back seat, put them at the front to set up the bed at night;

* Do the opposite in the morning and hit the road again;

* To wear your swimsuit every day

* To stop to change a flat tire;

* To do the groceries every day and buy the same cheap food because even on a road trip you still create your own little habits;

* To have drinks and snacks on the beach every evening;

* To see epic scenery every day;

* To live a simple but beautiful life;

* To get lost in the middle of nowhere;

* To encounter some wild animals;

* To fall asleep on the beach;

* To get the food and the gas cooker out, holdalls and plastic containers full of everything three times per day;

* To have barbecues nearby the beach;

* To play endless card games;

* To get a fine because you parked in the wrong spot;

* To lose your stuff along the way;

* To cook and eat anytime anywhere;

* To eat inside the car/van because it’s pouring outside;

* To do the dishes in the sink of the public toilets;

* To sleep on a wet mattress because it rained and the window was down;

* To smell bad effluvium of food in the car that you end up getting used to;

* To spend the night in the middle of heavy trucks at the petrol station so you can shower;

* To get lost for miles and miles without noticing it;

* To make fire camp on the beach and eat grilled marshmallows;

* To cry out of joy while driving because the scenery is incredible and you feel grateful to live this adventure with your best friend;

* To push and challenge yourself;

* To discover deserted heaven of peace;

* To enjoy nature to its fullest;

* To have no privacy;

* To shower every time you find a shower and shower in public;

* To stop and ask for directions;

* To unpack and pack, unload and load over and over again;

* To constantly look for something and not finding it or finding it when you don’t need it anymore.

* To argue and fight with your traveling buddy because even though you love each other, living with someone 24 hours a day is super challenging!

* To listen to the road trip playlist songs and sing like you’ve never sung before

* To feel as free as a bird and live the most incredible experiences

* To put things into perspective and forget about the futilities and turpitudes of life

* To live an extraordinary human adventure, full of memorable encounters and friends for life;

* To create the most epic memories that you will tell your children and grandchildren one day!

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Boat sea Oz

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Now, pack up your stuff and hit the road 😉 !

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Egyptian dream

5th of May 2006, somewhere in the White Desert (known as Sahara el Beyda), Farafra, Egypt, 4 am.

A strange sensation pulls me out of my sleep. “Something” is licking my toes and for a second, my whole body freezes out of fear. I open my eyes and slowly raise my head to see “what” is getting down to lick my foot. In the obscurity, I catch the glimpse of two long large ears on a small head with fluorescent eyes. I release a sigh of relief. It’s a fennec. Those cute little foxes living in the desert. It must have been attracted by our stock of food, and probably the smell of my feet.

I am glad I did not scream out, waking up the whole camp for nothing. I am looking around, everyone is peacefully asleep. The campfire is slowly dying but I can still hear the crackling sound of the flames. The millions of stars are shining bright, I can’t find my sleep anymore. I get out of my sleeping bag for a walk. I want to enjoy the surroundings at dawn, when the desert awakes.

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The scenery of the White Desert is quite unreal. It is strewn with alien shapes and boulders of glossy white, which stand up right from the surface of the desert. The rocks are coloured from snow white to cream colour. I feel like walking into space, on another planet or in the setting of a science fiction movie. The history of the White Desert is incredible, it makes the place magical and completely out of this world.

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70 million years ago, the sea covered the east part of Egypt. The White Desert used to be a seabed for 30 million years before disappearing. During this period of time, some white limestone was built upon the ground, reaching a thickness of 300 metres. After the withdrawal of the sea, the erosion has never stopped to shape and work the limestone. That is why the White Desert is famous for its spectacular white stone mushrooms, shaped by the wind erosion and contrasting with the ergs of yellow sand.

There are also many fossils left by the sea and its marine flora like seashells and other non-identified objects shaped in the most improbable ways.

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It’s hard for me to believe that I am here. Standing next to these massive stone mushrooms and contemplating a masterpiece that only nature can create. I feel little, so little. Silence and wildness prevail on human marks. It’s a place of solitude and there’s something very spiritual about it. The White Desert is a yellow and white planet filled with giant stone mushrooms and curious objects left by the vestiges of the past.

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As I keep walking, I can see the boulders, crowding together at different places, creating shapes resembling animals or humans. As dawn crawls in, the shapes seem to shift with the constant change of natural lighting. The furtive silhouettes of fennecs wandering around are the only living sound that I hear.

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I stop my wander and sit on the sand for a little while. The sky becomes lighter. The shiny stars slowly disappear. The pastel colours on the horizon and the yellow shades indicate that the sun is going to rise soon.

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I stand up and shake my bottom covered with sand. I’d better get back to the camp.

******

10th of June, on the way to Khan-el-Khalili, Cairo, Egypt, 10 am.

“I would like to go to Khan-el-Khalili” I say to the taxi driver with my very poor Arabic skills.

The taxi driver shakes his head, meaning get in, get in! I jump in and I have not closed the door yet that he starts to drive.

I am meeting my friend Karima for a coffee/shisha and a stroll at the zouk. Khan-el-Khalili is the main souk in the historic centre of Islamic Cairo. The bazaar district is one of the most popular attractions and probably the most lively area of the city.

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I get off the taxi and wave at Karima who’s waiting for me at the entrance. I met Karima when I arrived in Cairo 3 months ago. She’s French with a Moroccan background and we rapidly became inseparable.

“How much are the slippers?” I ask the woman of a little shop filled with hundreds of colourful oriental slippers.

“400 EGP,” she says smiling at me.

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“Don’t be a fool, she is trying to rip you off, it is not worth that much, let me handle it,” whispers Karima. After an animated conversation in Arabic, Karima turns back with a proud smile on her face.

“I got them for half the price.” Since I have arrived in Cairo, Karima has been my white knight, saving me from the unscrupulous merchants.

Khan-el-Khalili lives day and night. The souk is a busy little village that never sleeps. The first time I went there, it made me dizzy, the heat was unbearable and the cacophony of sounds was intense. Then the places become more familiar, every time I visit. The merchants know me well now and greet me politely.

I like wandering in the narrow alleys, there is always something new to discover. It’s a real cavern of Ali Baba in there. The warm colours, the smell, the shiny carpets and hessian on the walls make the place very welcoming and cosy. My favourite stalls are the spice ones. I love the palette of bright colours, yellow, orange, red. The mountains of spice powder in their jar are beautifully even and symmetrical. The scents emanating are strong in flavour but I like it. It makes me want to cook.

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The delicious smell of the pastries always tickles my nostrils when I walk past the pastry stalls. I love Arabic pastries, especially the gazelle horns called Kaab el ghzal. These little Moroccan treats stuffed with almond paste make the taste buds dance in my mouth.

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We decide to stop with Karima at a café to have a coffee and smoke a shisha.

Also known as “hookah” or “nargila”, shisha is the ornate, Arabian water pipe through which Egyptians while away the hours, toking contentedly on fruit-scented tobacco.

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Smoking a shisha alone, or with some company, forms the basis of much Egyptian social life. The first time I tried, I liked it because of the flavour and the bubbly sound of the water when you inhale. I naively thought it was healthier than a cigarette but rest assured that a shisha contains as much as nicotine and other nasties as cigarette tobacco.

Egyptians usually smoke apple flavoured shisha. Other flavours such as strawberry, watermelon, orange and even coffee also exist but they are mainly for tourists.

“Wahad shisha tufa min fudluck” (One apple shisha please), I ask with my clumsy Arabic accent. It is probably one of the only sentences I can say properly.

We also order a Turkish coffee. The thick texture and strong flavour surprised me the first time I had it. But like many things here, I got used to it.

I’ve found out that Turkish coffee is made by boiling very finely ground coffee beans with water and usually sugar, then serving into cups, where the grounds are left to settle.

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After our little coffee break, we’re strolling back in the zouk, wandering around until getting lost. What I like the most about Khan-el-Khalili is that the place is always brimming with little treasures that are delightful for the eyes and the senses.

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*****

15th of July, Alexandria, Egypt, 3 pm, 

“Wow!” I shout, not able to contain my astonishment and waking up the whole study room.

“Shhhhht!” says the man at the reception with a reprimanding look.

I can’t believe I am inside The Royal Library of Alexandria. This monument used to be the largest library in the world and the most significant library of the ancient world. It was dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the Arts.

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The ruins of the Great Library of Alexandria

The heritage is colossal and I can feel the extraordinary history behind these walls. Even though, the library has been restored today by modern infrastructures.

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There’s a mythical atmosphere reigning in this place. As I am walking around, exploring the rooms, I am learning the incredible story of a monument whose mystery still keeps inspiring and haunting the minds.

The Great Library, with its impressive and unique collections of works, books, scrolls filled with knowledge of many ancient civilizations, lecture halls, and gardens, was part of a larger institution called the Museum of Alexandria. It was a place for arts, literature, philosophy and science. Many of the most famous thinkers and writers of the ancient world studied there: Homer, Plato, Socrates and more.

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It is popularly believed that the library has been destroyed in a huge fire around 2,000 years ago and its voluminous works were lost. The destruction of the Library has haunted the imagination of poets, historians, travellers and scholars, who have lamented the tragic loss of knowledge and literature.

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As an old Literature student and very passionate about it, it is quite unreal to be in that place. I spent many years learning and studying about these great thinkers, reading and analysing their philosophy and masterpiece. And now I am standing where they stood, I am walking where they walked, I am thinking where they used to think. I feel extremely moved, honoured and grateful to be here.

I leave the Great Library fulfilled and dreamy, my imagination filled with pictures of a glorious past.

******

Diary of a little Vietnamese Girl in France – Story 1

I am sharing today a little piece of my heart. The text below is the first page of my children’s book. I am still putting the text and the illustrations together, it’s taking way longer than I thought. Sometimes, I wonder if I will ever get it through. Making my own drawings and self-publishing my book are such big challenges. But it’s also my dream, so I will keep going until the day I feel the pages between my fingers and smell the cover of my book.

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I AM FRENCH-NAMESE

My name is Julie, I am 10 and I am French with an Asian face. I am French-namese (as in French and Vietnamese). My parents came to France a long time ago because something really bad happened in Vietnam and they had to run away from the country. They don’t talk much about it but I know it has something to do with war and stuff.

I have a big head, very dark hair and a funny fringe Mum loves to cut too short and uneven. I am very little and skinny. Everything in me is small. I am the smallest girl in my class. My feet never touch the ground when I sit.

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Sometimes I spend hours looking at my face in the mirror. My eyes are smaller than my friends’ and I don’t really have eyelids. I do weird things like pinching my nose because I don’t want to have a flat nose.

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I have a big brother, Christian, and a little sister, Ketty. I also have a cat, Lilo, who is black and white like Felix, a famous French cat who does TV commercials.

My favourite colours are navy blue and pink. I like grilled chestnuts, hot chocolate with marshmallows, and French fries. I like riding my bike, playing with my toys, my friends and rummaging in Mum’s wardrobe or anywhere where it’s messy. I don’t like onion and celery, I am scared of spiders, I am very scared of the dark and I get angry when people make fun of me because I look different.

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*******

Goodbye my Love

My dear Ezra,

I remember you said, “If one day our love story ends, I would feel so grateful for the amazing time we’ve had together.”

Deep in my heart, I’ve always hoped that this day would never come but today, life has decided it was time for us to go our separate ways.

The most difficult part has been the acceptance. When you told me we could not be together anymore as I was starting my new venture in China, I was in shock. I got angry, mad, extremely sad, I felt lost and powerless, but now, I know I have to let us go and find my inner peace.

Finally, I feel grateful too and I can think of our wonderful memories without tears of sadness rolling down my cheeks.

I want to keep in mind the best of us and the beauty of our love story. It was an amazing and unique experience to share our dreams together.

Despite the gap between our two worlds, our love for each other and the strong vision of our relationship kept us together for two beautiful years. Our trip to Europe will remain one of the most memorable events in my life. I was so glad to bring you overseas and open your mind to something that would inspire you.

I know we both have learned a lot from our relationship which will make us stronger and more prepared for the future.

We are giving ourselves the freedom to go for our respective dreams and that’s a beautiful reason to go our separate ways.

Believe me, it was so hard for me to think this way. I’ve been through the whole mental process, trying to cope with my crazy emotions.

But now, I am okay. I am not crying anymore, I’ve found my sleep back, my appetite and I wake up with the feeling that I can conquer the world again.

I wish you the very best, I know you will make it because you’re the most passionate person that I know. Keep pushing, hustling (I know you’re very good at that!), don’t give up until you’re at the top. I am so proud of you for what you’ve achieved so far and my support will be with you forever.

I am sure I will hear from you and about your company sometime soon.

On my end, it’s time for me to work harder on my dreams too, and I promise I will send you a copy of my children’s book!

Please keep the crafty book that I made for you, in the memory of our beautiful story.

With all my love,

Julie.

Julie & Ezra’s Special Book: http://www.juliedocreative.com/ezra-julie

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Lost in Translation – Part I

I saw it straight away. My name “Julie Do” on a piece of paper at the arrivals of the international airport in Fuzhou, China.

“Ni Hao” I said to the driver and “Xie xie ” when he carried my two huge suitcases to the car. That’s about all I can say in Chinese.

“Do you speak English?” I ask the driver who laughs and shakes his head to say no.

On the way, with my eyes wide open, I look at my new surroundings. A misty chain of mountains, a few Chinese temples, then as we get closer to the city, a blooming industrial life.

I see huge towers spitting clouds of smoke, enormous boats transporting merchandise, monster trucks filled with construction material. Soon we get stuck in the most insane traffic.

The driver sighs and whispers something in Chinese. He is probably swearing. An hour later, we finally reach the city.

The landscape changes and I can spot big buildings and skyscrapers. The streets are busy and loud. The driver slaloms between motorbikes, pedestrians, cars, bikes and buses. It’s complete madness.

The car finally stops in front of a big modern building. It’s the library where I’ve planned to meet up with my dearest Chinese friend, Yance.

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I met Yance two years ago when I was living in Sydney. We soon became very close and I recall so many happy memories. His flamboyant personality got me the instant I met him. I can’t believe that just a couple of month ago, he contacted me to offer me an English teacher position at the school where he works.

And now here I am, after quitting my job and saying goodbye to my boyfriend in no time, I am standing in a giant Chinese city, my life packed into two suitcases.

To be continued.

Why I’ve decided to self-publish my book…and make my own illustrations

My publishing venture has been punctuated with ups and downs so far. More downs to be honest but somehow I expected it. That is what the reality of the publishing industry is about.

After a 7 month experience, the result is far from my initial hope. 3 publishing contracts from vanity publishers (aka scams), 3 rejection letters from trade publishers and I am still waiting for many other responses that might never come. I am checking my mailbox with less and less enthusiasm and the hope to receive any positive letters has seriously diminished.

It could be better, it could be worse. It is just what it is and that’s okay. Rejection is part of the publishing process. It does not mean I have to stop, it means I have to keep going and pushing, as long as I believe in what I do.

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately and my attention went to another publishing method which is called self-publishing. After thinking things over and weighing the pros and cons, I have decided to give it a go. It’s a long and difficult journey but I am not scared of the challenge. It’s exciting and most importantly, it will give me the freedom of creating the book of my dreams.

Gaining entire control of the creation of my book is, in the end, the most fulfilling part. Who knows better than me how I want my book to look like?

I’ve also made the decision to make my own illustrations. I’ve always felt like I wasn’t skilled enough to do it, but then I realised it was just a question of confidence and will (and lots of practice!). No one but me knows exactly what to draw and how to interpret my childhood memories. 

So I’ve started my drawings, picturing in my mind all the details that have made my memories so vivid and memorable. It’s hard and it’s taking me ages. I often have to start over again and do some research. But when it’s done and I contemplate the result with a big smile on my face, the feeling of happiness and accomplishment is worth the pain.

It’s a little piece of art that is taking shape. And it’s mine 🙂

More information about self-publishing: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/how-to-self-publish-a-print-book/

 

#Day 15: Douce France: Home Sweet Home

Douce France is a series of little stories about my trip to France after 4 years of absence. Coming back after such a long time has brought back to life some amazing feelings and childhood memories, the greatest source of inspiration to me.

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I have been away from home for 4 years but when I set foot on the French territory after my 30-hour flight, it felt like I left yesterday.

My parents picked me up at the airport. They haven’t changed much. Time has been treating them well. Dad has grown silver hair and his dark summery skin makes it look shinier. Mum is still the same, cheerful and pretty in her flowery dress. She looks even younger than my last memories of her.

On the drive home, in the outskirts of Paris, I catch a glimpse of a sad reality: a multitude of dirty tents and mountains of rubbish sheltering hundreds of refugees. I feel a pinch in my heart. But I don’t want to feel sad or angry. I am back home, in my beautiful country and nothing will take that away from me.

The house of my childhood used to be a huge farm. It’s an old two-story house, built of stone, a brown tile roof, some terra cotta floor tiles, and some beautiful long beams. Mum and Dad painted the blinds with a lovely pastel green like those typical houses from the South of France. There is a big shed, a huge attic, a cellar where I use to throw teenage parties and another smaller shed where Mum stocks all the mess. No wonder this house was the best place to play hide and seek! I remember being scared of the attic, full of dirt, spider webs and little night creatures that I could hear running around on the roof.

 

There’s also a fire place. I love that fire place. It reminds me of the letters I left there for Santa. It also brings back when Dad used to grill the chestnuts we picked in the woods. I can still hear the crackling sound and feel the sensation tickling my nostrils.

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The floor upstairs was the best place to run and hide in the dark nooks of the winding corridor. My friends and I would run like lunatics and scare off my sister and my brother. I can hear Dad yelling at us threatening the house is going to collapse.

The first thing I did when I got home was to check out my bedroom. It looked so small and not quite like the little realm I used to rule when I was a kid! My “subjects” (aka teddy bears) are still there, sitting on my pink velvet couch and looking at me with their dusty eyes. I remember when Mum asked me to tidy up my bedroom in the promise of a reward, I would cram all my toys underneath that couch in 50 seconds.

In the drawer of my wooden desk, I found all the love letters I used to write to boys who never noticed me at school. I started to read them, laying down in my tiny bed, as I slowly fell asleep, with a smile on my face.

Dodo diary edit