Getting to Know Nicaragua Part 2: Ometepe

After an incredible chill time playing at Playa Popoyo and deciding we need to buy land on the Nicaraguan coast, we took a taxi with our boy Ronald (with a majorly rolled “R”) to San Jorge to take a ferry to the island of Ometepe.

As what seems to be the case for all things in Nicaragua, it’s never totally a direct, normal path. Halfway through the ride we were pulled over by the cops who were managing a situation: a very upset girlfriend leaping and reaching for her boyfriend, who was in handcuffs. It was pretty dramatic. The cops spoke Spanish to Ronald and the next thing we knew the guy in handcuffs got in the taxi with us. Guess we had to escort him to town because the cops were on bikes.

So yeah our cab helped arrest someone and then we were on our way to take the ferry to Ometepe, which literally means two mountains in a native language. Because it’s an island made up of two volcanoes!

The ferry ride was hot and miserable. I get motion sick so I mentally prepared to have an unenjoyable hour. All I can say is you definitely want to take the big ferry. They have little boats that transport humans to Ometepe as well, but if you are prone to motion sickness stay on the big boat. Lake Nicaragua is wavy.

At last we arrived and were immediately pumped by everything we saw on the beautiful island. We stayed in El Encanto Garden Hotel—you go up a crazy rocky “road” into the jungle but when you get to the top you are #blessed with volcano views—guess we’ll trade our oceanside views for this.

The food is actually really incredible at El Encanto—people come up just for the restaurant and the views. And the guys who work here were cool too.

The next day we rented a scooter to explore and do the waterfall hike on the Maderas volcano. There is the option to do full-day hikes on either the Maderas volcano or El Concepcion, but both take at least 8 hours and are SUPER intense. Plus there’s fog at the top almost all the time so do you even get a view? (after chatting with some friends who survived the hike, general answer seems like mostly no…)

Since we only had one full day in Ometepe we decided scooting around and doing a 3 hour hike (which we crushed in 1.5 hours…. and could’ve easily done faster because I like to trail run). The hike was to a waterfall on the Maderas volcano.

The road to La Cascada (that’s waterfall in Spanish. The locals didn’t know what I meant by “Donde es el waterfall?” so don’t try that) is incredibly bumpy. Like, all rocks. I rode on the back of the scooter since I’m incapable of driving one myself (see: Bali recap) and I got cramps in my rib cage just from all the bouncing.

We took spill after hitting a rock at one point. Chris took most of the fall though so I didn’t add too much to my scooter scar collection. Everyone survived.

The hike was awesome. Slightly uphill and the last 45 minutes of it are a little tough for the average human but it’s totally do-able and a very pleasant hike. And you are rewarded by a waterfall at the end. Made me super happy 🙂

After that we enjoyed some victory tonas, obviously.

Then it was back on the bumpy road to El Ojo de Agua. This is a cool natural spring pool that locals and tons of tourists hang out at (about $5 entry). Perfect to cool off on the humid island. They also have a full service bar/restaurant by it so you could hang here all day if you wanted to.

After that we explored a tad more with the scooter to drive over to the town Balgue (still don’t know how to pronounce this) and saw a kids’ soccer game and more restaurants I wanted to try. I made us stop when I saw a kombucha sign, of course, and met this cute Scandinavian lady who lives on the island and makes homemade vegan ice cream using 5-6 different fruits from the island and homemade kombucha. The gringa (me) was happy 😋

At last we made it back to El Encanto for an awesome dinner and sunset. It was actually Valentine’s Day this day so we had a romantic volcano Vday.

In the morning I forced us to do one more activity because I like to seize the day. We rented the worst bicycles ever (think they pumped the tires once a couple years ago) and went on a short bike ride to El Petal, a “chocolate paradise”. (I saw a sign for it and decided we had to go). Turns out this is a pretty popular backpacker spot—I saw ads for it everywhere else I stayed in Nica. It’s a cool little hippie hostel/restaurant on the lake with yoga, funky dance stuff, and super vegan treats. They have SMOOTHIE BOWLS (ugh why did we already eat breakfast) and these crazy chocolate ball desserts. They are SUPER rich but it’s fun to try them and maybe share a couple if you’re in a group. But we definitely couldn’t finish it.

Alas we returned to the ferry port, arriving a bit early. KEY MOVE because we were able to snag seats on the top, open-air level. THIS WAS SUCH A BETTER EXPERIENCE. We got to sit in the sun and drink tonas with a double-volcano view. I did get motion sick only for about ten minutes, nevertheless this ferry ride was the obvious winner.

And now I’m realizing Nicaragua needs to be 3 parts because the last part of our trip was really special (it all was). Granada + The Treehouse/village visit next + and then I’ll recap on coliving and coworking in San Juan Del Sur. 🤘

Oh and here’s another pic of the Nicaraguan kitties being obsessed with Chris:


Getting to Know Nicaragua - Part 1: León & Playa Popoyo

To be honest, I booked a flight to Managua, Nicaragua for these reasons: to surf, to escape Chicago’s aggressive winter, and to focus on building my businesses at a cheap yet awesome-looking coworking/coliving space called NomadLife.

Aaaaand of course, I was more than pleasantly surprised, but blown away by the country!

I spent the first two days working from La Biciecleta Hostel in Managua (def recommend) and practicing a very limited/embarrassing set of Spanish phrases with the locals.  Then Chris met me in Managua and we set off on an epic, action-packed 9 days to get acquainted with this crazy country.

The Spanglish craft cocktail bar is the first and only cocktail bar in Central America listed in World’s Best Bars; they’ve even been invited to  The Broken Shaker in Miami to serve their cocktails.  Most Nicaraguan cocktails are on the sweeter side or rum-based which isn’t really my thing, but this place was cool and the cocktails were well-executed.  Also made buddies with two hilarious  70-year-old Nicaraguan men and had a pretty fun evening with them (I WAS SAFE).

A must-visit in Managua: Chureca Chic Boutique & Cafe. It’s a collective supporting female entrepreneurs and artists in Nicaragua, offering yoga and handmade pieces for purchase.  They also have coffee, and leche soya (soy milk) for nice lattes 😛

Exploring León & Surrounding Volcanoes

Leon is the political and educational capital of Nicaragua. It’s a totally walkable city and despite a decent backpacker presence, Leon hasn’t catered to the tourist/‘gringo’ lifestyle too much. So everything felt very authentic… raw Nicaraguan life.

We enjoyed just walking around Leon, and of course climbing to the roof of the Catedral de León.

The volcanoes near Leon are a major attraction for the city.  We visited the Cerro Negro volcano and did a 45 minute hike up the volcano, and then volcano-boarded down.  Super unique way to see the volcanoes and learn about the region.  We went through Barbaro Tours — cool because it was just $30 each for Chris and I and we were the only two on the tour (rather than other groups that were 10-15 people each).  We got a really personalized experience and were able to ask more questions about the area.

Volcano boarding is really funny, literally sledding on volcanic rocks.  It’s a nice time, but once you do it once, you don’t really feel the need to run up the hill and repeat, if you know what I mean hah.  The ride out to the volcanoes is interesting itself; you’ll get a glimpse of the vibrant, rural Nicaraguan life.

What I would’ve liked to do in Leon:

I would’ve really liked to see a baseball game here but there weren’t any when we visited.  Also, if we had more time we could’ve gone out to the beach town Las Penitas.  They have surf lessons and such . But we had beaches in our future so we just chilled in Leon.

Where we stayed:

Nica hostels are super cheap, with decent ones for around US$8 per night.  But when you’re two full-time working Americans, and want to ball it up together, why not ball it up.  There’s super unique, luxe hotel options for not that much more $$!

We stayed at La Posada Del Doctor, around $60/night.  This boutique hotel is super cool with a great courtyard to hang out in and drink wine.  Breakfast was  included (gallo pinto) and it was well-executed.  The hotel wasn’t that good with helping out on recommendations or hooking up rides/tours (it was a little bizarre, most places like this are dying to hook you up with their partner tour groups/drivers).  That was the only downside really.  I’d stay here again though.

Where we ate:

Lunch: Katu – awesome vibes, good drinks (and Toñas when in doubt).  Has live music sometimes.

Dinner: El Bodegon – Great mojitos in a lovely backyard, the food is delicious and actually comes out quick (dude. Nicaraguan restaurant service is SO SLOW)

Dessert: Kiss Kiss Ice Cream! Really cool art in the shop and the ice cream was actually amazing.

We also went to the Nicaraguan supermarket El Union for some wine and snacks one night, and it was crazy busy with both locals and tourists and the line was SO LONG.  It’s a funny experience though.

La Bodega

Yum frozen cocktail at La Bodega 😛

Katu for Lunch

Then we took a really long miz shuttle to Popoyo

I planned this whole trip for Chris and I, and given my day-to-day life generally involves logistical challenges, a trip planned by yours truly cannot go without at least one logistical error. I booked an amazing place in Popoyo, a remote beach destination. Which was an excellent decision. But somehow I missed the whole “leon-is-4-hours-away-from-popoyo” and instead of taking a taxi for $120-140 USD from Leon to Popoyo, Chris and I decided to go to budget route, saving a net $30 bucks to take a shuttle instead.

I mean, we did get from A to B, but we spent half a day (almost 7 hours) getting passed around Nicaragua from shuttle to shuttle, and eventually the shuttle company just put in a taxi to Popoyo. If we were true backpackers with as much time as we wanted in the country, we’d just take the cheap chicken busses to Managua, then to San Juan Del Sur, and then up to Popoyo. But since Chris had a limited time, it wasn’t ideal to spend most of a day during a 9-day trip in a hot shuttle/on the sides of roads waiting for the next shuttle in the never ending string of shuttles.

But anyways, we made it. And Popoyo was heaven.

PLAYA POPOYO!!!

We had the most lush few days in Popoyo and fell in love with the chilled-out vibes. There’s really nothing here but a few restaurants and surf lodges. It’s remote. You can take a ride into town if you stay longer, but really everyone is just there to get away, surf, do yoga, read, and C H I L L. So of course we didn’t leave our beach paradise the whole time.

I booked us a couple nights at SUYO, a simple boutique hotel comprised of 6 beach cabanas with a yoga deck and communal kitchen. Only $60/night which we felt was worth it. The rooms don’t have much but a comfy queen-size bed, a sink and mirror and some storage (and a beautiful handmade roof). We literally stayed next to the waves—sometimes a big wave crash would wake us up at night but we didn’t mind because it was so cool.

And in the morning we’d slide open a door and watch the ocean. Can’t beat it.

Since we were only there a couple days we didn’t bring anything to cook, and after experimenting with a couple other food options, we settled on having pretty much every meal at the neighbouring 99 Surf Lodge. The rooms look like Abercrombie storefronts and they serve healthy meals and delicious pizza (pizza approved by Chris).

It’s only a $10 minimum restaurant spend and you can enjoy their infinity pool all day! We of course enjoyed a few poolside mojitos and tonas.

We also went down to Magnific Rock which overlooks the beginner surf break on Popoyo Beach. The food and cocktails here are not good (also heard meh reviews from other travellers we met here). But the views are awesome! Definitely enjoy some tonas here, can’t hurt.

We loved Popoyo because it’s not very developed yet (but on the south end of the beach there’s this American resort that looks straight out of Southern California. Meh).  Popoyo will eventually turn into an American-ized beach destination (Nica also has a 3-year plan to build a marina there…), so we really appreciated getting this raw Nica beach experience before it’s taken over.

By the way, you can stroll down the beach and stop in lil shacks to buy beers (and you can even take them with you down the beach)…

In the Part 2 Nicaragua post I’ll detail our adventures on the island of Ometepe and our last few days in Granada. You won’t believe what a range of experiences we jammed into just over a week.

Bottom Line:

Nicaragua is apparently what “Costa Rica used to be”, some say as far back as Costa Rica in the 70’s and 80’s.  Property value is going up here every year though, and likely a tourist rise with Granada celebrating its 500th year as a city in 2020 (it’s apparently the oldest city in the Americas) so try to visit before everyone in the world catches on 😛


In a motel alone in Los Alamos

These photos are from an epic solo roadtrip up the California 101. Since I was traveling alone I looked for places on the cheaper end but didn’t find many hostel options in this luxe part of the country. Also I planned this about 4 days in advance so that could have something to do with it.

After finding a what looked like a nice place on Hotel Tonight (last second hotel-booking app, get cool places for a tad cheaper), I was headed past Santa Barbara (WAY too expensive for me, especially solo) to stop in Los Alamos to stay at The Alamo Motel for the night.

Turns out California gets pretty dark late at night, and I wasn’t seeing much “civilization” after Santa Barbara. I was a little out of my comfort zone (I’m used to endless miles of cornfields but not dark deserts and hills). I saw the sign for Los Alamos after passing what seemed like the last major town and pulled off the highway into a one-road town.

Apprehensive.

Sweet, did Hotel Tonight lead me to a trucker stop of DOOM????

No, they didn’t. Actually ended up at probably the coolest lil spot I’ve ever stayed in. A nice old lady greeted me at the coolest motel/hotel office and gave me some PALO SANTO FOR MY ROOM. Screamin’ good vibez.

The bed was comfortable, the decor was super cool, and there were trendy snacks for purchase (just took pics).

And when the sun came up in the morning I had a blast exploring the small town and antique shops before hitting the road. There’s great wine around here too, so you could make a cool weekend getaway using the Alamo Motel as your home-base.

Enjoyed my little night of luxury, and after this it was back to hostel-life in Monterrey!

P.S…. their website is cool.

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Return to Southern California

After a couple months back in the Midwest after my year in Sydney, I was getting super angsty to be by the ocean again. In September I got to spend a couple weeks in my favorite state, and I left even more stoked about surfing AND super inspired. ?

I used to make collages all the time. I was so pumped about all “the little things” I love about California but they weren’t necessarily things I would just look at by themselves. So I made a digital collage of all the little and big things I loved about this trip!

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A Roadtrip through the Desert in a Mustang Convertible…

…is essentially an American rite-of-passage (and a great way to see the Southwest).

The boys. The boys.

On my little journey out west after Chris’s work conference in Phoenix, his friend had the idea to get from Phoenix to California via a mustang convertible, drop-top the whole time. So Chris and his two buddies and I spent 7 hours blasting classic rock-n-roll, flying through the desert in a sizzlin’ 105+ degrees. The whole setting felt like we could have been in any decade since the 50’s, and this experience now ranks as one of my favorite things about being American.

We saw some super remote areas and we rode really close to the Mexican border. We brought a TON of water because even though we were going fast which made it feel like a cool ~90 degrees during the day, we were totally dehydrated, frying in the heat (sunscreen is also a must). I wore a swimsuit for most of the time through Arizona because it was that hot.

Had to happen. Had to happen.

I left my hair down to go wild for the first hour, and it felt really cool. And then I was over that because my hairline hurt from being pulled in different directions and I felt like turning my face in different directions (I could only really look right to have my hair not fly in my face). My hair after we made our first stop was unbelievable.

Our skin also felt weirdly smooth yet dirty because all the dust and dirt in the air was plastered on our skin, especially for Chris and I in the back seat (note: tall couple in the backseat of a mustang is a tight squeeze). At one point we were going through a particularly dusty desert area and we were getting hit with mini rocks and had to duck together. Glam.

We made a few stops, one at a sweet desert art shop where one of the guys bought an excellent bald eagle wood carving, and then again at a gas station outside of Yuma where I bought sour cream ’n onion crickets that we all had to eat for desert roadtrip solidarity.

While one may think a Mustang road trip is best suited for two people given the tiny back seat, was a pretty hilarious time with a crew of four, so I wouldn’t let that stop you. The back seat is a little more extreme but with proper mental preparation and stretch breaks anything is possible.

The whole trip was pretty much a high point in life, besides my one low point in life when we were on a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair, the warm smell of colitas rising up through the air. We were in the mountains in California, about 90 miles from our final destination in Encinitas California. IT. WAS. SO. COLD.

We watched the temperature with shock as it rapidly dropped every five seconds as we zoomed into the mountains. Within ten minutes, it went from an almost-chilly-when-you’re-in-a-drop-top-going-100-mph (~72 degrees) to I’m-actually-going-to-get-hypothermia-and-need-a-massage-from-shivering-so-much (~50 degrees). I think the lowest temperature was officially 52, but that backseat windchill had to be 33. In a dress.

So my big lesson learned is that even though it’s super hot in the desert during the day, in the mountains at night it is not warm and next time I will have sleeves and pants very accessible.

Anyways, we victoriously rolled into Encintas California around 9:30pm after a long and amazing journey. I couldn’t be more stoked to be in one of my favorite places in the world, and finally by the ocean again after being away for too long. We all enjoyed some incredible Mexican food, a California beer, and a killer night’s sleep.

The road trip is an essential must for all Americans. And here’s what I think are the Essentials for Desert Road Trip:

  • Hair ties
  • Sunscreen
  • Tons of water
  • Swimsuit
  • Really warm coat on hand
  • Cash to buy random things on side of road (although places we stopped took card)
  • Classic rock playlist to saved to your phone
  • Gas station stop for crickets

And Nice-to-have’s

  • Leg room


Life Update + First Visit To the Sizzlin' Southwest ?

First, I feel like I owe the world an update on my whereabouts. This should efficiently clear the air regarding questions such as “do you work” and/or “how do you travel so much?!” and/or “what is ur life”. And then that’ll bring us up to speed with the cool pictures I have to share from Arizona.

POST-SYDNEY CHI-TOWN SUMMER CRAZINESS

I zoomed through some crazy months since moving back from Sydney, diving into a full-on Chicago summer full of weddings, lake festivities, and much needed catch-ups with family and close friends. I haven’t even caught up with half the people I’ve meant to by now. ?

Between all the summer fun I’ve been freelancing on a few contracts, doing digital marketing (CRO, SEO, social and email marketing for those concerned) and web design. The whole time I was trying to figure out my next “move.” And then I realized my next move might already happening ?

ATTEMPT AT FINDING A REALLY SPECIFIC JOB

A few weeks into freelancing after returning home from Sydney, I became determined to find a full-time, permanent, remote marketing job. On top of those requirements, I was being SUPER picky to find the right fit.

So applying to “the grind” became the ultimate grind. They should certify me as a professional job applicant. The marketing industry is so saturated, and I jumped through tons of hoops with multiple companies to advance through rounds. I got denied from a few, and made it really far with a couple only to be beat out by applicants with 8+ more years experience. I even dropped out of the running for quite a few opportunities because the gigs didn’t seem right for one reason or another.

I got REALLY close with an awesome company that seemingly met all my work-related desires, and they even wanted to hire me but their needs changed. I almost tasted the ultimate victory and I didn’t want to settle for less.

A CHANGE IN COURSE

Then, a couple weeks ago, I was evaluating a full-time opportunity, and a bell kind of hit me on the head. I’d been freelancing about 25- 30 hours/week and I was already making more than I did when I left Chicago, plus I did it when and from wherever I wanted. If I actually worked the 40-50 hours to week, I’d be making more than I did in Sydney!!!

I have the opportunity to bill as many hours as I can handle because I’m in an exclusive freelancing marketplace (ask me about it!). So I decided to go for it and see what I can make of myself. I spoke with a freelancing advisor and an accountant (so adult), and set myself up as a sole proprietor. I have this very-Emily dream of working from a coworking space and surfing in Central America this winter, and now I think that could be feasible…

But it’s not all glam and of course there are doubts. This could be something I look back on as hilariously silly or amazingly smart. I’m figuring out a lot as I go. It’s of course a little riskier than a full-time permanent role, but lots of exciting opportunities.

I freelance for a range of clients, from high end businesses and agencies, to really (REALLY) random small businesses (I have some stories…). My clients are all over the world. I am dealing with a way wider range of humans and types of workers than I ever did at an agency in Chicago or Sydney, and I’ve had to adapt to align with different client expectations. Already, eyes have been opened and lessons have been learned.

I may be over this digital nomad thing in six months and return to my professional job applicant status, but I have a lot of cool projects and collaborations in the pipeline, so I’m going to ride it out, learn a ton and enjoy the journey ☺️

Oh also, Chris has the Southwest Companion Pass because he travels so much for work, so that’s how I get to fly a lot of places in the USA for free ?

AND THAT BRINGS US TO ARIZONA

Chris just had a conference at the BEAUTIFUL JW Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix, so I tagged along and enjoyed the luxe resort life, and also finally got to visit my awesome cousin holly in Tucson. Obsessed.

Seven things I loved about Tucson:

1. The iconic saguaro cactuses everywhere

2. They are surrounded by four mountain ranges so there’s tons of camping/ hiking opportunities, and an incredible ecosystem.

3. Incredible Mexican food (and margaritas. whoa.)

4. Retro signs and cool design

5. A chilled out yet Wild West feel

6. Thrift stores everywhere. I bought a very impractical pair of antlers to carry on my two week journey

7. Hot ?

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What not to do when you're on an island alone in Bali

What not to do when you're on an island alone in Bali

At the start of my first travel experience to Asia (by myself too!), I was up to my knees in mud next to my swampy scooter getting hosed down in the backyard of a resort by some Balinese angels. I am sure I saw all the thought bubbles read “Is the girl in the leafy shorts okay?” (I was wearing the leafy shorts)

The girl in those leafy shorts somehow survived her few days in Nusa Lembongan, a beautiful small island just a thirty-minute boat ride from Bali.

Day 1: CONFUSION ON ENTRY

After an excellent day-trip in Singapore, I was riding the travel high. I had conquered an unknown city (well as much as you can in 12 hours) and felt I must be well-suited for my next venture of traveling Bali alone.

After being confused in the Bali visa line, entering and exiting the line twice, I finally received the last passport stamp of the day from the Bali visa staff. Keeping in mind my notes that “you’ll see the official taxi service when you exit customs”, I immediately abandoned my preparations and am coerced away from the official taxi service by enthusiastic women in matching teal shirts. I ended up paying triple what I should have for a taxi to Sanur. C’mon Em.

So after a wild ride to Sanur (the roads here are crazy) I finally arrived at my hostel in Sanur. Thirty hours of traveling put me right to sleep.

Day 2: MIDNIGHT RIDE

The next morning I awoke with a mission to get a SIM card. I googled where to get them and found a store a 24-minute walk away. Turns out walking is nearly a sin in Sanur — every other minute someone begged me to ride in their taxi and every time I politely declined (the declines got less polite with time). They would always ask “okay, tomorrow then?” Yes, sure, tomorrow.

The humid walk somehow took me nearly an hour, and I end up finding a SIM card at a different shop. Turns out SIM cards are everywhere. Don’t know how I missed this (I do, because I suck at finding things).

SIM card in phone, I finally hit up a gorgeous little health cafe “Soul In A Bowl” and treated myself to a $1 coconut (in an effort to avoid drinking the tap water) and poached eggs on avo toast. ~The Balinese dream is all happening.~ 

After breaky I grabbed my bag to catch a Scoot Cruise to Nusa Lembongan, a beautiful island recommended to me by a friend. I decided to do this first as it would be difficult to get from the island to the airport on my last day, even though this is probably the most remote part of my trip.

Scoot Cruise to Nusa Lembongan (image from Scoot)  Scoot Cruise to Nusa Lembongan (image from Scoot)

Boarding the boat, I noticed on the boat one of their phonetic spellings of English: “Main Your Head”. Hah. (some other spellings were “milkseak" and “hair breading”)

The Scoot Cruise crew transferred me to the resort I found on AirBnb, Poh Manis. It is insanely beautiful but of course I picked the most remote resort on the island—far from all the attractions.

Image from Poh Manis. This is where I stayed!!! (for less that US$40/night)  Image from Poh Manis. This is where I stayed!!! (for less that US$40/night)

After settling in my little bungalow, I decided to go to town to get my bearings and check out the Bali Eco Deli, a vegan cafe trailblazing a new but growing recycling program on the island. I told the resort manager I was thinking of going to town for dinner. She said “okay, ride ready in ten minutes? Alright?”

I ran back and put my leafy green shorts on (so Bali) and my fave pink Adidas sneakers, got my camera and money, and I was ready. I waited for our 5pm ride with two other German girls who seem to be going to town as well.

Why didn't I just eat dinner here? At Poh Manis Why didn't I just eat dinner here? At Poh Manis Detailing like what's on the mirror was everywhere... pretty Detailing like what's on the mirror was everywhere... pretty

At 5:05pm us three girls climbed in the back of one of the little human wagons the resorts use to transfer guests too afraid (or smart) to scooter around the island. I made a little small talk with the Germans but they were mostly uninterested. Maybe I come off weird??? I’ve heard non-American travellers remark that Americans can come off as super fun or overly friendly. I’m definitely super fun.

All was well as we made our way into town, but suddenly we turned down a little muddy alleyway, which eventually turned into this grand welcoming entrance for another resort, Hai Tide. The driver backed up the little human wagon directly to the path into the resort.

Human wagons  Human wagons Mysterious mud road to another resort...  Mysterious mud road to another resort...

I became slightly frantic and confused because I didn’t want to go to this resort. Maybe just the Germans were going to this resort? But I was closest to the exit so I had to get out first. After sitting still for too long and making the Germans like me less, I finally jumped out of the human wagon and loitered by it. The driver signalled us to follow him. US?? Did he mean me too? The Germans seemed happy with this resort triangle we were apparently trapped in but I wanted to go to town! I was so bloody confused!

We walked through a scene of Forgetting Sarah Marshall until we arrived at the hostess stand. My mind was turning and my brow furrowed hard (even though I’m trying to stop doing that to prevent a wrinkle).

They asked if we are all together and I busted out a “I don’t want to eat here” which in retrospect was a bit awkward as they were under the impression I made a reservation at their restaurant. “So we’ll take that as you are not all together” and the hostess sat the two German girls at their romantic table.

The bar at the new resort I was trapped at. Not the worst... (image from Citizen Femme)  The bar at the new resort I was trapped at. Not the worst... (image from Citizen Femme)

I awkwardly looked around assessing my new resort. Okay, it was actually pretty cool, I could relax. I resolved to stay for a drink but then committed to going to town. I just wanted to explore and I would have rather eaten at the cool vegan cafe than the resort.

After convincing the staff to let me stay for one drink by the water and not by the dark corner of the patio at my "reserved table” (who reserved this), I enjoyed a Bintang beer (the Balinese beer) alone in the best seat of the house at some random resort during a fiery sunset. Whatever, it was cool and the beer was nice.

They wanted me to sit in the back corner by myself, behind the bar  They wanted me to sit in the back corner by myself, behind the bar

After finishing the beer and standing around to pay for a while, I used the toilet and jetted off. I needed to get out of this weird web of resorts. Bai, Hai Tide.

Now this is more like it :P  Now this is more like it :P

I started walking to where I thought town should be, since a bunch of tourists seemed to be coming from that way. But slowly the amount of tourists lessened and the amount of locals chilling by their shops watching me suspiciously increased. Damnit. I admitted to myself that I was lost and headed back to the busy area to wander for service so I could hit up Google Maps (the SIM card was essentially useless on the island—figures).

I caught a phone wave and finally got the Bali Eco Deli in my maps. 45 minute walk. No problem.

I did a couple twirls on the side of the road clutching my iPhone, playing with the compass trying to figure out which way to go. A man with a 2 year old boy on the front of his scooter stopped to ask if I need something. I couldn’t really understand his English so I just awkwardly smiled, pointed at my phone and said I am good! He likely didn’t believe me but he laughed and said okay and jetted off.

Just as he took off I realized he asked “do you need a transfer?” A transfer! A RIDE!! Yes I wanted a ride! It would have been a 5 minute scooter ride to town and I could’ve avoided the additional 40 minutes of my solo evening walk in remote Bali. Too late. Nice one.

Time went on and walking continued to seem like a bad idea. I didn’t feel unsafe, per-say, but just a bit nervous as the skies turned grey and darkness was upon us. And I was on some pretty remote roads (remote to this city gal). I just needed to follow my maps and I’d be there soon. I started jogging a little to speed up the process. Maps said I was 20 minutes away.

Suddenly the man on the scooter passed me again! Hah! And he was laughing so I said hi. “Yes, I just realised you said transfer. And I do want a transfer if you are willing to take me to town.” I offered him some money to take me to town (retrospect, I should have said village). We could barely communicate between his broken English and my inability to understand broken English (I am seriously bad at figuring out broken English and/or English in different dialects).

I hopped on board so it’s me, the 2 year old, and my Balinese buddy. I thought, ’10 minutes til I’m finally in town and now I’ll have a fun little hitchhiker story, all before dinner!’

MY TOUR OF NUSA LEMBONGAN IN THE DARK

Well I thought he said he’ll take me to the Lembongan village so I said sweet. I definitely did not understand and apparently agreed to a three hour scooter tour of Bali—my Nusa Lembongan Midnight Ride.

After a while on the scooter we came up to The Yellow Bridge which was only wide enough for a scooter to get across. Why were we at this bridge. This bridge went to the neighbouring island Nusa Ceningan. This bridge also collapsed eight months ago killing 9 people. It was rebuilt but I had already vowed to never go near that bridge. But there we were scootering over the bridge under a brilliant starry sky.

The new bridge in the dark  The new bridge in the dark The Yellow Bridge in the light, before it collapsed. Photo from sunshine seekers  The Yellow Bridge in the light, before it collapsed. Photo from sunshine seekers

We survived the bridge but my troubles seemed far from over. As we scooted through winding roads, I saw less tourists and more locals hanging out by their dimly lit shops. Most of the resorts were dark, and I concluded that I was doomed.

I couldn’t believe I walked into this. It was a nice looking local and he had a cute son—what a decoy. HOW did I fall for this! Was this really how am I going to go—trapped with no service in some dark Indonesian island prison being poked by men half my height. I am pretty strong, I reckoned I could put up a fight. But I didn’t know. Maybe I should have bought that pocket knife from the little boy trying to sell one to me before I boarded my ferry to the island.

I asked, where again are we going? And he said Blue Lagoon. I didn’t do any research on the islands beforehand (surprise) so I was left riding along and hoping for the best.

We pulled up to Blue Lagoon. It was dark but an amazing sight. We walked over to see it and he told me a bit about it. I became less nervous—maybe he was really just showing me the sight!

This is Blue Lagoon during the day. Pretty cool! So Imagine it at night with the moonlight illuminating the lagoon and stars everywhere and the waves roaring a bit more :P (Image from Journey Era... cool post on this)  This is Blue Lagoon during the day. Pretty cool! So Imagine it at night with the moonlight illuminating the lagoon and stars everywhere and the waves roaring a bit more :P (Image from Journey Era... cool post on this)

After a few minutes checking it out, we hopped back onto the scooter. We scooted back across the bridge and I was so happy to be on my original island again. Not that I really knew this island either. My driver said hi to a few people on the side of the road. He grew up in Nusa Lembongan so he pretty much knew everyone. I was comforted that he seemed like a popular dude, but I was still sceptical of my chance of survival.

We pulled up to a petrol station and I offered to pay for the gas—12,000 Indonesian Rupiah (about $1.20). Then I gave him all the change from my 100,000 IDR bill and he tried to refuse. I insisted he take it as a thank you for the ride (and a thanks in advance for not killing me?).

He said he’ll give me a tour of the island but first he had to take his son home because he was sleepy. At this point I still didn’t actually know what’s going on but in retrospect that’s what he said. I thought he’d just take me back to my resort because he said he knew where it was.

We pulled up to a temple and he parked. Was this the next stop on the tour? What was I walking into now? He picked up his son and we walked into the temple yard. This was interesting. A dog started barking ferociously at me but then out came his lovely wife. Oh! This was their home! Apparently Balinese families live in compounds, in these little courtyards with temple-looking entrances (and every compound has an template). It was pretty cool and they were a really cute family.

I felt better now that we established that my tour guide was likely a family man. Although I still didn’t know much about Balinese family culture. Is cheating on your wife common here? Was he going to try something on me?

We scooted through all the tourist spots at night, including Lighthouse Beach where he knew some of the younger workers. Lots of jokes were thrown—“Is he your husband? Ooo”. There was more tourists around and good vibes.

Image from Mahagiri Resort Image from Mahagiri Resort

Then we left and went a bit remote again—probably the most remote I’ve ever been in my life. And I was alone with no phone service! We stopped at the Mangrove Forest by the river. He told me this is where you can take a boat through the forest (which I did the next day).

Then we went back to the Yellow Bridge and he asks if I want to cross it again. NO THANKS. This time there were some more locals around the bridge, finishing up their day fishing, putting boats away and such. I couldn’t believe they were still working—it was past 8pm.

One of the beaches we stopped at (but this was during the day)  One of the beaches we stopped at (but this was during the day)

We went all the way across the island to some other popular beaches. We saw Devil’s Tear which is crazy enough to see during the day, so at night with the big waves, it was scary but cool! We did a bit of off-roading with the scooter—it was impressive how good he was at manoeuvring through without getting us stuck in the mud (which is good because I was wearing my fave shoes).

Image from Harindabama  Image from Harindabama

At last we got to Sandy Bay and sat near a cliff at about 8:30pm. He told me the original name for the beach (I won’t even try to repeat) and I learned a bit more about life growing up on the island. We started to understand each other through broken English a bit more. He also showed me the spots to get magic mushrooms on the island. ?

Sandy Bay during the day. I forgot my camera this day, so this image is from Sunshine Seeker Sandy Bay during the day. I forgot my camera this day, so this image is from Sunshine Seeker

He offered to take me to one more beach but I was thinking it was time to see if he’d actually return me to my resort. I said I need to get back before dinner ends (9pm) and we zoomed back to Poh Manis.

We came across a snail on our ride home. Biggest snail I've ever seen. So I made him stop so I could take a picture of it. We came across a snail on our ride home. Biggest snail I've ever seen. So I made him stop so I could take a picture of it.

I still didn’t really know where my resort is. We flew through backroads and roads through a forest.  I saw one building I recognised from getting dropped off in the morning so I was hopeful. FINALLY we pulled up to Poh Manis! My place! We made it! He really dropped me off! I found another 100,000 IDR to give him and gave him a hug. And it was back to safety. Like nothing happened.

I MADE IT HOME!!! ? I MADE IT HOME!!! ?

I wandered into the resort kitchen and asked if I could still have food. It’s exactly 9:01pm but I pleaded that even some rice would be amazing. The chef whipped up this amazing veggie fried rice with chicken and a fried egg on top. Nothing had even been so satisfying. I later found out this wasn’t even on the menu when I tried to order it again and I couldn’t! What an angel.

DAY 3: DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME

I woke up satisfied with my adventure on the island. Today I could relax and soak in the beautiful island day. I reluctantly rented a scooter from the resort since it was the only way to get around, and took off to finally try Bali Eco Deli.

OOPS #1: At the first major intersection there were a million scooters around and a human wagon heading towards me. It was honking to try to get me to turn. So I panicked and ran into a wall with the scooter… Tourists laughed and took it as a lesson, an example of what not to do. I shook it off, found my iPhone that fell off in the crash, blotted my little scrapes and continued to town.

V unsure about scootering  V unsure about scootering The fabeled Bali Eco Deli!  The fabeled Bali Eco Deli!

I finally made it! The deli was actually just okay compared to other healthy Bali restaurants on the mainland (and considering my effort to come here…), but I had a smoothie there and it was good. And I love their recycling mission as trash on the island was a huge problem.

There were trash dumps like this everywhere ? There were trash dumps like this everywhere ? Trees. Trees.

Then I explored all the cool places my Balinese friend showed me the night before. I went on a short boat-ride in the Mangrove forest, and then went back for a swim at Lighthouse Beach.

Boat ride through the Mangrove forest  Boat ride through the Mangrove forest Traffic jam in the Mangrove forest  Traffic jam in the Mangrove forest

And then I finally figured out what my Balinese scooter guide meant when he explained what he did for work! He was cleaning the beach at the resort on Lighthouse beach and recognised me. He didn’t remember my name either. We hugged and I met his friend. A group of backpackers laying on the beach nearby were impressed that I knew the locals and asked how I knew them. Hahhhh funny story…

This is the uniform my Bali buddy wore when I ran into him at Lighthouse beach! This isn't the exact picture but I just found on the resort website and had to post :P  Image from Mahagiri Resort This is the uniform my Bali buddy wore when I ran into him at Lighthouse beach! This isn't the exact picture but I just found on the resort website and had to post :P  Image from Mahagiri Resort

Anyways I scooted to the other side of the island to check out some more beaches (and had a pit stop for a US$7 Balinese foot massage). I went to see the last beach on my list, the last beach we visited the night before. I had to manoeuvre through the mud pits just like my buddy from the night before. I successfully did that and saw the crowded tourist spot during the day. Not nearly as cool as being the only two people there under the stars at night. I didn’t stay long and decided to scoot out so I could do a 4pm yoga class (for which they specifically note that you need to be clean to participate in the class).

Little Aussie kids getting massages with me ? Little Aussie kids getting massages with me ?

Well I really blew it for yoga because instead I ran the scooter straight into three feet of mud because I panicked when a human wagon came near me. Literally almost up to my hips in mud. IN MY FAVORITE PINK SNEAKERS. I had to drag the heavy scooter out and big chunks of mud were stuck on everything.

There were many concerned tourists around. I scooted away fast to try to find a beach where I could rinse off my mud and my embarrassment. I pulled up to another resort that I thought would be a beach, but instead it had more people. At this point I had to embrace being the idiot tourist. A group of deeply concerned Europeans gave me their wound-cleansing products. Then a group of five Balinese resort workers, who were equally concerned and amused, offered to hose me down. They got a kick out of it and I finally got most of the mud off me.

After hosing down the scooter back at Poh Manis.... ???? After hosing down the scooter back at Poh Manis.... ????

After that…. it was time to go back to Poh Manis. I wasn’t clean enough for yoga. And I reckoned I had enough adventure for this island. Why don’t I do what normal people do on resort islands and just relax at the beautiful resort by the pool with a view of the ocean and read a book, or write a story about how I am a strong independent woman who needs a babysitter while traveling.

Back to chill at the resort Back to chill at the resort After my Nusa Lembongan adventures...it was time to C H I L L After my Nusa Lembongan adventures...it was time to C H I L L

〰️〰️〰️

So, I can’t say I’ve conquered Bali yet (Nusa Lembongan at least) but I did it the only way I can — the Emily way… no matter how ridiculous it may be.

Travelling alone forces you to confront your strengths and weaknesses head-on. You truly get to know yourself more.

I certainly learned about some of my thought processes that truly lack logic and reason. I learned to be confident on things such as scooters because lack of confidence is what got me into trouble. And I learned that I’m not good at staying at resorts and maybe I need a babysitter. But I also trailblazed my own path. I shared a lot of memories with my temporary island friends, and hopefully they’ll remember me as the funny (really cool?) girl in the leafy shorts… ?


Emi G's Top 6 Cafes in Byron Bay

Australia gets a 4-day long weekend in honor of Easter. It’s kind of funny that it’s basically a national holiday here even though it seems like half of the population is Indian / Asian non-Christian descent (I’m also based in Sydney so that’s skewed). All the stores and brands are allowed to say “Happy Easter” which is totally banned in marketing in the States.

That’s another topic, but I’ll take the 4-day weekend! Since I need to save my annual leave (vacation days) this was a golden travel opportunity. So instead of exploring somewhere I haven’t been I booked my third trip to Byron Bay. I couldn’t resist.

Me loving life on Folk's hairpin stools (which I fell off once. They are for tiny bums) Me loving life on Folk’s hairpin stools (which I fell off once. They are for tiny bums)

I’m a big nerd for coffee shops, and since Australia has a thing for cafes I’ve found myself in a good situation. I had to work remotely one day so I turned it into a little adventure and popped by a couple cafes on my list, and then relished in my discoveries the rest of the weekend. Combined with one of my favourite cafes from my previous visit, the following are my top 6 cafes in Byron Bay:

Folk Byron Bay

www.folkbyronbay.com

Long story short…  this cafe reeks Byron Bay vibes, and it’s not covered with backpackers as it’s a bit out of town – but worth the trip(s)!!! Can’t wait to return

I returned to this place three out of five days, so there’s something to be said about this lovely cafe (I’m obsessed). It’s a ten minute bike ride from town but it is an easy ride and so worth it! The vibes are friendly and relaxed, with an inviting indoor/outdoor setup and great tunes from old hits to new discoveries. I had the most luscious brownie of my entire life, some naturopathic tea, amazing coffee, and I met cool locals working in the shop. I worked almost an entire day from this shop and the WiFi was good too. I loved the design of it all. The food also looked amazing but I actually didn’t get a meal here – but from the looks and reactions of everyone else who ate at Folk, the food seems like a good move.

The Top Shop

The Top Shop Facebook

Go to this cafe if… you want to feel cool, beachy, and enjoy a treat.

Image from Spirit of Bali Image from Spirit of Bali Image via Pinterest  Image via Pinterest

The Top Shop seems like a local favourite. Just a ten minute walk from the main area of town, beachgoers retreat to this cafe for yummy baked goods, great coffee, and smoothies. Every time I went (I don’t just go to places I love once) families and groups of friends were hanging out not only in the cafe but on the lawn out front. Side note everyone looked really trendy.

I have to say this was the best acai bowl I had in Byron. That’s saying a lot!!! Lately I’ve been getting bowls without bananas on top to cut down on some sugar and they happily accommodated (not all Aussie restaurants are down for a menu change…).

Bayleaf Cafe

Bayleaf Cafe Facebook

Go here when you… want a killer brunch and great service.

Brunch at Bayleaf is a must. They do sweet and savory dishes well, and just like most trendy cafes in Australia, the coffee is amazing. ☕️ This indoor/outdoor cafe is right in town so you have no excuse not to go. The staff here was also really friendly despite being so busy. I wanted to befriend everyone.

The Farm at Byron Bay

thefarmbyronbay.com.au

Go here to… get inspired by a wonderful food experience and the philosophy behind it.

Image from the The Gourmet Traveler Image from the The Gourmet Traveler

How could I not mention the Farm! The greatest food mecca I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring. This is a full-on wonderful experience, so I actually included biking to the Farm as one of the top things to do in Byron Bay.

The guys who started The Farm are actually from Bronte, my home beach neighborhood in Sydney ? They believe in surfing, building a community, and eating clean and using local/home-grown ingredients. Even without the awesome mission, the food speaks for itself. Best pumpkin lentil pie I’ve ever had (which is only once. And it was the best.).

Naked Treaties

www.nakedtreaties.com.au

Go here to… get a sense for Byron culture, employees that practice what the cafe preaches, and some yummy raw treats of course!

Image from Guide To Organics Image from Guide To Organics Image from Naked Treaties - it's 'Iced Blues' in honor of Bluesfest :P Image from Naked Treaties – it’s ‘Iced Blues’ in honor of Bluesfest 😛

This place is a lot of yum. It’s a small hip vegan cafe boasting its raw-some brekky, smoothies, desserts and lunch. I love that it’s not only a cafe but a manifestation of the conscious living mindset. ?I would have loved to try the smoothie bowls here – there were a lot of good options. I just had a little power ball and a coffee, very yum

Byron Fresh

www.byronfresh.com

Go here with… a crew for a healthy brunch.

I visited this cafe a couple times on this trip and once on the last trip. It’s a nice place to go with a group. I tried to work from here for a bit one day and I’d say it’s more of a social cafe given its proximity to the beach. It’s not as chilled out as the other cafes, but that’s not saying much because this cafe still has some pretty chill vibes. I’ve had some egg-veggie dishes here and a paleo french toast – both were extremely YUM and left you feeling healthy.

Alas…

Two other cafes I was dying to try were Road House Cafe Bar, and Harvest (recommended by World of Wanderlust). So next time I’m there, I’ll be very busy hitting up old favourites and these new ones.

Also nothing beats a beach barbie (they do say barbie) so grab your mates and have one! ?

More Aussie Travels

The Perfect Trip to Byron Bay

On my way up to the famous Cape Byron Lighthouse  On my way up to the famous Cape Byron Lighthouse

Am I cliche for loving Byron Bay? I don’t know. Radiating friendliness and hippie vibes, this town nestled on the Northeast corner of New South Wales is full of barefoot wanderers and every other person is carrying a surfboard. Life revolves around the beach. There’s a seemingly universal emphasis on wellness, with plenty of smoothie-sippers and kombucha brewers hanging in the numerous cafes. Amazing jewellery artists and musicians share their talents on bright graffiti-covered laneways. The fashion and interior design scene is something to drool over (Spell + Hope & May anyone?). Plus, with all the fun locals and backpackers around, there’s a pretty fun but laid-back party scene.

Surfing. Beaches. Chill vibes. Cool design. Amazing live music. Smoothies + organic food galore. Fun parties.… Maybe it’s basic but I’m obsessed with this place.

I spent 3 days in Byron Bay a few months ago, and can confirm that was not enough time. So instead of going somewhere new for the 4-day Easter long weekend, I couldn’t resist returning to Byron to live my truth.

Now I have a great feel for things to do in Byron Bay. These are the highlights of my most recent trip and what I definitely recommend when you visit this magical place!

Hike Up to the Lighthouse

I suppose this is an obvious must! Byron has some great walks. You can do the Coastal walk from the Main Beach, past rock pools and up to the less-crowded Wategos Beach (about an hour leisure walk I think). From there you can continue on to check out the lighthouse. Millie (my travel buddy) and I did the walk in two parts – doing the Main Beach to Wategos one day, and then another day we parked our bikes at the Cape Byron car park and hiked up to the lighthouse (20 min walk each way). The latter of the hikes did include some hills but that was fine. The views were worth it.

Beaches + Surfing

Definitely grab a surfboard while you’re here, even if you’re a beginner! Everyone’s doing it. Or you can watch. Lots of surfing happens on the Main beach, and if you continue south from the Main Beach you’ll end up at the Pass. It’s a bit crowded but a blast.

Image from Common Ground Australia Image from Common Ground Australia Trying to cop a peek at the surfers at the Pass...forgot my swimmers... rookie mistake  Trying to cop a peek at the surfers at the Pass…forgot my swimmers… rookie mistake

One day I went with my friend Harley (who lives up here) out to Suffolk Park, and we hit up the beach there. I think this massive beach is better for more experienced surfers (the waves get pretty nice) but way less crowded if you want to practice in the whitewater. On the day we went it was so choppy and unforgiving and a bit big for me, so I spent most of my time floundering and trying to practice duck-diving and not succeeding. But it’s an amazing beach. Try to check out some beaches outside of town while you’re up here so you can experience how massive and beautiful the NSW coast is. You can have a large part of a world-class beach to yourself! Nuts.

Cafe Crawl

WOW after sampling just some of the amazing cafes in Byron, I am so ~inspired~ to get even more into knowing my ingredients and experimenting with new flavours. And being healthy AF.

I had to work remotely up here one day so I bopped around to a few of the cafes and had some amazing coffee, and even tried naturopathic cacao tea (wut) and it was great. Of course I sampled the acai scene as well. I could rave about a few of the places I visited, so I’ll do a separate post on my 5 favourite cafes in Byron Bay, plus a few other restaurants I’d check out. The food scene here is great.

I think I had the best brownie of my life up here. I had a pumpkin-lentil pie (these are savory pies in Australia), the most perfect beetroot salad…brekky done to perfection… paleo French toast… it’s amazing how great healthy food can taste.

All I can say is come hungry to Byron.

Rent Bikes + Visit the Farm

Speaking of coming hungry to Byron, a must-do is to rent bikes (or drive) and get out to the Farm, an 80-acre community hub, founded by the men behind Three Blue Ducks, one of the most beloved restaurants in Sydney. Here you get to “explore, eat and learn” – I think this blurb from The Weekender describes it well:

The Farm Byron Bay is exactly what it sounds like but with a twist – a fully functional working farm that fosters a community of growers, producers, eateries, educators and more. The property exudes a wonderful community vibe, with groups of children and adults alike wandering the paddocks with a sense of awe. From a growing perspective, the farm is all about sustainability – looking to traditional methods to grow its food, whilst remaining 100% spray and chemical free.

The Farm is simply lovely! Such a chilled-out vibe. The food, drinks and coffee are amazing (there’s gelato too). You can pick up some of your own fruits and veggies, and there’s a plant shop too. We wandered the farm and checked out the Macadamia trees. They have some nut-crackers out there so you can pick up some Macadamia nuts that have fallen from the trees and eat them on the spot. (I tried to rub one Macadamia nut through my hair thinking the Macadamia oil would seep into my hair strands but not sure that’s how it works.)

I geeked out over all the sustainable/local food stuff, with healthy ingredients and this-and-that. Everyone I know who has been to the Farm raves about it, so you should go.

Just Bike Around

Get a bike for at least a day just to discover stuff outside the main strip and beach of Byron. Byron is just a tad spread out but with a bike you can see everything! Of course bike to the Farm, and check out Folk Cafe (my fave) – just on the outskirts of town. You can quickly get to some of the local beaches and find some cool lookouts – I came across the Eric Wright lookout one day (on my way to getting an acai bowl no less) and got a great panoramic view of the hills in the background, all of Byron and the beach!

This place near the beach called Sunshine Electronic Bikes lets you rent their retro electric bikes for the day ($45/day. You pedal a little and then it activates solar electricity to propel you forward. It’s so fun to ride (some lovely boys let us try them ?) and it’s really nice for hills.

Image from Vallkree  Image from Vallkree

Hit up the markets / local shops

In general I’m a huge fan of Australia’s fashion scene, and Byron seems to be the inspiration for a lot of Australia’s prints, vintage looks, festival- and beach-wear. In addition to the awesome jewellery artists on the streets, it’s fun to pop in the vintage shops (there’s a Miss Brown shop up here) and maybe get a special piece (or three… I got excited). Just walking around window shopping is fun – you might not be able to afford most of it unless you’re not a backpacker but it’s great inspiration and cool to take it all in.

Denim jackets might not be for everyone after all Denim jackets might not be for everyone after all Lots of dream catcher inspo here  Lots of dream catcher inspo here Wanted to get this for my dad so bad...if it wasn't $70 Wanted to get this for my dad so bad…if it wasn’t $70 Vintage denim jackets on deck at Miss Brown's Vintage denim jackets on deck at Miss Brown’s

The Bluesfest was awesome because a lot of the popular market stands came to the festival, so you could shop in between sets. I got the moonstone ring I’ve been dreaming of (and for $24 instead of paying $150 for another one in Sydney I’ve been eyeing) and a necklace…and two other rings…and a bikini…and of course a t-shirt from the Bluesfest (inherited my dad’s weakness for a good ‘ol souvenir t-shirt).

Go to the Byron Bay Bluesfest! (or Splendour)

Australia has a talent for putting on legendary festivals, so when in Australia you should try to find one to attend. Millie and I went to the Byron Bay Bluesfest out at the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm for two of the five days, and it was one of the most amazing and unique festivals I’ve ever been to. It was also great to get out of Byron for a couple days and experience something different in this beautiful corner of the world.

The vibes are outrageously friendly – there’s families, friend groups of all ages (from 16 year-olds to 40 year-olds), grandparents with their foldable chairs parked in the back of the music tents, locals, people from all over the world, and Australians coming up for the weekend. Many people have been returning to this festival every year for over twenty years.

As I said there’s markets everywhere which brings some of the amazing Byron market stands right to the festival, so you can poke around between acts. I cleaned up pretty well… Jewellery, a $30 designer bikini and of course a commemorative Bluesfest t-shirt. Very exciting.

Image from Nomad's World Image from Nomad’s World

The aroma in the air was so yum. Food trucks with everything from festival food (elephant ear smell but no elephant ears, that’s not Aussie), to pizza to Mexican to Cajun to the Avocado Hut (hah) to a juice bar. Finding something to eat was always easy (and hard to avoid).

We met a lot of fun people in the beer tents. There’s one near each of the six stages so you’re taken care of. They also have a coffee tent in the middle of the festival that’s open late. I wasn’t the only one getting a soy flat white at 10:30pm.

Me and my friend Harley who lives in Byron!  Me and my friend Harley who lives in Byron! Met a CUBS FAN here!!!  Met a CUBS FAN here!!!

One of the best parts of the festival was discovering new acts, while getting the chance to see some classics and some contemporary favourites. Here were my highlights:

  • Jimmy Buffet – knew he’d be fun but WOW he was so excited to be there and put on a great show
  • The Doobie Brothers – they rocked the house, put on an awesome show. It was so great to get to see them live
  • Trevor Hall – Trevor and his band brought the house down. I thought they’d be a really chill show but it was nuts, and each of the musicians had insane solos
  • Nahko and Medicine for the People – His violinist is incredible. Then Xavier Rudd (a Byron local) and Trevor Hall came out for the finale and it was magical
  • Buddy Guy – he can still shred. I love blues
  • The California Honeydrops – really fun band with brass instruments, a new discovery I’ll be looking up.
  • Bonnie Raitt – she’s still got it! She was a great performer and I hadn’t listened to a ton of her music before but really loved it
  • Little Georgia – a Aussie folk duo. The girl’s voice is absolutely insane. I listened to their Spotify album and was disappointed the girl isn’t actually featured as much on the album as she was live. They need to put her voice out there more, it’s so good.
  • The Lumineers – I am still a Lumineers fangirl. This was my third time seeing them and again they didn’t disappoint. They are awesome live!
  • The Soul Rebels – A New Orleans brass ensemble with a mix of jazz and hip hop and rock. They were so fun to watch. A new discovery!
  • Jake Shimabukuro – my favourite ukulele player in the world. He also guest-starred on many other shows we saw. Inspired to pick the uke back up again

Another big festival up in Byron Bay is Splendour in the Grass, which is held near the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm. That one is more young-people but is raved about by all my Sydney and Byron friends, so if I can I’d like to go to that too 🙂

Camp

It stays decently warm up in Byron year-round, so definitely camp here! There’s tons of parks with everyone from families to couples to backpackers camping. It’s a very camp-friendly town. My favourite cafe was even situated right next to a big campground so everyone could hang there.

Image from Bluesfest Image from Bluesfest

Camping was built into the Bluesfest for us – luckily we were able to borrow a tent and set up a humble home. But some people are like professional Bluesfest-campers. Their setups were amazing, usually building a cool tent and living area off a campervan. We met a lot of other people who were also camping and could hang with them after the festival under the Southern Cross stars. ✨

Go Out in Byron

You’ll meet people from all over the world in Byron, so it’s worth going out. Of course the Bluesfest was a great time but some of my favourite times were hanging with the locals at the Railway Friendly Bar – that has to be my fave Byron pub (it’s my friend Harley’s too and he lives there). This bar has had live music playing here EVERY night for 25 years. And the music has been amazing every time – and people of all ages have a dance and lots of beers and happy times.

Image from Broken Head Holiday Park Image from Broken Head Holiday Park

I also enjoyed going to the Stone & Wood Brewery the last time I was here. Beach Hotel is an amazing pub on the beach, and Northies (The Northern) gets good and sloppy at night.

I hope I make it back here again soon, but if not soon I will again. I’m coming back to do all of the above, and to revisit my favourite friends and cafes and hopefully be better at surfing the waves next time ?

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Check out what I did on the North Island of NZ