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Byron Bay – Australia

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This afternoon I caught a ride with the Oz Experience bus to get from Spot X to Byron Bay (about 2 hours away). Pretty much everyone on the bus fell asleep within minutes of our departure (apparently everyone had a late one the night before) except for the driver (a cool Aussie chic), a Scottish lad named Michael, and myself. We all congregated in the front of the bus, and took turns swapping stories and expanding each others musical horizons via our iPods. The pleasant company made the ride go very quickly and we arrived in Byron around 6:30PM. Our driver was kind enough to supply me with an Oz Experience VIP wrist band, which gave me access to the Oz Experience table at “Cheeky Monkeys” (an infamous bar and restaurant in Byron Bay) , and would prove quite useful in the days to come. I grabbed my bags and made plans to meet up with Michael (my new Scottish friend), and his buddy Steve at Cheeky Monkeys for dinner and beers a bit later that evening. As it turns out, we all ended up at the same hostel (Nomads Byron Bay), and even ended up in the same room that night, which made everything a bit easier.

After dropping our bags and cleaning up a bit, we ventured out for our first taste of the famed Cheeky Monkeys. When we arrived at the bar, the place was pretty much empty, save the table full of people from the Oz Experience. We grabbed a seat with our (their) fellow bus-mates, where we were immediately greeted with free jugs of beer. Apparently the Oz Experience table (in return for showing up early enough for dinner) received from jugs of beer for the table until around 9PM. It was around this time that I noticed I was surrounded by maple leaves, and people decorated in Canadian flags. It was Canada Day! To show support for our little brother to the North, I dawned some sporty Canadian flag sunglasses (which were provided by our waitress). The beer began to flow, and things proceeded to get a bit rowdy. It was around this time that the host announced that they were going to have a contest for a free skydive. The game: “heads or tails.” The premise was simple: Each contestant would place their hands on either their head, or their “tail,” the host would then flip a coin, and if you had guessed incorrectly, you were asked to remove a piece of clothing (or optionally bow out of the competition). As no Canadians volunteered for the game, the host asked if any American (who he referred to as Canada’s big brother) would represent them. Before I really had a chance to think about it, my hand shot up and joined the other contestants on stage. When in Rome.. After a few rounds, I was standing strong, and hadn’t lost a single article of clothing. The poor bastard next to me was down to his boxers, which he then lost, and was forced to ask the audience if someone could lend him their hat so that he could cover his junk and continue on (as a legal matter you were not allowed to get nude below the waist). The game continued; however, my good fortune did not. A few more rounds found me in nothing but my boxers (and some Canadian flag stickers covering my nipples, I thought this a nice touch). I was one of the last three competitors when I finally lost  my boxers (no one would borrow me a hat, not that I blame them), so I was forced to bow out of the competition with my underwear (say nothing for my dignity) intact. When all was said and done a cute (and topless) girl, unsurprisingly was declared the winner. After the competition was over, the host announced that the restaurant was now closed and the club was now open. This meant that it was time for everyone to drink up and start dancing on the tables, this is what Cheeky Monkeys is famous for. As the story goes, the owner (sick of going to bars where dancing on the tables was frowned upon) opened the bar with the specific goal of making dancing on table tops its’ main attraction. He added diamond plate and other reinforcements to the tables, and the legend was born. We danced until late into the evening, then stopped by a local bakery (which was highly recommended by our bus driver, and is open 23 hours a day) sample a “Paris Brest” (also recommended by our driver). As we found out, the Paris Brest has a thing layer of pastry on the bottom, a ridiculously thick layer of custard in the middle, and is topped off with chocolate and a cherry, It was insanely rich, but really good!

The next morning was, needless to say, a bit rough. I wandered around town for a bit and found some breakfast, before returning to the hostel. I was asked to move rooms since there was an error with my reservation (a task that I would need to repeat again before the work was through). Later on, I joined the guys, and a bunch of other people from the hostel, for a game of beach volleyball, and spent the rest of the afternoon lounging at the beach and enjoying the sunshine (this was after all the first time I’d seen sun and warmth in a few weeks). We returned to Cheeky Monkeys for dinner and drinks that evening, though I called it a night much earlier than the night before.

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Sunday morning. I got up early and met up with the Scots to take a tour bus out to Nimban.  Nimban is an old hippie town that was originally founded to host the first jazz festival in New South Wales back in the 60’s. After the festival, the hippies never left, and the town that remains is known for being very “pot friendly” if not “pot pushy.”  It’s one of those places you just have to visit to experience (even if you’re not after any elicit goods, it’s still a fun trip). We started our day with a winding journey through country roads, listening to classic rock and Bob Marley blaring through the stereo (this would continue for the entire trip). 2 hours of driving found us in Nimban. As we soon discovered, the town is not much more than a single street about 2 blocks in length, littered with shops selling hemp goods of all kinds, a “hemp museum,” (which displays a history of the marijuana movement in the states, as well as that of the town), and various cafes and coffee shops. While walking down the street, you are often approached by various characters selling “cookies” and “weed.” Before departing our bus, the driver gave a lengthy speech warning about the strength and effects of these cookies, and shared some stories of past passengers who did not head his warning. One such story included a 21 year old Israeli who was ex-military (aka a hard ass). He consumed three cookies (the recommendation is no more than one half) and ended up spending the four hour return trip at the front of the bus crying his eyes out because he was convinced that the rest of the passengers were Pakistani and were going to kill him. Needless to say most people proceeded with caution. We spent an hour (more than enough time) walking around town and grabbing a bit of lunch, then returned to the bus for our return trip. We stopped for a picnic on the way back, and with 2 hours having past, it started to become quite apparent who had indulged in Nimban, and who had not. After our picnic we took a short walk to a nearby waterfall, then all piled back onto the bus for another 2 hours of rock and reggae. Upon returning to town, we all decided that a night off from Cheeky Monkeys was probably a good idea, so we opted to head to the Cinema and check out Transformers 3. One of the Scottish lads slept through the entire movie (you can probably guess why)…

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Having celebrated Canada Day a few days before, it was now time to celebrate a “real” holiday (I kid): The 4th of July! I rallied the troops and spent the entire day hanging out at the beach. In the evening we went to Cheeky Monkeys, where they had Jim Beam on special in honor of us whiskey chugging Americans. Needless to say it was a good night.

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Over the course of the next few days, I spent a bit more time exploring Byron Bay. I walked along the beach, and through the parks and coastal forests to visit the Lighthouse. I watched the surfers riding huge waves off of what can only be described as one of the most perfect surf spots I have ever seen. I visited various restaurants and cafe’s, and generally just kicked back and took it all in. Along the way, I met Dean: a fellow American, who (as luck would have it) was also traveling to Cairns on the same flight as I was.  After a full week in Byron Bay, I made my way to the airport (joined by my new friend) and caught my flight North to Carins, where I would soon learn to breathe underwater.

Spot X Surf Camp – Australia


What a morning! After having a rather anxious dream about missing a flight, I woke up startled. It was 6:10AM and I had 5 minutes to pack my bag, check out of my hostel, and run 6 blocks to the neighboring hostel where I was scheduled to meet up with the Mojorsurf team and begin my surf adventure. I flipped on the light (which my dorm-mates thankfully were very understanding about), and, not having enough time to think about things such as dignity, proceeded to strip down and give them quite an eyeful while trying to manage to get my pants on (still half awake and quite unbalanced). After successfully managing to clothe myself, I forced all of my belongings (“all” being a hopeful term) into my pack, grabbed my food bags out of the kitchen, and pausing only momentarily to drop my key at the front desk, took off in a full sprint down the street and through central station, arriving at Wake Up Sydney to the beautiful site of the Mojosurf bus!

I was immediately greeted by Nat: a scruffy guy with shaggy, dirty-blonde hair, and a very warm personality. Nat is the founder of Mojosurf, and would also be our bus driver for most of the day. After everyone was on-board, we fired up the bus, cranked some Bob Marley, and began our trip up the coast from Sydney up Spot X. About an hour into our trip, we made a quick breakfast stop, and upon returning to the road, watched “Endless Summer 2” to set the mood for the week to come. Upon arriving at Spot X, we threw our bags in the common room, and immediately grabbed some boards and headed out to the surf. The wind was cold, the water was warm, and the sun was shining, overall a good day to surf! The waves were quite small, but it was actually kind of perfect for a bunch of beginners. We spent the next two hours trying our best to catch some waves, most often failing miserably. The few waves that we did catch though were enough to keep us pumped up and pushing forward, a truly exhilarating feeling! After surfing, we returned to camp, cold, hungry, and generally exhausted. After dinner and a few beers with new friends (and failing to get a fire going), we called it a night.

Our second day greeted us with clouds, rain, wind, and generally anything that would make one feel cold when wet. We got up at 8 for breakfast, and were in our wetties and on the beach by 9. After a quick warm up, we plunged into the surf to take our second try and surfing. I had pinched a nerve in my back on day one, so I found it a bit frustrating (see also painful) trying to get up on my board. Each time I’d try to jump up, my back would pinch, my legs would go limp, and I would fall off the board. This didn’t exactly encourage the learning process, but I did my best to push through. By the time we finished our morning session we were all freezing and exhausted. We returned to camp, grabbed a quick shower, then collapsed and slept for the next hour until lunch. Lunch was good, but didn’t seem to quite give us the energy boost we had hoped for (the thought of putting on a cold wetsuit and going back out to freeze again didn’t exactly provide much inspiration either). Regardless of how we felt, we pushed through it and jumped back into the water. After another 2 hours my back was really starting to bug me, but I was doing the best I could to enjoy the experience. The afternoon brought a much needed yoga class (instructed by the Yoga for Surfers DVD), which I hoped would also help to sort out my back. During the evening, we ate dinner, had a few beers, then watched a rather intense limbo competition (which I gracefully sat out). I decided to head to bed early and rest up for the next day of surfing.

Day 3: After a good nights rest, I was still quite exhausted, but ready to get back out in the water. Breakfast, wetsuits, surf. The waves were quite choppy this morning, and we were getting pounded by the surf. Despite this fact, the morning was a lot of fun! The sun even made a few (much needed) appearances! We finished our sessions with a fun group swim, diving through waves, attempting front flips into the surf, and watching in amazement as Rob (aka Handsome Rob, our instructor) somehow swam in the waves as if he was part dolphin..

Day 4:
– 9AM session, another cold, cloudy morning, with pretty huge swells. Once again, got my ass seriously handed to me by the waves. It was more an exercise in paddling, and managing to get out past the waves, than it was in surfing. I basically spent the better part of two hours getting smashed by wave after wave and just trying to stay afloat. That being said, it was good fun, and I am getting more comfortable sitting on my board. 
– Afternoon session: Still tired from the morning, and struggling to drag myself out in the cold (see also rain, see also wind, see also huge, choppy waves) we once again jumped in and hoped for the best. Fista (my instructor) took me “out the back” past the break to help me find a few good waves to try and ride.  I once again found myself getting tossed around like a ragdoll in the wild surf. I got sucked under a few times and properly thrown through the wash, finding myself disoriented from having so much water forced up my nose and into my ears. At the end of the day I managed to catch one huge wave, and rode it all the way in, feeling quite comfortable on my board once I managed to find my footing. This single wave made the hours of getting beaten down by the ocean worth it. I felt the high, the zen of surfing for the first time, and I loved it!

Day 5: My right ear is properly fucked from yesterdays beating, so I’ve opted to sit out the last session this morning. I’ve been up most of the night with a stabbing pain in my ears and really don’t want to push it any more at this point. It’s been a good week at Spot X, an experience I will truly cherish in years to come. This afternoon I catch the bus up to Byron bay where I plan to spend the next week kicking back (and praying for some sunshine and warm weather).


After 2 days of waiting on mother nature to issue my pardon and allow flights to continue, I have finally found myself in Melbourne! I was feeling a bit down tonight when I finally landed, and after a lengthy shuttle trip to my hostel, I resolved to pick myself up and venture out into the city. After a brief conversation with the hostel staff, I decided to check out the Brunswick neighborhood. With my coat and scarf wrapped around me as tightly as I could manage, I headed out into the cold, dark night. After about 3/4 of a mile I started seeing a variety of shops (all of which were closed), restaurants, and a large number of cafes. Brunswick had an immediately obvious “hip” vibe to it, and, as I would later discover, was the “hipster” area of town. I continued my trek, pausing occasionally to peer through a shop window, or admire some graffiti, until finally arriving at my destination: Bimbo Deluxe Pizza. Bimbo’s multiple stories are littered with couches, coffee tables, and chairs, and felt more of an old victorian home than a bar and restaurant: I loved it! I ordered a pizza (on special for $4) and a beer (not on special for $8), and began chatting up a guy who was placing his order beside me. After conversing for a few minutes, I had found that Chris (my new bar buddy) had just taken his final exam for paramedics school and was out celebrating with his classmates. He invited me to join them, and we spent the next hour or so chatting and enjoying a few beers. After we had finished our beers, one of the girls in the group (known as “Russia” due to the fact that she was from Russia) exclaimed “I want to go get a lap dance then go home and go to bed. Let’s go to the strip club!” First night off to a good start. We all jumped in the car and headed downtown to her favorite club, stopping at the ATM along the way so she could get some cash to pay for her pleasure. Chris and I decided that we didn’t really want to pay the $20 cover at the club, so he suggested we instead head to the Crown Casino on the harbor which boasts $4.50 drinks. At this point I was just sort of following the evening wherever it took me, so I agreed to join him. The casino was quite nice, and reminded a lot of vegas. I had one last drink with Chris, and after watching him drop $300 into a slot machine in the course of 30 minutes, decided to call it a night. Upon returning to my room, I was greeted by my new roomates Ariel and Danielle, both of whom are from LA. If this wasn’t coincidence enough, Ariel’s family is from Minnesota, and the lady (who’s name I didn’t catch) sleeping on the bunk above me was also from Minnesota. It continues to amaze me just how small the world is.

Day 2. Joined by my new friends from LA, I set out to explore the CBD (central business district): the heart of the city. We hopped on the free public tram (which runs a loop around the entire CBD) and made our first stop at the Victoria Market. The market is comprised of a large number of booths, selling everything from clothing, to souvenirs, to produce, and basically resembles a huge flea market. After a bit of poking around the maze of booths (basically all selling the same things), we jumped back on the tram and headed to South Melbourne to check out Eureka Tower. The tower is the highest viewpoint in Melbourne and provides 360 degree views of the entire city. Needless to say, the views were spectacular, and really helped to give an understanding of how the city and surrounding areas were layed out. Once we’d had our fill of the views, we set out to explore a bit more of the city. Melbourne CBD reminds me a bit of the best parts of New York City and San Francisco all rolled into one, without any of the grunge or seedy bits. The streets are connected by small alleyways, which are littered with cafes and graffiti. This was one of my favorite things about Melbourne: no matter how much you explored, there always seemed to be a new alleyway, cafe, or bar you had yet to discover. The other thing I noticed about the city is just how fashionable all its’ inhabitants are. It was almost a bit strange; almost every person you passed was dressed quite chic, and they all seemed to have the same general sense of style. It was almost as if everyone had gotten together and said “ok, this is how we’re going to dress,” and everyone just agreed. That being said, I feel quite at home here. In fact, this is possibly the first city I’ve found thus far on my trip that I could see myself living in.

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After spending most of the afternoon exploring the city, the girls and I parted ways for a bit and planned to meet up a bit later for dinner. I continued wandering aimlessly and eventually found myself in a rather unique shopping mall. The building had a huge, cone-shaped, glass roof, and in the center of the interior stood a large brick building. Apparently this building was once used to create lead shot for firearms and was maintained for historical purposes (it now houses a number of chain clothing stores). I met the girls back at the hostel around 7 and, on the advice of the hostel staff, we made our way to a restaurant in Chinatown called “Mr. Dumpling House” for dinner. The line was already quite long by the time we arrived, but we resolved to wait it out, assuming that given the sizable crowd it must be worth the wait. The wait  turned out to be a bit more frustrating than any of us anticipated. The problem was that there were only 3 people in our party, and many of the tables in the restaurant sat 6 or more. Rather than breaking up the tables and seating us (along with the other party of 3 ahead of us), the hostess decided to instead seat 8 larger parties ahead of us, while we sat idly by and watched. After a little over an hour we finally got seated. We were all quite hungry at this point and placed our order straight away: 3 plates of dumplings, and one order of spring rolls (bringing the total number of dishes to 4 for those of you following along). The waitress returned about 10 minutes later with our first plate of dumplings which we excitedly consumed within a few minutes. We then sat and watched as she brought tray after tray to all the surrounding tables, yet the remainder of our order never came. After almost an hour had passed, the waitress approached me and asked if we had received the rest of our order. I told her we had not, and again repeated the items that were still missing. Another 10 minutes went by, and she again returned to ask whether we had received the missing dishes. I, once again, informed her that we had not. Another 15 minutes and the dishes finally arrived! Now full, and rather content despite the horrible service, we prepared to leave. It was at this point that the manager approached me and began asking about how many dishes we had received. I repeated multiple times that we had received exactly what we had ordered and expressed my unhappiness with the wait, but he was somehow unsatisfied with the situation. As it turned out, he thought that we had received the dishes more than once and were trying to scam them. He asked me to join him downstairs, then requested that I sit and review a security tape with him to determine whether or not we had received the dishes more than once. After 10 minutes of watching him fast forward and rewind the security tape, he simply said “ok, that’s fine.” Obviously I was less than happy with this, but at that point I just wanted to leave and continue with my night. After waiting for our bill (which did not arrive), we went downstairs to the manager, who quickly printed it out for us (in the full amount, no discounts, no apologies). We paid and left. On a side note, the dumplings were amazing, and quite cheap, and despite all the bullshit we had to put up with I would still recommend this place. Next up was a stop at The Croft Institute, a small, hard to find, cocktail lounge not far from the dumpling house (I had done a bit of research and supposedly this place was supposed to have the best craft cocktails in Melbourne). Wandering through a few dark, graffiti-covered alleyways we found ourselves at a dead-end, the only thing in sight was a small, illuminated sign reading “The Croft Institute.” This was the place! After battling through the crowd, and having a good conversation with the bartender (a 20 year old guy named Chris who plans on heading to SD after he turns 21), I ordered a drink called “The Mad Professor,” and the girls ordered something with absence which was served in a rocks glass with a syringe in it (minus the needle). The drinks were quite good, but the place was packed, and at $20 per drink, we decided to head on to our next stop: “Section 8.” Section 8 is an outdoor bar (down yet another alley) surrounded by a wire fence, with a few tables, and a bar. It was great! We hung out there for a while, enjoying another tasty beverage, then decided to call it a night.


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Day 3. The girls took off for Tasmania today, and I spent the entire day wandering around the city. Melbourne CBD is a very lively place to hang out. Street performers and musicians fill the sidewalks, and there people everywhere. I found a Scotch & Soda store (one of my favorite brands) and snagged myself a fancy new shirt (I’ve been feeling like a bit of slob wearing nothing but t-shirts and the same fleece day after day). After spending the entire day walking, I made dinner with one of my new dorm mates, then decided to head to bed.

Day 4. My friend Nikesh has been sending me all of these “friend suggestions” on facebook, and I finally worked out that he was trying to connect me with friends of his who live in Melbourne. I sent them each messages, and managed to connect with Dyxie, who invited me to join her and a friend in Port Melbourne for brunch. I gratefully accepted, and hopped on the train to meet them. We enjoyed a nice breakfast, then they showed me around the area a bit. Afterwards, I walked from Port Melbourne to St. Kilda where I caught the train back downtown and returned to my hostel.

Day 5. I woke up long before the sun, walking a half-mile to a neighboring hostel to catch a bus that would take me on a tour of the great ocean road, and the twelve apostles. The day was long, the weather was cold, and the sites were beautiful. To be perfectly honest though, after living on the west coast for nearly 8 years, the site of the Australian coastline wasn’t as stunning as it might otherwise be. After 12 hours tooling about on the bus, I found myself back at the hostel, and made it another early night.


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Day 6. My last day in Melbourne. In the morning I went on a tour of the old Gaol (aka Jail), and learned about the history of Australia’s most famous criminals. I then killed a few hours bumming around the park, watching a movie, and hanging with a few friends from the hostel. I wrapped up the day by finishing up some laundry, and joining some friends from the great ocean road tour for dinner and the Little Creatures Dining Hall. After returning to the hostel, I found that the morning flights (including mine) had been canceled due to the same ash cloud that had me stuck in Christchurch (it strikes again!). I re-booked my shuttle to the airport, and have decided to just head to the airport tomorrow afternoon and hope for the best…

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The Quick and Dirty on Cellphones Abroad

While traveling outside of the U.S. you will most likely find that having a cellphone can be quite helpful. Personally, I didn’t need any fancy bells and whistles, I just needed a very simple phone that would allow me to keep in touch with people I met on the road, call hostels and tour companies, and send/receive the occasional text. Unlike the U.S., most (if not all) other countries use cell phones that accept SIM cards, and from what I can tell, these phones are all also “unlocked.” What this means is that you can buy a phone in NZ, pop in a SIM card from and NZ company which will give you and NZ phone number, then when you move on to a new country, you simply get a new SIM card which gives you a new number. This way, you can take your phone from country to country, and you simply have to pay a small fee for a new SIM card.

In New Zealand (where I obtained my phone) there are three major providers to choose from: 2 degrees, vodoafone, and telecomm. All three of these companies offer phones, and various types of service. I ended up choosing Vodafone since they offered what they call an “add-on” package which allowed me to pay a flat amount of $35 for 100 minutes. The minutes allowed me to call any phone in NZ without having to worry about per minute usage fees which was nice. To me, this seemed to be the best option.

That’s really all there is to it. If you want to take care of this before you leave, you can pickup a cheap phone online (ebay). You just have to make sure it is globally unlocked, and accepts a SIM card. Nokia makes a great phone and will most often meet both these requirements.

The Final Departure

The final days before my departure can best be described as being a bit like watching my own funeral. My closest friends gathered to wish me farewell, sharing kind words and warm smiles, all carrying a very noticeable weight of sadness. While it warmed my heart to know that I have people in my life who care enough to be saddened by my departure, it also made leaving much harder than I could have anticipated. Nevertheless, I made it through. After choking through a few tearful goodbyes (and one last much needed drink at Craft and Commerce), Zac dropped me at Terminal 1 of the San Diego Airport. My adventure had officially begun.

I made my way through a surprisingly empty corridor, and placed my bag on the scale at the ticket counter. 25.5 pounds, not too bad. After reviewing my ticket, the ticket agent explained that I was in the wrong terminal, and that I would need to catch a shuttle bus to the commuter terminal to catch my flight to Los Angeles. Ignoring the fact that no where on any of my ticketing information was there any hint of the fact that I needed to go to the commuter terminal (it instead plainly listed “United” as the only indicator of where I should go), I followed her instructions and hopped on the next shuttle. Upon arriving at the commuter terminal I was again pleasantly surprised to find an empty terminal, and was promptly greeted by a few very friendly and almost overly-helpful gate agents. With my bag officially checked, I breezed through security and boarded my flight to L.A.

The flight to Los Angeles was short and bumpy. I have never flown on such a small aircraft before, and had to duck quite a bit to avoid hitting my head on the ceiling. Despite the tiny stature of the plane, we landed safely about 30 minutes after take off (this sure beat the hell out of battling L.A. traffic). After another brief shuttle ride, and second short security line I now find myself at Terminal 2 of the Los Angeles International Airport, listening to “In the Air Tonight” playing quietly over the speakers of a wonderfully average diner. Just over 2 hours til my 9 hour flight to Raratonga, and I’m trying desperately to fill the time to avoid allowing myself to think too much…

The Countdown

As my last days in San Diego quickly slip away, I am finding myself feeling surprisingly ambivalent to the changes that are about to, and have already occurred in my life. I suppose this lack of feeling could be due to the major, and rather unexpected, changes and opportunities which have presented themselves over the past few months. Instead of spending my final days tying up loose ends, and preparing myself to sell off my worldly possessions and uproot my life, I instead found myself traveling to Las Vegas, Brazil, and Yosemite, all the while growing closer to a certain someone who has managed to take an even deeper hold in my heart. So much for a leisurely exit from a city that, beyond my friends, held very few ties. It really is funny (see also annoying), how people have a way of entering your life at the most inopportune of moments. I have a feeling that once I plant my ass on that plane, with all tasks completed, I will finally start to analyze/realize/feel all the things that I have simply not had the time to ponder.  I digress..

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