The Day I’ve Been Waiting For

It’s amazing how quickly the utter exhaustion I felt after a 20 hour bus ride from Louisiana, through Arkansas, and into Oklahoma (followed by a one hour wait for a taxi and a two hour wait for my hotel room) dissipated once I attended the storm chasing tour meeting that brought me to Oklahoma.

This is the day I’ve been waiting for since I first booked the tour, over a year ago. But it’s a day I’ve been dreaming about for many, many years. Ever since I was eight years old and I bought a book about storms from the school book club, I have been fascinated by wild weather.

Understandably, not many people back home have understood the appeal of chasing storms in Tornado Alley, so it was nice to meet my tour group and find there are like-minded storm enthusiasts out there in the world, who are as mad as I am!

We were asked about what we are most excited for during our week long tour chasing storms across the great plains of America. My answer? Everything. I’m looking forward to learning more about the science behind weather forecasting. I’m excited to drive through the open plains and view those vast landscapes. I can’t wait to take photos of stunning storm-filled skies.

Of course, it would be absolutely awesome to see a tornado. But I know I’ll be more than happy just to witness the incredible supercell thunderstorms that produce them. We just don’t get cloud action like that in Perth.

So without further ado, I’m signing off. It’s time to go storm chasing, baby!!!

The 30 Hour May Day

I’m sitting in the transfer lounge at Hong Kong International Airport. I’ve had an 18 hour day, and it’s far from being over. I still have a couple of hours to wait until my third and final flight of the day takes to the skies. And since I’m bound for San Francisco, it means I’ll be adding another twelve hours and forty-five minutes to my ‘long’ day. Not to mention what awaits when I finally arrive in the U.S- immigration, customs, transfers, hotel check-in. But after all that will come the moment when I’ll enter my room and see a bed where I can stretch my legs and sleep like a baby for many blissful hours. I can already imagine what a glorious moment it will be.


Leading up to my trip, I had this vision in my mind that I’d be completely organised well in advance, leaving me free to enjoy my final weekend in Perth for a while. Although I’ve become a lot more efficient with the preparation and packing process before a holiday, my intentions didn’t go quite according to plan!

Real life always ends up being busier than expected, so I can’t say I’m overly surprised that my weekend didn’t end up being as leisurely as I’d dreamed. (That Raffaelo milkshake I was looking forward to in my last post? Yeah, it didn’t happen.) Instead, I was wired on adrenaline and, on Sunday, micro-managing my time to a level I didn’t even think I was capable of.

Packing wasn’t a hard task in itself, but it was the little things I needed to get done before I could start packing that tested my patience. One trip to the shops to get some final supplies turned into four trips. My printer at home decided to malfunction just as I was set to print out my itineraries (which added a fifth trip to the shops). There was a heart-stopping moment when I thought I’d bought bus tickets to Los Angeles instead of Las Vegas.

With all the time wasted sorting out these unexpected dilemmas, I was not expecting to get much sleep at all, but in the end I managed to get five hours before my alarm went off at 3.45am. Getting this much sleep before an early morning flight is pretty much a miracle in my books, and I was glad for every minute of it.


Flight 1- Perth to Singapore
After a breezy check-in with a friendly member of ground staff and a short wait at the gates, my first flight of the day departed just after 6.30am. All my flights are with Singapore Airlines, who I haven’t flown with since my trip to Barcelona in July 2013. I thought about all the travelling I’ve done since then, and realised that age is catching up with me because I was not as quick as I used to be at recalling my past adventures. I’ll always have fond memories of Singapore Airlines, though, as they were the first airlines I ever flew, way back when I visited my family in Poland for the first time, at the age of 11. Oh, how I’ve evolved as a traveller since then!

The actual flight was great. It felt so luxurious flying on a ‘big’ carrier again, since my last trip on a non-budget airline was back in 2015, when I flew Qatar Airways to Iceland. How nice to have a meal provided. Entertainment! A blanket! A pillow! I had a window seat and that, combined with the cosy blanket and pillow, made conditions about as perfect as they’re going to get for sleeping in economy class. After finishing some scrambled eggs for breakfast, I slept for about three hours, and the five hour flight flew by.

Flight 2- Singapore to Hong Kong
After a three and a half hour stopver at Changi International Airport, where I emerged off the plane directly in front of my next gate, it was time for my three and a half hour flight to Hong Kong. This flight also flew by- and I haven’t even watched any movies yet to pass the time. Despite how long the journey is, the timing of the flights is perfect, as I’m travelling ‘with’ the day.

There were some towering cloud formations at the start of the flight, and at the end, there was a ruby red sunset. The orb of the sinking sun looked tiny in comparison to the wingspan of the plane and for a while, it seemed to be suspended in a cloud. I almost expected to see the bottom half re-emerge as we descended. It was strange to see a sunset that, in the end, disappeared into the sky, almost as if it had been swallowed by the clouds, as opposed to sinking below the horizon at the beach.


Flight 3- Hong Kong to San Francisco
My stopover in Hong Kong lasted four and a half hours. The last time I transited here was in April 2013, where I only had a three hour onward flight to Japan. If only it was such a short onward flight this time, too! However, I was pleasantly surprised when I boarded the plane and the captain announced the flight to San Fran would take an hour less than what was stated on my itinerary. Woohoo!

As we left the glittering lights of the Hong Kong skyline behind, I tried to calculate how long May the 1st would end up being for me. Trying to keep up with time zones is difficult at the best of times, but it was utterly confusing in my sleep deprived state, so after a hearty dinner (or should I say midnight snack) of chicken and fried egg noodles (where my exhausted brain also struggled to process why there was a mirror on the fold-out tray), I gave up and went to sleep. In the end, I managed to sleep for eight hours, which meant that this long flight did not turn out to be as tiring as I thought it would be.

At some point during my slumber, I travelled back in time. It was about 12.40am on May 2nd when I settled down to snooze, and I awoke at 2.20pm on May 1st, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean and north-east of Honolulu. Of course, I’d already experienced 2.20pm on May 1st- in Singapore. Just as I was trying to wrap my head around the loophole that, technically, I had been in two places at once, the flight crew wished us a ‘good morning’. True, it was morning in Hong Kong, but it was amusing to think that in three hours, they’d be wishing us a good evening. The novelty of crossing time zones will never fail to amuse me, even though I think it’s best not to overthink them!


And now, I’m finally in America!!! I’ve travelled over 17,000km to get here, and I’m still not quite sure how long my May the 1st ended up being. I have some impressions still left to share, but I’m well and truly spent now, and it’s time for this weary traveller to go to sleep.

It’s Adventure Time!


I can hardly believe that in about three hours, I’ll be on a plane bound for Adelaide, considering that I still have to finish work, drive home, get changed, and be dropped off at the airport. Life has been so busy recently that I can’t wait to just sit down on the plane and breathe.

My friend and I are off to hike the Wilderness Trail on Kangaroo Island. We’ll stay the night in Adelaide tonight, and then fly over to Kangaroo Island tomorrow morning to commence the five day walk. The weather is looking lovely, which will be perfect for appreciating the scenic views that the island is famous for. By Wednesday, we’ll have (hopefully!) completed the 61km trail. We have an additional night on the island to relax, before heading home to Perth on Thursday.

I finished packing my backpack last night, and was amazed that I managed to squeeze in my sleeping bag and tent. Despite hiking for six weeks straight on the Bibbulmun Track last year, I have a feeling the weight of the pack is going to come as a complete shock. It never feels too bad when you first put it on, but after a couple of hills, a few kilometres, and several hours of walking, that sentiment definitely changes!

Nevertheless, I can’t wait to be out on a trail again. I love the simplicity of hiking life, and ever since I got back from Sri Lanka, I’ve been in a bit of a funk. For the first half of March, I felt that I wasn’t being productive enough with my time, while for the second half, life has been so hectic that I’ve felt like an idiot for ever complaining about having too much time on my hands, as I’ve often wished I could grab my hands on a Time-Turner from Harry Potter.

Today also marks exactly one month until I start my storm chasing tour in America. Now that I think about it, I reckon the next few months are going to be crazy busy- so I better relish this hike!

Ahungalla to Colombo

The sixth and final day of my group tour started off with a guided meditation session at a local Buddhist temple. As I’d enjoyed a few drinks with a couple of the girls into the wee hours of the morning (and by a few drinks, I mean we finished off a bottle of wine and then a bottle of vodka with various mixers from the minibar), I could very well have stayed in bed when my alarm went off after four hours of sleep. In my sleep deprived state, I feared I would nod off during the session, and interrupt everyone’s focused breathing with undignified snores and possibly a puddle of drool.

That said, I didn’t feel hungover, and I didn’t want to miss out on the meditation session, optional as it was, so I got ready and went down to the breakfast hall. Everyone else who was attending had already finished eating, so I had about two minutes to scoff a couple of pastries and down a glass of juice, before running to the bus with a croissant in hand. I made it just in the nick of time!

It only took a few minutes to reach the temple, and as it turned out, one of the girls had been left behind, so while the bus went back to retrieve her, we were given a personal viewing of the different rooms inside the temple. It did not seem like the sort of temple that was usually open to tourists, which made for a more intimate and insightful experience than some of the crowded temples we’d visited in preceding days. I really enjoyed how quiet and peaceful the surrounds were, and though the temple was small, it was very beautiful.


Eventually, we were led into a room with several cushions laid out for us on the floor. I settled into my spot up the front, and was fascinated by the translation process between our tour guide and the Buddhist monk, who explained to us in great detail what the process of meditation was all about, before instructing us how to breathe and chant.


Unfortunately, I can’t say I mastered the meditation process- not that I was expecting to, after one session. It didn’t take long for me to be distracted by the noises in the environment- chirping birds, pounding hammers, vibrating mobiles, barking dogs, whirring fans. Instead of letting go of my thoughts, a running commentary relating to these sounds started up inside my head. It actually reminded me of times in the classroom, where I’d tell my students they were to work silently for a period of time. For the first few minutes, they would indeed be quieter than mice, but then someone would drop a pencil, or move their chair, or whisper to their partner, and gradually, noise would fill the air once more. At one point, I even felt like a little kid myself when I opened my eyes to survey the room, before quickly closing them again in case the monk were to catch me out.

Although I doubt I’ll ever reach a stage of enlightenment myself, I admire those who are able to dedicate themselves to the meditation process, and practice it daily in this busy, hyped-up world we live in. The Buddhist monk mentioned that meditation should bring us closer to nature, which made me think about hiking. This is how I like to get in touch with the natural world, how I disconnect from the complexities of everyday life, how I live in the moment and appreciate simplicity. I realised that perhaps meditation can come in different guises, and for me, hiking is it.

If one can’t find peace, happiness and bliss through meditation, then it can surely be experienced by patting a playful puppy, which is what we did after we descended back into the courtyard once our session had concluded and found this adorable furbaby bounding around. The pup brought a smile to everyone’s face and was the perfect end to our visit.


Back at our beachside hotel, we had an hour and a half until checkout, and then another two and a half hours before the bus would leave for Colombo. Only six of us (out of 15) were planning to take the final bus ride, including me. Some of the group wanted to spend the whole afternoon in Ahungalla and decided to catch a minivan back to Colombo at night, while others were going to spend additional nights at the hotel, or surrounding beach hotels. It meant that when 2.30pm rolled around, it was time to say goodbye to all the people we’d created memories with over the last week. There was a final group photo before the bus, looking far emptier than usual, departed on the three hour journey to Sri Lanka’s capital city.

For the most part, the road followed the coastline, and we were treated to a sparkling view of the Indian Ocean, with the afternoon sunlight striking the water to create an illusion of a thousand glittering jewels dancing on the surface of the sea. There was no denying we were headed into a big city, as the traffic steadily began to increase, and for the first time, I noticed speed limit signs and traffic lights. Not that road rules seemed to count for much. The bus came to a sudden jarring stop many times, and not for the first time in my travels around Asia, I wondered about the wear and tear of brake pads. Surely, they need to be replaced far more frequently.

As we neared the CBD, buildings and billboards seemed to spring up all around us. The message on one billboard made me smile- if you never chase your dreams, you’ll never catch them. I typed the quote into the memo list on my phone. Another billboard made me turn my head so sharply that I almost gave myself whiplash. At first, I wondered if I was seeing things but no, there was a billboard advertising ECU, the university I’d attended in Perth. There were many other adverts which caught my eye- a brand of fruit juices labelled SMAK, which is coincidentally the Polish word for taste; a stage play called Bogan, which made me wonder if any Aussies were part of the cast; and illustrated signs for ‘super fresh chikan’. The misspelling of ‘chicken’ made me doubt, somewhat, just how ‘super fresh’ the poultry would be.

On some streets, there were temples, mosques, and churches all within a stone’s throw of each other, and everyone seemed to be peacefully co-existing with one another. I observed as one man stood in the middle of a footpath with his head bowed before a large, domed statue of the Virgin Mary, and wondered what he may be praying about. We passed a row of high-rise beach hotels that would not have looked out of place on the Gold Coast, before leaving the ocean behind for the inner city CBD. Here, the skyline denoted a level of wealth that seemed at odds with the infrastructure I’d seen elsewhere in the country. Another turn led us down a street of old, colonial style buildings, where I noticed a tourist standing on a corner trying to take photos and fend off a tuk-tuk driver at the same time. There were police officers directing traffic now, with some signalling from horses in order to be seen.

Our bus ride ended with a bang- literally- when, only two minutes from our hotel, a small, red car crashed into our bus. It was not a serious accident, in fact, our bus driver was not immediately aware of the incident, but although we’d barely felt the impact, there was an ugly red mark along the left side of the bus, as well as some small dents. The red car had fared much worse- its front bumper was pretty much hanging off. Once the driver became aware of what had happened, he slowed the bus, which led to us being subjected to many furious prolonged beeps, as we were in the middle of a busy bus lane and it was no easy task to find a space to pull over. The driver was understandably upset, and we all felt mighty sorry for him, as he had done such an excellent job of driving us safely around for the past week, only for this to happen in the final moments of the tour. Our tour guide explained that despite the minor damage, the bus would have to be taken in for repairs and it would cost a lot of money. We hoped it wouldn’t reflect badly on our driver. As he exchanged details with the driver of the red car, who had been at fault, our tour guide decided we might as well walk to our hotel, and led us through the crowded street to the Zmax Fairway, our hotel for the night.

One minute, we were in the throng of peak hour and the next, we had walked down an alley which could’ve belonged to a Harry Potter movie because, as if by some magic spell, it seemed to have hidden away all the hustle and bustle of the city. One could be forgiven for thinking they’d suddenly stepped into Europe, but overall it felt odd, because you were acutely aware that only a hundred metres away, the chaos of Colombo ruled supreme.

With the unfortunate ending to our bus ride, I never got the chance to thank our driver, and, after recommending a restaurant for dinner in the Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct, I never saw my tour guide again, and didn’t get a chance to properly thank him for all his hard work either. And so my Sri Lanka Express tour ended, in a rather disjointed way. The threads of fate which had brought us all together were now unwinding in order to set us all back on our separate paths once more. The group part of my trip was now over. The solo chapter of my adventures around Sri Lanka was about to begin.


Galle to Ahungalla

After a few days of nature based experiences, we bid farewell to the Udawalawe region on Day 5, and headed off in the direction of Sri Lanka’s famed southern coastline. Our first stop for the day was Galle, a coastal city renown for its Dutch colonial architecture. We had an hour and a half to explore the city, which was obviously nowhere near long enough to fully experience the rich history of the area, but it was just enough time to walk around the Fort and take photos of the old streets and buildings, as well as the beautiful Indian Ocean which surrounds three sides of the city.


Galle played an important role in the ancient trading routes between the east and west, and the Fort, which is such a key feature of the appearance of the city today, was first built by the Portuguese in 1588. However, from 1649 onwards, it was the Dutch who set about on an extensive fortification of the city. Today it is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by Europeans, as well as being recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


There are a number of additional interesting architectural features around the city, aside from the impressive fort structure. These include the clock tower, constructed in 1883; the Dutch Reformed Church, a Protestant church constructed in 1755; All Saints Church, an Anglican church constructed in 1868; and the lighthouse, which stands 26.5m tall at the southern end of the city. It was constructed in 1939 after a fire destroyed the original structure which the British had built in 1848.


After Galle, we made a brief pit stop in the popular beach town of Hikkaduwa, as it is where we were originally meant to stay. There were many water activities available, but we only had time for a short stroll along the beach. It is one of the coastal areas that was badly affected by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, in which over 30,000 Sri Lankan people died.


There were certainly no complaints about the change to a new beachside destination when we drove down the long paved entrance to Heritance Ahungalla, and realised this luxury five star hotel was our accommodation for the night. Everyone’s jaws dropped when we walked into the hotel lobby and saw the view below.


Once we’d checked in, most of the group headed straight down to the beach, which was much less crowded than in Hikkaduwa. I, however, had got sunburnt in Galle, and wanted to avoid the sun for the rest of the afternoon. Instead, I started planning for my solo week of travelling around Sri Lanka. I did make it down to the beach for a stunning sunset, though. There’s no denying life is good when you’re treated to this sort of beauty.


Kataragama and Yala

Day 4 of my tour began with a two hour drive to Kataragama, which is a holy town sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and the indigenous Vedda people of Sri Lanka, as well as being one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the country. We spent an hour and a half walking around the temple complex and observing the religious traditions of the many devotees at both the Hindu and Buddhist areas of the site. It was very busy, possibly because it was also Sri Lanka’s Independence Day, and we were the only tourists in the area, which made for a really authentic cultural experience.

Kataragama is considered to be a very powerful deity in Sri Lanka, and our guide explained that many people come to the site to ask for success with professional enterprises, or to seek help for personal problems. There was a very long queue extending around the perimeter of the Hindu section, with people holding fruit baskets as an offering. We also observed some people throwing coconuts. Our guide later told us that this ritual is performed in the hope of removing personal difficulties from one’s life. If the coconut breaks, you should be able to let go of your struggles.


At the Buddhist section, there was another procession of religious followers. Here, they held colourful lotus flowers instead, which were placed around the central stupa. The air was laced with a combination of incense and the sweet scent of flowers, and for a very brief moment, I was actually reminded of Poland for some strange reason. It was as if I was remembering that I’d smelled this perfume before, only in a time and place far removed from here. The feeling of this forgotten memory was borne away on the breeze as suddenly as it arrived.


After lunch, we drove out to Yala National Park for our second safari. Yala is the second largest national park in Sri Lanka, covering an area of almost 1000 square kilometres. It is also the most visited national park, due to its variety of wild animals, and perhaps most renown for its leopards. It was certainly high on the list of ‘want to see’ animals for many people in the group, but even though Yala has one of the highest concentrations of leopards in the world, I was not optimistic about seeing one when the tracker mentioned that this ‘high concentration’ equates to 35-40 leopards.

Yala had a very different feel to it than Udawalawe, which we visited yesterday. While Udawalawe consisted largely of open grasslands with sweeping views of the plains, Yala gave off a more confined feeling, with tangled trees and dense scrubs and bushes. We saw a number of warthogs (or Pumbaas looking for Timon, as we called them) and a couple of mongooses before we’d even officially entered the park, and although there were sightings of crocodiles, water buffaloes, monkeys, deer, and various birds, what we all really wanted to see was undoubtedly a leopard.


About an hour into the safari, it looked as though we might not be seeing much else at all, as one of the three jeeps in our group broke down in a huge mud puddle. When it became apparent that it wouldn’t be possible to get it out anytime soon, the five people in the bogged jeep divided amongst the two remaining jeeps. Half an hour of confusion followed about what to do next, but it was eventually decided that a replacement jeep would be sent out. However, as it would take an hour to arrive, we would just continue on with two packed jeeps for the time being. Number of bogged vehicles seen- one. Number of leopards seen- zero.


The day before, we’d seen heaps of elephants at Udawalawe, and we’d all joked that we now had enough elephant pictures to last a lifetime. As there had not been many sightings of big animals this time, we were actually all rather excited to come across a lone elephant towards the end of the safari, especially as this one had a tusk, and we hadn’t seen a tusked elephant the day before. The only problem was that it was standing right in the middle of the road, and seemed to have no intention of moving. As dusk was falling, the drivers were keen to get us out of the park, so the jeep in front revved its engine several times, which prompted the elephant to move off into the bushes.

The jeep in front had had several minutes to take photos so they drove off, while the jeep that I was in now rolled up to have a closer look. At first, we were disappointed that we no longer had a good view of the elephant for our own Kodak moment, but suddenly, the elephant turned, his ivory tusk pointed squarely at our vehicle, and started to move towards us. When your tracker starts looking fearful and shouts for the driver to put the pedal to the metal (or so I assume that’s what he said in Sinhalese), you begin to suspect that perhaps a new episode for ‘When Animals Attack’ might be imminent. I was trying to remember whether an elephant with its trunk down, like this one, is bluffing or serious about charging. (It’s bluffing, apparently.) In any case, it’s not the sort of situation where it’s particularly wise to wait and find out. We drove away to see the elephant emerge back out of the bushes, but it no longer seemed as though it was a threat, and proceeded to resume standing in the middle of the road.


We’d all experienced a surge of adrenaline, and we were in for one final heart-stopping moment. We’d caught up to the first jeep and their faces expressed an excitement that could only mean a leopard was in the vicinity. One of the girls in my jeep thought she saw some movement in the bushes on my side of the vehicle, and we all went silent and craned our necks, hoping to finally catch a glimpse of the animal that had been eluding us all day. We strained our eyes for several minutes, and although we could hear some rustling, we had to concede defeat. The elusive leopard had eluded us once more.

When we arrived at the entrance to the national park, the members of the first jeep were exhilirated and confirmed they had seen a leopard run across the road in front of them. It had been too quick to capture on camera, but they had definitely seen a leopard. While those of us who had been in the second jeep were happy for our friends, we couldn’t help being disappointed that we had not had the same luck, especially since the rustling we’d heard had almost certainly been the same leopard they’d seen. It had just been too well hidden by the time we’d got there. But that’s the nature- and thrill- of going on safari- it’s just the luck of the draw as to whether you’ll be in the right place at the right time. It wasn’t to be for me this time around- but I’ll be adding ‘see a leopard on safari’ to my bucket list now, for sure.

Kitulgala to Uduwalawe

My favourite experiences whilst travelling are definitely those that involve nature. Considering the theme of today was elephants, Day 3 has become my favourite day on the tour so far. We drove four hours to get to Udawalawe, where we started our afternoon with a visit to the Elephant Transit Home. The facility was established by Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation in 1995 in order to look after orphaned baby elephants, with the ultimate goal being to release them back into the wild when they reach five years of age.

It was very cute seeing the baby elephants running lopsidedly to be fed their milk, although the viewing platform was already very crowded by the time we arrived, making it somewhat hard to catch sight of them. Once the elephants had been fed, they wandered over closer to the platform to munch on leaves for dessert, and to play in the mud. By this point, some of the crowd began to disperse, leaving those of us who remained with a delightful view of a number of calves spraying themselves with mud. A couple of them even submerged themselves fully for a proper mud bath.


After half an hour, the elephants were rounded up and returned to their main shelter, while we departed for our own accommodation- a tent campsite in the vicinity of Uduwalawe National Park, where we’ll be spending the next two nights. On the way, we spotted a lone elephant bathing in the vast expanse of a baby blue lake- it was a magical preview of things to come.

Shortly after unpacking our bags at the campsite, we split into three groups and went off on a three hour jeep safari of Uduwalawe National Park. I had been unsure whether to go on this safari, as we have an included safari tomorrow, but I’m so glad I decided to go. We saw a number of wild elephants, as well as water buffalo, crocodiles, various birds, and even a turtle! I had actually dreamt about running away from a crocodile the night before, but luckily there were no close encounters of the reptile kind- though there was a curious bird who came very close to being snapped up for afternoon tea. As mean as it is to admit, we were actually a bit disappointed when it flew away unscathed.


Some of the elephants, though, came almost right up to our vehicles. It was so humbling to appreciate these majestic creatures in their natural environment, and absolutely incredible to be able to observe them up close, from the creases in their skin to the wrinkles on their trunk; from the outline of the bones in their enormous body to the tiny, silver hairs glimmering in the sunlight on their back; from the folds of their floppy ears to the toes of their padded feet, but above all, their gentle eyes gazing out at the world as they graze contentedly on the grass. Nature really is the best.