The key to happiness

I’ve spent 30 years travelling the world, experiencing new activities, cultures and people; all in pursuit of happiness, when all along the key was waiting for me down at Costa Coffee this morning.

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I guess there’s some truth to their sentiment. Treating yourself regularly is important, in some form or another. My daily treat is a cup of coffee and sometimes a low fat berry muffin, but tonight my treat was walking, despite the fact I left the hotel at 9:50pm after work.

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During my walk along the corniche tonight I was disappointed to discover that they specifically ban camping along the grassed area. I wonder if anyone actually ever tried to camp along the walkway amidst the stray cats. It’s a shame none the less, but it was the last point that really got me.

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I joked about people falling in the fountains last time, but I have to say I got pretty close tonight as I was typing and walking at the same time. If it wasn’t for the noisy little pump pushing the water in the air, I may have gone straight in.

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Most of the cats must have gone to bed already, but I found one furry friend who was actually nibbling on cat food. Maybe people do come and feed them. He’d obviously been in a few fights and was a little beaten up, but he was super friendly and insinuating that I should take him home.

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It must be close to 11pm and I still haven’t had dinner. I usually scavenge around the office for boxes of digestive biscuits and other snacks strewn on people desks. All I could find tonight was a stray honey stick siting on my bosses desk. My diet has been absolutely horrendous here. A few nights ago I bought a packet of ready made popcorn from the small shop opposite the hotel for dinner and ate some of the free fruit they left in my room. I finally got rid of the old milk in my fridge and replaced it with a fresh litre, but I still don’t have a bowl to eat cereal out of, and have come to the realisation of how ridiculous it is to eat cereal with a tea spoon out of a glass. I have to say I was better equipped out on the trail!

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Absorbing the culture

The breakfast room is filled with a German aircrew this morning. During the F1 it was Japanese tourists, but generally it’s just a scattering of random business folk and me. Finally the staff have stopped asking for my room number, and are close to predicting my pot of tea request depending on who’s serving. Today they have pancakes, they’re rubbery, but with syrup they’re still good. They have a pretty constant buffet selection but sometimes they go all out with French toast or pancakes. There’s one particular dish I pass up every morning called ‘Foul Madamas’. It’s probably one of the most unappealing sounding foods on their menu, but I really should try it, at least to say I’ve eaten Foul Madamas during my trip.

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I got up early today to do my 30 minute cardio kickboxing DVD I’ve had for about 10 years. It’s hosted by that really annoying personal trainer from The Biggest Loser and after 10 years of hearing the same jokes repeated, predicting the same stuff ups and the part where she stops to tie up her hair, I’m kind of over it. It does mean I can exercise without leaving the comfort of my room though, and it was the first time I actually stepped foot in my lounge room since I arrived. I could seriously sublet half my apartment if someone was willing to sleep on the couch. I’ve barely even used the kitchen and should probably empty the milk that was in the fridge the day I landed. That’s pretty much all that’s in there still.

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The whole breakfast room has cleared out except for two other guests. I guess this gives me free rein of the pancakes and foul madamas. It’s going to be another busy day. No beach visits sadly, but I’ve moved to a desk right next to the window so at least I’m getting some natural sun light during the day. Hopefully I’ll get back on the corniche again soon, Jillian Michaels and the treadmill just ain’t doing it for me!

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Instead of an afternoon tea break today, we went on a cultural excursion to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque just minutes away from our office. I almost declined the opportunity as I had my head buried in health and safely documents, staff numbers, and other ‘real world’ concerns until I realised the need to seize opportunities when they arise. I’m so incredibly glad I did. It’s the 8th largest mosque in the world with 82 domes, 1000 columns and 24 carat gold chandeliers. It was absolutely breathtaking.

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Cats rule the corniche

I just finished eating some very strange tempura vegetables from the Japanese restaurant close to my hotel, following a 2 hour long walk along the corniche. The vegetables included a giant piece of raw onion and the end of a green pepper. I feel a little ill.

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The cats were out in force tonight. I was hoping I could replace my missing pet pigeons with a couple of kittens. I’m sure if I had food I could have coaxed an entire troop of them back to my room. They’re everywhere!

I turned on the television when I got home for the first time in so long. Oh my goodness it was dismal. Despite the fact that most of the channels were in Arabic, the most interesting channel was probably the Italian one. I closed my eyes and tried imagining I was somewhere in Italy, but the smell of tempura and the noise from the nightclub made me feel like I was in an Asian/Italian fusion disco. I ended up watching the most horrendous program called ‘Married to Jonas’. At the beginning I couldn’t figure out who Jonas was, and even when I did, it was so extraordinarily awful I sat there with my mouth agape in some kind of zombie trance. I had to force myself to take control of the remote and switch it off to preserve my remaining brain cells. I’ve decided from this point forward I shall refrain from switching it on ever again.

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It’s now the next day and I’ve just come back from the beach where we’re hosting part of our event. It’s not every job you get to spend the morning walking along the sand. It’s one of the few perks I planned early in the day before the sun melted me into the ground. While I waited for the driver outside the office to pick me up, I was watching a host of oddly shaped planes take off from the airport next door. An old style army helicopter, and something that looked like a mix between a blimp and a jet flew by. You never quite know what you’re going to see over here, I was just disappointed I didn’t have my camera at the ready!

Walking is the only answer

The most difficult question I’m struggling to answer these days is ‘what was your favourite part of the trail?’ I’m also facing some common misconceptions from people who know nothing about the PCT; like assuming that I slept in motels the entire way, that I travelled with a group, that I must have flown parts of it; or my favourite is simply the silent, no further questions your honour type response that you receive from somebody who simply can’t comprehend what you’ve just done.

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The oddities of the Middle East never fail to amuse me, and Abu Dhabi hasn’t failed to deliver. Here’s just a sample:

I had two pigeons stuck on my balcony this morning that I thought would become my new feathered friends because they couldn’t fly up and over the glass barrier. Sadly they were gone when I returned this evening. Who knows what happened to them.

I have called reception at my hotel on two occasions to try and get some cutlery for my room. The first time they brought a frying pan, the second time they brought a pot and two wooden spoons which were still wet from the kitchen. Still no cutlery.

I had to laugh yesterday after I ordered room service and they took my credit card to process downstairs. The guy later called my room and asked for my PIN number so he could enter it into the machine. I politely declined and said I’d pay cash. Luckily I kept the knife and fork that came with the sandwich so now I have something to eat with.

We have a door to our office at work which only opens 3/4 of the way, which means we all have to walk through sideways to squeeze through each time. It will encourage me to keep keep off the pounds!

I also got hit by two children on 3 wheeled bikes and had to avoid some very near clashes with cyclists speeding along the corniche during my nightly stroll yesterday on Friday (my only day off during the week). Mental note: do not walk the corniche on Fridays!

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It’s taken me a few days to rid myself of jet lag and shift my brain into a completely new gear (I think that may still take a little longer). I finally have my own space again, but it’s very different to the solitude and tranquil silence I experienced on trail. You often feel more lonely in busier places where the world and the people rush around you. Instead of waking up to rustling sounds outside my tent, I’m often woken by music from the nightclub within the hotel, or the constant sound of traffic and horns beeping outside my window.

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I definitely need to walk more and generally do more exercise. Although my legs and back hurt after a couple of hours, it definitely felt good to move again. There have been so many changes to my life since the end of the trail that I need some form of constant to keep myself sane; and in this place, the only answer is walking!

Here’s two more videos by Leigh Swansborough from our interview in Southern California…

Mind, body, trail mantra:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhF4E5MZZ9k

Ziplock bags:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5lGfV-7ZZs

Getting up to speed

I love that the closet detectives are on the case to uncover the reason behind my whereabouts. It’s so tempting to let it stew a little, but I think it’s only fair to share a little more insight into my recent departure from LA. Did I already mention I was going to Abu Dhabi? No. Am I here to watch the F1? No. Did I fly here in my own jet? I wish! Am I heading back to Australia for Christmas? Yes. Am I coming back to the US? I hope so!

Discovering life's lessons through alternative means…