A Travellerspoint blog

Becoming a certified PADI diver

20.000 Leagues Under The Sea - almost

During the course of four days, I became a certified PADI diver this month!! This opens me the door to a whole new world and gives me the opportunity to see underwater worlds all over the world. But let's start from the beginning....

Diving has always been something I was thinking about doing, but never really had the chance to do it. Here in Coffs, there is the Jetty DIve Shop. Whenever I walked to the beach or strolled around the Jetty Strip, I walked by it. One day, I went in and checked out the open water course to become a diver. I talked to my host dad Patrick, whose family used to own a diving store at the British Virgin Islands, Caribbean, and who is also a diver, and asked him whether he'd recommend it. A little later, he told me that it is a good place to learn how to dive and he would even financially support me... wait, what??? First, I thought I didn't read the message correctly. I couldn't believe it and didn't know how to show him how thankful I am. So Patrick, when you read this, thank you so much for helping me and introducing me to the world of diving!

The next day, I went right to the store and signed up for the next possible course.

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It is a four day course, first day in the classroom, second in a pool and the last two out on the ocean. I was excited, told my friends and everyone at work what I'm going to do. Until the course started, I had to wait though... five long days. The morning of the 10th of January it was time. I got up early as we always started around 7 - 730am. In the classroom there were already two other people waiting - Liam and Sophie. Both were doing the PADI open water course with me. Andrew and Lindsay, our instructors for the course were super chill and easy going and told us what we were about to do for the upcoming days.

As I said, the first day is going to be in the classroom and that's literally all we did. We received a learning book and watched a study video for each of the five chapters. After each video we filled out a review in the book and answered the quiz. That took about 6-7 hours! Without the coffee during the breaks, I'd have fallen asleep for sure. At the end of day 1, we all passed the quizzes and the final exam - the written test was done. When I went home, I couldn't wait for the next day to come as I was so excited to finally go diving. Even though it was only in a local pool, but that didn't matter.

On day two, we packed all our gear up in the van and drove to the Coffs Pool.

DSC_0858.jpgLots of wetsuits to choose from

Lots of wetsuits to choose from

DSC_0861.jpgOur tanks in the back of the van for our pool dive

Our tanks in the back of the van for our pool dive

Waiting for the pool to open

Waiting for the pool to open

I was about to put on my wetsuit when Lindsay said we had to swim 200m first. Easy. 10 minutes floating. No problem. Alright, now we can get ready. It was a weird but cool feeling to have all the gear on. We started in the shallow zone of the pool so we could still stand and did a variety of skills. Later, we swam into the "deep" zone where the bottom was 2m down. It was enough though to dive down and float in the water like there is no gravity, breathing slowly in and out through the regulator... It was amazing!

Lindsay and Liam during our pool dive

Lindsay and Liam during our pool dive

Doing bubble rings to pass some time

Doing bubble rings to pass some time

The next morning and with it day three of my diving course came up and I was more than ready to go out on the ocean. Our dive spot was South Solitary Island.

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Sophie, Liam and I weren't the only people diving that day. With us came a group of about 12 tourists from Sydney, Brisbane and other places from around the world who were just diving on their own. One of them, an elderly lady was testing a frame for a camera. We talked and I asked how much such a frame would cost and she said around 1000$... wow, I chose quite an expensive new hobby. At the Jetty Dive Shop we all assembled our BCD's, got our fins, masks and weights and packed it all on the trailer. Just a short drive later, we were at the harbor loading everything on the boat. Andrew was our skipper and Lindsay was going in the water with us.

Getting ready for our dives

Getting ready for our dives

The first boxes and tanks are on the trailer

The first boxes and tanks are on the trailer

Everyone is helping putting the equipment on the boat

Everyone is helping putting the equipment on the boat

Storing the equipment on the boat

Storing the equipment on the boat


Last look on the harbor of Coffs before we head out on the ocean

Last look on the harbor of Coffs before we head out on the ocean

The boat drive was a little choppy and took about 30 minutes. When we arrived we saw South Solitary Island in all its beauty. Heaps of birds sitting, nesting and flying around the island, a sea eagle sitting on a higher rock and the light house watching over the ocean.

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As the rest of the group got ready to do their dives, Lindsay told us again what was about to happen now, what hand signs we were going to use and what kind of skills we were learning. Cash, his assistant instructor was helping him.

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I was only half listening, already thinking about what it is going to be like under water. We got all ready, I went in the water last and then rolled backwards into the ocean... A little colder than the pool and quite the surf but I was in the water. All of us swam towards the mourning line and waited for Lindsay to tell us what we were going to do.

Liam and Lindsay went down first, Sophie and I followed with Cash coming last to watch us for safety reasons. Liam had some trouble equalizing though, so he had to swim back to the boat and skip his first dive unfortunately. The two of us continued descending and as we kept equalizing we saw what was going on around us. Heaps of fish school around us, we saw a small sea turtle and even encountered a couple of Grey Nurse and Wobbegong sharks! It was literally out of this world. My mind couldn't process what I was doing and seeing at the moment.

Getting ready to jump in the water

Getting ready to jump in the water

DSC_0905.jpgLindsay telling us what we are about to do

Lindsay telling us what we are about to do

We finished our skills and ascended again with a safety stop where we practiced our bubble rings again. Back on the boat, I was about to change into my trunks, when Lindsay said we have a second dive to do in a bit. I totally forgot about that in my excitement! Now I was even more pumped to go back down again. After a cup of tea and a few bites to eat, we went back down to the beautiful underwater world of the South Solitary Marine Park. Practiced more skills, fought the quite strong current which kept pushing us back and forth and encountered more amazing species as Lion fish and Puffer fish. One thing that was worrying me the whole time, were all the sea urchins that covered the bottom of the ocean and rocks like a mine field. And it hurts like crazy like Cash told me out of experience. We came back up to the boat, just in time as it started to rain and as we drove back to the harbor, the rain was following us. Cleaning up was the next part of the dives, but we all helped and it was done in no time. I was already thinking about the next day and the next two dives.

Wetsuits drying

Wetsuits drying

BCD's hanging to clean

BCD's hanging to clean

DSC_0925.jpgCleaning the regulators, masks and snorkels in fresh water after the dive

Cleaning the regulators, masks and snorkels in fresh water after the dive

Refilling tanks for the next dive

Refilling tanks for the next dive

Dive three and four were at South Solitary again. First, we had to do a few more skills to become certified divers and on the last dive we could focus on exploring the underwater world. Some of the skills we did were removing the mask, letting the regulator free flow and practicing running out of air. This time I didn't forget we had a second dive, but the crew still thought it was quite funny how excited I was the day before. Lindsay took his GoPro with him and we got some good shots.

Photobombed by our instructor

Photobombed by our instructor

IMG_45358070982977.jpegIMG_45364241183715.jpegGrey nurse shark by Lindsay

Grey nurse shark by Lindsay

IMG_45372040340751.jpegIMG_45375780789788.jpegEagle Ray accompanying us by Lindsay

Eagle Ray accompanying us by Lindsay

Tortoise by Lindsay

Tortoise by Lindsay

Underwater crack by Lindsay

Underwater crack by Lindsay

Doesnt matter where I am, pool or ocean, you can always do bubble rings

Doesnt matter where I am, pool or ocean, you can always do bubble rings

We drove back to the harbor and on our way we were accompanied by a couple of dolphins playing with the surf of our boat. Nice little surprise and everyone had fun watching them. Coming back to harbor meant we passed the course and are certified divers now. The four days passed by way too fast and I'll never forget my first dives ever here at South Solitary. We filled in our dive logs and I spent about 150 minutes under water. I asked Lindsay how long his TBT (Total Bottom Time) is and he answered "About 34 days"... Shit. Long way to go for me, but I look forward to explore more underwater worlds and use my new learned skill as often as possible.

Posted by jan.wegener 17:03 Archived in Australia Tagged diving coffsharbour Comments (0)

Work as a bartender

Insight from behind the bar

"Jan, drinks up"! That's when I stop to chat with customers or chefs and start getting the drinks done.

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My work at Lime Mexican Restaurant is still lots of fun and I really enjoy it. The environment is great, everyone is super nice and I feel like I've been working with them for a long time already. Can't believe it has only been two months. But time flies and I still remember how I started, not knowing anything about cocktails and now I already teach the next bartender for the time when I leave. Here are a few of the cocktails so you can see what I'm doing.

Pina Colada

Pina Colada

Coco Colada

Coco Colada

Cosmopolitan and Day of the Dead

Cosmopolitan and Day of the Dead

Coffee, Coconut and Caramel Infusion Tequila

Coffee, Coconut and Caramel Infusion Tequila

Mint and Cucumber Martini

Mint and Cucumber Martini

Mint and Strawberry Mocktail

Mint and Strawberry Mocktail

Sangria Fishbowl

Sangria Fishbowl

Lime's Classic Margarita

Lime's Classic Margarita

Mojito

Mojito

Mango Anejo Colada

Mango Anejo Colada

Lime Mexican has two restaurants, one close to my new place at the Jetty in Coffs, the other one is in Sawtell, a 15min drive away. It always differs where I'm working at, but most of the time I work in Sawtell. This is the bar and the restaurant in Sawtell. You can also see Jamie Martin performing live at the store.

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And this is the Jetty store.

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I will truly miss everyone of my coworkers and the time I had working at Lime Mexican Restaurant.

Little carrot man

Little carrot man

Posted by jan.wegener 19:22 Archived in Australia Tagged work coffsharbour Comments (0)

My time in Coffs Harbour

A new year, a new apartment and a new travel partner

It has been a while since I posted something on here, but I finally found some time to sit down and concentrate on it though. There has been much going on since Christmas time and I'll try to remember everything the best I can.

After the amazing time I had here over Christmas with the Coffs Family, change was about to happen. Many of us planned to be in Sydney for New Year's Eve and drove down south shortly after Christmas. So day by day, we became fewer and fewer people at the Aussitel Hostel. The rest of us who stayed still had an incredible time. We went out to a club and went to the beach to have a bonfire. To treat myself a little, I paid for a real bed in the hostel for the night, as I was still waiting to get an apartment and was sleeping in my car since Dec. 29. It was really an unbelievable day and a crazy night and as we all wished each other a happy new year, I was thinking back about what 2014 had brought me... High School is over... Visited my second family in the States... Went to Iceland... Dubai... and of course I began my travels in Australia. Now, 2015 is about to bring even more adventures. Thanks to everyone who supports me on my way - my friends and family back home in Germany and the United States and my friends from all over the world who I met on my travels.

As one of the first things in the new year, I moved into a new apartment. After looking for a few weeks, I finally found a good one. It is actually really close to the hostel, maybe a 5min walk and it has all I was looking for. Now I got my own room with a big bed again, my own bathroom, a fridge I don't have to share with 50 other backpackers and Jeff and Lesley, the owners of the unit, are also really nice people. The first morning, Jeff offered me some bacon and eggs... what a great start at the new place.

My new apartment on time

My new apartment on time

My little room

My little room

They also have a dog called Maui. Cute little thing. He is very human orientated and always needs human contact. So whenever we eat or I just chill anywhere in the house, he is right next to me.

Maui, Jeff's and Lesley's dog

Maui, Jeff's and Lesley's dog

All in all, I got a really good deal with this apartment. With having a real home now, work every day and the gym, the beach and friends close by, I actually developed a routine. Given the routine, the wanderlust comes back more and more and I look forward to be on the road again.

Before heading further up north though, an old classmate from Germany arrived in Coffs to travel with me. Lena has been in Australia for a while already and we both want to see the East Coast, so we decided to travel together from this point on. She arrived a week after I moved into the new place, but I thought she would come after work at 1150pm, however, she meant 1150am. Therefore, I got a text from her around lunch time, asking me when I'll pick her up. Ups...Good thing the airport is only 10min away by car.

We drove around so she could see the town a little and the next day we went up to the Coffs Harbour Lookout and to Muttonbird Island. I've been here for over 7 weeks, but never went up to any of them. It was a hot and sunny day, perfect photo conditions. I don't want to say too much, just check out the photos.

Lena's first day in Coffs Harbour

Lena's first day in Coffs Harbour

View over the harbor from Coffs Lockout

View over the harbor from Coffs Lockout

View over the harbor from Coffs Lockout

View over the harbor from Coffs Lockout

Park Beach from Coffs Lockout

Park Beach from Coffs Lockout

Walkway back to the harbor

Walkway back to the harbor

Mutton Bird Island

Mutton Bird Island

Park Beach

Park Beach

Fisher boats

Fisher boats

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Artists being creative on boulder wall

Sailboats in the harbor

Sailboats in the harbor

Snorkelers around Muttonbird Island

Snorkelers around Muttonbird Island

Muttonbird Island

Muttonbird Island

DSC03440.jpgDSC03441.jpgLena's attempt to run with me up Muttonbird Island

Lena's attempt to run with me up Muttonbird Island

DSC03445.jpgDSC03446.jpgSawtell Beach

Sawtell Beach

Harbor wall

Harbor wall

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Back at the apartment we decided to have a good BBQ. Lena was already done cooking, but my food wasn't ready yes. Yes, that is all just my food :D
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We are preparing to leave Coffs the first of February and slowly start checking out what we want to see and what we want to do the way up north. But for now, I keep enjoying Coffs to its fullest.

Posted by jan.wegener 18:42 Archived in Australia Tagged coffsharbour Comments (0)

Beach, Friends and Booze

Christmas Down Under Style

sunny 30 °C

Christmas Eve

Waking up, realizing it is Christmas Eve and looking out of the window to check whether it is gonna be a white Christmas... that's been my start of the day for almost every year. This year was different. Good different.

The sun decided to show herself from her best side and we had warm 30 degrees Celsius and a blue sky. Everyone was looking forward to the upcoming two days as we had a lot planned. Before we all wanted to go out to Coffs Hotel to party in the evening, Sean and I took kayaks from his work out on Coffs Creek.

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Pelicans, many fish, and the occasional sting ray which Sean claimed to see but I never saw were on our way towards the ocean. The whole scenery reminded me a bit of the mangroves in Florida.

As we came closer to the ocean, we passed a few bridges and many people who took advantage of the warm, shallow water close to the ocean. We also felt that the current became faster. All of the sudden we paddled forward but moved backwards - we got pulled out into the ocean. Being on a tiny kayak and seeing the massive waves didn't quite put us in a great situation. Somehow I managed to slide to the left, reached the sand and pulled my kayak out of the water. Sean was still out there and found a spot were the tide wasn't as strong so he could paddle back. A little Christmas Eve adventure. On our way back we stopped at the bridge which I climbed up to jump back down in the Creek. It was a great beginning of Christmas so far.

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After a shower to get off all the salt, the whole hostel sat together and started to celebrating Christmas by opening their bottles, goon bags and cans. Unfortunately, I had to get to work. It was fun to serve many drunk guests who started Christmas Eve the same way as we did in the hostel. I still enjoy my new job as a bartender and my coworkers. It is a great atmosphere and I know I'll miss them once I leave Coffs Harbour. All of us wanted to go home as soon as possible and luckily the guests shared our thoughts and left earlier than usual. Therefore, I made it back in time to the hostel to join everyone. Shortly after I got back, the first taxi shuttle arrived to bring us to Coffs Hotel for the Christmas party. It was packed and it felt like half the town was there that night.

Afterwards, we all went to the beach for a bonfire. Of course most of us walked as we are cheap backpackers ;) Down at the beach, the first of us already put some logs and branches on a pile and started the fire. Tom played the guitar, we had out drinks and the atmosphere couldn't be better. Some of us even stayed to see the sunrise. What a day!

Christmas Day

What is the best cure for a hangover? More liquor! That was the opinion of all of us the morning of Christmas Day. We were excited for the upcoming events. Laura and Kyle, two chefs from Canada, offered to cook a Christmas meal for all of us in the evening. We all couldn't wait. Around noon time, when most of us were up, we went to the beach. David my German roommate suggested we should use my car to get to the beach. The walk is only 10 minutes, but we didn't really feel like walking all the way with the surfboards to the beach after the night before. So we crammed both our boards and our bags in my car and drove 2 minutes to get to the beach.

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The waves were not great but occasionally there was a good one to practice my surfing skills. Over the next hours, more and more people from the hostel came until we all were at the beach. It was an incredible day - surfing, laying on the beach, listening to someone play the guitar and talking to everyone. Having many great people here who stayed already for weeks, some even for months, made a core group of us more than friends, we kind of are a family. I can't describe how happy I am here and that we are such an amazing group.

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Around 4pm we went back to the hostel and helped Kyle and Laura to prepare the rest of the meal. We set up the tables for almost 40 hungry backpackers and also gave everyone his/hers secret Santa present. No one was allowed to open it though until all of us including Kyle and Laura and all the kitchen helpers are done preparing the dinner. At 7pm it was ready! Turkey, vegetables, stuffing, mashed potato, break and gravy... we couldn't believe what we saw and gave a huge applause to everyone who helped preparing the dinner. It was beyond delicious - especially for us backpackers who are used to crappy food.

After we were all done with eating and complimenting the chefs, we started our secret Santa. It was very interesting and also hilarious to see what everyone got for the person they were giving the present to. From silly duck shower hats to inflatable boyfriends, people were really creative.
The night ended with more liquor and good times among friends.

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It definitely was a different Christmas but also the best one I could imagine here in Australia. Thank you to all my friends and my Coffs Family - I will never forget my time here.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

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Posted by jan.wegener 21:45 Archived in Australia Tagged christmas coffsharbour Comments (0)

Daytrip to Dorrigo National Park

Should we really go there?

When someone tells you from first hand experience you shouldn't go there, would you still go? That's what Sean, Jamie, Kirstin and I were thinking when we wanted to go to Dorrigo National Park a couple of days ago, Some friends of us were just coming back and told us that they didn't quite had the best time of their life because they were covered with leeches... yes, they said they came from above from below, from everywhere.

We were not really looking forward to that but still wanted to go. Dorrigo National Park is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area and offers stunning scenery that has been millions of years in the making. And only an hour drive away from our hostel made it easy to go there.
The drive went through a unbelievable huge crater of a collapsed super volcano (Ebor Volcano, 19.mio years old) which is now used by farmers and offered a stunning view. We drove up the crater verge and had to stop for a construction at the wall. And then we saw smoke... All of the sudden my car which drove me all the way up from Melbourne started to smoke...
We had to stop and waited until we could lift the hood. Sean and I checked everything through, we had enough cooling liquid and there was nothing broken or anything. So we decided to wait 5 minutes and keep driving. The rest of the drive we had no further problems, but we're a little more alert.

On our arrival, we were told that leeches only come out when it is raining and we were lucky - it was quite sunny. So we haven't had to worry about that anymore. :D The first view offered to us was a stunning overview over Dorrigo National Park itself. There is a path going over the forest, called Skywalk.

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The rain forest we walked through is with fern trees, vines and lush, heavy vegetation a true adventure. The occasional appearing bench sort of destroyed the image of an untouched, millions of years old rain forest. On our way, we met many different creatures as lizards (small and big), spiders, many different birds and even turkeys. For some reason though, we saw more birds off the extra built bird-walk than actually on it?!

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One highlight of the walk we did are the Crystal Shower Falls. Once you reach the falls, a suspension bridge leads to a short side track that will take you behind the waterfall into a rocky cavern.

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These pictures were already worth the sometimes steep and long walk.

Another danger they warn you about at the information center are leafs. Yes, leafs. There is one certain kind of tree whose leafs when you touch them release a chemical which makes your skin burn. Unfortunately, these leafs are also one of the biggest ones in the rain forest. Sean happened to have stepped on one and somehow it touched his calf. His leg he said, was on fire. I stick to my thought, that everything in Australia wants to kill you. Jamie also discovered when we were back at the information center that there was a leech sucking through her sock on her ankle. So now we know, they don't only come out when it's raining.

After a short drive (no smoke this time), we made it to Dangar Falls. This spot is very popular among locals who want to go for a swim. Sean and I went in as well and after we took our pictures we went back in to swim behind the water fall and climb the rocks. Adventure time again!

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Besides the leeches, burning leafs and smoking engines, it was still a cool trip.

Cheers

Posted by jan.wegener 18:56 Archived in Australia Tagged rainforest australia nationalpark Comments (0)

Stay Or Not Stay?

A New Home For The Next Weeks

Byron Bay was my next stop - so the plan. I was in Urunga, about 500km north of Sydney and looked for a place to stay for the night. My helpful friend an app called Wikicamps has helped me without any problems my whole time here in Australia. It shows me places to stay for the night, camping sites, hostels, hotels or just a car park where I could sleep. That night, it didn't show me anything useful... to make the situation even worse, it was pouring buckets. I could feel I get further up north where the tropical storms are. At the end, I was forced to book a hostel for the night, because it was already 10pm and I haven't found a place to sleep yet. Just so you know, it is not allowed to just sleep anywhere you want in Australia. They are well aware of people sleeping in their cars and put up signs saying "NO OVERNIGHT CAMPING HERE" almost everywhere. So it's a little tricky to find a good spot without getting in trouble. Up to now, I haven't had any trouble... yet! ;)

Back to looking for a hostel. On the internet I checked for the cheapest hostel possible since I wanted to keep driving up north towards Byron Bay the next morning. The next available hostel was in Coffs Harbour. Small town, about 50k residents, a couple of beaches and beautiful parks as well as a botanic garden. It is located about 540km north of Sydney and 390km south of Brisbane.

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Drove up to the Aussitel Backpackers Hostel around 11pm and was promptly invited to go with the others the benches (where everyone drinks and parties). Definitely a warm welcome! :D As the morning came and I was suppose to check out I decided to stay two more nights. I just thought this looks like a cool place, why not?

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The free surfboards, free body boards, free kayaks, free SUP (stand up paddle boards), free snorkeling gear, etc., the two daily activities as 4x4 tours, beach fires, and the chill people gave me reason to stay a little longer. The next two days passed by in second I had to get back to the decision whether I want to stay or keep driving towards Byron Bay. From a couple of friends who were in Byron to that time I heard that it was not as cool in the moment, because there were just too many people. I checked some hostels online and couldn't even find a place to stay within the next days. Therefore I told myself that when I find a job withing the next few days, I'll stay in Coffs.

There I was, looking for my first job. I got all ready, printed out CV's and recommendation letters and looked on Google maps to find nearby restaurants to work at. A job on a farm didn't appeal to me. People from the hostel who were working at a near by (about 45 minute drive) blueberry farm said that it was not the best job whatsoever. At the first restaurant I went to I was told they call me back... same at the second one, and the third, fourth, fifth... At the eight restaurant though, I got lucky. I walked in with a big smile and after just a minute of talking I was asked whether I can start tomorrow. My search for a job was done - after only one hour.

Okay... I found a good job. I live in a great hostel. I made lots of new friends here. The area offers so much with the beaches, the harbor and the city. I'm going to stay here.

That was about two weeks ago. Coffs is now my new temporary home and I think I found the right place to be.

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My job as a bartender at Lime Mexican Restaurant couldn't be better and I only work in the evening compared to all the farm jobs which usually start around 6am. Even though I applied as a waiter, they wanted me at the bar. Now I'm doing cocktails and serve drinks and it feels a little like back home when I worked at the restaurant "Zum Dorfkrug" (An alle vom Dorfkrug: die machen die gleichen WItze wie wir!). It also doesn't feel like I'm backpacking. It is a good job and I'm really happy I got it.

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In the morning I rent a surfboard for free from the hostel and go the beach and try to get better at surfing. My first attempt was terrible. I couldn't even stand up and fell probably about a hundred times. Fortunately, I wasn't the only one standing on a surfboard for the first time. :D
After surfing, we can chill at the pool or just relax in the sun. The atmosphere here is verylaid back and everyone is chill and always up for something.

Like most of you know, I like food a lot. Neverreally been a big chef before though. That had to change here. I stocked up at the local supermarket and started to try different recipes, varying from steak with potatoes, steak with rice, chicken with potatoes , chicken with rice and even kangaroo steak with rice. There wasn't much variety in the beginning I admit. Over time, I got better though. Fruit salads, sushi, fish and prawns and many other dishes are on my list now. Always making sure I eat enough proteins of course.

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Since I planned to stay here at least until mid-January, I decided to join a gym. So I did and now I can go whenever I want. Luckily, it is 24/7 so I can go after work, early in the morning or anytime I want. I also try out different classes and was surprised to see my boss the one day at one of them. She thought that's pretty funny and liked my commitment to this town, because backpackers have worked for her before, but left after only a few weeks. I share my room with 3 German guys and 2 Canadian girls. We all plan to stay here longer so we don't have the problem of new people going in and out every day.

Coffs Harbour is a beautiful town and I enjoy staying so close to the ocean. It has something that reminds me of the time when I lived in Maine, it could be the small harbor or just the fact that I'm close to the water. No matter what it is, I like it here.

Cheers

Posted by jan.wegener 17:47 Archived in Australia Tagged coffsharbour Comments (0)

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