Saira Cader, a spirited young lady who threw caution to the wind and literally seized the day is the inspiration for my story. ‘Sailogue’ (derived from the word ‘Travelogue’) is the term which popped into my head as I kept living my life vicariously through her experiences in the grand old continent down under. Despite many setbacks , the beautiful young lady with a mega-watt smile and a bright disposition embarked on a journey one and a half years ago, literally living in her jeep and driving to every nook and cranny of Australia. Her adventures are vast and encompasses all forms of wild living from swimming with sharks to scaling rocks to encounters with snakes among others and through this article I will try my level best to encapsulate a minute aspect of her experience. The plethora of breathtaking images were captured through her phone, yet it speaks volumes of the wonder and marvels of nature in all its glory. I am truly inspired by her fearlessness and her strength of character, which enabled her to follow her heart and make her dream a reality.

  1. Elegant: Describe yourself in a nutshell

“The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me?”

  1. Elegant: What inspired you to make this journey?

“The sudden realization that I did not want to spend the rest of my life stuck in the rat race. The sudden realization that if I did not make a change, this would be my life forever and that just was not good enough. If I died 2 years ago all I would have done with my life was work and to me that seems like a waste of the precious time that I have been given. I want more. I want to have amazing experiences and live a life that is meaningful, that has substance – not just exist day after day but really truly LIVE. Dangerously. On the edge. Without boundaries. Even if I died doing it, I could be proud that I tried. That I LIVED. No regrets.”

  1. Elegant: What factors spurned you on and what scared the daylights out of you (prior to making this journey)

“I was not happy and I could not bear to think of living the rest of my life this way. I needed to make a change. And to make a change I had to act. The reins were in my hands and I was the only person who had the power to steer my ship. No one else could do it for me. I had to decide and I had to make it happen!”

“Life is so short, I may not get another opportunity. I did not want to live out my life and then think “I should have, I could have, I would have if.. “. I want to be able to look back at my life, smile dreamily and say “I did!

I knew that if I did not do it and if I did not do it NOW I never would, and I would regret it for the rest of my life.

I realized that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. What was I losing? Slogging it out at work day after day? Not so hard to give up. Sure, I would have to start again in terms of my career when I get back. So what? It is only a job after all and only a means of paying the bills. I needed to learn how to work to live not live to work. Money can help you live comfortably but for all that it is worth, it cannot give you the happiness and stillness that your heart yearns for.

Yes, I would be giving up my creature comforts: roof over my head, comfortable bed to sleep in, food etc., but those things did not seem like a big sacrifice considering what I was going to get in return. A year and a half of climbing mountains and swimming in oceans, feeling the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair. I desperately wanted a piece of it all the magical things that lead to pure, raw happiness, surmise it to say, I wanted to let it flow through my veins.

I had already done a road trip from Sydney to Brisbane and back on my own which lasted a mere two weeks the year before and I was aware that travelling around the whole continent and for over a year was going to be very different and much more challenging but I knew I could do it. I have always been independent and always been comfortable in my own company. The only thing that worried me was how I would manage in the remote areas. I planned to travel through much of the outback, across the unforgiving desert and also drive the Gibb River Road – a 1200 odd km dirt track through the wild heart of the Kimberly, considered to be one of the most serious off road experiences in Australia. There was already a variety of horror stories out there about travelling through the outback, where all sorts of dangers loom. To survive this, I needed guts, street smarts and four- wheel driving experience. I had a healthy amount of all 3 but for added measure I signed up for a 4WD course, self- defense classes and a first aid course catered for remote areas. I did my research thoroughly, planned and prepared till the cows came home and then let the universe take over.”

  1. Elegant: What did the first step feel like?

“Exciting, overwhelming, thrilling, free!

I was finally doing this! I could not believe that I had done it. I had taken a stand and left my old unfulfilling life behind. You always hear about others who are leading spectacular lives and this time, it was me! It was actually me!”

  1. Elegant: When did you start?

“October 2015”

6.Elegant:  How much longer have you to go, will it ever end?

“A few more months I reckon. I’ll have to start working again soon and then it would be about finding a good balance between work and play. I need to make sure that I work to live and not the other way around.”

  1. Elegant: What did you do in terms of income in order to supplement the journey?

“I sold my house in Melbourne and was planning to purchase a property in Sydney but I have been using the funds to travel instead. I feel it is the best decision I ever made.”

  1. Elegant: Describe some exciting, scary and hilarious moments.

“Exciting: A group of dolphins invited me into their pod once and I felt like I was one of them! There were dolphins swimming all around me, alongside me on my left and right and right below me. Rolling over on their sides to get a better look at me, chattering away in their own language. it was like they were inviting me to come and play. This was an experience I will treasure forever.

All of this was in the wild! Nothing beats that!

Catching a bird’s eye view of the Great Barrier Reef is something I will never forget. It is like nothing you will ever see. I held my breath for so long just trying to drink it all in. And Whitehaven Beach from above was SPECTACULAR! With white and blue swirls, it was THE most beautiful thing I had ever set my eyes on. I have no words to describe these wonders!

Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean but the mos-t gentle of creatures. Harmless and so beautiful. Swimming alongside them makes you realize what a small blip you are in the scheme of things and how extraordinary Mother Nature is.”

Scary: “I was a part of a snorkel group when I found myself quite alone in the open ocean. The ocean was choppy and the waves so high that I could not even see our boat, let alone the other snorkelers. I knew that the boat would pick me up when it was time, so I dunked my head in the water trying to distract myself with whatever marine life I could find, trying not to think about “Jaws” and being left behind. And low and behold, it was Jaws himself. A shark, not a great white, but a good- sized shark that looked like it would enjoy having a go at me. We were locked in this weird staring contest, neither of us could take our eyes off the other. After about the longest minute of my life, the shark actually started swimming towards me and for about 2 Mississippi seconds I watched him swim towards me and then I made up my mind. There was no point trying to swim away, and I could not bear to WATCH him maul me – it was terrifying enough watching him just swim towards me (this was before I knew punching sharks could work! For further information YouTube “Surfer fights off great white shark!”). I took my head out of the water and gave in. So be it. This is how my story ends. I was going to die, and I accepted it. So there I was, in the open ocean waiting for this shark to do his thing – was it going to be my left leg? Or maybe my right leg? Maybe both in one bite? – one whole minute passes by, then another and nothing happened. I gathered some of my guts scattered in the water around me and plonk my head back in the water. Shark gone! Needless to say, I swam with all my might until I found the rest of my group, where at least my odds would have been a bit greater!)”

In another instance, there was a rock hopping/ scrambling trek with a section where you had to shimmy your way around the side of this big boulder using whatever sparse rock ledges and crevices you could find. There was no way to climb on top of it, you had to tackle it from its side. As if this was not challenging enough, whilst shimmying across you also faced a 5-7m drop to a freezing cold river below. I managed to get myself stuck on the side of this great big boulder, hanging on with toes and finger tips. I could not move a single limb to take a step forward or backward for fear of losing balance and falling in to the freezing cold river below. My sattelite phone mocked me from my bag that was slung around my shoulder; inaccessible and furthermore I knew that it would be of no use to me once I fell into the river. So, I just hung there, clinging on to the rock, wondering how long before one of my fingers slipped or how long before I lost my toe grip. Thankfully it only took about 15 minutes for the next trekker to come along and lend me a hand but those 15 minutes felt like an eternity.

Once I was on a particularly challenging hike when I noticed a different yellow texture on the floor In front of me. I thought it was an old snakeskin and was excited at my find. Scarily enough it turned out to be the snake himself, all ready to strike! It was a yellow python. He was staring right at me waiting for me to take my next step, ready to strike. Thankfully I saw him when I did. One more step and I would have been in serious trouble. I backed up slowly and had to wait for ages for the snake to decide against me and slither on its merry way before I could continue on. But when I first saw him all puffed up and hissing, my heart stopped for quite a few seconds.

Another scary instance was when I realized that there was a real possibility that I may have had to spend the night in the bush, in the middle of nowhere, in the freezing cold, whilst climbing Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. I reached the summit but it took forever to get there and get back down and out of the national park and I missed the last shuttle out. My sattelite phone decided that this was the night it would betray me and refused to work. It would have taken all night to walk to my Jeep from the pick- up point (only shuttles allowed in), and I would have just had to sit the night out and get a ride out in the morning. Does not sound that bad, but out in the bush, in the middle of nowhere with nothing to keep me warm against the Tasmanian night temperatures, totally and completely spent and exhausted after one of the toughest treks of my life was really daunting. Luckily, I came across a group who happened to have rented a cabin within the national park and I hiked back with them to their cabin and they were kind enough to drive me back to my Jeep.

The Australian outback can be a dangerous place. Just the news headlines can strike the fear of God in you: “At least 9 backpackers tortured and slain in state forest”, “Man stabbed to death in outback NT”, “Crocodile attacks sleeping camper”, “Tourists die from stingers (jelly fish) in the Great Barrier Reef”, “Caravans at campsite swallowed by sinkhole”, “Lightening strike kills campers” not to mention Wolf Creek!

Hilarious: There was a report of a guy finding a plastic siphon tube, an abandoned petrol container and a puddle of vomit next to his van when he stepped out of it in the morning. A thief had tried to siphon diesel from the camper van the night before but got a mouthful of sewage instead! He missed the fuel tank in the dark and put the siphon tube into the vans sewage tank and after sucking up the foul waste, he threw up on the spot and fled! Yuck!”

  1. Elegant: What have you learnt along the way?

“Travel gives you perspective; perspective of privilege, of disadvantage, of another’s pain. of being loved, of affection, of how you have been blessed, of feeling so rich without needing a single penny. Travel is one of those things that breaks down all those ugly barriers that we put up between ourselves.

I have learnt to accept. Accept who I am. To acknowledge that I am not perfect, and that itis’s ok as long as I keep trying. To know that the fact that I am not going to be understood or be accepted by others is totally irrelevant to my life. That God accepts me and nothing else matters. I am learning to be truly at peace with myself and it is a spectacular feeling.

Alone does not mean unhappy. Infact, I think it is more vital to feel happy and fulfilled as an individual prior to looking for fulfilment in any other context.

At the same time, I have learnt to value the human element between us as well. I have felt so much kindness, warmth and love from absolute strangers whilst travelling, that even with all that is happening in the world right now, it has given me faith and hope in humanity. I value and appreciate people more and the little things that I would have once taken for granted mean more to me now. 

I am learning how to accept people and their actions. I have come to feel like forgiveness is something almost ethereal that does not belong with us mortals. Who are we to hold this power over another human being, when God forgives so readily? It is definitely a challenging one – but my journey has made me yearn for a heart that is free of all bitterness and resentment towards anyone or anything.

It has heightened my connection with Mother Earth and nature. Heightened my connection with God. I do not pretend to be a very religious person by any means, but I remember standing at the Great Australian Bight, the tallest, most scariest cliffs I have ever come across with a ferocious ocean pummeling at it so far down below; feeling like I was at the very edge of the world and I remember thinking; ‘ you could not stand here and not feel God’s power and might and feel the absolute raw beauty of it all – feel it with utmost certainty in your heart. You could not doubt it. It was all laid out in front of me like a red carpet that day. So glorious that I felt so privileged and blessed to witness it.

I FEEL more. I appreciate life and people more. I love freely and fiercely. I laugh louder. I am more impulsive and  I feel like I am a happier, better version of myself.”

  1. Elegant: What do you say to those who wish to make this kind of journey?

“Do not underestimate yourself. Be strong and take courage! Believe in yourself. Just make up your mind and do not let anyone or anything stand in your way. If only you knew all that is waiting for you out there! It’s been the most incredible, most amazing year of my life! Just take the leap – you’ll be surprised at how strong and capable you are!

Do whatever it takes to make yourself feel more confident – for me it was research, planning, a four-wheel drive course, self- defense classes and having all!

my bases and emergency exits were covered, my biggest supporters were Sharini, Safiya and Khulsoom – 3 incredible, amazing souls who followed my GPS tracker with eagle eyes and ensured that I checked in day and night every single day for over a year and a half, and kept me safe whilst I followed my dreams.”

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About Rochelle Gunaratne

I believe that everyone has a story to tell and in turn, I love listening to those stories, attempting to paint a picture to my readers with my words. I may not be an artist or painter, but I believe words can create powerful images in ones mind and it is how we share our stories with others.
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