MY toilet is called Toto and so, too, is the name of my potential paramour. From my heated throne, I ponder whether Toto, the man, would also be prepared to warm my bottom before blasting it with a jet of water. I suspect one final, perky puff of deodorising spray, just like my toilet serves up, is a step too far in any relationship. I am in Osaka, surfing both the porcelain bowl and Japanese Tinder, in a bid to better understand this mysterious culture and potentially meet a mate. It is my first foray into the Land of the Rising Sun and I am intrigued by everything, from the views, to the loo, to the deadly fugu.
I discover a delicious dichotomy of weird and whacky characters, best digested with fabulous fishy dishes and chased down by ice-cold Asahi beer. The rumours are true, Japan’s famous brew does taste better up here. And, it appears, so too do Australian women, if my popularity on Osaka Tinder is any indication. Look, I don’t want to brag, but I’m receiving more Super Likes than Super Woman. Toto aside, Nori, 48, whose name reminds me of a delicious Japanese roll, is only 13km away from my hotel, but can speak no English. My Japanese is limited to a hearty “Hai!”, a phrase you’ll hear often in this colourful country, but, like a circle, has no real beginning or end. There appears to be a bounty of blokes, but it comes with a catch. For while this is a quirky culture on one hand, it is also deeply conservative on the other.
My Inside Japan tour guide Richard, a boisterous Brit and Zen Buddhism devotee, tells me if I were to marry a Japanese man, I would be compelled to take his surname. If I were to have children, and return to the workplace, I would be demoted to secretarial work. And at work drinks, as a woman, I would be expected to pour everyone’s beer before someone acknowledged my “lowly status” and finally served me. A thirsty girl, I am horrified at the prospect. But there is also much to love about Japan.
I am sitting with Richard and two colleagues in Osaka’s Temma area, home to tiny standing bars and intimate yakitori restaurants, discussing Japanese life. (Richard’s also even poured my beer first). Want an example of Japanese hospitality? Not only is my party of four dining in Yakitori Mame, which has been recommended to Richard early in the day by a man known only as Uryu-San, when it comes to our first drinks, this mystery man has already paid for them. Richard says this is typical of the people of Osaka.
“This is the kind of thing that happens in Japan. I’ve heard stories of customers on tours, who, when they have had some free time, may have become lost. They are accosted by a local who tells them it’s too far to walk, and has not only hailed a cab for them, but jumped in and taken them to the destination, and paid for the taxi ride,” he says.
To really understand Osaka, head to the edgy district of Shinsekai which means “new world” in Japanese. Frequented by locals who say it’s modelled on Paris and New York’s Coney Island, the area was destroyed during World War Two, but has been rebuilt. It’s a stone’s throw from Japan’s tallest skyscraper and home to a number of fascinating standing bars. You’ll even find Osaka’s mascot Billiken here, who is hailed as “The God of things as they ought to be”. It is here that I delve into my first Japanese vending machine, and this one specialises in “erotica”. I insert my $5 and am rewarded with a pair of saucy white g-strings which I shove into my winter coat, and mistake for a tissue for the rest of the day. Things are off to a sensual start.
We amble a mesmerising maze of streets, pausing to pay homage to Jizo, a roadside deity which protects expectant mothers and travellers, before we arrive at Hell Temple. I stick my head in a hole where I’m told I can hear the sounds of hell. Disappointed, I detect nothing. I undertake an electronic survey to determine whether I am going to heaven or hell. I scrape into heaven. Just. There is hope for me yet. Later in the trip I return with my Aussie colleagues to Shinsekai and to Spa World which turns out to be my idea of hell. Picture wall-to-wall naked Japanese women, for whom a trip to the waxer has never occurred, and three prudish Aussie girls, clutching on to their towels, the size of a face washer. What I’ve seen, cannot be unseen. And I will be establishing a waxing clinic in Japan in the near future.
We push on to Kyoto, where I dive into my second Japanese vending machine experience. This one predicts “love fortunes”. I reach into the bowels of the beast and extract my fortune. My guide, Aya, translates my future. Apparently I am “unlucky in love” (I did not need to part with $2 to discover this); I need to “change my attitude” to love; and best of all, I need to find someone who is either 120 years older or 120 years younger than me. Not only that, I need to cook them a barbecue…inside my house. Love just got a whole lot more difficult and dangerous.
Aya, 42, confirms what I already know.
“It is hard to find a good western man. Japanese men look after their women and if they get sick, they look after them,” she says.
“But that is changing. Japanese men are getting worse and that’s the western influence. But Japanese men are not as good looking as western men, because they are short.”
Our jaunty Japanese journey continues, on to the traditional Japanese spa town of Kinosaki Onsen. Here, there’s seven different types of onsen, whose waters are believed to contain different healing properties. I head straight to Goshono-Yu, which is said to bring good luck in finding a marriage partner and preventing fires. If I am to believe my $2 vending machine reading back in Kyoto, I will need all the luck there is in finding a partner with a 120-year age difference, plus some fire prevention when I cook him that barbecue inside my house. I’m convinced these waters are working.
The last destination of my trip is up at Mt Koya, considered the most significant site in Japan for Shingon Buddhism. Even more fascinating, it’s home to 1000 monks, who no longer believe in celibacy and even like a drink. They call sake “wisdom water” and beer “bubbled wisdom water” up here and from the way I imbibe, I’m a wise woman indeed. Interestingly, women were not allowed on the mountain until the 20th century, which I believe makes me a hot commodity on this minus two degree day. Late at night, I lay on my basic mattress in my temple lodging and surf Temple Tinder. But the pickings are slim. Where are all the manly monks? The next morning, I join the monks in their 6am prayer service. There’s a deity in the temple devoted to love. I make a silent offering (desperate plea) and head back down the mountain. I’m heading home to stoke up the barbecue and wait for my 120-year-old mate.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Inside Japan Tours, https://www.insidejapantours.com whose specialist English-speaking guides will show you the real Japan, armed with insider knowledge and experience tailored to your interests.
Qantas has several direct flights between Australia and Osaka including from Sydney and the newly-introduced Melbourne route. Fly Business Class, and you can also experience their new light-weight crockery range, which translates to more than 500,000kgs of fuel savings each year. http://www.qantas.com
ALLOW me to let you in on a little secret. I love Bali and return every year to unfurl more of her magic and mystery and to soak up her dominant feminine energy. The fact she’s been in the news lately for her smouldering volcano, draws me even more to this Land of the Gods. What is it that she’s trying to tell us? So I’ve teamed up with Expedia.com.au to bring you 5 Divine Reasons you should visit this beautiful destination.
1. There’s some great deals on airfares
This airline aficionado surfs international airfares like stock brokers watch the currency markets. And there’s some great deals on offer right now. Just think, you can leave Australia in the morning and be up in Bali in time for cocktail hour. Lychee martini anyone?
2. The beds are going for a bargain
So many great hotels, so little time. You could travel to Bali forever and still not experience all of the amazing accommodation on offer. I like to mix it up, staying in a cheap and cheerful hotel if I’m simply overnighting on the way to somewhere like the Gili Islands, just off of Bali. I love the name of The Happy Mango Tree Hostel in Ubud.
3. The activities are awesome
When in Bali, The Global Goddess likes to divide her days between some action and adventure, and a whole heap of flopping and dropping, preferably by a pool. With a pool bar. And forget trite tourism experiences, there’s some really cool things to do in Bali. Ever had breakfast with the orangutans at Bali Zoo or gone Quad or Buggy Driving? What about a Downhill Cultural Cycling Tour with Lunch? Something I will be trying next time I’m in Bali, is a Pre-Airport Chill Package with Transfers. This package includes an authentic Balinese spa experience, drinks and transfers, which is handy, given many flights out of Bali to Australia are late at night.
4. You can still Eat, Pray and Love
Despite Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling novel being out for several years now, there’s still a number of women, like me, wandering the rice paddies of Bali, looking for love and the general meaning to life. Join a private Eat, Pray, Love tour with lunch, which will take you to Ubud and yes, you will get to meet a Balinese medicine man. You just never know your luck.
5. It’s peaceful
Come February, after the sultry summer rush of school holidays, Christmas and New Years, Mother Bali breathes a sigh of relief. Now is the time to go. Get back in touch with your soul, and set your intentions for 2018, through a private tour: A Spiritual Journey Experience, where you’ll start the morning doing yin yoga at Sebatu Village, undergo a blessing and purification ceremony at a Balinese temple, meditate in a cave, and meet with a Balinese shaman.
The Global Goddess has partnered with Expedia to bring you a little bit of Bali bliss. For more experiences and ideas go to http://www.expedia.com.au
THIS is the headline which screeched across my desk late last week. And naturally, being a lover of romance (and travel), my curiosity was piqued. Turns out the fun folk at Tourism Fiji are using Fiji’s famed sense of humour to entice us to their islands. With Valentine’s Day next week, I thought I’d take a closer look at what they have in mind. And even for single girls, like me, there’s plenty of “unromantic” options to keep you occupied.
1. Feed the sharks
Feeling a little fishy? Personally, I can think of a few Brisbane blokes who I would like to feed TO the sharks, but apparently this is not an option. On this adventure you’ll join Fiji’s “shark whisperer” Brandon Paige of Aqua-Trek on a dream dive with 8 species of sharks. Yes, you’ll see bull sharks, whitetip reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks, nurse sharks, lemon sharks, grey reef sharks, silvertip sharks and 16-foot+ tiger sharks. Plus, there’s more than 300 species of fish out in this marine reserve which aims to conserve the shark population.
2. Zipline Fiji
The Global Goddess is not a huge fan of heights (unless it’s a penthouse suite) but for others far braver than me, there’s nothing better than flying through the air with the greatest of ease. Take an eco-friendly zipline adventure across 14ha of lush rainforest where you’ll soar over rivers and waterfalls. Sleeping Giant Zipline, 35 minutes from Nadi, boasts five zips ranging from 80m to 160m and flying at speeds up to 40km/h. Much more my style, afterwards, you can take a guided walk through the jungle to view the Orchid Falls.
3. Soak in the Sabeto Hot Springs
This “unromantic” offering actually sounds quite romantic to me. I mean, smothering yourself with mud? Situated between Nadi and Lautoka, the Sabeto Hot Springs are a series of natural hot springs where you can soak in a therapeutic natural thermal mud spa. Locals believe that the sulphur in the hot springs have healing properties. There’s three pools here, set in lush natural surroundings. They’ve supplied the mud, all I need now is a man to join me.
4. Climb Fiji’s highest mountain
Another activity for lovers of heights, you can climb Mt Tomaniivi, Fiji’s highest, trekking through cloud forest to a summit of 1323. Talanoa Treks offers an overnight excursion and on a clear day, you will be rewarded with views across Viti Levu. The bit of this trip I do like the sound of is the afternoon tea and a dip in the river before heading back to the coast. Just plonk me in a helicopter and I’ll see you up there.
5. Potter around The Pottery Village
Can arts and craft be considered sexy? Decide this for yourself at Nakabuta Village, one of the villages still making traditional Fijian pottery. Here, you’ll witness traditional pottery-making methods. What is rather romantic is the opportunity to shop and you’ll discover Nakabuta-made bowls, plates and other items in craft shops all over town.
6. Drive your own dune buggy
The Global Goddess loves a good driving trip and this one sounds like fun, whether there’s a bloke in the buggy or not. Grab one of Fiji’s only self-drive dune buggies and join a guided tour with Terratrek. On this jaunty journey, you’ll discover Fiji’s most beautiful waterfalls and rainforests or head up into the mountains for panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
7. Explore Fiji’s largest cave
I’ve personally done this tour and loved it. Hop aboard an Off-Road Cave Safari where you’ll delve deep into Fiji’s interior and learn about its cannibalism history. People who eat people, what’s not to admire? My favourite part of this tour was walking through Fiji’s largest cave system, Naihehe Cave, which is more than 170 metres long, and at one point, if you don’t fit under a particularly tight spot, it apparently means you’ll become pregnant.
8. Shop like the locals
The Global Goddess isn’t particularly a shopper back in Australia, but plonk me somewhere exotic, and I’ll happily wander for hours. Forage like a Fijian at the Sigatoka Market, which bursts into life in the early hours of the morning. The stunning Sigatoka River Valley is known as “Fiji’s salad bowl” due to its fertile land and you’ll find plenty of pretty produce here.
9. Jetboat the Sigatoka River
One of my all-time favourite Pacific adventures, Sigatoka River Safari is Fiji’s original jet-boat safari. This splashy tour cruises at screaming speed along the Sigatoka River, so if romance to you is having nice hair, forget it. What you will get, however, is a cool ride to authentic Fijian villages and experience a day in the life of a real ‘kaiviti’ (Fijian). If you’re lucky, a handsome Fijian will ask you to dance.
10. Discover Glass Blowing
I’m intrigued by this activity, as I’ve never heard of this in Fiji before. Head to Hot Glass Fiji in Korotogo, and Fiji’s first and only glass-blowing studio. Here, with its views out to the sea, you can partake in a glass-blowing workshop or watch the artists create beautiful pieces from molten glass.
For more information on these activities and the Islands of Fiji, see www.fiji.travel
The Global Goddess took these shots while staying at the beautiful Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, which, admittedly, is very romantic. https://www.outrigger.com/hotels-resorts/fiji
STRETCHY, sultry days, shady trees and cool pools deliciously conspired to present me with plenty of time to read over the summer break. And the one book which stood out from the copious tomes which crossed my path was this one: A Young Man’s Guide to Getting Some – How To Win The Girl of your Dreams with Respect and Class in the Age of Sexting and Swiping. Why on earth would a mature woman read a book about young men “getting some”? Read on…
Cleverly penned by Sydney freelance writer Malcolm Chenu, this book not only offers sage advice to young men in the murky age of digital dating, but reminds women, like me, of how they should be treated. The fact it’s written by a bloke makes it even more powerful and was inspired by Chenu’s desire to “make the world a nicer place” and “to remind people that chemistry is built in person rather than on screen.”
On top of this, it’s funny. Really, bloody funny, and reminds us all that dating is sloppy, embarrassing and generally pretty humiliating, and the best bet is to learn to laugh at ourselves, while treating others with respect. Chenu packs a comedy punch early and often, with gems such as: “So, what’s the secret to getting some?…Showing more style and less butt crack; listening to her even when she talks during the footy; offering a foot massage without thinking it’s foreplay.”
Pornography, he reminds us, is not real life. “Putting aside the risk of repetitive strain injury, the main problem with virtual sex is it’s not getting you virtually anywhere. Your goal is not to become a lonely – albeit highly-skilled – masturbator. At its core, pornography is abuse. Women’s sexuality does not exist for the gratification for men.” Which leads us to the penis, in which case, Chenu reminds readers that “no means no”. He also tells young men not to fixate about their “wang”. “There are three-and-a-half billion meat swords in the world and yours is not the biggest, smallest or prettiest. She doesn’t care nearly as much about Mr Winky as you do”.
On the subject of sexting, Chenu sits firmly in the “no” camp. Reminding readers of the difference between flirting and being an electronic “arsehole”. And under no circumstances, should you send dick pics. Nor, ask for nudes, he proffers. One of my favourite pieces of advice occurs mid-way through this 111-page book, in which Chenu offers similar advice to that which I give my male friends when it comes to dating. And that is, women’s HAIR is everything. I have always told my male mates that women spend an ENORMOUS amount of time and money on their hair. Appreciate it. Chenu’s advice is sound: “Women wear fabulous shoes to impress other women and great hair to impress men…which is ironic as you are more interested in the bits in between.”
This ballsy book offers loads of practical advice including the Do’s and Don’ts of Date Dining; Courting Tips; How to be a Caring Lover; and even ventures bravely into the torrid waters of What Women Want. Other favourite chapters include advice on how to break up but remain classy; and reminds men that they are feminists too. At the end of this rollicking read, you’ll find a list of Basic Do’s and Don’ts. Buy this book for your sons, buy it for your daughters, and read it for yourself.
Published by New Holland, one suspects this gorgeous guide won’t be the last for Chenu, who, when not making the world a better place through this delicious dating advice, contributes regularly to Traveller in the Sydney Morning Herald, QantasLink magazine, and various other travel publications. I’d love to see this worldly wisdom spiralling into a series of similar books. In a country where our domestic violence and other abuse rates of women are disturbingly high, Chenu has ventured where few Aussie blokes dare to go. Into the corner of women, by reminding men that enough is enough. The fact he manages to do this with such humour, humility and heart, makes him an author to watch.
THE almost full moon is playing hide and seek under a tattered crochet rug of cloud and I am crouched around Clyde’s Pond, admiring acrobats. Hours earlier, I’d missed the annual ritual of climbing to the Hilltop at the Woodford Folk Festival to applaud the last sunset of 2017. The weather had other plans, you see. But the fierce thunderstorm predicted for the site, in the belly of the Sunshine Coast hinterland, barely raised its voice, as I sought shelter in the Coopers Bar, cradling a cold beer, and singing with the motley musicians gathered in a circle. Turns out Grandma’s Feather Bed was not a shabby Plan B at all.
New Year’s Eve 2017 and the rain retreats as quickly as it’s gathered, cleansing the site, showering our souls. If ever there is a place to spend that no-man’s land which is the week between Christmas and New Year’s, this is it. A time for replenishment and renewal. And here’s the 10 things I took away from this year’s event.
1. Go with the flow
I deliberately go to the Woodford Folk Festival with very few plans (aside from climbing to the Hilltop for the last sunset of 2017…and look how that worked out). Because, life, as we know it, has other ideas. And besides, with so much of life scheduled, where I can, I try to toss away the calendar. If I’m working from home in Brisbane, sure, I have an idea of what I’d like to achieve that day, but things get in the way. And if I’m travelling, I’m even more open to the universe. And that’s the lesson. Go with the flow and you will be richly rewarded.
2. Silence is golden
My second favourite tradition of the Woodford Folk Festival, and one where no weather can interfere, is the three-minutes of silence the entire site respects at precisely 11.30pm on New Year’s Eve. For three eerie and earthy minutes, all the bands ground to a halt, and 35,000 visitors on site pause to remember those they’ve loved and lost that year, while holding a lit candle. In a world in which we are inundated with noise, there’s a maudlin magic to this moment. Try and snatch a few seconds of silence every day.
3. Talk to strangers
Remember when you were a kid, and you were ferociously warned against talking to strangers, and for good reason? Well, you’re an adult now. Woodford has this precious power that upon entering the festival, you become a better version of yourself. Kinder, softer, more gentle with yourself and those around you. And all of a sudden, you find yourself chatting to complete strangers. Revelling in a shared experience. Maybe take some of this back out onto the city streets. You might be surprised at its effects.
4. Nourish yourself
Not only did I indulge in some fabulous food at the festival: think slow-cooked lamb and the best Yemeni chicken wrap I’ve ever eaten (OK, so I’ve never eaten anything from Yemen, which made this even more special) – but Woodford is all about nourishing the mind, body and soul. Take the time to have more massages, do some yoga, join a meditation group, take an art class, try something different. Love thyself and treat yourself like you want others to treat you.
5. Give peace a chance
There was a really interesting installation at this year’s festival, a replica of the Montreal bed in which John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their “love-in” for peace. Visitors could dress up in some cool gear and plonk onto this bed, to have their photo taken. There was also a flash mob for peace, and plenty of signs promoting peace. After all, if we don’t give peace a chance, what chance have we got? Embrace peace, whether it’s big or small. You don’t have to fight every battle.
6. Nothing is ever what it appears
Random acts? They’ve got them in droves at the Woodford Folk Festival. One minute you’ll be walking down a weirdly-named ally (there’s plenty of these here too), the next, you’ll stumble across some punchy performers. When is a pineapple not a pineapple? When it’s a bar, of course. Keep your eyes and your mind open to life, and the good stuff seeps in.
7. It’s OK to play
Give yourself permission to play. Dress up in a costume, assume an alter ego, let your imagination run as wild as a brumby over an open field. You’ll find plenty of play at Woodford. Step out of your version of you and wrap yourself around a wilder adaptation. Go to a local park and jump on the swings. Dance around the house. Sing in the shower. Catch waves at the beach. Plunge deep into yourself and pluck out that child that once played.
8. Connect more
Sure, we live in the most technological era in history, but how much do we really connect with those around us? How close are you really to your 500 Facebook friends? Check in on your mates. Go crazy, pick up the phone and ask them out for dinner or a drink. Two things I loved at Woodford – this gigantic post box where visitors were encouraged to pen a letter to someone on site, and it would be delivered; and the phone a granny booth, where, for various hours each day, you could catch a chat with grandma.
9. Recycle more
The fine folk of the Woodford Folk Festival have been leading the way with recycling for years and each festival, it just gets better and better. (That’s another thing I love about Woodford, you can go every year, and there’s always something different). I adored the giant bamboo structure in the guts of the ground; had a few lazy drinks in the Vinyl Lounge (think your grandmother’s living room); and adored the giant sculptures made from recycled materials.
10. Smile more
I can’t count the number of complete strangers who caught my eye with a smile at the Woodford Folk Festival. And yes, it’s infectious. The next minute, I’m smiling at complete strangers, and then they’re smiling at complete strangers. You get my drift. And do plan a trip to Woodford this year. You’ll smile so much, your cheeks will ache.
The Global Goddess was a guest of the Woodford Folk Festival. To find out more about the 2018 festival, or other events on the site during the year including The Planting Festival, from May 4 to 6, go to https://woodfordfolkfestival.com
Check out Last Minute for great accommodation deals on the Sunshine Coast Last Minute
AS a travel writer, it’s natural for me to focus on the destinations in which I find myself, but for my last blog of 2017, I wish to highlight the people behind those places I was incredibly fortunate to visit this year. When you’re out in the world, hunting and gathering stories and photographs, it can be a bit of a lonely place, particularly if you’re travelling alone, as has been my strategy in recent years. Until you meet your guide. This year, I was blessed to have the most generous souls cross my path as I wandered around the planet, people who went above and beyond their roles as tour guides or tourism staff, many of whom became friends.
My travels started in February, at beautiful Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast. It was as hot as hell that weekend, where I partook in my first mountain bike tour with Bike On Australia. The next day, I kayaked the Noosa Everglades with Kanu Kapers Australia and both of my female guides were encouraging and taught me new techniques in both adventures, but above all, were the strong, smart women I so admire. Later that same month, I visited the remote Australian territory of Norfolk Island. Here, I met Tania from Norfolk Island Tourism, who introduced me to this destination’s incredible history, local food and wine, and the rugged landscape. I don’t have a snap of Tania, but I took plenty of the cows which inhabit this place, and which outnumber residents.
March was devoted to my home-state of Queensland, firstly visiting Tropical North Queensland’s Port Douglas and the Daintree. Here I ambled among the world’s oldest rainforest, Mother Nature being a particularly good guide on this trip, and snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef, reminding me of why I love living in this part of the world so much. Two weeks later I was in Bundaberg for a series of stories, where among my great guides, I met Suzie from Bundy Food Tours. Mother Nature made another big impact on this trip, introducing me for the first time to her turtle hatchlings on Mon Repos beach. It was so beautiful, I cried.
I encountered one of my favourite guides all year in the Cook Islands, when I met Aunty Nane. Aunty’s laugh was a cross between a gecko and an erupting volcano, and epitomised the soul and spirit of these proud Pacific Islanders. Aunty loved to eat and talk, and we spent 10 days doing just that, enjoying the spoils of the tropics. Aunty was convinced I would find a husband if I accompanied her to church, so off we trotted. I never found a bloke, but the singing gave me goose bumps. On an outlying island I also met Aunty Mii, who told me she spent her days trying to avoid her husband because he was “stupid”. You can’t win ‘em all.
In May, I was in Fiji for the wedding of my beautiful friend Saskia who married her Fijian warrior Pauliasi. The Fijians are great and gentle guides, who teach you much without even knowing it. It’s all about Fiji time up here, learning to slow down, that things don’t always go to plan, but you can always find a reason to smile. It’s a lesson which was carried into later that month when I visited the Whitsundays, which was rebuilding after Cyclone Debbie. Resilience? These people have it in shades, and again, amid the destruction, there were still smiles.
In June, I was up at Noosa again, gathering some last-minute stories for an urgent deadline, but my biggest teacher in both June and July was my wild eastern Australian carpet python, Sylvia. For a few weeks every winter, if the stars align, I try to slow down, stay home, go to yoga and try to find some balance. It’s not an easy fit for someone like me with such an active mind, but it’s crucial if I am to continue a hectic travel schedule for the rest of the year. Sylvia, my beloved snake, taught me the importance of hibernation, to follow the natural rhythms of the seasons, and to just be, at least for a few weeks. And so I did.
By August I was ready to go again, and after a brief trip to northern New South Wales, I attended the Australian Society of Travel Writers’ annual convention, which was this time held on the Sunshine Coast. On a beautiful winter day, while cycling along Caloundra, I bumped into these bathing beauties, who taught me you’re never too old and it’s never too cold, to swim, or laugh.
September was hectic, but also delicious. First, I flew to Canada where I fulfilled a story wish to snorkel with the salmon over at Vancouver Island on the Campbell River. My guide, Jamie, from Destiny River Adventures, was a little hard core, and proved to be scarier than the unexpected rapids into which I was flung and told to “fly like a superhero” to avoid being injured by rocks. But in the end, Jamie and I became friends, particularly when I emerged from the 14 degree rapids, smiling and shouting “that was awesome.” I was back in Brisbane for only four nights before it was off to Hong Kong, where I met another of my favourite guides, Vivian. I was hunting a story about fortune tellers, and Vivian and I trekked the streets of Hong Kong, while I indulged in “villain hitting” (to banish former boyfriends) and having everything from my face to my tarot read. I also popped over to Macau on this trip, where the guide really understood my need, mid-tour, to pop into the local bottle shop to pick up a drop of the local Portuguese wine.
I spent two weeks in October in Morocco where I was fortunate to have Khaled as my guide as we trekked, on an Intrepid Tour with 13 others, across this incredible country. It was here that I really sat back and observed how tough it is to be a guide, dealing with 13 different personalities, three distinct nationalities, long distances and tiring days. But Khaled never faltered, always finding the positive in every situation, doing his best to secure a glass of wine for us at the end of the day, and at one point, turning up at my door with a can of cold Casablanca beer after listening to my endless observations about how warm the beer was in Morocco.
In November, it was off to Bawah Island, a luxury new destination half way between Malaysia and Borneo, and three hours from Singapore. In terms of guides, it was an unusual week for me, as I spent it with a group of men, mostly part of the management team from Singapore, who were putting the final touches on this beautiful resort. With five men from different destinations, all of whom spoke at least two languages, conversations were colourful and entertaining. One of my favourite guides was the Italian dive instructor Paulo, with whom I would book in a morning snorkel straight after breakfast, and whose enthusiasm for Bawah’s underwater beauty was infectious.
Which brings me to December where I have just returned from a trip to the North Pole to interview Santa. I’d love to say Santa was my best guide, but he was hugely overshadowed by the kind and eccentric Irene, an artist who makes amazing things out of reindeer parts. Irene also talks to her house elves (one of which is currently being naughty and getting naked while Irene is in her studio), which made her one of the most interesting interviews I had all year. I headed further north in Lapland and stayed at Beana Lapponia Wilderness Lodge, where I met Tony, the husky handler, and he was also an incredible guide, teaching me not only how to harness huskies, but how to drive the husky sled through the snow.
It’s been another incredible year and I’d like to thank all of the tourism and travel operators, local communities, kind random strangers, PR people, publishers, editors and fellow writers, who I met on this incredible journey that was 2017. See you out there in 2018.
And to my beloved readers, thank you for supporting me. Wishing you peace on earth.
THIS Finnish fairy tale begins in the home of a Laplander who talks to elves, and ends with an interview with Santa Claus. I am sitting in the north of Finland in the Rovaniemi home of Irene and Ari Kankaanpaa, and Irene is explaining how one of her house elves doesn’t like where it sits, so much so that when Irene comes home from her artist studio, the elf is often naked. I suggest the elf may want to be in the sauna, where all good Finns get naked. Irene agrees. This is a story of Christmas miracles, elves and how I finally met Santa Claus.
And it starts with this eccentric artist who, with her husband Ari, spends her days crafting handicraft out of reindeer horns and other body parts. I learn a lot about reindeer, how up here they are considered the best due to the high calcium in their bones, and how the Finnish use every part for clothes, tools and food. And along the way I learn a little about love, Lapland style.
“We make love and fishing in summer and not so much fishing in winter,” Irene says.
“Lappish men don’t talk much, so don’t be too aggressive. It is a very equal relationship but both sides know their strengths and there is never a question about it.
“Lapland men want to go into nature too and you must let them go.
“If you want something from a man, always ask him when you are in the sauna.”
I tell Irene that I am meeting Santa the next day and that he’s failed in the past 9 years to deliver me a much-coveted boyfriend.
“Have you written to him?” she asks.
Actually no, I haven’t. Instead, I’ve been a typical female, expecting a man (in this case Santa) to be able to read my mind.
“Should Christine ask Santa for a boyfriend?” Irene whispers to her house elf?
The elf says yes. It’s a good sign.
I sleep the night in the exotic Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle where sublime snow is dumped on my glass ceiling during the night. I’m a tiny figurine inside a Christmas snow dome. I awake, pen my note (tossing in “peace on earth” for good measure), and march through the snow to the nearby Santa Claus Village, where I have the first appointment of the day with Santa.
Santa opens the dialogue, asking me the kind of question a Brisbanite would: whether I live on the “north side or south side” which is a little disturbing, as I feel he should already know this crucial bit of information.
He’s also not so great on meteorology, saying he doesn’t feel the heat in his bulky suit in Brisbane in summer as he arrives at night.
Who is HE kidding? I lay awake in December dressed in far less with a cool face washer on my boiling brow, cursing like a grinch.
Things are off to a shaky start.
But he’s up-to-speed on the no chimney situation in Brisbane, saying he just waltzes through the front door. I ask him whether that constitutes break and enter.
“Who would arrest me on Christmas night in this suit? I’m not breaking and entering, I’m delivering,” he says. (Try explaining that in Brisbane Magistrates Court).
He also wants Aussies to know the days of leaving out a cold beer for him are over “there’s no drinking and driving” and that he’d prefer a water. (Fine, Santa, more beer for me).
“I can promise that you are on the nice list. We don’t take the naughty ones in here at all,” he says.
I ask Santa whether Trump would make his naughty list. Santa quickly shuts me down. International politics are clearly not to be discussed with the big bearded bloke, who has just invoked the Santa Clause.
I move on to the issue at hand. The fact I want to meet a kind, smart and funny man. I personally hand my letter to Santa, having long given up on the efficacy of Australia Post.
“This has been top of the list for many people,” he says, reading my request for love.
“The biggest problem is I have no idea how to park them. Should I put him in a box or roll him up or put him in a sock?”.
I tell Santa to just shove the decent bloke through the front door and I can find him under the Christmas tree. Frankly, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve found a drunk bloke under a tree on my property.
“One problem is we don’t take back presents, there is no guarantee, so you are stuck with them,” he says.
I’m feeling Santa knows much more about Brisbane blokes than I first imagined, so I push him to just try to find me a good one.
“I can try, you never know what is around the next corner. They can just appear sometimes,” he says.
Two weeks to go. I’m waiting Santa. I’m waiting.
Visit Irene and Ari (and their elves) at Hornworks https://hornwork.fi/index.php/english
Stay in Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle http://www.santashotels.fi/en/hotelsantaclaus/glass-igloos-in-rovaniemi
The Global Goddess travelled a guest of Visit Rovaniemi http://www.visitrovaniemi.fi; 50 Degrees North, an Australian-based company which specialises in tailor-made itineraries for regions beyond the 50th parallel north; https://au.fiftydegreesnorth.com; and Finnair http://www.finnair.com. Fly in style via Singapore or Hong Kong to Helsinki in Finnair Business Class aboard an Airbus A350 XWB. Boasting fully flat-bed seats and Finland’s famous Marimekko-design bedding and accessories, these Nordic-styled cabins come replete with Northern Lights mood lighting