Imagine all the people, living life in peace.” John Lennon
IT was her handbag which captured my attention. A beautiful travel tale of tapestry which whispered of a faraway land. I commented on her bag and she glanced at me from under inky black eyes. Her accent was baklava sweet, dripping in Middle Eastern exoticism, of sultry deserts and sticky desserts, piquant shisha pipes and ancient mosques wailing the Muslim call to prayer. “I am from Iran,” she said, smiling, “do you know Iran?” I have never walked in her homeland, but I know her region. Yet another destination. Like loneliness. Since publishing my blog on loneliness last week I have made an effort to walk my talk and try to connect more with my fellow humans, on a day-to-day level. I have been showered with so much love about my blog post, I couldn’t ignore the deluge. And what a torrent it was. I have been overwhelmed by phone calls, messages, emails and comments from friends and strangers from around the world. So today, I thought I’d share some of those responses, to remind you, that we are not alone.
One of my most deliciously surprising messages came in the form of an email, from the Netherlands.
“I stumbled upon your blog, “Only the lonely” and it touched me.
It feels vulnerable, and showing vulnerability is also strength,” the male reader said.
“Although from a slightly different angle, I can relate with your story.
I flew back from Brisbane(!) 2 month ago to the Netherlands after seven months of traveling alone.
“Yes, travelling you meet all kinds of awesome people down the road, but – also yes – it’s easy to miss the deeper connections.
Moreover, I felt a kind of alienated coming home.
“In my case, because I have had so many new and weird experiences to the extent, I have difficulty connecting to “normal” people.”
One of dear friends, who lives in the UK, sent me a message from the midst of their freezing summer.
“Your blog brought a tear to me…people don’t understand loneliness. I can howl for England on my down days,” she wrote.
It seems I made quite a few people cry (sorry), but I’m told in the nicest way.
Closer to home, a friend messaged me with the words “You made me cry with that post this morning. Beautifully written, and a good reminder to us all to be kind to each other,” she said.
Another wrote: “I cried and then smiled as I read your beautiful words and realised how terribly I am disconnected as well.”
And yet another wrote: “Oh, just having a teary in to my coffee. All those lonely days out in the regions coming back to haunt me through your always stunning words.”
Believe me when I say I never expected my two-day cry-fest, which ended in me penning a blog to try and write my way out of it, punch my way out of that painful paper bag, would have such an impact.
Another friend commented “I think we need more honesty to counteract all the bullshit because life is hard and shitty sometimes. By sharing your truth, you give other people permission to be honest…community is how humans have evolved and survived. It’s crazy (and arrogant) to think we don’t need it anymore.”
And this from another “I stopped walking to work months ago now, from the car park 20 mins away….. I have just felt worse and worse and retreated into my shell – over the last few weeks I have slowly started again! It has been great to see the happy Irishman I have gotten to know, and his wife – we always smile and chat quickly, today was in the morning and afternoon! It is always the small things that make us connected.”
Connections. Every person spoke about connections. And so many, many people admitted to being lonely. The issue is so big, that in the UK, they’ve even appointed the first ever Minister for Loneliness. And it got me thinking, is loneliness a First World problem? To some extent, yes, as we tend to have less community or “tribe” than those in Third World countries, but it would be too simplistic to suggest that those in developing nations don’t also struggle with loneliness. When I think back to my travels of the past two years, I think of the Ubuntu women in Kenya, who were ostracised by their communities and husbands, after they gave birth to disabled children; and the survivors of sex trafficking in Nepal, whose parents sold them into the sex trade so that their families could survive. On the other hand, I think about Bhutan, a place I travelled last year to see if it really was, as it claimed, the happiest place on the planet. In my interview with Gross National Happiness Director Sonam Tsoki Tenzin, she spoke about “authentic happiness”, a collective for the whole country and its people.
“I don’t feel sorry for people in the west because you are better educated and have a better lifestyle. But maybe you haven’t used it in the best of your interests,” she says.
“You’ve made it very easy to get things done, but have forgotten to get along with people.”
Back home in Australia, the World Kindness Movement shared my blog, which sparked another stream of conversations among strangers I had never met. I don’t have the answer to loneliness, but I believe it lays somewhere in remembering to be compassionate to yourself and others. Say hello to the exotic woman with the pretty handbag; wave if someone gives you a break in traffic; apologise if you are wrong. It costs nothing to be kind, but the impact you may have on just one person, could make all the difference to their day. Let’s keep this conversation going. In the words of John Lennon, imagine…
THERE’S tin and timber shacks – pops of pink, green and blue – framing the roadside lined by sugar cane paddocks and laundry swaying in the South Pacific breeze. Makeshift roadside stalls are peddling tropical fruit picked fresh off the tree and fish plucked straight from the ocean. Lush sugar cane paddocks are punctuated by skinny kids clutching soccer balls and there’s a cacophony of chooks, horses and goats. I am being driven along a potholed road, pointing in the direction of lumpy, bumpy emerald hills. The air is scented with frangipani and hibiscus.
I’m back in Fiji, home to big, bursting blue skies and Bula smiles. And I’ve returned to the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, one of my favourite hideaways in the South Pacific. Later this night I’ll sip a vodka spiced with Fijian rum and scattered with shards of coconut. It tastes like a sun-kissed day at the beach. But before then, I check into this 18ha resort, perched right on the Coral Sea, and my beautiful bure which signals I am home. Late afternoon, a butler will bring me champagne and canapes, before I feast on lobster and one of the finest Fijian sunsets for dinner.
The next day heralds what the Fijians call a “monkey’s birthday”, a morning of sun showers which quickly concede to sunshine which is fortuitous, as I am on the new Ecotrax tour, a 23km return cycling trip along dormant sugar cane tracks. This journey begins in a locomotive shed which dates back to the early 1900s with the beautiful Britney, who I’ve met on previous trips to Fiji. The tracks were once used by the thriving sugar cane industry but floods in 2009 put a halt to this, and many farmers have now turned to lifestyle farming.
On this jaunty journey I will cycle across 10 rickety rail bridges and past two sleepy villages at a maximum speed of 20kmh, part roaring reef and through rainforest which smells like moist mangroves. There’s even a Tunnel of Love but there’s no such luck for me on this day, as I continue on past curious children, cows, goats and villagers before arriving at Vunabua or “frangipani” beach. Enroute, our guides have collected from the villagers coconuts, in a move which encourages microbusinesses, and whose hydrating waters I sip with gusto after my cycle and bath in the warm waters of the South Pacific Ocean. There’s plenty of new things happening in Fiji since my last visit, and I drink it all in with thirst. I’ve never slept in a bure at Outrigger Beach Resort and lay awake at night, intrigued by the hand-painted tapa ceilings whose different symbols tell a story, a bit like Australian Aboriginal rock art.
A stiff south-easterly trade wind is blowing the next morning when I meet Outrigger Beach Resort Guest Activities Manager and Cultural Advisor Kini Sarai. Kini is poised oceanfront to talk about this resort’s environmental and conservation initiatives, which are part of Outrigger’s global OZONE initiative. June is world oceans’ month, and the Outrigger group takes its role in this story seriously. Here in Fiji, May is the month of tidal surges, which leads to reef erosion, something Kini, staff and guests are trying to stem. There’s a fish house made from sea rocks and concrete upon which coral is planted on top and transplanted to the reef.
At Outrigger Beach Resort, coral planting takes place every Wednesday at 10am and is an organised activity for guests. The program, which has been in place for three years, has already resulted in significant improvement to the reef with increased numbers of fish in the lagoon. By December this year, Kini hopes to have planted a football field of coral.
“We are seeing fish that used to be here, returning,” he says.
“At high tide, on a good day, we have baby reef sharks, sometimes as many as 100, that come up the beach here.
“Everybody that we take out on this program comes back very satisfied with themselves. It adds to the experience of staying here, we see it as a win/win.”
There’s more new things to see and do here at Outrigger Beach Resort, which aims to launch a refurbishment program of its rooms next January. Dine at the award-winning IVI Restaurant on a new menu which boasts the likes of sizzled scallops and prosciutto salad; sea snapper and shelled mud crab; and that old firm favourite, flaming crepes for dessert. High on the hill, where there are future plans to build private pool villas, indulge in a traditional Fijian facial and massage at the Bebe Spa Sanctuary. Like the reef itself, every time I visit Fiji I find myself rejuvenating. Nothing quite beats a big Bula hug and that feeling of home. Hope sways like a hammock here, and the hearts, well they’re as huge as a South Pacific sunset. Pure Fiji indeed.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Outrigger Beach Resort Fiji http://www.outrigger.com/hotels-resorts/fiji/viti-levu/outrigger-on-the-lagoon-fiji
To find out more about Outrigger’s OZONE initiative, go to https://www.outrigger.com/ozone-program/overview
Take an Ecotrax tour with https://www.fiji.travel/us/activity/ecotrax
IN a basic, barren Kenyan playground, with the odd splashes and sploshes of colour, sits a big toy train emblazoned with the words “the fun starts here.” At first glance, it’s an overly optimistic sign on a thirsty piece of land which trades primarily in dreams. But it’s a story which dates back to 2007 when a group of nine mums with disabled children rented a space in an African town to start a school for their kids. Outcasts, and struggling due to their children’s challenges, one year later, these African mamas started a small factory with the aim of earning a living, many of them single after their husbands abandoned them.
By 2013, they had opened a café, one year later, the factory moved out of town and, like the herb garden they’ve planted outside this flavoursome food stop, the Ubuntu Café and factory is now flourishing. These days, the Ubuntu Café not only serves organic food but its adjacent shop sells canvas shoes, wine bags, leather totes and other items sewn by the women. The next project is to move the school to the land to cater for about 60 kids with special needs.
Join a G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari experience and you can experience exclusive access to the women at the Ubuntu Café. Situated near Mai Mahiu, 45km west of Nairobi, G Adventures’ guests can visit the craft centre and meet some of the original mums behind the project, such as Alice.
“We started without knowing anything about what we are all about, “Alice says.
“We came up with the idea of buying a manual machine. We did not know how to work the machine, we did not make anything because we did not know how to sew.
“Our teacher started showing us how to make small bags. We continued working with the bags so we became perfect. The day we earned money everybody in the community learned about it because never before had we earned money.
“Sometimes we would eat, sometimes we don’t. Nowadays I expect to always eat because I earn money. Now, we are experts.”
On the journey to Ubuntu, G Adventures Chief Experience Officer and my guide, George Njuguna Mwaura, says women have not always fared well under Kenyan laws with three sets of laws ruling the land. There’s African traditional laws, religious laws and statutory laws which override all others. But while female genital mutilation is illegal under statutory laws, it is still considered acceptable under African traditional law.
“If I tell you they didn’t still do it, I would be lying to you. They do it in secret,” George says.
“In Kenya, our law allows more than one wife but you can only have a second wife if the first wife consents to it.
“Only in the in the last 20 years, have Masai women started working in hotels, etc. For a long time, Masai women didn’t have a place in the community, there was a total disregard for women, they were doing everything.”
Paid work is a big issue in Kenya, where unemployment rates sit at a staggering 50 per cent. But George says there’s a bigger problem with terrorism than crime. In January this year, 21 people were killed in the latest terrorism attack in Nairobi when armed militants targeted hotels and shops in the Kenyan capital. G Adventures assesses any potential threats in every country in which it operates tours to ensure it is safe for visitors. At the time of my visit in early April, security was among the highest I have experienced anywhere in the world.
“Our problems with terrorism come from the Somali pirates of the Indian Ocean who hijacked ships and trade routes. These Al Shabab terrorists came back inland and Kenya deployed its defence forces against the Al Shabab militia,” George says.
“We are always on high alert, you never know when they will strike,” he says. We have had some serious attacks.
“Most people who come to Kenya fall in love with the country despite the problems we’ve been having with terrorism.”
And fall in love, I do. In part with its wildlife, but particularly with Kenya’s people. And the daughters of Mother Africa. Back at the Ubuntu workshop, far away from the big issues of the world, there’s almost 40 women sitting behind buzzing Brother sewing machines. Women such as Josephine, who has not only bought a plot of land with her earnings but built a house.
I ask Josephine what Ubuntu means in the Swahili language.
“I am, because you are,” she says, looking me squarely in the eye.
“I cannot make it without you.”
And with that simple phrase, the seeds of hope are sewn as deftly as the craft and optimism in which these women trade every single day.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures http://www.gadventures.com
To find out more about this G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari go to https://www.gadventures.com/trips/kenya-safari-experience/DKKNG/
Controversial legislation being touted by Kenya could see this African nation introduce the death penalty for animal poachers. Under current law, poaching attracts a life sentence in prison or a $200,000 fine. But animal activists says this is not enough. The Global Goddess travelled to Kenya with G Adventures in early April, to experience its amazing wildlife, including some of its 34,000 remaining elephants.
WE are bouncing on a lumpy, bumpy road, along a highway of cellulite and scars, past colourful, chaotic markets, travelling west to Kenya’s Masai Mara. Goats, sheep, shacks and shanties of corrugated iron punctuate the scenery, while babies as black as ink hang in slings over the hooked backs of their mothers. I am on an 8-day G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari which takes in the Masai Mara National Reserve, best known for its wildebeest migration; Lake Nakuru National Park, renowned for its rhino; and Amboseli National Park, acclaimed for its elephants.
Shortly after Nairobi we straddle The Rift Valley – a 9600km gash which runs from Jordan to Mozambique – pausing in curious curio shops with jangles of bangles and throaty drums covered in goat skin. Big bottomed baboons cross the road which is framed by the cactus-looking Euphobia tree and Africa’s acclaimed Acacias.
Just after Narok, the last town before the Masai Mara, the blessed bitumen concedes to undying dust, sharp stone chips and cavernous pot holes.
In the Masai Mara National Reserve, they say you can hear the lions roar from five kilometres away. Outside our tents at Fig Tree Camp there’s a croc in the creek and a hungry, hungry hippo, or two.
A late afternoon safari yields gazelle, zebra, buffalo, warthog, baboons and impala. A willy willy, or “Kinbunga” in Swahili dances in the distance around the thirsty earth. We stumble upon a cool school of hippos frolicking in their dirty day spa along the Talek River, while the vultures circle like an aeronautical show and a lone lioness crouches under a bush. A pack of hyenas, suckling their young, display their soft maternal side, while a marabou stork, with the widest wing span of all of Africa’s birds, perches precariously in a tree. There’s even time to spot a leopard, with the same spring in its step as the jolly jumpy up-and-down Masai Mara people, before the flaming sun concedes to a purple marshmallow sunset.
“The Masai happen to be the last group of Africans who are still living their traditional way of life,” G Adventures Chief Experience Officer and our guide George Njuguna Mwaura says.
“They originated from the lower delta of the Nile River around the 18th century. They are pastoralists of semi-nomadic nature.
“They believe all the animals belong to them. Anytime they go raiding they don’t feel guilty. The Masais do not eat game meat.
“The Masais were pushed aside with white settlement and National Parks. Now they live right next to the National Parks because the land originally belonged to them.
“There is a lot of fear that the animals have of the Masai people. They are known as fearsome warriors, even to the lion, the king of the jungle.”
A new dawn ushers in a cool aerial safari in a hot air balloon where in the distance, a roaring lion sounds like a beating African drum. From the air, green shoots of hope are already peeking through the scorched, blackened ground from a controlled burn off, in preparation for the annual migration of wildebeest. Back on the ground, a dazzle of zebra stand top-to-tail to watch each other’s backs while a memory of elephants emerges from a mud bath.
By the time the shocking pink sunset plummets to earth, it’s a day of the jackal.
Cheetahs, known as the “terrorists” of the park, farewell our visit to the Masai Mara as we head towards Lake Nakuru National Park. Colourful churches, spurious shops and pastel pubs adorned with optimistic names line the highway. There’s God’s Victory Pub, Romance Salon and Cosmetics, and the Deliverance Church.
At Lake Nakuru National Park, there’s a sassy secretary bird with its lanky legs, hooked red nose and quills on its head. But don’t be fooled by its amusing appearance of a county court clerk, it can kill even the most venomous snake.
A wake of vultures is feeding on a dead buffalo while a hyena howls in the background. The rare Rothschild giraffe, found only in this park, stands loud and proud in the early morning orange light. Out on the lake, a flock of flamingos, coloured Barbie doll pink from the blue-green algae on which they feast, has gathered to gossip, while further along, a rhino and her calf are grazing on the grass. We head back in the direction of Nairobi, which means “the city under the sun” and past the Kibera Slum, home to 1 million people and the biggest slum in Africa. It is incomprehensible.
But we are not done yet. Before we leave, we have a date with Mount Kilimanjaro and Amboseli National Park. Standing at 5985 metres, Kili is the highest point in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. “What makes this park really popular is that you are standing in front of the postcard…Kilimanjaro, the elephant, the Acacia tree,” George says.
“Different communities believe their Gods reside on the top of Kilimanjaro. When we are performing our traditional ceremonies, we pray. Even before the colonial people came, Africans believed in God such as the God of Rain.
“Even when we pray we have to face Kilimanjaro or Mount Kenya.”
Out in Amboseli National Park there’s a troupe of yellow baboons, a zebra crossing, and a duo of vultures. There’s ostentatious ostriches teetering on their stilettos, spoonbill stalks and Egyptian geese.
Meanwhile Kili flitters and flirts, at times shrouded in cloud, a mystery to even the Masai who wander her valleys. And somewhere, out in the park, stands Tim, the 48-year-old elephant with the huge tusk, who was once collared by park rangers to track his behaviour.
But Tim had other plans and returned to the front gate, depositing the collar which he had somehow removed without breaking, and dropping it defiantly so it could be found. Tim has forged such a relationship with rangers that he will return to them each time he is injured, before cutting loose on the park to cause more havoc.
And in many ways, this emotional elephant captures the soul of Kenya. Playful, defiant, oozing spirit and soul. Mother Kenya bleeds red. Rusty soil, the crimson cloths of the Masai warriors, the blood of her wildlife kills and her blushing, beating heart. She is simultaneously giving and gritty. Water may be a precious commodity here, but hope, she springs eternal.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures http://www.gadventures.com
To find out more about this G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari go to https://www.gadventures.com/trips/kenya-safari-experience/DKKNG/
A HEAVENLY Hawaiian girl is dancing the hula on the dashboard as I bounce along in the back of a Teale-coloured kombi, circa 1966. The sun is threatening to set over the Noosa River, where a cheeky chorus of rainbow lorikeets is chattering like a gaggle of Hastings Street gossips. It’s been a scorching autumn day and I grasp for the breeze on my face as we chug along into the cooling evening.
Even Elani, the hula girl, appears to nod in approval, as does Old Skool Kombis owner Scott Montague, whose hands are wrapped lovingly around the huge, white wheel as if it is precious cargo. Valued at $70,000, this retro ride takes up to eight passengers on tours of Noosa, the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, the coast road from Noosa to Coolum or custom-made trips from anything to a private picnic to a surfing safari.
“I make sure passengers enjoy it and it’s relaxed because that’s what kombis are all about,” Scott says.
“It was always my passion. I’ve always had kombis and I turned it into a business to pay for it. Everybody loves them around Noosa, it’s an iconic surf wheel.”
Fortune favours the brave. And on this balmy evening, arriving at our Noosaville destination, fortune also flavours the brave. I have the great privilege of attending the official opening of Fortune Distillery, Noosa’s only distillery providing Australian spirits. It’s adjacent to their Land and Sea Brewery, which opened 14 months ago, and which boasts Harley and Honda motorcycles above the bar, and old-fashioned pinball machines and a surfboard or two in the corners.
On this edgy evening, there’s a tattooed muso perched on the back of a 1954 fully, restored old school Chevy from the United States. Slick? You ain’t seen nothing yet. On the menu there’s a white malt as well as a vodka, but it’s the signature dry gin which uses eight botanicals, including North Queensland honey dew melon, which steals the show here. The dudes behind the distillery are all pointy shoes, hairy faces and tattoos but say this new venture is less about the hipster set and more about the next stage of life.
Brand Creator Tim Crabtree says he launched Land and Sea as Noosa was calling out for a lifestyle-based brewery.
“We live in Noosa, it’s a beautiful part of the world, we go to the beach all day, and eat fine food, nothing sets it off like a beautiful craft beer,” he says.
“The plan was to expand our range while keeping a similar sort of ethos…let’s create a spirit brand that echoes the same sort of lifestyle. There’s an element of fun, personality and hijinks in the brand.
“Let’s take our Land and Sea customers and move them on 15 years where they wear fine clothes and drink fine drinks.
“It’s also aspirational, it’s chasing the dream a little bit.”
At this point in the conversation I pause and wonder why I’m still stuck in the craft beer phase, when I should be wearing fine clothes and drinking fine drinks. Hell, I should have a Noosa beach house by now. I decide it’s best that I take another sip of that fine gin while I contemplate what I’ve been doing with my life.
What I do know is that I’m in Noosa previewing the Noosa Food and Wine Festival which will be held from May 16 to 20. Fortune Distillery will be there, collaborating with local businesses such as the Peter Phillips Gallery which will showcase a retrospective of renowned pop artist Peter Phillips. It’s the first time the Noosa Food and Wine Festival, in its 16th year, has explored art and food together and to celebrate, Fortune will be releasing a Peter Phillips gin. Two events will be staged at the gallery over the weekend where celebrated chef Josh Lopez will create a six-canape course inspired by six decades of Peter’s work. At the second event, a full degustation menu which also pays homage to Peter’s work will be served on this beautiful acreage property.
There’s much to ponder on this Indian summer evening as I jump back into the kombi just in time to snatch a Neapolitan sunset. We chug back along the river, taking a brief detour to witness the renovated boardwalk from Hastings Street to Noosa National Park. Warm salt air wiggles through the window and the boardwalk is lit up with fairy lights. It feels like Christmas. We dine on Fraser Island spanner crab risotto with sea urchin butter at Locale, one of the restaurants which will be involved in the Noosa Food and Wine Festival Noir Noosa event, a black-tie dinner along Hastings Street which will celebrate Moet and Chandan’s 150th anniversary. Sated by all this talk of food, and the fab food itself, we wander back to our hotel, the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort, which is not only a stylish stalwart of the Noosa scene, but also of the Noosa Food and Wine Festival itself, hosting a number of swanky events.
Noosa Food and Wine Festival Director Sheridah Puttick says there are some exciting additions to this year’s event. Expect a Noosa-inspired cocktail called Tan Lines; the new exclusive River Lounge; the Red Snapper brunch serving gin Bloody Marys; and chefs from Bikini in Bali’s Seminyak. The highlight which catches my eye, however, is the industry day on the Monday, where Australia’s leading food rescue charity OzHarvest will create a brunch from festival leftovers for the hospitality industry. In fact, all of the food left over from the festival village itself is recycled by OzHarvest.
Sheridah says the Noosa Food and Wine Festival is about sustainability and building on the natural beauty of Noosa.
“It is about supporting our local industry. A lot of our businesses are in hospitality or accommodation,” she says.
“For me, it is about working with passionate people.”
The Noosa Food and Wine Festival will be held from May 16 to 20 http://www.noosafoodandwine.com.au
• Stay at the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort http://www.sofitelnoosapacificresort.com.au
• Travel around the region with Old Skool Kombis http://www.oldskoolkombisnoosa.com.au
• The Peter Phillips Gallery will be open to event ticket holders or by private appointment http://www.peterphillips.com
• Check out Fortune Distillery http://www.noosaheadsdistillery.com/fortune; and Locale Noosa http://www.localenoosa.com.au
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Noosa http://www.visitnoosa.com.au
ON a sassy Southampton Saturday evening, I am stalking screen siren Sophia Loren. Let me repeat that. I am stalking Sophia Loren, the acclaimed Italian actress. Sure, it’s not my usual Saturday night, back in Brisbane, clutching a bottle of shiraz and what’s left of my dignity while I watch Disney movies, but life as a travel writer sometimes takes you to the most unusual places, where you are plunged into the most unlikely scenarios, and on this particular Saturday night, this is precisely where I find myself.
I am in the UK, at Southampton Port, to be precise, covering the launch of the world’s newest cruise liner, MSC Bellissima which claims to be the most beautiful ship in the world. And I am sitting front row of the media throng, on the dock, having just watched Andrea Bocelli and his son Mateo perform on stage. The gargantuan ship sits in the background, attempting to provide a buffer from the gale-force winds that have whipped up on this evening. But just as Ms Loren is about to appear on stage, and cut the all-important ribbon before a bottle of champagne is smashed against the hull (a waste of plonk, in my humble opinion), all 2000 guests in the marquee are told to urgently evacuate themselves back onto the ship. The winds have become wicked, and a little dangerous in this tent, and so we “Brexit” back onto the boat. I am reminded of one of Ms Loren’s famous quotes: “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti”. We have so much in common.
Amid the confusion, my new Kiwi mate and I make some swift decisions. Turn left and we follow the confused crowd. Turn right, and we are in a mad mosh pit of VIPS. We take a sharp right, and walk straight past a waiting Mercedes Benz. The windows are dark but we know who is in there. It’s Ms Loren, but we have no time to loiter as the crowd shuffles us in the rain and wind, back onto the boat. We snatch a champagne from the bar while we contemplate our brief brush with fame. Meanwhile the heads of this Italian shipping company, bless them, rise to the occasion.
“Everybody, have a drink,” they declare as only Italians (and possibly Aussies) in an emergency can, and 2000 people scatter among the ship, awaiting details on what to do next. I stand with my Kiwi mate, hoping to catch a glimpse in the distance of Sophia and strategizing as only two desperate Antipodeans can, on where we think she’ll do the launch.
I am dressed to impress, in a faux fur I’ve bought online from China. But I was no longer worried about embarrassing myself. The previous day, I locked myself out of my cruise cabin wearing nothing but my QANTAS pyjamas. Shoe-less and bra-less, I complete the shuffle-of-shame to the ship’s lift, descend five decks below, and saunter through a bar full of well-dressed Europeans to reception to order a new key. In order to stop my breasts from jiggling, I cross my arms over my chest, as if I’m about to abandon ship and jump into the seas below. Hell, who needs a bra when God has given me two perfectly good arms? What was I thinking all these years?
On this evening of Ms Loren, I am wearing a bra, shoes and my fur and impressively, in less than 15 minutes since the disruption, the show is ready to resume. If you can judge a cruise company on how it handles an emergency, MSC comes up trumps. I am pondering all of this when something spectacular happens. Inexplicably, I turn around. And right behind me, within hugging distance, there she is, in all of her Italian glory. She’s 84 and as elegant as ever, in a shimmering gold gown and giant crucifix. I frantically snap shots as she saunters past. She sashays and steals centre stage, mid ship. The “godmother” of MSC Cruises, she makes some comments about the beauty of cruising, before she heads back my way. I want to reach out and touch her, tell her that Australia loves her, but I simply stand there in giddy adoration. A month before, a fortune cookie I had eaten during a Chinese New Year celebration in Sydney had predicted “Your life will soon be graced with the presence of stardom.” And there she was.
One day, when I’m 84, the age that Sophia is now, I’m sure I’ll be telling these tales to unbelieving ears. By then, I’m pretty sure I will also be wearing QANTAS pyjamas full time and locking myself out of my room on a regular basis. Who will ever comprehend that I flew to Europe for less than a week, jumped aboard the world’s newest cruise liner, and bumped into Sophia Loren? Such is the crazy life of a travel writer. Amid all of the fog of jetlag, those long, lonely hours on the road, the anxiety of deadlines, the uncertainty of where the next word or pay cheque may come from, come these magical moments. A good mate recently reminded me that as travel writers, we have a backstage pass to the world. And if my job has taught me anything, it’s this: just like this ship launch on this wild, windy evening, life never works out as you had planned. But sometimes, it can be better. So travel as much as you can, turn right when you should turn left, and wait for the wonderful.
The Global Goddess was a guest of MSC Bellissima – http://www.msccruises.com.au
That’s right. The one and only. Regular readers will know I have erotic dreams about Hugh and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only Australian woman, or man for that matter, in this situation. The film set for the movie Australia may have long departed Bowen, but Hugh’s spirit lives on. Swim at Horseshoe Bay, where Hugh used to take a dip, or even better, head to Jocheims Bakery and wrap your mouth around Hugh, by ordering the Jackman Special Hunky Beef pie.
2.Coral Cove Resort
This 4.5-star apartment building, perched on the edge of the Coral Sea, is Bowen’s most luxurious and deservedly so. Opt for a penthouse or sub-penthouse and sit on your yawning balcony overlooking Grays Bay, sipping champagne and waiting for a spectacular sunset over the ocean. Every one of these tastefully-decorated apartments has a sea view, so you can’t go wrong. Order a tasting platter from Meraki Whitsundays, which also has a café overlooking the beach at Horseshoe Bay (where Hugh likes to swim), and you never need leave your apartment.
3.The Cove Restaurant
Everyone I spoke with about Bowen raved about the local Chinese place here. And there I was, picturing some badly-decorated joint from 1970s Queensland serving sweet and sour pork. Wrong. The Cove Restaurant, which is on the ground floor of Coral Cove Resort, serves delicious Chinese and Thai food. Feast on the likes of Local Barra Fish Fillet with Ginger and Shallot while enjoying a North Queensland sunset (preferably with Hugh). It’s Asian food, with an Aussie twist.
While The Global Goddess actually has three sisters, none of them live in Bowen. Instead, I am referring to Le Sorelle, Three Sisters Coffee House and Florist. Three local girls, Alexandra, Bianca and Virginnia, who also happen to be sisters, have banded together to open this cute café with its faux grass walls and ceiling. You’ll find fake and real flowers here (Hugh, are you reading this?), as well as good coffee among an extensive menu.
Breakfast was so delicious I forgot to take a photo…
5.The Big Mango
Yes, it’s a bit daggy, but Queenslanders love their big things (um, Hugh…), and once you’ve arrived at The Big Mango, you know you’ve arrived in Bowen. Pause for a mango sorbet here or to buy some mango soap, learn about all the things you can do in this alluring area, and take an obligatory snap with this huge yellow icon. What I didn’t know is that what we call the Bowen mango is actually the Kensington Pride, developed in Bowen and considered the best eating mango due the fact it is not stringy, is sweet, travels well and looks good. It was Indian horse traders who actually introduced mangoes to north Queensland.
6.The Grandview Hotel
This heavenly hotel, which turns 100 this year, has recently undergone a facelift. Outside, it’s still that stately Queenslander building which was a popular haunt for cast and crew filming Australia (Hugh was here) but inside, it takes its exposed brick and timber and blends it with a tasteful Hamptons feel. Think plush olive couches, plenty of cushions, great lighting. There’s old black and white photos adorned along the bar above which sits a boat, while a ship mast in the courtyard has been salvaged off another vessel. In the women’s toilet, you’ll love the black and white photo of Bowen’s bathing beauties, which dates back to 1948.
Again, I was too busy eating/thinking about Hugh, and forgot to take a photo
7.Bowen Summergarden Cinemas
Built in 1948, this is the longest continuous-running cinema in Queensland, and potentially Australia. Even better, owner Ben De Luca has worked here for the past 56 years, since he was first a trainee projectionist at 15 years of age. Ben’s passion for film is palpable and while the cinema has transformed from one theatre with hessian chairs into two modern theatres, this institution retains its old-world charm. Walk down “Catherine Martin’s Hall” and admire signed movie posters from the cast of Australia (you know Hugh…). Ben was named Queensland Cinema Pioneer of the Year in 2018 and knows a thing or two about the flicks.
Bowen boasts eight beaches within a 10-minute drive. That’s one for every day of the week, plus a spare. And each beach has its own distinct personality. Kings Beach is for the Robinson Crusoe traveller who likes to take their dog for a walk; Rose Bay is ideal for snorkelling; The Front Beach is for families where kids chase soldier crabs and frolic in a water park; Gordon Beach is off-the-beaten track which is great for fishing; Queen’s Beach is the longest with a 5km stretch of sand; Grays Bay is for sunset drinks, paddle boarding and kayaking; Murray Bay is a hidden local secret found down a little track; and on Horseshoe Bay you can be snorkelling reef with 10 kicks off the shore. Did I mention Hugh Jackman used to swim at Horseshoe Bay? Which brings me to ninth beach. Nudie Beach. As the name suggests, it’s for those who like to get their gear off. Hugh, I know you’re reading this…