I AM sitting in my hot Brisbane office dressed in a leopard-print summer dress, reflecting on my life as a travel writer in 2016. Let’s not beat around the boiling bush, it was always going to be a quirky one after I kicked off the year in January at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat on the Gold Coast where I spent an hour in a one-on-one mediation session with a horse, of course.
Yes, Jack, the 22-year-old horse, was quite the listener and as it turned out, I was a good learner, discovering more about myself in that paddock than years of therapists have been to unravel. Working with my breath, and the fact horses are instinctive creatures, I was able to go from having Jack walk away from me (apparently I hate rejection) to have Jack trotting around the ring by the end of the session, based purely on my inner calm and emotions. He even stopped on cue when I exhaled. In that one crowded hour I learned I am prone to being a bit of a bull at a gate, and expecting others to join me on my crazy schemes, without first checking that they’re on board. Jack, you taught me a lot.
In February, and in the name of another story, I plunged into the warm waters off Lord Howe Island for Ocean Swim Week with World Ironman Champion Ali Day and Pinetrees Lodge. I’d never swum out in the open ocean before and learned that it was far more different and difficult to the university pool in which I try to carve up a daily 1km. Swimming among reef sharks and over fantastic coral, I also learned I could overcome sea sickness in rough swells and complete an impressive 2-3km a day. I also learned I’m incredibly stubborn once I push through an initial lack of confidence. Salty and stubborn. And I wonder why I’m single.
March saw me in Fiji, working with the fine folk at the Outrigger Fiji Resort and writing stories about some innovative and compassionate community projects in which they are involved, building new kindergartens and maternity wards. That kindy opened last week and it was heartening to know I was there at that pivotal point in history with people who have so little, but find so much reason for joy. Want perspective on your life? Head to the South Pacific. Sit under a coconut tree and pull your head out of your proverbial. It will change you, I promise.
In April, I was in Germany on a beer tour, also in the name of research, and if you think I had to train for Ocean Swim Week, it’s like I was born for Beer Week. And to think successive maths teachers over the years said I would never amount to anything. Add to that a dash of Mother Nature where I summited Germany’s highest mountain…and by summit I mean taking a gondola to the top and promptly order a beer and goulash. Because I’m hard-core. I explored my animal instinct here by taking to Bavarian Tinder and I was quite the hit in Germany. Not that I had time to actually meet any of my Bavarian boyfriends, but I got the distinct impression they were different to Brisbane boys and not once did anyone send me a photo of their penis. #winning
May turned out to be a journey of a different kind where I had some long-awaited tests and surgery for health symptoms that killed a fellow travel writer last year. While my tests turned out fine, the surgery laid me up for four weeks in incredible pain, and it was a time to reflect and go inwards, something I’m not particularly good at. But when Mother Nature speaks, sometimes you have to listen and it was a good life lesson. I did have a moment of truth while awaiting those test results, questioning myself on whether I was living the life I wanted. And the answer was yes. By June, when I was back on the road in Vienna and Monaco, exploring Royal and Imperial Luxury Europe, I was thrilled. I may have even danced around the house just prior to leaving to Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again. Because I have an excellent taste in music.
In July, I braved a chilly Toowoomba trip to explore the city’s sensational street art. And it blew my socks off. Not literally, as that would have been unpleasant in the cold, but metaphorically. I also took my first trip to Darwin and again, was thrilled by the Northern Territory capital with its outdoor cinemas, national parks, and great dining and accommodation offerings. This is a city which celebrates its sunsets, with hundreds of residents and tourists flocking to the beach to watch the sun plunge into the ocean and that, in itself, was a magical moment. A destination which sells tickets to its annual festival out of an original caravan used to house homeless people after 1974’s Cyclone Tracy? You’ve gotta love that.
August saw me at Sabi Sabi Private Game Lodge in South Africa on a luxury safari and yes, I was lucky to experience the Big 5, plus all the rest. Mother Africa and her beautiful people stole a piece of my heart and I came home reeling from Jo’Burg’s street art to Robben Island where the mighty Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 year jail term. There’s usually about one month of the year where I try to stop, pause, reflect and recharge and it was September this year, which also turned out to be my birthday month, and what a delight it was to be a normal person again, catching up with friends, going to yoga classes, and just “sitting with myself” as we say in meditation.
In October, I was out on the road again, on my longest trip of the year to Canada where I started in Vancouver, sitting in a traditional indigenous sweat lodge with an elder, talking to our ancestors. But the absolute highlight of that three-week journey was the opportunity to go on a walking safari with the polar bears with Churchill Wild. I discovered that the Lord of the Arctic was to be respected, not feared, and that if we don’t manage the way we treat the planet, polar bears may be relegated to the history books.
The conservation theme continued into last month, November, when I jumped on a plane to the Maldives Outrigger Konotta Resort and spent a fascinating few days talking with a marine biologist who is trying to resurrect the reef with innovative coral planting strategies. On a monsoonal Monday I sat on the edge of a jetty weaving coral necklaces from coconut rope that would later be implanted on the reef, in a moment I will always remember when my fingers are no longer nimble and I’m too old to travel. From the Arctic, where the ice is melting, to the Indian Ocean, which is becoming too warm, I had the immense privilege of experiencing the impacts of Climate Change first hand.
Which brings me to December. In two days I’ll be boarding a plane for my last travel writing assignment of the year. And yes, this trip has another animal theme. I’ll be boarding a sailing boat and exploring beyond Bali to the islands around Indonesia, before we arrive at the land of the komodo dragons. Along the way we’ll be snorkelling with manta rays and sharks. And I cannot wait. Yes, it’s been a big year, and moments of great challenge, times when you are so jetlagged you want to weep, a deep-seated loneliness from long weeks out on the road, and a disconnect from normal life. I didn’t find the love of my life, but I know he’s out there. And when I’m out in the world, doing what I love best, hunting and gathering stories, there’s no better feeling on the planet. I wish you a Happy Christmas and may 2017 be everything you dreamed of and more.
The Global Goddess would like to thank all of the tourism and travel operators, local communities, kind random strangers, PR people, publishers, editors and fellow writers, who joined her on the incredible journey that was 2016. See you out there in 2017.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it…The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela
A FLOCK of seagulls soars overhead Robben Island and if I unleash my imagination, so too, do the free spirits of former political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela. It’s my last day in South Africa and I’ve caught the ferry from Cape Town across to this tiny sliver of land to pay homage to the former South African president who served 18 years of his 27 year prison sentence here. It’s a rocky old ride out on the ferry across Table Bay, a day for staring out to the horizon with steely focus, but nothing compared to the journey Mandela made from prisoner to president.
Just like the gulls, swarms of tourists flock here in a bid to understand what Mandela and many like him experienced during South Africa’s apartheid years. On the dock, where the smell of boat diesel mixes with the pungent scent of fish, a sign declares “Freedom Cannot Be Manacled”. But most tourists are too busy rushing past to the waiting buses to notice. They’re intent on getting to the jail and meeting Mandela’s ghost.
Today’s guide Jama is a former political prisoner who entered the prison in 1977, when group cells housed 30 people who slept on mats. It wasn’t until 1978 that the Red Cross supplied prisoners with crude bunk beds, their personal belongings bundled into timber boxes nearby. Those who were considered leaders, such as Mandela, were given single cells, and the scrum of tourists lines up to peek into this tiny space which once housed the great man. I’m waiting for some sort of epiphany, as if Mandela’s spirit will magically part the crowds with words of wisdom. But I feel nothing but annoyed. There’s too many tourists and it seems to make a mockery of history.
Originally an island for lepers, Jama tells us there was no hot water in the prison until 1973, and back in the 1960s, the prison would mix both political and criminal inmates. The type, and portions of food you ate depended on the colour of your skin. I don’t have to imagine living in world in which apartheid existed, as it existed right up until 1994. I was 24 when it officially ended, but its legacy lives on. Speak to any South African cab driver and you’ll hear tales of how “coloured” people still live in the in-between world. And how corruption is rife under current President Jacob Zuma.
This corruption has a trickle-down effect, and it’s one I experience on my drive from Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve back into Johannesburg when I am stopped by a police officer who claims I haven’t obeyed a non-existent stop sign. At first, the officer says he is going to fine me $75, but then relents, saying the fine is “too much”. In the next breath he asks me how much it will take for me to “show my appreciation” for his leniency. Unfortunately, for this corrupt cop, I’ve never been in this situation before, so I do nothing. I just sit there, contemplating both my next move and his in this crazy chess game. Eventually he tires of the charade and sends me on my way. South Africans say you haven’t experienced Africa until you’ve been asked to bribe a cop, so I guess I’ve now seen Africa.
Back on Robben Island, the last group of political prisoners walked out of the gate in 1991, and in 1996 it was closed as a jail completely. We take a bus tour of the island where prisoners such as Mandela were forced to work on the lime quarry. Many ended up working there for 13.5 years and left with illnesses associated with the lime dust. In 1995 former prisoners including Mandela returned to the island and placed a pile of stones to commemorate the back-breaking work they endured. Mandela picked up shovel and demonstrated to the media how they made the lime.
“The man rose from the dust of the quarry. He rose from the cell of Robben Island,” our tour guide says.
“Where they started to dig the lime stone represents the triumph of the human spirit.”
I’m still contemplating both the strength and weakness of the human spirit when we make our last stop for the day, at a vantage point looking back across the ocean towards Cape Town. Our bus driver tells us we have only five minutes and advises us to return to our original seats to “avoid fights”. When I board the bus, there’s a woman sitting in my seat and I politely ask her to move, repeating the bus driver’s earlier words. But as she stands to leave, her hands full of backpack and camera gear, I notice she has left her hat on the seat. So I simply place it on her head, saying “you’ve forgotten your hat”. What happens next is incomprehensible. Out of the blue her husband comes flying down the aisle in a rage: “What a bitch you are, you put her hat on her head,” he spits at me. His actions are so at odds with the spirit of this day, and my intent, that I am stunned and I don’t reply. For the second time on my South African trip I simply don’t know what to do, and he turns on his heel, but I suspect we’re not done yet.
Back on the road our tour guide speaks again and talks about humanity before depositing us at the boat. I am waiting back on the dock for a friend just as the angry man walks past me again. “There’s that bitch,” he hisses at me. I try to explain my actions but they are lost in his storm of anger, his fury spiralling out towards the ocean like a giant storm cloud. I think about his words all the way back to Cape Town. And about man’s inhumanity to man. The kind that imprisons one man for 27 years because of his belief that all people should be treated equally. Of corrupt cops and angry men. It was Mandela who once said: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” And this thought becomes my travelling companion all the way back to Australia.
The Global Goddess stayed in Cape Town with the assistance of 318 Africa at the elegant More Quarters. http://www.318africa.com.au; http://www.morequarters.co.za
Today I am heading on assignment to South Africa where I hope to bring you lots of photos like this one above, and also plenty of colourful tales from Mother Africa, from on safari at Sabi Sabi private game reserve to Jo’Burg, Cape Town and the rugged West Coast. (I’ve heard the wine’s pretty good there too). In the meantime, check out my Instagram page where I’ll be posting lots of photos. @aglobalgoddess.com