The Santa Clause

Photo by Kimmo Syvari, Courtesy of Visit Finland


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.

Photo by Kimmo Syvari, Courtesy of Visit Finland


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.

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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

SANTA BABY…

Photo by Kimmo Syvari, Courtesy of Visit Finland

HO, HO, HO! With just over one month until Christmas, I’m busy packing to head to Finland this week, where I have my most exciting interview all year…with Santa! I have a few things to discuss with old mate, including why he’s ignored 9 consecutive years of me asking for a boyfriend. Is it the type of beer I’m leaving out for you, Santa? Would you prefer an Aussie shiraz?

Photo by Kimmo Syvari, Courtesy of Visit Finland

Want to find out all about this naughty and nice trip to the North Pole? Keep an eye on this blog (and my Instagram account @aglobalgoddess) over the next few weeks. Speaking of nice, how good is this… My trip has been organised by 50 Degrees North – a niche, independently-owned, specialist travel company, which designs tailor-made itineraries for travellers. I’ll be taking reindeer rides, meeting huskies, staying in an igloo under the Northern Lights, the works. https://au.fiftydegreesnorth.com
And to top off my last long-haul travel writing assignment of the year, I’ll be flying Business Class with Finnair – http://www.finnair.com
No reindeers for me on this journey from Australia, instead, it’s an Airbus A350 XWB, with a Nordic-styled cabin to set the tone for the story ahead. Finnair was the first European airline to fly this aircraft type, so I’m looking forward to travelling with a carrier with which I’ve never flown before. Put the beer on ice, Santa, I’m coming for you!

Photo courtesy of Finnair

The Many Faces of Indonesia

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FACES and places. As I reluctantly relinquish those long, languid days of cool sarongs, cold beers, ocean swims and sunsets, and sit down at my desk to plan 2016, the thing that most excites me is those faces I haven’t yet met. For me, travel is all about the characters, the people whose personalities sing the true story of a destination. Sitting here in Brisbane, I can’t begin to imagine upon whom I’ll stumble this year, and that thought alone is incredibly exciting. Today I’m launching a three-part photo series of my Indonesian adventures over Christmas. And I thought it would be apt to start with the faces that made me smile. Happy New Year! Please enjoy.
There were the cool dudes…
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The happy kids…
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The beautiful Muslim women…
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The elegant older men…
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And even the statues seemed to have something to say…
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The Global Goddess funded her own travels to Indonesia
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Merry Christmas To You

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IT seems incongruous, but I am sitting down to pen my last blog for 2015. Equally unbelievable, I know, is that I’m still as single as when I sat down to write my first post this year. Yes, desperate and dateless as the New Year dawned, and staring down the barrel of yet another looming Valentine’s Day, in January I rejoined Bogandating.com (not its real name) and attracted the likes of blokes such as “Fairdinkumkiwi”, “Gazza”, and “DancingandRomance”. At this stage of the year/game I’d like to say (and kids, look away), based on my experience of dating sites in 2015, there is NO Santa Claus.
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Purely by coincidence in January, I also interviewed a woman who launched The Self Pleasure Revolution. Yes, 35 women from Australia, England, Chile, America and the Netherlands signed up and paid $US89 to participate in conscious masturbation every day for three weeks. While I admired their tenacity, I indulged in my own self pleasure revolution of going to the bottle-o and consuming vast quantities of wine…a semi-conscious decision which has lasted much longer than three weeks and cost far more than $US89, but each to their own.
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In February I explored my own backyard, covering stories in Brisbane where I stayed in the New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites dating back to the 1920s; sauntered down to Brisbane’s south side to explore its heart and soul; and west to Ipswich where I went to high school more than two decades ago. Apart from taking my first hot air balloon ride over the Lockyer Valley where I grew up, on Brisbane’s south side I discovered the Chung Tian Temple at Priestdale where the hum of Buddhist chants blended with the intoxicating sounds of silence. Here, I partook in an ancient tea ceremony where I learned that not only that tea is good for you, but apparently so is red wine. Just sayin.
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Just as the weather started to cool down in Brisbane in March, my travel schedule started to heat up. In one week I visited Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. In Indonesia, in my four-poster bed, replete with white chiffon curtains, I imagined I was an Indonesian High Priestess. I arrived at the Banyan Tree Bintan Island in my usual disheveled state, the effects of some aeroplane turbulence as we crossed the Equator, a reasonable swell on the ferry as we sailed across the South China Sea, several prescription drugs and red wine to fuel my travels, all beginning to wear off. But I remained chipper, for I was to sleep under this thatched Indonesian roof, or “alang alang”, in my seaside villa, skinny dip under the stars, and have several Asian women touch me inappropriately during a number of massages that wonderful week.
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I was home for a grand total of three days…enough time to wash and repack my undies… before I was on a plane to Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. Having exhausted every possibility or hope of ever finding the man of my dreams in Australia, I cast the net wider. While I was in PNG writing a series of travel stories, never let it be said that I waste any opportunity to find love. What I really adore about my travels is that no matter in which new country I find myself, I merely need to tell a local that I’m looking for love and they are immediately on the case. In this instance, the lovely Lucy, a 50-year-old PNG woman who works at the Kokopo Beach Bungalows Resort, instantly became my latest wing woman. Every day Lucy told me that I was beautiful and that I even looked like her daughter “she has a sharp nose like you”. She said when I returned to Rabaul I must come and stay with her in her village and she’ll find me a man. I am planning a return visit any day now.
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In April, my sister and me escaped to Fiji for a short Easter break where we indulged in snorkelling, swimming and sunshine while gracefully fanning away hot weather and men who were hot for us (the last element of that sentence is simply not true). Weeks later I was up in Tropical North Queensland at Thala, out on a nature tour with Head Gardener Brett Kelly. The highlight of this three-hour tour occurred Brett husked a coconut for me to drink. It did not take much for me to disappear into fantasyland, picturing the man of my dreams clad only in loin cloth, presenting me with a husked coconut. Sensing my sexual fantasy, the happily-married Brett promptly disappeared in the rainforest, never to be seen by me again.
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While there were a number of domestic trips in May (back to Port Douglas and the Sunshine Coast), the absolute highlight was travelling to Vienna to cover Eurovision. Despite being in the gayest city of Europe at that point in time, I viewed this trip as a chance to snag me some single European royalty (and a much-coveted EU passport). And I had my sights set on Liechtenstein’s Prince Wenzeslaus. Not only was he age appropriate at 41, his family is considered the richest monarchy in Europe. Vince the Prince, or Vincent, as he prefers to be called, has never married, but has been known to date the odd Victoria Secret supermodel. I felt that we were the perfect match but apparently he didn’t receive my emails alerting him to my European escape. I still hold out hope.
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In June, I took a brief break from overseas travel and relished the chance to catch up on some big writing projects. I interviewed the fabulous Feather from Byron Bay who was the subject of Natalie Grono’s award-winning photo: Feather and the Goddess Pool. Natalie had just received the People’s Choice award for this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize. Feather, in her 70s, invited me to join her for some topless sunbaking and told me:
“I’ve got TMB – Too Many Birthdays. Men who are 80 and 81 look at me and say I’m too old for them. They can’t do anything and they are ratshit and I’m not really interested in being a cougar.”

Photo by Natalie Grono

Photo by Natalie Grono


Fabulous females continued to enter my life in July when I met Brisbane Trike Tour owner Chrissy McDonnell and her black three-wheeler The Bling Queen. On a crisp winter day in which we took a spin down to Canungra in the Gold Coast Hinterland, Chrissy told me how she quit her job at an insurance giant last December to follow her dream of running her own business. We spoke just last week and things are going gang busters.
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Up at Noosa in July, another new tourism business operator Kelly Carthy from Luxe Fitness Escapes paddled with me into the mangroves of the Noosa River where we partook in a beautiful floating yoga class to the sounds of the birds.
“I want women to feel strong and confident and I think there is lots of space to really empower women to feel strong in their bodies and focus on what they can do rather than how they look,” Kelly told me on this spectacular Sunshine Coast day.
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In August, I held hands with a man for the first time all year out at ReefWorld on the outer Great Barrier Reef. I was participating in a learner’s dive and, as fate would have it, it was just me and a handsome Spaniard for 30 glorious minutes. I was mesmerised by his brown hair which floated in the water like sea weed and spent the entire time dreaming of us having to share the same oxygen hose. But perhaps the most interesting character I met all year was out at the Mount Isa Rodeo in Queensland’s Outback. Here, Beaver, or Brettyln Neal as she is sometimes known, was about to notch up her 150th fight as part of Fred Brophy’s travelling boxing troupe.
“I’ve got a little furry Beaver mascot and sometimes Fred will get up and say ‘show us your Beaver’ and I’ll have it in my pants,” Beaver told me one dusty Outback afternoon. For the record, Beaver you are still my BFF.
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I took a journey to Australia’s spiritual heart of Uluru in September but anguished over how to capture its magic in words. Instead, I relinquished my role as a writer for one entire afternoon, and took a cycling tour of the red rock. It was my first visit to this ancient landmark and instead of clumsily grasping for the toolkit of adjectives and mixed metaphors upon which I usually rely, I emptied my head, opened my heart and clutched the handlebars. The words, well they came later. Shortly after, I found myself in Canada’s Nova Scotia covering a “sausage fest.” Yes, it took one classy sheila from Brisbane to point out to the Canadians that the term meant something entirely different back in the cosmopolitan Queensland capital.
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October found me in Sri Lanka and most notably Kandy where I went in search of my Kandy Man. My best chance presented itself at the Kandy Cultural Show where one of the acts included “10 male damsel drummers in harmony”. There was even one fine fella in the show who smiled at me and dropped his tambourine, such was my sex appeal, but our interaction ended there. I also had a Sri Lankan yoga teacher instruct me to rub “special herbal cream” on my face and boobs. Turns out his special cream was actually Vicks Vapor Rub. My boobs still sting at this memorable travel moment.
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I spent early November on the Gold Coast hunting and gathering a series of stories and allowed myself to indulge in childhood beach holiday memories. These messages in a bottle floated up every day…mum on Greenmount Beach tanning her back against a rock, dad driving our gold Kingswood around Kirra bend when he finished work on a Friday afternoon. Cream buns at Coolangatta. Shifting sands. And regular readers will recall it was only last month that I returned from the Solomon Islands, where, still no closer to snaring my solo man, I interviewed the locals about love. Panda, 37, told me Solomon Island men were good lovers because “they like the girls”.
“They love the white skin. There are lots of good boys around. If you come to me I can help you to find a good man. I think you will be the boss and he will do everything for you. He will think ‘I’ve got a white lady’ and he will treat you like a Queen,” Panda told me. Inexplicably, I returned home single.
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It’s now December, and this week I fly out for three weeks in Indonesia, where a girlfriend and me intend to flop and drop on each of the Gili Islands. There will be snorkelling, swimming, yoga, beer and plenty of daydreaming. A huge thank you to all of the tourism bodies, PRs and editors who supported my travels this year, the terrific characters I met along the way and to you, my loyal followers and readers. I wish you all love and light this Christmas and may we all find peace on earth in 2016. See you then. x
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Lost and Found on the Gold Coast

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DEEP in the heart of Lamington National Park and I’ve lost my way, and potentially my marbles. I’m meant to be doing a bush walk called the Box Forest Circuit but when I start my meanderings I discover only two signs: a circuit which mentions Canungra Creek along which Box Forest also traces, or a 22km walk to Binna Burra. Foolishly, I select the first and it’s only two hours, a scarily steep climb, rolling over and under fallen tree branches Lara Croft style, and a red belly black snake later that I realise I have potentially taken the wrong track. Remarkably, I have mobile phone coverage at the foot of the forest (I can’t get it in the Brisbane CBD some days) and manage to phone my accommodation reception who assures me yes, I am lost, and yes, I need to retrace my steps.
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At this point I begin to cry…until I realise I have only limited water and I cannot afford the dehydration a salty tantrum would unleash. I immediately stop crying, tell myself to pull it together, and start the hot hike back up the hill. If there’s anything a travel writer hates more in this life than getting lost it’s having to retrace their steps. And then there’s that red belly black snake to consider on the way back. The heat is getting to me and weird thoughts swirl through my mind as I climb the hill. If I’m bitten by a snake (I figure if I can see one, there’s probably another 10 I can’t see), what would I use as a bandage? I briefly consider my hair band as a tourniquet before I promptly remember that speeds up the poison. The best I can think of is my t-shirt, figuring at least I’m wearing a bra and what a great survival story I will have to tell. (And potential lingerie contract).
Snake
My second thought is to phone a bloke with whom I went on a fantastic date two months ago, a bloke who liked to bush walk. A bloke who told me how wonderful I was…and who promptly disappeared. I don’t want to ask him about snake bites, I want to ask him why he disappeared. It’s at this point in my thinking I realise I am really dehydrated and I need to leave this forest pronto. I finally exit the forest, and am about to go on my second activity for the day – a Segway tour – when I am overcome with the urge to faint and vomit. As I am neither a fainter of vomiter in normal life, it occurs to me I have heat stroke and I end up spending the next hour in my room, watching the room spin like a DJ turntable.
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I spent last week on the Gold Coast hunting and gathering a series of stories and, as usual, the stories also found me. Work aside, it’s a week of memories, old ghosts and new smiles. Like so many Queenslanders, my childhood holidays were spent on the southern Gold Coast, where I am gathering the majority of my stories and it’s like a million messages in a bottle float onto those sunny shores each day. Around Kirra bend I drive and my mind instantly flashes back to 35 years ago when we’d sit on Greenmount Beach with mum, and watch out for dad driving our gold Kingswood  round that bend on a Friday afternoon after work. The beach has changed so much over the decades, but “mum’s rock” against which she used to rest her tanned back is still there. So much shifting sand, so many memories. I walk down the main street of Coolangatta and the old pie shop where we’d feast on cream buns still remains, as does that same scent from the 70s. I don’t even need to taste a cream bun for those sticky sweet memories to come flooding back.
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I wake at 4.30am for sunrise at Snapper Rocks where we used to frolic in the rock pools as kids. We loved those rock pools on hot summer days and the danger of the sea spray bursting over the sea wall. On summer nights, when we were tucked up in bunk beds, dad would venture down to stand on those dangerous walls to fish. The tides have taken their toll of the landscape there too, but the green frog rock remains overlooking the beach where one of my sisters got married. I keep shaking my head as if it’s full of salt water. Where did the decades go?
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I drive up to Point Danger and my mind fast forwards to 25 years ago when I started my newspaper cadetship at the Gold Coast Bulletin. In that first year, my first out of home, I lived high on the hill at Point Danger in my family’s crumbling old beach house. The house is long gone, demolished and sold by a famous surfer to a developer for a pretty penny. I stare at the block of land and try to capture the memories. At the foot of the hill I pause where the caravan park once stood. It’s now an empty park but I can see nana and pop and my uncles and cousins at Christmas. In my mind, I am sitting in the hot annex and opening presents. I drive down a laneway in Rainbow Bay and remember the year our budgie escaped from the cage, out the window of the old flat in which we used to stay, only to land and be captured on the same bitumen my car is paused on now. It all seems so incongruous.
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I stay in a 1950s Bilinga beach motel which has been remodelled and yet those old fibro memories remain. Despite my best efforts, there’s still sand in my sheets every night. On my last afternoon, work done for the week, I’m like that same kid that was let out of their country Queensland classroom for the summer 35 years ago. So I grab one of the hotel’s retro bicycles, slip on my togs, and pedal like mad along the oceanfront until I reach Kirra bend. I race into the ocean and frolic for an hour, bathing in those memories of being lost and found. Salt water in my hair, sea breeze on my face, I jump back on my retro bike and pedal back towards the future.
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The Global Goddess was a guest of Gold Coast Tourism – http://www.visitgoldcoast.com
Whales

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

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I’ve been to Nice and the isle of Greece
 where I sipped champagne on yacht, 
I moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo and showed ’em what I’ve got. 
I’ve been undressed by kings and I’ve seen some things that 
a woman ain’t s’posed to see, I’ve been to paradise…Charlene (1977)
FOR me, Christmas is a time to reflect. It’s when I briefly stop travelling, slow down and glance back on the year. It would be so easy in my job as a travel writer to stumble from destination to destination and chase the rush of the next story and adventure, discarding the last place I’ve visited as simply a fuzzy memory. Recently, while filing a piece to camera for my colleagues over at TravelThereNext, I was asked what I “collect” on my travels. And it’s pretty simple. I collect characters. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things in every corner of the planet. I try to capture them in my stories and in the quiet corners of my mind. Store them up for those rainy days when I need reminding that the world is truly a remarkable place. And so I present to you some of the great characters I’ve met of 2014.

First World White Girls, who performed at the Judith Wright Centre, reminded me of how fortunate I am.

First World White Girls, who performed at the Judith Wright Centre, reminded me of how fortunate I am.

I began my travelling year in Bali in January where I met Cekorda, 85, a respected medicine man. “How old are you?” he asks as I sit with my back against his knees, his wiry fingers probing my skull.
“43,” I respond.
“Not so young,” he mutters to himself, much to my amusement. He then asks me my problems.
“I have a broken heart,” I reply.
I lay down on a mat and he presses between my toes with a stick. My third toe on my left foot hurts and I yelp.
“Your broken heart is healed. It is your mind. You have self doubt.”
Cekorda then stands above me and traces his magical stick over my body to clear my aura, before announcing that I no longer have a problem.
He turns to an Western bystander who speaks Indonesian.
“Women are very complex,” the bystander translates for Cekorda. I laugh all the way from Bali back to Brisbane.

Bali medicine man Cekorda

Bali medicine man Cekorda

In February, I’m up in Thailand, where I return to the River Kwai and meet up with my young friend Sam Season, a traditional Mon Man who works on the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. Sam has two big dreams: to gain an apprenticeship as a mechanic in Australia and to marry the love of his life, Jaytarmon who lives in a neighbouring village. I ask him whether this mysterious girl with the long black hair is still beautiful. He doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, awesome. I want to listen to her voice.” He pulls out his iPhone until he finds a photo of her, laying dreamily on a bed with her hands in her chin. “I look at her photo every night before I go to bed. I have to make her believe in myself and trust in myself. When I finish my education I will be ready. I have to show her ‘can you wait for me?’ One day, when I have an education we will have a good life and then we will marry.”

Sam Season

Sam Season

March finds me back in Brisbane, struck by the sadness of the drought which is consuming my country. My journey takes me a few suburbs away where I catch up with Tom Conley, 3, who was born just before the 2011 Brisbane floods and ironically now bakes for drought relief with his mum, Sally Gardner. “Tom gets involved in all the cooking adventures in our home. He especially loves baking and as soon as I get the utensils out he rushes over, climbs up and wants to measure ingredients, crack the eggs and lick the bowl, We talk about who we are helping or who we are baking for, he enjoys drawing pictures for the drought-affected families.”

Tom Conley

Tom Conley

In April I return to Bali, to spend Easter alone at a yoga retreat and to recover from yet another disappointing relationship. Purely by chance I select OneWorld Retreats Escape The World program in Ubud where, along with twice-daily yoga sessions, I am challenged to sit with myself for one glorious day of silence. Claude Chouinard, who runs the retreat with his partner Iyan Yaspriyana, reminds us that despite everyone around us seemingly being able to travel, we are only a small percentage of the world who is wealthy enough to do so. He encourages us to embrace our 24 hours of silence and see it for the gift that it is.
“For just one day you can consider this silence a form of torture or one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself. What we know as time is in fact an illusion. For human beings, time is limited to the moment we are born, to the moment we leave this planet, a very short journey considering the age of the universe. Live every day by the minute and enjoy as much as you possibly can…the illusion goes by quickly.”

Iyan Yaspriyana

Iyan Yaspriyana

May is chaotic and colourful as I spend nearly a month in Europe chasing a range of stories. And I meet a range of those fabulous characters I so treasure….A sultry Slovenian who compliments me on my “good English” when I reveal I’m Australian; Skanky from Mumbai who eats one gigantic meal a day as he doesn’t wish to “get sick on German food”; Suzie, the Filipino Canadian whose love of Schnitzel knows no bounds; Calamity Jane from Chicago who wanders the streets of Berlin pointing at every single wall and asking our tour guide whether it is a piece of the Berlin Wall; and a jolly gay guy from Wales.

A bold Berliner

A bold Berliner

June is spent in Christchurch, which was devastated in February 2011 by an earthquake in which 187 people were killed and 1000 buildings destroyed. At the C1 Espresso café I speak with owner Sam Crofskey, 37, who not only lost his original café across the road in the quake, but his house as well. Sam was working in his high street café when the earthquake hit.
“I was a little bit confused. The coffee grinders fell off and landed on my legs and the power went off and then I could hardly stand. We needed to get rid of the customers, the staff and then ourselves. We had more than 100 people in the café at the time. Out on the street everyone was distraught and I thought everyone was over-reacting. I thought we’d come back tomorrow and clean everything up. It took a lot more for me to understand the city was actually gone. When you are here with no power or phone you have no idea what’s going on. I was like, my business if fucked, my house is fucked…that’s annoying.”

Sam Crofskey

Sam Crofskey

The mercury had plunged to minus 2 degrees out in Southern Queensland Country in July when I ventured to the Dalby Cattle Sales in search of myths and men. I spend two hours chasing cattle and cowboys around the cattle yards before I decide to leave. On the way back to the car, I hear a voice behind me. “So, have you got your story?” a cowboy says, following me quickly out of the cattle yards. “Yep. I don’t have all morning to be chasing you boys around,” I say defiantly. “Where are you staying tonight?” he directs this question at my breasts. “Chinchilla,” I say. He stands and considers this for a moment, calculating whether I’m worth the hour drive to the next town. And just as I’m about to turn to leave he says: “Well, I guess I’ll see you around then.” The interaction keeps me entertained for several days and hundreds of kilometres later.

Dalby cowboys

Dalby cowboys

I spend the most perfect August day with a close mate where we escape to the Sunshine Coast and the Eumundi Markets and Noosa. We stroll and laugh. Steal languid pauses to smell the roses, or in this case, the pungent soap on sale. Chat to a stallholder about his carnivorous plants. Try on eclectic outfits. Resist the seduction of sparkly jewellery. Wander through aisles of books. Observe the colourful characters. Pat a camel. We stumble across a “Willy Washer” and spend some time discussing its purpose. There’s a male fairy guarding some jewellery that resembles the young man selling the silver, fashioned from old knives, forks and spoons. An ancient typewriter has been dismantled, somewhat to our dismay, and crafted into trinkets. Colourful hand-woven handbags remind us of our travels around the globe. We discover Noosa Reds – plump, juicy tomatoes bursting with the distinct flavours of this fertile region – deliciously packed in crunchy brown paper bags. A giant gecko mural hugs a pole. There’s glass-blowing and some beaut ukes. And all the while, we keep winding through the marketplace, unravelling our lives.

A Eumundi Fairy

A Eumundi Fairy

On a stunning September afternoon I find myself staring at boobs and Broadbeach on the Gold Coast, at a High Tea to launch Kim McCosker’s cookbook Cook 4 a Cure to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and to celebrate the opening of Australia’s newest resort brand ULTIQA Resorts. Guest speaker Mark Wood volunteers his time to speak about breast cancer after losing his wife Annie to the disease seven years ago, and says one in eight Australian women will be told they have breast cancer at some stage.
“Today, 37 women will be told they have breast cancer. To think that’s happening to 37 people today and the day after is far too many. And seven people would have lost that battle today. My wife got a death sentence but my daughter, who was 12 at the time that Annie died, got a life sentence losing her mother so young. Twenty years ago, 37 per cent of women diagnosed with the disease died, but that’s now been halved through awareness and education.”
All of a sudden I feel tired and emotional, but as I furtively glance around the room, I find I am not alone. There’s not a dry eye in the house.

Kim McCosker

Kim McCosker

October was spent in Fiji at the Australian Society of Travel Writers Awards where I won Best Food Travel Story for a piece I wrote about a group of six hardcore Wellington prisoners who were being rehabilitated through a cooking program “From Prison Gate to Plate”. Talk about collecting characters. And the words of celebrity chef Martin Bosley, who runs the program, still ring in my head. “I didn’t realise what a loss of freedom truly meant before I went in there. As a community we need to change our perceptions and be prepared that one day these men are getting out and we need to pick up where prisons leave off and reduce re-offending.”

Fiji School Kids

Fiji School Kids

I returned to Hawaii for the first time in 22 years in November, where there were characters galore including the mythical menehune. Sheraton Kona Cultural Tour Officer Lily Dudoit explains these little red men. “Everywhere in Hawaii we are known for our myths and legends. We have the little people who only come out at night to do their work. We call them Menehune and they are said to have reddish skin colour. There was a couple who had their wedding photo by this tree and when they had the photo developed there was a Menehune peeking out from behind the tree. They like to make trouble. Sometimes things go missing or they move something. You don’t find them. They find you.” I spend the rest of my time in this land of rainbows searching for possibly the most intriguing men I will meet all year.

Hawaiian Kids

Hawaiian Kids

Which brings me to December. While many leave Brisbane and Australia, this is the time of year where I sit on my back deck with a cold beer and warm memories. There’s movies and coffees and catch ups with friends and family, the all-important support cast of characters in my life. Thank you to everyone I have met out there in the big wide world this year, to those who have come on the journey with me, and to those who continue to love and support me back at home. Sending you love and light this season and may we all experience peace on earth.
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The Goddess’ Briefs for strong, smart, sexy and spiritual women (and the great men who love us!)

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LOVE IS IN THE AIR
If The Global Goddess was getting married, she’d be more than a little excited about this package being offered by The Rees Hotel Queenstown in New Zealand. This luxury hotel is now offering exclusive Heli-Wedding packages in conjunction with Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters to remote mountain-top wedding ceremonies for those who want to tie the knot against one of the world’s most dramatic backdrops. The package, valued at NZ$2998 per couple, includes a raft of things including two nights’ accommodation in a Lake View one-bedroom apartment at The Rees Hotel Queenstown. There’s also breakfasts, wine, chocolate, champagne, celebrant and a wedding photographer, but the highlight is a return helicopter flight for the bride, groom, celebrant, photographer and two guests up to the Remarkables or Cecil Peak for their alpine wedding ceremony. Not for the first time this year, I find myself thinking that I need to just find a fella. http://www.therees.co.nz
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SEX ON THE BEACH
While Christmas is almost upon us, it’s never too early to be thinking about Valentine’s Day (if you know what’s good for you). This week, The Global Goddess enjoyed the sultry sensation of an aphrodisiac cooking class at the Sofitel Broadbeach’s Room 81 restaurant. We’re talking dishes such as freshly-shucked cupid oyster in a veuve clicquot champagne granite; seared nova scotian scallops with cauliflower silks with asparagus, morel mushrooms and a truffle vinaigrette; and a cherry soufflé, chocolate sauce and coconut sorbet. This class was to preview this luxury Gold Coast’s hotel’s raunchy and romantic Valentine’s Day/night package. To book this six-course feast, which includes a wine package of Australian, New Zealand and French varietals, priced at $225 per person; or the Deluxe Valentine’s Room package for $795 per couple, which includes an overnight stay and breakfast as well as the six-course dinner, go to http://www.sofitelgoldcoast.com.au
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CARING ABOUT CAMBODIA CALENDAR
In May this year I penned a blog about Australian photographer Danielle Lancaster, who owns Blue Dog Photography. Danielle has been travelling to Cambodia for years and can’t shake her bewilderment at how the Pol Pot regime had ravaged its own people, the effects of which are still being experienced decades later. In 2011, she gained sponsorship to produce a calendar, the proceeds of which meant they could build two new classrooms and desks with a white board for local school children. In 2012, Blue Dog Communities was formed with the sales of last year’s calendar going towards replacing the school’s palm frond floors with cement for the children. This year’s calendar is ready to go to print, and in exciting news at Global Goddess headquarters, a photo take by me (pictured below) when I was in Phnom Penh last year, will also be featured. To order a copy of this calendar, which will go towards more valuable community work, please go to https://www.facebook.com/bluedogcommunities and to find out more about Lancaster’s annual photographic tour to Cambodia, go to http://www.blue-dog.com.au
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IT’S A KIND OF MAGIC
The Global Goddess is pretty good at pulling a rabbit out of the hat, particularly when it comes to tight deadlines, but this bloke takes the cake. Acclaimed Australian illusionist Michael Boyd will open the famed live magic extravaganza Mystique at Sea World Resorts Ocean Theatre on the Gold Coast from January 1 to 31. Taught by his magician grandfather all the tricks of the trade by the age of 13, Boyd’s show will feature some of the world’s most impressive illusions as well as jaw-dropping escapes, levitations, transformations, special effects and mind-blowing disappearances. Since it premiered in Melbourne in 2009, more than 100,000 people each year have seen this show packed with new acts and extravagance. Shows will run from Tuesday to Sunday at 7.30pm plus special matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. http://www.SeaWorldResort.com.au
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A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE FOR GLOBAL GODDESS READERS
Speaking of magic (or what I’d like to call a Christmas miracle), The Global Goddess has a surprise in store for her followers. Details to be announced early next week! http://www.theglobalgoddess.com
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Love, life and the whole season’s shebang

 

Twas the night before Christmas

And all through Brisbane

The Global Goddess continued

Her hunt for some men

 

Her stockings were hung

On the back deck with care

With hope she could catch

Saint Nick in her lair…

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MY Christmas tree is older than me. And, if possible, even daggier. This story begins some 46 years ago, when my parents were first married and bought their first Christmas tree. Every year that tree would come on holidays with us to the Gold Coast, shoved into the Kingswood with me, my three sisters, and our budgie. And every year it would return home with us. Until one day, one of our uncles gifted us a brand, spanking, new tree, and our original tree was retired.

Some years ago, I somehow stumbled across it and adopted it like a long, lost family member. I am not a particularly nostalgic person, and yet I love this tree. It speaks to me of sublime summers on the Gold Coast, hot, scratchy nights with sand in the sheets, sunburn on the skin and mozzies. Of bleached hair, sandcastles and waking up on Christmas morning to new summer swimmers, pink pyjamas and adventure books.  That’s the thing with memories. You can’t muck around with them.

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The other day a friend was telling me about a sad scene he encountered while out shopping. Picture two little kids and their mother in a wheelchair. The kids were skipping along the path, excitedly chattering about the new clothes they were about to buy for Christmas. Until they arrived at the store and it was closed. The store was St Vincent’s de Paul and, being run by volunteers, was  operating on limited hours. But these little kids didn’t know this and started crying. Their wheelchair-bound mother had what appeared to be a slight seizure. My friend froze. Impotent with the scenario unfolding before him and, with a wallet full of credit cards but no cash, unable to assist. He came home and wept.

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An acquaintance of mine talks about his work Christmas party the other night. In a bid to survive the bullshit and big egos which have dogged him all year, he decided to bring his own festive cheer in the form of an illegal substance. It was this illegal substance which he was casually dipping into his drink when his bully of a boss came over, demanded my acquaintance hand over the drink to his boss, who couldn’t be bothered to wait at the bar for his own.  Apparently, the boss was in an uncharacteristically jolly mood for the rest of the evening.  

 

Everyone I talk to seems to speak of a tough year. The headlines have been peppered by sadness, loss, tragedy.  Global economic conditions seem to have spawned a new breed of bully bosses. More and more people such as that woman in the wheelchair are buying their children clothes from charity shops.

 

But I also believe it’s a season for hope. I’ve personally asked Santa for a hot tradie under my daggy old Christmas tree, which, if it happens, could possibly constitute a break and enter, if not a miracle. It’s a time to rejoice and to reflect. Look towards the future with optimism. Try to be a better person. Express a bit of gratitude.

On that note, I wish to thank everyone who has followed, read, laughed and cried with The Global Goddess this year. I’ll be back in 2013 with more stories, more travels and, if Santa knows what’s good for him, maybe even a bloke or two.

 

 If you have your own Christmas story to share, I’d love to hear it, via a comment below.

In the meantime, I wish you peace on earth. 

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The reason for the season

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IT’S an uncharacteristically cool December Sunday afternoon and I’m toasting the festive season with some friends in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley at a leafy, outdoor bar when we’re approached by a woman asking for money. Two things strike me about this woman: she appears intoxicated and she’s with a group of friends when she asks whether she can have some change for a phone call. Whether she is genuine or otherwise is not for me to judge. Rather, it’s our reactions that interest me more. We’re all awkward and embarrassed. And frankly, don’t really know how to handle the situation. I look the woman squarely in the eye and say: “No, sorry, thank you.” She pauses for a brief moment, as if she’s comprehending her next move, then she simply looks back, and says “Have a Merry Christmas” before moving on to the next table.

The uncomfortable situation sparks a conversation among us. Did we do the right thing? Should we have handed her money? Would she have actually used it on a phone call or to buy alcohol? Australians are about as comfortable with begging as we are with tipping. Both scenarios are not part of our vernacular and we are clumsy when presented with them.

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A few years back, I wrote a story about confronting poverty when we travel for The Australian newspaper in which I stated: “Many tourists, with just a few short days to experience a city, grapple with ways in which to address the issue without making situations, like begging, worse. Few things test your character and mettle more than being exposed to extreme poverty, and the way in which you handle it can linger long after your plane has departed the impoverished land. At best, many travellers feel ineffectual and embarrassed, and at worst, some transform into the uncaring, ‘ugly Westerner’.”

At the time, I quoted a travel writer mate of mine Kristie Kellahan, who regularly volunteers in orphanages throughout south-east Asia, who suggested contacting aid organisations, such as the Red Cross, to assess the needs before you visit a country.

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Kellahan, who works with a Buddhist orphanage in Thailand’s Chiang Mai, advises travellers to think about what they are giving and avoid pushing Western values on to different cultures.

“People come to visit the orphanage and want to give the children reams and reams of toys and lollies and coke and ice-cream,” she said.

“What would be useful would be to turn up with medicine for baby formulae. But that doesn’t seem very exciting to those giving.

“You would prefer people bring educational supplies, things like blank exercise books, pencils, sharpeners and things like nappies for the babies.

“By supporting kids selling post cards and chewing gum, it encourages families to send their kids to the city and they may be missing out on essential services back home like education.”

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In my article, and with the advice of some incredible people working in the field of responsible tourism around the globe, I penned a list of things which travellers might consider before they arrive in a country and are confronted with the ugly truth of poverty.

 These include:

  •  Where possible, eat at locally-run restaurants and order local dishes, made from local produce
  •  Support local performances – many of which are held for free – and drop some money in the donation box at the end
  •  Buy locally-made souvenirs, straight from the source
  •  Speak to local charities before you go and ask the people-on-the ground best ways to make small differences when you get there
  •  Leave a tip for good service – it’s appreciated world wide whether you are rich or poor
  •  Donate an afternoon to read or speak English to local school children
  •  Continue to visit impoverished countries. Tourism is one of the greatest employers world wide
  •  Ask questions. Where is this money going? What are the benefits of donating? Become educated on the issues
  •  Tread carefully. Wait, watch and observe before you act

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So, what does this all mean back in Australia, the relatively Lucky Country?

Australian comedian Corinne Grant recently penned an excellent post “This Christmas We’re All Human” on The Hoopla in relation to this issue much closer to home.

“Any one of us could find ourselves in a difficult situation—a catastrophic illness that bankrupts you, a bad marriage break up that leaves you without a cent to your name, an undiagnosed mental illness rendering you incapable of making the sorts of decisions necessary to fend for yourself effectively. Becoming homeless is, frighteningly, far easier than many of us think,” Grant wrote.

In a timely reminder, Grant talks about the impact the sparkles and baubles must have on people who have nothing. Heck, I’m intimidated every time I see a Christmas advertisement from a major grocery chain in which (a) everyone appears to be middle-class and white (b) there’s an over-representation of white linen frocks and boat shoes and (c) everyone seems to be loving every other family member sick. I suspect, like me, that’s not the reality for many Australians. And, I imagine, even more devastating, if you are poor. (And let’s not forget if someone hadn’t loaned a certain young couple a barn in which to birth their baby, we may not be celebrating December 25).

VietnamCambodia2012 134“This time of year is miserable for the homeless. Many of the services they rely on close for Christmas or run on limited staff. Not only that, but everywhere they look are the cheery, tinselly reminders of a happy world full of food, family and love that is out of their reach. It must be crushing,” Grant wrote.

But what I took most away from her thoughtful post was her advice: “Next time someone asks you for change, look them in the eye. Give them money if you like but if not, smile at them and say, “Sorry, I can’t today.”

On Sunday, with Grant’s advice fresh in my mind, I looked that woman outside the bar squarely in the eye, and wished her a Merry Christmas back. It doesn’t solve the world’s issues, far from it, but for a brief second, we connected as fellow human beings. And surely, that’s really the reason for this season.

To read Corinne Grant’s post in full, please go to www.thehoopla.com.au. There’s a host of wonderful charities who assist those less fortunate at this time of year, including Vinnies – www.vinnies.org.au; The Smith Family – www.thesmithfamily.com.au; and Lifeline – www.lifeline.org.au.

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Confessions of a Christmas Cougar

 

 

I HAVE a confession. Last night I took a photo of a bloke’s underpants when he wasn’t looking. He wasn’t wearing them at the time, in fact, he wasn’t even in the room. Let me start at the beginning. I was invited to celebrate Christmas in July at the house of a couple whom I had only met once before. Salt-of-the-earth people who opened up their hearth – there was a roaring log fire – and home to a crew of 10, to mark this festive mid-year point.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care and our handbags and winter coats were piled up in their 24-year-old son’s old bedroom. Which is where I came unstuck. Because along with our belongings, the son had left a few of his own, among which included an impressive collection of clean designer underpants. To put you in the picture, I had also met the son once before, and let’s just say, all of a sudden it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

 

In my defence, the undies sort of leapt out at me. It wasn’t like I was rifling through his drawers or anything, if you’ll pardon the pun. I had gone into the spare room to collect my camera to take a photo of Miss Chris’ Christmas Cob Loaf. And out jumped the undies. I couldn’t resist. So I took a snap. While every other adult was out in the living room talking about politics, I’m in the spare room taking photos of underpants. In the spirit of Christmas I should also add I may have sprayed a bit of his deodorant on me as well.

We all sat down to dinner and it was at this stage our host pointed out that there were 12 of us around the table, like Jesus and his disciples. Oh, my God, I thought. He knows, he knows I’ve been in the spare room taking indecent shots of his son’s smalls. I felt like Judas, and it took everything for me not to shout out: “It was ME, I took a photo of HIS underpants,” pointing at the 24-year-old who had also joined us at the table.

Instead, I ate and participated in the polite conversation until I felt someone rubbing my leg under the table. I glanced at the son. He was looking intently in my direction. Ding, dong merrily on high. I smiled, coyly. He looked confused. I peeked under the table and there was Digger, the border collie, lounging against my leggings. I looked behind me. The son was watching the rugby on the television.

We ate my cob loaf, leek tarts with speck in bechamel sauce, a moist  turkey, steaming pork and roast vegetables drowned in duck fat gravy all washed down with copious red wine and boisterous banter. Dessert was delectable with strawberries and cherries dipped in chocolate and a hearty bread and butter pudding.

 

 

The son went home, taking the dog with him, both of them looking a little strangely in my direction on the way out. And I went home, tail between my legs but spirits high. What’s not to love about Christmas?

 Miss Chris’ Christmas Cob Loaf

 Buy a plain cob loaf from the bakery

Slice the top off the loaf and set it aside

With your fingers, pull out the insides of the bread in bite-size balls

Slice the sides of the loaf with a knife

On a stove top warm up 450g of frozen spinach

Add a packet of French onion soup (no water)

Add a large tub of extra light sour cream

Stir until all mixed well and bubbling

Pour into the centre of the loaf

Put the bite-sized bites of bread around the side

Put the lid of the loaf back on top

Serve with a flourish!