2019, A Year of Reflecting


A fronte praecipitium, a tergo lupi. Alis volat propiis. In front is a precipice, behind are wolves. She flies with her own wings.

NUMEROUS numerologists will tell you 2019 is an “ending year”. In my spiritual circles of yogis and meditators, they’ll tell you it’s the year you’ll wrap up your “soul agreements” with people, places or circumstances which no longer serve your higher good. For me, 2019 was a year of reflecting after a demanding decade which saw me flee to Singapore in 2010 after the sudden end of my marriage, and ultimately return home to Australia to rebuild my life.

For me, 2019 began with a bang more than a whimper. By early February I was in the Whitsundays, braving a rugged monsoonal trough of wild winds, stinging rains and savage seas, while trying to write a newspaper cover feature on the region’s recovery from Cyclone Debbie which had ravaged it two years earlier. Drenched, I groaned and giggled at the irony of my situation, the less-than-glamorous side of travel writing, and embraced the cheeky campaign adopted by tourism operators, who laughed at their soggy circumstances by renaming it a WetSunday Week. I learned a lot that week about going with the flow.

Two weeks later, on a sassy Southampton evening, I was on board the world’s newest cruise liner, the MSC Bellisima, sailing from France to England. All the while, stalking acclaimed Italian actress Sophia Loren, the ship’s godmother, who was onboard briefly. Because I am such a klutz, I even managed on that ship, stacked with glamorous European media, to lock myself out of my cabin while wearing nothing but my QANTAS pyjamas. Which wouldn’t have been so bad had I not had to stroll through the centre of a posh cocktail party to reception in my jim jams, bra-less and barefoot, to retrieve another key to my cabin.

March found me Noosa, just enough time to catch my breath before I flew to Kenya where I’d go on safari through the Masai Mara and sit in the shadow of mighty Mount Kilimanjaro. But it was meeting Mother Africa’s daughters, at the Ubuntu Café, which really caused me to pause and think. Here were a bunch of women who been made outcast by their communities for giving birth to disabled children. But they had clawed their way back from poverty and isolation, started a café, learned to sew, and were now stitching together a better life for themselves, their children and other women in their situation. It was the soul and spirit of these women that I took with me when I snatched a brief break to celebrate Easter in April, alone and ensconced in a surf shack at Agnes Water on the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

By May I was in Fiji, surrounded by the scent of frangipani flowers and the fat smiles of skinny kids, as I cycled through fields of sugar cane and snorkelled balmy oceans. We talked of conservation, and real-life castaways over on Castaway Island. I adore Australia’s South Pacific cousins, who always teach me so much about gratitude. Some days life is as simple as sitting under a coconut tree and counting your blessings. Three days later, back in Australia, I was driving through swirling willy willys enroute to Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland’s Capricorn region, wandering this remote and rugged country, discovering ancient First Nation’s art galleries and choppering over this gorgeous gorge. By the end of that month, I was back in the Whitsundays, sleeping out on the reef in a swag under the stars.

But it was in June when I became a bit lost. Overwhelmed by an already hectic year, and with another six months of travel ahead of me, I spent two days falling apart. I howled along with the wild westerly winds which buffeted Brisbane, drowning in the loneliness of my life and clasping for connection. A year of reflecting? I did plenty over those two days. Eventually I did the only thing I knew how. I wrote myself out of that hole and published a blog about the issue. Little did I know at the time it would go viral, resonating with friends, colleagues and strangers all over the world. I became acutely aware that loneliness had become one of the big issues of our time and that, strangely, I was not alone in my loneliness. I had launched a conversation that I wished to continue. Later that month I flew to Lombok, to interview villagers who had risen from the rubble of the earthquake a year earlier. As with the Fijians, the less people had, the more filled with gratitude they were for the small things. It made me rethink the excesses of my life.

Bali, Mauritius and Croatia beckoned in July and August as I criss-crossed the globe three times, in a manic marathon of work. In Croatia, I sat with people my own age, who had lived through the war of their homeland 25 years ago, and who wore harsh exteriors cloaking hearts of gold. I have never endured a war, and hope I never do, and again, there was so much reason to pause and think. Back in Australia in August, I was on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, urging tourism operators to do just that. Think about their stories and the story of the reef. In September, it was back to the Whitsundays for my third trip there this year, telling more stories of the reef.

I had the great fortune of visiting northern New South Wales in September before promptly jumping on a plane to Thailand in search of the rare pink dolphins. So elusive are these marine mammals, I didn’t encounter any on this trip, and it reminded me of the fragility of Mother Nature. It was something I would think more about in October when I travelled to Queensland’s wine country to write bushfire recovery stories in a town which had more wine than water. My last trip of the year took me to the Maldives, where again, the issue of Climate Change became impossible to ignore.

It’s Brisbane’s hottest December day in 20 years as I sit down to pen this blog, reflecting on the year that was. Bushfires have been raging in Australia for weeks, our water supplies are critical, and our air quality is appalling. And yet our governments do nothing. In a week or so I will pack my bags and board my final flight for the year, to a small island in Indonesia off of Bali, where I’ll perch in a beach shack, snorkel with the manta rays, take a surf class or two, stand up paddle board, kayak the mangroves, drink too much beer, indulge in massages and curl up with some travel tomes. And I reckon there will be some more reflecting in there too.

The Global Goddess would like to thank all of the PR people, tourism operators, colleagues, friends, family and random, kind strangers who came with me on this journey of 2019. May 2020 bring joy, love and peace for you and our planet.

War and Peace


Between 1991 and 1995, while the Serbian-Croatian war raged, I was a young journalist, cutting my teeth in newsrooms on the Gold Coast, Hong Kong and London. Watching the nightly news of bombings in Dubrovnik and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, it was a conflict in a place far away, somewhere with which I could not connect and would never likely visit. Next year marks 25 years since the war in former Yugoslavia ended. Last week, on a trip to Croatia, I fell in love with this country and its people, many the same age of me, who have endured so much.

I AM flying from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, soaring above the dazzling Croatian coastline, whose aqua waters don’t even wear a wrinkle on this diamond day. It’s high summer when I land in Europe and my driver weaves around the Adriatic Sea, past cosy coves and quaint villas with their red-tiled roofs, rebuilt after Serbia bombed Croatia. I drag my plump suitcase into Dubrovnik’s Old Town, along polished sandstone streets, pushing past the throngs of tourists in their floaty summer frocks that they will wear to a fashionably late European dinner. There’s no rush in summer in Croatia, where the sun rises around 5am and plunges into the ocean about 8pm.

From my third-floor loft apartment in a 600-year-old building smack bang in the Old Town, I slip straight into summer in Europe with its long, lazy evenings. By early evening I sit on a shady terrace overlooking the Adriatic Sea while I feast on a salty seafood risotto and clutch a crisp, local beer. The outside air temperature is 32 degrees, the water temperature is 26 degrees and the ice-cream is melting along with the tourists. Later, as I drift off to sleep, I’ll hear laughter bouncing around the walls of this seventh century city.

I rise, glide down the steep, timber stairs of my attic apartment with its sloping ceilings. It smells of fresh pine and reminds me of my family in Germany and this is the Europe I adore. I climb a set of steep, cobbled stairs for breakfast, dining on a Dalmatia, or omelette with pungent Gardana cheese and parma ham. I wash down a buttery croissant with a strong coffee. Locals mistake me, a woman on her own who has slipped so effortlessly into this magical morning, as a Croatian and speak to me in the local dialect. I simply smile, nod my head and say “da, da”. Sated, I wander the old, stone walkways which sing to my soul.

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve visited Dubrovnik, another woman in another life, and one magical moment remains etched in my memory, a story my spirit has souvenired for years. Way back then I was walking the Old Town when a sudden summer storm struck. At that point, the store owner threw up her hands, snatched a bottle of grappa from the shelf and insisted I sip and sit out the fury. On that day, so many moons, travels and personal lifetimes ago, I bought a hand-painted egg and it has hung on my bathroom door since.
Last week, just when I’m about to surrender on ever finding this shop again, I stumble upon it by chance, as I’m about to depart the sanctuary of the city walls. I recognise the owner, more than a decade older, and remind her of this day. She smiles and say “Would you like a grappa now?” and we laugh, and sip a home-made rose water grappa. It’s 10am. She tells me this grappa is not for tourists, but for friends, and that I should not leave it another 10 years before I visit again.

I skip out of her store smiling like a fool. These are the reasons we travel. To connect with the world. For a brief moment, to remind ourselves what it is to be human. And the Croatians know what that means more than most. I join Cruise Croatia for my eight-day boat journey from Dubrovnik to Split and meet Nikoleta, my Cruise Manager. She tells me she’s 42. I do the mental maths. At just six years younger than me, she was a teenager when the Serbs invaded her homeland of Bosnia in 1992. I’m intrigued. How could a woman so like me, modern, passionate, direct and open, have survived so much?

“The war didn’t start straight away but you could feel something was going on. There was some weird energy,” she says as we sit on the back of the boat one sunny afternoon.
“My father came and collected us from school and said ‘I want you and your mother and sister to go away for 15 days to Vienna’.
“On the bus journey, a soldier got on the bus and asked if there were any Bosnian-Serbs on the bus and if there were, he would slit their throat. My mother was a Bosnian-Serb. I looked at my mother and a woman next to her said ‘no, there are no Bosnian Serbs on this bus’.
“Two hours after we left Bosnia, they started bombing. With a bag packed for 15 days we stayed away 5 years, leaving Vienna and coming to Croatia.
“My dad stayed in Bosnia to protect the property we had. He was a truck driver driving humanitarian aid from Croatia to Bosnia. It was very dangerous.”

Nikoleta says when they arrived in Croatia after Vienna “everything was different.”
“You always expect the worst things and you found them. There were many refugees from Bosnia,” she says.
“People had no money. You are getting humanitarian aid from all over the world and some are getting rich and some are getting poor. It was a very tense time.
“My mother, she was amazing, she would get canned food but she didn’t want her children to eat bad food. She would go to the local markets and trade the canned food for local products such as milk and cheese.
“Everyone was trying to survive. Everything was destroyed. We never entirely recovered.”

Nikoleta made a return visit to Bosnia but said she cried every day.
She applied to study economics in Austria and stayed for 12 years. Now, for the past 17 years, she has been a tour guide in Croatia, living on the beautiful island of Korcula.
“I lived my life to the fullest. I lived in Switzerland, married a Nigerian man but I got tired of moving around,” she says.
“I thought I should go back home but I went to the Croatian island of Korcula as Bosnia still didn’t recover.
“My husband came with me but his priority was money so we separated.”

Despite the huge changes in her life, she remains optimistic.
“Either you are satisfied with your soul or you are not. I decided to stay in Croatia because the quality of life is really good here,” she says.
“I often hear young people talking about the war and they have extreme ideas and I ask them ‘how old are you? Have you seen that?
“My life taught me there is never reason enough to fight a war.”

I am trying to wrap my mind around our different lives, despite our close ages. I tell Nikoleta that when I was a teenager, I was listening to Whitney Houston and trying on lipstick. That what happened to her was not fair.
“I was doing that too. But I was also worried about being hungry. And whether my father was alive in Bosnia,” she says.
“These days I take life as it comes. If I sit down and think I would have many reasons to cry. It definitely affected my life and destroyed it in some way.
“But I am never looking back and thinking.”

It’s time to wrap up the interview and we both look at each other, knowing that something has shifted in both of us. Two similar women from two separate worlds. More than a week later, as I sit back in Australia writing this, her words, her directness, still swirl around in my head as I try to make sense of it all. When Croatians speak, it’s a shouty jumble of consonants, like they are screaming at each other in rapid gun fire. And in many ways they are. But underneath this facade, they hide huge hearts. In their history, they’ve only ever known 45 years of peace and that was between World War Two and the Serbian-Croatian war. Next year marks 25 years since their last conflict. May these gentle, generous souls finally know peace.

The Global Goddess travelled with Cruise Croatia, Australia’s leading dedicated Croatia small ship cruising operator – http://www.cruise-croatia.com.au
STAY
Before the cruise, stay in Dubrovnik’s Old Town at Apartments More Dubrovnik. These charming apartments, smack bang in the ancient city, are 600 years old and are central to all of the key tourist spots.
http://apartments-more.net

After the cruise, fly directly from Zagreb, via Dubai, to Australia. Stay in the Croatian capital’s gorgeous Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, which dates back to 1925. https://www.esplanade.hr

PLAY
The cruise ends in Split. Take a day tour with Portal Split to Croatia’s stunning lake’s district to Plitvice Lakes, ending in Zagreb https://split-excursions.com