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 AM stuck in second gear…quite literally. I am on my way up an incredibly steep driveway of the destination I am visiting when my car conks out. I have no choice but to roll my little black beast down the hill, slip it into first gear and rev the engine until I can smell burning rubber. My stay at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat on the Gold Coast on the weekend starts in a less-than-auspicious way and I try not to take this as an omen. I also chew gum, lest the retreat staff detect the scent of the triple chocolate Cornetto ice cream I scoffed in a panic just before entering the retreat.
Later that night, in her induction to the retreat, Gwinganna Program Manager Kay says we should view the steep driveway as a training tool.
“Imagine the driveway is the buffer zone to the outside world. Imagine leaving at the bottom of the driveway everything in your life that causes stress,” Kay says.
“We invite you to visualise that and what’s left of you drives up here and has a weekend at Gwinganna.” Unfortunately, for me, Kay never does say what we should do when we exit, and all I can picture is all of my stress waiting for me at the bottom of the driveway, waiting to leap back into my car, when I depart.
Kay says the five major health concerns: cancer, heart disease, degenerative disease, depression and diabetes, all have stress as a common denominator and underlying factor.
“There is a flip side of the coin to stress. Can you remember the last time you felt so good in your life that you woke up a little bit early because you couldn’t wait to get the day started? You had that sense of joy and you carried that throughout your day, that buoyance of spirit and resilience to life?” she says.
“That very feeling is what we are aiming to create here at Gwinganna.
“We’ve created a program that invites you to focus on the one thing that impacts on everything in your life and that is your relationship with your body, your health and wellbeing.”
At this point in proceedings I should point out I spent a good three weeks in Indonesia in December drinking copious cheap cocktails and Bintang and when I returned, spent January making up for the lack of good wine in Indonesia, if you get my drift. So there’s a little bit of work to do. On the up side, I have been in 2km daily swimming training for a story on which I depart next week, attending yoga twice a week, and meditation class once a week. So there has been some balance between my binges. But my active wear rudely suggests not nearly enough. Never fear, because Gwinganna is part lifestyle retreat, part Biggest Loser reality TV program with Kay talking about how bad it would be to smuggle Kit Kats into the retreat and eat them in the privacy of your room. On my first night after dinner, all I can think about is how I wish I’d been clever enough to think to bring Kit Kats. The best I can find is an old throat lozenge in my handbag with some hair stuck to it.
I spend my first afternoon enjoying the retreat’s Dreamtime hours where most people go to a massage or rest and my treatment is a Maya Maya where I am smothered in mud and salt and wrapped in a sheet. During my treatment, a ferocious summer storm hits, the building shakes, the power goes off, and all I can imagine is the roof lifting and my masseuse fleeing the building, leaving me stuck in my mud and salt cocoon. I devise a plan in case of the worst scenario and decide if I gather enough momentum I can probably drop and roll my way off the massage table, and dash naked into the rainforest, leaving a trail of mud and salt in my wake. I regale my new friends at dinner that night with my plan, right before I spill oyster juice all over them. I’d blame the alcohol, but we’re only allowed one 100ml glass of organic wine each (I try to cut a deal with those who aren’t drinking to give me their allowance). We’re also discouraged from drinking water half an hour before or after our meal to aid our digestion.
I go to bed sad, sober and starving but vow tomorrow will be a better day. Staff member Karl Ostrowski is giving a seminar on the Pillars of Wellness where I learn that only about 20 per cent of our woes can be traced back to our genetics which means about 80 percent is up to me. We learn that it’s important to chew our food about twice as slowly as we currently do. It’s Day Two and I’m feeling virtuous and much better. I partake in a variety of activities, rising at 5.30am for the 6am Qi Gong class. By 6.45am I’m in the pool partaking in a water running class and at 9am I’m doing a stretch class, followed by a pilates class at 9.30am. I spend my Dreamtime hours in another treatment, and dreaming about dinner. My body has never consumed so few calories while doing so much exercise and I fear I may go into cardiac arrest.
By Sunday morning my new friends and me are talking about all the great wine specials we discovered over Christmas. We possess all the fervour of a bunch of 16-year-old boys looking at porn. One girl admits she can live without wine, but could murder a latte right about now, despite the fact we are allowed organic coffee up until 11am each day. I’m thinking about the half bottle of New Zealand Sav Blanc I have waiting in the fridge at home. But most of all, I’m learning to breathe again so that when those problems do leap into my car when I roll back down the hill, I’ll be ready for them.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat – http://www.gwinganna.com