BECAUSE there is nothing more on this planet that a lonely, single, travel writer with a rotten head cold loves more than listening to the couple in the room next door having crazy, monkey sex, I spend my first night in Noosa rummaging through my luggage for ear plugs and with the pillow over my head. The thing we love second best is not being able to locate the off switch for the room light (in this case, it’s in the kitchen which glows like a full moon), so I also grasp for my eye mask. Looking and feeling like Uncle Fester, I head to bed, strangely aroused and annoyed in equal measure, but resolve that tomorrow will be a better day.
And it is. It’s mid winter in Noosa and I’m on a story researching her hidden secrets, or Naked Noosa if you will. It’s also 27 degrees and while the cold and flu tablets I have taken initially prevent my foggy head from finding the Noosa River along which I have happily driven for the past 20 years, I eventually locate this major waterway and my first appointment of the day. I’m on a stand-up paddle board/yoga lesson with Kelly Carthy from Luxe Fitness Escapes who leads me into the mangroves where I lay on the board, sun on my face, birds in my ear, and perform some basic yoga moves, mindful not to roll over and into the river, which is exactly the kind of thing I’d do. Kelly has just launched the business aimed at making fitness fun in some of Noosa’s secret spots.
“As a trainer I’ve always used the outdoors to my advantage. I only train clients near water and places with a great view and it’s about how can I take their mind of it,” Kelly says.
“On the board or on the sand you are having to stabilise and are using all of your muscles and are more aware of what you are doing. I’m huge about empowering women to be in their own body and not be looking at someone else and to be more mindful about what they can do.
“I want them 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 tells me I have great core strength which I attribute to the fact I do yoga, and not all the crazy, monkey sex I’m not having, and I spend the rest of the day strutting around like I’m a super model.
I spend the afternoon with award-winning barista Al Claridge from Clandestino Roasters along Hastings Street, learning how to make the perfect drop. Well, I think I’m here to make coffee, but as is so often the case in my job, it’s the person with whom I’m speaking that turns out to be the story. “Kiwi Al” was one of New Zealand’s top 10 surfers but, more interestingly, was involved in a car accident which left him a tetraplegic – unable to use his limbs or torso. Against all odds it took him more than two years to learn to walk again and these days he lives on the Sunshine Coast, happily surfing and making “ethical, sustainable and environmental” coffee.
“I don’t chase the big money, I chase the waves and lifestyle,” Al says.
“If we’ve got a skill we’re not sharing in life, well then that’s selfish. It’s about raising people’s awareness of being.
“A good barista is like a counselor. Life is 100 percent about choice. Now everything I do is done with the fullest and life is a beautiful thing.”
The next day, I go in search of a bloke called Bear. I heard about Bear a few months back and was utterly fascinated by his name, picturing a large knife-wielding hippie who may or may not kill me. I’m totally unprepared for the 69-year-old who turns up in his 4WD and tells me to jump in his truck as we ride the Noosa Ferry to the Noosa North Shore. Bear, as it turns out, is a big teddy bear, who these days spends his time living with his wife Pam on their oceanfront land and searching for a good spot to fish. We explore this quiet side of Noosa and chat about life and love. I ask Bear the secret to his 48 year marriage.
“You need someone who likes the same things. She was a city girl and I brought her out of Brisbane and had to train her my way,” he says.
“You’ve got to deal with the problems as they come up and just be there for each other.
“I haven’t worked out women, I only had to train one. I don’t worry about the rest of them.”
I return to Hastings Street, convinced I am the only person who has ever gone to Noosa and not had a drink, but spent their entire time in the chemist begging for more cold and flu drugs. At one stage, I’m speeding so much on Sudafed that I actually park my car over an entire resort driveway, thus blocking the ability for anyone to enter or exit the resort. But the show must go on and I spend the next few days on a walking tour of the secret side of Noosa National park (where I may or may not have been looking for the nudist beach), learning to sail the Noosa River, watching a Queensland Ballet Performance, talking about Eumundi Body Art and soaking up the sun. Yes, if you’re going to feel rotten, Noosa is the best antidote to any head cold. I drive back to Brisbane on late Sunday, the stories and characters swirling around in my head like latte art, grappling with how to sum up this naked side of Noosa. And, just when I want to give up, worried I can’t find a way to deliver justice to this divine destination, the words of Bear pop into my head: “When all else fails, just keep fishing.”
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Tourism Noosa – http://www.visitnoosa.com.au
THE seductive scent of clove cigarettes hangs in the air like an unfinished sentence on this heady evening, which is already punctuated with sweat and music. It’s all Japanese and jazz at Bali’s Ryoshi bar on this mellifluous Monday and Rio Sidik is one cool cat with his trumpet and a voice which is part Dean Martin, part Louis Armstrong. Randomly, Rio’s sister Marina joins The Rio Sidik Quartet up on stage and unleashes Indonesia’s own Tina Turner with a pinch of Pink tossed in for good measure. I’m in Bali on an Eat Pray Live tour and this part is definitely what I’d call living.
Sydney’s Nicole Long, who runs Eat Pray Live, advises her guests to “be careful what you wish for” because in Bali, it might just come true. That is certainly the case for this 41-year-old former Brit who moved to Australia after a neglectful upbringing and has had quite the ride since. In the past six years she divorced her husband, started her Bali business, and in an incredible twist, celebrated the resurrection of her marriage with which she credits Eat Pray Live.
As part of this bespoke Balinese experience, Eat Pray Live guests partake in a cleansing ceremony and visit with a respected healer, which proved to be the pivotal moment for Nicole, who escaped to Bali for a holiday in 2011 when she thought she had run out of options back in Australia.
“I had this moment in the water and I thought ‘I can do this business’. If only I had somewhere to go after I got divorced. Where do you go when you just want to be blah?” she says.
“I went for a session with a reputed medicine man and at the end of my session he took my hand and said ‘you are going to use your experience to help many women.’
“There is no way he could have known what I was planning to do with Eat Pray Live. I went back to Australia and said to myself ‘Ok, it’s now or never’. I didn’t have any money to do this but I just had this fire.”
While it would be tempting to describe Eat Pray Live as a Balinese retreat and focus on the spirituality the Indonesian Island of the Gods exudes, this experience is so much more than that. Nicole has designed a bespoke holiday which focuses on all aspects of eating, praying and living in her villa she describes as a “home away from home” for guests. The concept eschews the typical tourist traps and takes guests to local and new restaurants such as Warung Talun for a delicious Indonesian feast overlooking the rice paddies, or to the hip and happening Potato Head to lounge and drink cocktails at this cool beach club. There’s plenty of pampering and even in-villa spa treatments, shopping in local markets and high-end stores and lots of secrets and surprises all designed to connected like-minded women who are drawn to this escape.
Despite numerous obstacles since her day of revelation, Nicole persevered and welcomed her first client in October 2012, initially operating Eat Pray Live from a hotel in Seminyak. Mid last year she stumbled across Villa Griya Asih in charming Canggu while taking her first horse ride since her Australian horse and soul mate Surge died. Eat Pray Live now operates from this beautiful Balinese villa which comes complete with six bedrooms and copious living spaces around which to lounge including a gorgeous day bed around the private pool. There’s a lovely third floor meditation deck overlooking typical Balinese fields and even a resident dog Blackie – a stray who wandered into Nicole’s life not long after Surge died. Curiously, Blackie even has a print of a white horse on his coat, which might seem pure coincidence in Australia, but in Bali, Nicole believes anything can happen.
Incredibly, Nicole reunited with her husband David after they reconnected for the first time in six years, following the suicide of his best friend.
“He came over for dinner and as I opened the door I thought ‘this is my man’ and everything, all the past evaporated and he was standing in front of me and I didn’t know what to think or feel,” Nicole says.
“He said, ‘I love you Nic’ and I realised I was home.
“Throughout this whole journey I’ve found my truth and Eat Pray Live has led me back to my love.”
For more information on Eat Pray Live or to book an escape, go to http://www.eatpraylive.com.au
FIRST come the books. I can’t help myself, I’ve packed two juicy travel bios into my bulging suitcase. I draw the line at actual guidebooks, but only just. You see, last week I went where few travel writers dare to go. I took a holiday. A plain, old-fashioned, crunchy-sand-between-the-white-cotton-sheets beach holiday. The type of thing that we lonely travel writers dream about all year, often discuss late at night in empty airports when we’re away from family and friends, but rarely have the time, the will, or the money, when we’re at home. Which is what makes the concept all the more appealing. One whole week of doing nothing but getting up, having a cuppa while staring at the ocean, lazing around in my pj’s, and planning a day which consists of nothing more than alternating between the beach and the pool.
In old-fashioned beach holiday style I am away with one of my three older sisters – an early partner in crime when it came to this kind of thing. After 40 odd years, my sister and I know each other’s rhythms. It’s as predictable as the low and high tides at our Sunshine Coast destination. And predictable is what we want this week. It’s her turn for the room with the double bed, and so I cram myself into the room with two singles, one for my books and baggage, the other for my adult self, who lays awake each night wondering how on earth I did this as a kid. The bed springs creak and ping, and I hit my knees on the wall well into the dawn. I wake messy haired and bleary eyed. Yep, a typical beach holiday.
The hours are long and languid. These are fresh prawn sandwiches on wicked white bread type days. We drink crisp white wine with lunch. Chat about our childhood. People we’ve forgotten, forgiven and forbidden from our lives. Snatch lazy afternoon naps to the sound of the ocean curling outside. Take the odd walk but we don’t venture far. That’s not the point of this week. Late afternoon it’s olives, cheese, smoky sausage and sparkly Pimms on the deck. In between I dive into my books and delve into other people’s lives. For one whole week I put my life on hold. Try not to answer emails. Stay off Facebook as much as is humanly possible. Take late night dips in the heated spa under a Turkish moon which creeps behind the building. One night I look up and wave at my sister dimly lit and standing on the balcony looking down on me in the spa. Too late I realise it’s not her but the 20 year old male occupant of the unit below. Soon not one, but two of his mates also wave at me. Exposed, I have no where to hide in the spa, and just pray to the spa Gods it keeps bubbling away as I slink as low as possible. Upstairs, my sister laughs outrageously when I recount this tale.
When we do venture outside we attract unusual attention. “Are you two sisters?” complete strangers stop us all week in our tracks. We laugh to ourselves and think, if only our other two sisters were here. Worse, our Doppelgangers are somewhere on our beach holiday but we remain frustratingly one pace behind them. The night we get takeaway Thai, the operator welcomes us with open arms: “you’re back again!” he exclaims to our surprised bemusement. “Oh, two sisters who look just like you were in here last night,” he says as we clutch our curry, chuckle and shuffle into the night. The next evening, at the surf club, we are welcomed again: “Oh, you were here last night!” the waitress explains. No, but our Doppelgangers were. We never meet our Doppelgangers but by the end of the week every pair of women look like sisters to us. “Do you think it’s them?” we whisper in conspiratorial tones to each other over dinner. We wonder whether they are better versions of us than we are. We decide that’s impossible. It becomes our holiday joke. Every holiday needs a joke, that’s what makes families tick.
And our family has had its moments. Nine years ago, When my sister’s marriage collapsed suddenly, I was among the first people she called. “You need to sit down,” she said down the phone line. Little did I realise that a few years later I’d be having that very same conversation with her. Years later, she confessed to me that my weekly phone calls were all that got her through each miserable week. I think back to the season of my discontent, that winter that seemed so bitterly cold where I sat in her old country Queenslander and cried and shook while she just sat patiently with me. Not so long ago her two daughters – my feisty, fabulous nieces – were having a rip-roaring fight, the type that only adolescent siblings can. My sister turned to them and in the quiet way she has said to them: “You’re going to need her one day”. How right she was.
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There’d hardly be an Australian who, by now, didn’t know of that clever car insurance advertisement featuring Rhonda and her Indonesian waiter, Ketut. For those overseas readers, it’s one of the most popular ads on television, as the hapless holidaying Rhonda flirts shamelessly with Ketut on a Balinese beach. Lobster red with sunburn, apart from her white rimmed eyes which have been hidden by her sunnies, Ketut tells Rhonda: “You look so hot today, like a sunrise.”
Now, I don’t want to brag, but before this ad was even aired, six months ago I was in a similar situation to Rhonda in Bali. And given I’m going back there next week, it seems timely to share my good fortune.
It was Easter and my mate Trish and I had flown down to escape the clutches of oppressive Singapore, where we’d both been working. Trish, a typical POM, promptly plonked herself on the nearest lounge chair overlooking the ocean, and proceeded to fry her lily white body for the next four days. I think I saw her go in the water once. She was a handy holiday companion, however, rising before dawn to beat the Germans to the sun lounges, bagging us two of the best, and then meeting me for breakfast. Only a European knows how to play that dangerous little game.
Each day Trish would frazzle up a storm, come to sunset drinks all glowing and glowering with sunburn, and proceed to do it all over again the next day. I, on the other hand, am a typical Australian who experienced a lifetime of sunshine in my youth, and now sits under a tree wearing something akin to a Burqa. That is, if I’m not in the water, which is often. But each to their own, it worked for us, and we had a fabulous time.
In between dips one day, Trish and I had a boozy beachside lunch, and it was at that point I met my own Ketut. A Balinese waiter approached our table, and once he established from where I had hailed, he replied: “Ah, Australia, kangaroo, sexy.” At this point Trish and I both looked at it each other in bemusement. Not sure if Trish had ever seen a kangaroo in the wild before, but I certainly had, and I’m not entirely certain “sexy” is how you would describe Skippy.
“Sexy?” I asked the waiter, a little incredulously.
He, in turn, looked confused, and replied: “Not kangaroo, I meant Coca Cola. Coca Cola very sexy.” And then, as if to explain, he looked at my body, and in thin air, traced the curves as one would an old-fashioned glass Coke bottle.
And then he promptly departed.
For the rest of the trip, whenever Trish was looking for me in the ocean or the pool, she simply needed to think of a bottle of Coke, and up I’d pop. Since my time as a Coke bottle in Bali, I have returned to Australia to live, and as we speak Trish is packing her belongings to return to the UK.
Meanwhile, Rhonda and Ketut have become such celebrities Down Under, that they will be joining the likes of Nicole Kidman and Prince Charles on the Melbourne Cup racing social circuit. For those who don’t know, Rhonda is Western Australian actress Mandy McElhinney and Ketut is Melbourne forklift driver Kadek Mahardika. I suspect neither will ever have to work again.
I won’t be in Melbourne for the Cup this year, but I will certainly be in Bali next week, unfortunately without Trish. So save me an umbrella Rhonda and Ketut. The Coke bottle is arriving and she’s ready to hit the beach. Like a sunrise.