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.

We Are Not Alone


Imagine all the people, living life in peace.” John Lennon
IT was her handbag which captured my attention. A beautiful travel tale of tapestry which whispered of a faraway land. I commented on her bag and she glanced at me from under inky black eyes. Her accent was baklava sweet, dripping in Middle Eastern exoticism, of sultry deserts and sticky desserts, piquant shisha pipes and ancient mosques wailing the Muslim call to prayer. “I am from Iran,” she said, smiling, “do you know Iran?” I have never walked in her homeland, but I know her region. Yet another destination. Like loneliness. Since publishing my blog on loneliness last week I have made an effort to walk my talk and try to connect more with my fellow humans, on a day-to-day level. I have been showered with so much love about my blog post, I couldn’t ignore the deluge. And what a torrent it was. I have been overwhelmed by phone calls, messages, emails and comments from friends and strangers from around the world. So today, I thought I’d share some of those responses, to remind you, that we are not alone.

One of my most deliciously surprising messages came in the form of an email, from the Netherlands.
“I stumbled upon your blog, “Only the lonely” and it touched me.
It feels vulnerable, and showing vulnerability is also strength,” the male reader said.
“Although from a slightly different angle, I can relate with your story.
I flew back from Brisbane(!) 2 month ago to the Netherlands after seven months of traveling alone.
“Yes, travelling you meet all kinds of awesome people down the road, but – also yes – it’s easy to miss the deeper connections.
Moreover, I felt a kind of alienated coming home.
“In my case, because I have had so many new and weird experiences to the extent, I have difficulty connecting to “normal” people.”

One of dear friends, who lives in the UK, sent me a message from the midst of their freezing summer.
“Your blog brought a tear to me…people don’t understand loneliness. I can howl for England on my down days,” she wrote.
It seems I made quite a few people cry (sorry), but I’m told in the nicest way.
Closer to home, a friend messaged me with the words “You made me cry with that post this morning. Beautifully written, and a good reminder to us all to be kind to each other,” she said.
Another wrote: “I cried and then smiled as I read your beautiful words and realised how terribly I am disconnected as well.”
And yet another wrote: “Oh, just having a teary in to my coffee. All those lonely days out in the regions coming back to haunt me through your always stunning words.”

Believe me when I say I never expected my two-day cry-fest, which ended in me penning a blog to try and write my way out of it, punch my way out of that painful paper bag, would have such an impact.
Another friend commented “I think we need more honesty to counteract all the bullshit because life is hard and shitty sometimes. By sharing your truth, you give other people permission to be honest…community is how humans have evolved and survived. It’s crazy (and arrogant) to think we don’t need it anymore.”
And this from another “I stopped walking to work months ago now, from the car park 20 mins away….. I have just felt worse and worse and retreated into my shell – over the last few weeks I have slowly started again! It has been great to see the happy Irishman I have gotten to know, and his wife – we always smile and chat quickly, today was in the morning and afternoon! It is always the small things that make us connected.”

Connections. Every person spoke about connections. And so many, many people admitted to being lonely. The issue is so big, that in the UK, they’ve even appointed the first ever Minister for Loneliness. And it got me thinking, is loneliness a First World problem? To some extent, yes, as we tend to have less community or “tribe” than those in Third World countries, but it would be too simplistic to suggest that those in developing nations don’t also struggle with loneliness. When I think back to my travels of the past two years, I think of the Ubuntu women in Kenya, who were ostracised by their communities and husbands, after they gave birth to disabled children; and the survivors of sex trafficking in Nepal, whose parents sold them into the sex trade so that their families could survive. On the other hand, I think about Bhutan, a place I travelled last year to see if it really was, as it claimed, the happiest place on the planet. In my interview with Gross National Happiness Director Sonam Tsoki Tenzin, she spoke about “authentic happiness”, a collective for the whole country and its people.
“I don’t feel sorry for people in the west because you are better educated and have a better lifestyle. But maybe you haven’t used it in the best of your interests,” she says.
“You’ve made it very easy to get things done, but have forgotten to get along with people.”

Back home in Australia, the World Kindness Movement shared my blog, which sparked another stream of conversations among strangers I had never met. I don’t have the answer to loneliness, but I believe it lays somewhere in remembering to be compassionate to yourself and others. Say hello to the exotic woman with the pretty handbag; wave if someone gives you a break in traffic; apologise if you are wrong. It costs nothing to be kind, but the impact you may have on just one person, could make all the difference to their day. Let’s keep this conversation going. In the words of John Lennon, imagine…

Mother Africa’s Daughters


IN a basic, barren Kenyan playground, with the odd splashes and sploshes of colour, sits a big toy train emblazoned with the words “the fun starts here.” At first glance, it’s an overly optimistic sign on a thirsty piece of land which trades primarily in dreams. But it’s a story which dates back to 2007 when a group of nine mums with disabled children rented a space in an African town to start a school for their kids. Outcasts, and struggling due to their children’s challenges, one year later, these African mamas started a small factory with the aim of earning a living, many of them single after their husbands abandoned them.

By 2013, they had opened a café, one year later, the factory moved out of town and, like the herb garden they’ve planted outside this flavoursome food stop, the Ubuntu Café and factory is now flourishing. These days, the Ubuntu Café not only serves organic food but its adjacent shop sells canvas shoes, wine bags, leather totes and other items sewn by the women. The next project is to move the school to the land to cater for about 60 kids with special needs.

Join a G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari experience and you can experience exclusive access to the women at the Ubuntu Café. Situated near Mai Mahiu, 45km west of Nairobi, G Adventures’ guests can visit the craft centre and meet some of the original mums behind the project, such as Alice.
“We started without knowing anything about what we are all about, “Alice says.
“We came up with the idea of buying a manual machine. We did not know how to work the machine, we did not make anything because we did not know how to sew.
“Our teacher started showing us how to make small bags. We continued working with the bags so we became perfect. The day we earned money everybody in the community learned about it because never before had we earned money.
“Sometimes we would eat, sometimes we don’t. Nowadays I expect to always eat because I earn money. Now, we are experts.”
On the journey to Ubuntu, G Adventures Chief Experience Officer and my guide, George Njuguna Mwaura, says women have not always fared well under Kenyan laws with three sets of laws ruling the land. There’s African traditional laws, religious laws and statutory laws which override all others. But while female genital mutilation is illegal under statutory laws, it is still considered acceptable under African traditional law.
“If I tell you they didn’t still do it, I would be lying to you. They do it in secret,” George says.
“In Kenya, our law allows more than one wife but you can only have a second wife if the first wife consents to it.
“Only in the in the last 20 years, have Masai women started working in hotels, etc. For a long time, Masai women didn’t have a place in the community, there was a total disregard for women, they were doing everything.”

Paid work is a big issue in Kenya, where unemployment rates sit at a staggering 50 per cent. But George says there’s a bigger problem with terrorism than crime. In January this year, 21 people were killed in the latest terrorism attack in Nairobi when armed militants targeted hotels and shops in the Kenyan capital. G Adventures assesses any potential threats in every country in which it operates tours to ensure it is safe for visitors. At the time of my visit in early April, security was among the highest I have experienced anywhere in the world.
“Our problems with terrorism come from the Somali pirates of the Indian Ocean who hijacked ships and trade routes. These Al Shabab terrorists came back inland and Kenya deployed its defence forces against the Al Shabab militia,” George says.
“We are always on high alert, you never know when they will strike,” he says. We have had some serious attacks.
“Most people who come to Kenya fall in love with the country despite the problems we’ve been having with terrorism.”

And fall in love, I do. In part with its wildlife, but particularly with Kenya’s people. And the daughters of Mother Africa. Back at the Ubuntu workshop, far away from the big issues of the world, there’s almost 40 women sitting behind buzzing Brother sewing machines. Women such as Josephine, who has not only bought a plot of land with her earnings but built a house.
I ask Josephine what Ubuntu means in the Swahili language.
“I am, because you are,” she says, looking me squarely in the eye.
“I cannot make it without you.”
And with that simple phrase, the seeds of hope are sewn as deftly as the craft and optimism in which these women trade every single day.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures http://www.gadventures.com
To find out more about this G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari go to https://www.gadventures.com/trips/kenya-safari-experience/DKKNG/

Free Range, Not Poached


Controversial legislation being touted by Kenya could see this African nation introduce the death penalty for animal poachers. Under current law, poaching attracts a life sentence in prison or a $200,000 fine. But animal activists says this is not enough. The Global Goddess travelled to Kenya with G Adventures in early April, to experience its amazing wildlife, including some of its 34,000 remaining elephants.
WE are bouncing on a lumpy, bumpy road, along a highway of cellulite and scars, past colourful, chaotic markets, travelling west to Kenya’s Masai Mara. Goats, sheep, shacks and shanties of corrugated iron punctuate the scenery, while babies as black as ink hang in slings over the hooked backs of their mothers. I am on an 8-day G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari which takes in the Masai Mara National Reserve, best known for its wildebeest migration; Lake Nakuru National Park, renowned for its rhino; and Amboseli National Park, acclaimed for its elephants.

Shortly after Nairobi we straddle The Rift Valley – a 9600km gash which runs from Jordan to Mozambique – pausing in curious curio shops with jangles of bangles and throaty drums covered in goat skin. Big bottomed baboons cross the road which is framed by the cactus-looking Euphobia tree and Africa’s acclaimed Acacias.
Just after Narok, the last town before the Masai Mara, the blessed bitumen concedes to undying dust, sharp stone chips and cavernous pot holes.

In the Masai Mara National Reserve, they say you can hear the lions roar from five kilometres away. Outside our tents at Fig Tree Camp there’s a croc in the creek and a hungry, hungry hippo, or two.
A late afternoon safari yields gazelle, zebra, buffalo, warthog, baboons and impala. A willy willy, or “Kinbunga” in Swahili dances in the distance around the thirsty earth. We stumble upon a cool school of hippos frolicking in their dirty day spa along the Talek River, while the vultures circle like an aeronautical show and a lone lioness crouches under a bush. A pack of hyenas, suckling their young, display their soft maternal side, while a marabou stork, with the widest wing span of all of Africa’s birds, perches precariously in a tree. There’s even time to spot a leopard, with the same spring in its step as the jolly jumpy up-and-down Masai Mara people, before the flaming sun concedes to a purple marshmallow sunset.

“The Masai happen to be the last group of Africans who are still living their traditional way of life,” G Adventures Chief Experience Officer and our guide George Njuguna Mwaura says.
“They originated from the lower delta of the Nile River around the 18th century. They are pastoralists of semi-nomadic nature.
“They believe all the animals belong to them. Anytime they go raiding they don’t feel guilty. The Masais do not eat game meat.
“The Masais were pushed aside with white settlement and National Parks. Now they live right next to the National Parks because the land originally belonged to them.
“There is a lot of fear that the animals have of the Masai people. They are known as fearsome warriors, even to the lion, the king of the jungle.”

A new dawn ushers in a cool aerial safari in a hot air balloon where in the distance, a roaring lion sounds like a beating African drum. From the air, green shoots of hope are already peeking through the scorched, blackened ground from a controlled burn off, in preparation for the annual migration of wildebeest. Back on the ground, a dazzle of zebra stand top-to-tail to watch each other’s backs while a memory of elephants emerges from a mud bath.
By the time the shocking pink sunset plummets to earth, it’s a day of the jackal.

Cheetahs, known as the “terrorists” of the park, farewell our visit to the Masai Mara as we head towards Lake Nakuru National Park. Colourful churches, spurious shops and pastel pubs adorned with optimistic names line the highway. There’s God’s Victory Pub, Romance Salon and Cosmetics, and the Deliverance Church.
At Lake Nakuru National Park, there’s a sassy secretary bird with its lanky legs, hooked red nose and quills on its head. But don’t be fooled by its amusing appearance of a county court clerk, it can kill even the most venomous snake.

A wake of vultures is feeding on a dead buffalo while a hyena howls in the background. The rare Rothschild giraffe, found only in this park, stands loud and proud in the early morning orange light. Out on the lake, a flock of flamingos, coloured Barbie doll pink from the blue-green algae on which they feast, has gathered to gossip, while further along, a rhino and her calf are grazing on the grass. We head back in the direction of Nairobi, which means “the city under the sun” and past the Kibera Slum, home to 1 million people and the biggest slum in Africa. It is incomprehensible.

But we are not done yet. Before we leave, we have a date with Mount Kilimanjaro and Amboseli National Park. Standing at 5985 metres, Kili is the highest point in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. “What makes this park really popular is that you are standing in front of the postcard…Kilimanjaro, the elephant, the Acacia tree,” George says.
“Different communities believe their Gods reside on the top of Kilimanjaro. When we are performing our traditional ceremonies, we pray. Even before the colonial people came, Africans believed in God such as the God of Rain.
“Even when we pray we have to face Kilimanjaro or Mount Kenya.”

Out in Amboseli National Park there’s a troupe of yellow baboons, a zebra crossing, and a duo of vultures. There’s ostentatious ostriches teetering on their stilettos, spoonbill stalks and Egyptian geese.
Meanwhile Kili flitters and flirts, at times shrouded in cloud, a mystery to even the Masai who wander her valleys. And somewhere, out in the park, stands Tim, the 48-year-old elephant with the huge tusk, who was once collared by park rangers to track his behaviour.
But Tim had other plans and returned to the front gate, depositing the collar which he had somehow removed without breaking, and dropping it defiantly so it could be found. Tim has forged such a relationship with rangers that he will return to them each time he is injured, before cutting loose on the park to cause more havoc.

And in many ways, this emotional elephant captures the soul of Kenya. Playful, defiant, oozing spirit and soul. Mother Kenya bleeds red. Rusty soil, the crimson cloths of the Masai warriors, the blood of her wildlife kills and her blushing, beating heart. She is simultaneously giving and gritty. Water may be a precious commodity here, but hope, she springs eternal.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures http://www.gadventures.com
To find out more about this G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari go to https://www.gadventures.com/trips/kenya-safari-experience/DKKNG/