I AM sipping a Spanish rose wine, the faintest colour of blood, which is apt, as I am perched among Spain’s largest collection of bull fighting memorabilia, staring down several mounted angry bull heads. But this is not a gory story, but one of love. It’s a crisp, damp November evening in Pamplona, in northern Spain, and I am crouched around a table with Senora Maria del Carmen Tahoces. While I ask clumsy questions, and the beautiful Senora attempts to answer them, my tour guide Francisco Glaria Baines, is tasked with the toughest job of all, translating our conversation which swings from bulls, to love, to loss, and life itself.
I am on a 10-day Novelties of Northern Spain tour with Collette Vacations and while my fellow travellers have since departed Maria’s home museum, which pays homage to bull fighting and her husband Marcelimo who died 10 years ago, I have asked to stay on. To dance with the bull. To find out more about this enigmatic woman who lives among these creatures. While Maria speaks no English, and I, no Spanish, we both understand the language of love and loss.
Before she met Marcelimo, Maria never went to a bull fight, she wasn’t interested. He was a doctor and on their first date they ended up at a ring. She admits she didn’t love bull fighting, or indeed her future husband at first sight, but both passions grew. That was back in 1967 and by 1970 they were married and had moved into Pamplona’s most famous bull running street, where the bulls turn a sharp right at Dead Man’s Corner and head straight for Pamplona’s bull ring. She lives there still.
When he died 10 years ago, Marcelimo left behind two children, six grandchildren, and a deeply heart-broken wife. But his love of bull fighting lives on. On this particular day, and for the first time in her grieving journey, Maria has opened her house to our tour group. Behind this unassuming entry lays Spain’s largest collection of bull-fighting memorabilia. There’s those bull heads mounted on the wall, a replica bull ring crafted by her husband, magical matador capes and even a Salvador Dali painting. It’s a huge step for the Senora to open her house to strangers – these artefacts are usually only reserved for Spain’s bullfighting community – and both her courage and grief are palpable.
I want to tell her how sorry I am for her loss, but I do not possess the Spanish words and it seems trite to communicate this through Francisco. These are words that are too important to be lost in translation. Instead, I tell her she is beautiful, for indeed she is.
“When my husband was alive, this was an open house for the bull world, you didn’t have to ask to come in,” she says.
“After he died, for two years, I could not do anything. We had everything in boxes for a renovation and I needed to put it out again.
“In the beginning, today was very stressful, but once I saw your reaction, I calmed. I was worried you would not like bull fighting.
“Bull fighting is not just what is in the arena. People only centre of the blood part. You need to make the decision to go for the human or the animal.”
While I don’t entirely understand bull fighting, I understand love. I clutch at small talk, and tell her my family are graziers in country Queensland. I know a little of El Toro. But not enough.
I ask Senora Maria whether she still goes to bull fights, but she says she can’t yet return to the one in Pamplona.
“I cannot go in Pamplona yet as it makes me sad,” she says.
“We always went to the same seats, me going alone, I cannot go there.”
I finish the interview, knowing I’ve already prodded deep enough around this woman’s grief. On the way out, I hug Senora Maria and thank her for sharing her story and her home. She tells me, through Francisco, that I am welcome to bring my family to visit and stand on her beautiful balcony during the Running of the Bulls. Sometimes you don’t need to speak the language to connect. It’s raining as I step out into the cold, night air and stroll along the empty, cobbled streets of Pamplona. I think of Senora Maria and her love story and a smile graces my face as I pluck my way back to the warmth of my hotel, walking the route of those running bulls and a love story which endures.
The Global Goddess experienced the Novelties of Northern Spain Tour as a guest of Collette
Vacations https://www.gocollette.com/en and flew to Spain with Singapore Airlines as a guest in their Business and Premium Economy cabins http://www.singaporeair.com/home.form
STRETCHY, sultry days, shady trees and cool pools deliciously conspired to present me with plenty of time to read over the summer break. And the one book which stood out from the copious tomes which crossed my path was this one: A Young Man’s Guide to Getting Some – How To Win The Girl of your Dreams with Respect and Class in the Age of Sexting and Swiping. Why on earth would a mature woman read a book about young men “getting some”? Read on…
Cleverly penned by Sydney freelance writer Malcolm Chenu, this book not only offers sage advice to young men in the murky age of digital dating, but reminds women, like me, of how they should be treated. The fact it’s written by a bloke makes it even more powerful and was inspired by Chenu’s desire to “make the world a nicer place” and “to remind people that chemistry is built in person rather than on screen.”
On top of this, it’s funny. Really, bloody funny, and reminds us all that dating is sloppy, embarrassing and generally pretty humiliating, and the best bet is to learn to laugh at ourselves, while treating others with respect. Chenu packs a comedy punch early and often, with gems such as: “So, what’s the secret to getting some?…Showing more style and less butt crack; listening to her even when she talks during the footy; offering a foot massage without thinking it’s foreplay.”
Pornography, he reminds us, is not real life. “Putting aside the risk of repetitive strain injury, the main problem with virtual sex is it’s not getting you virtually anywhere. Your goal is not to become a lonely – albeit highly-skilled – masturbator. At its core, pornography is abuse. Women’s sexuality does not exist for the gratification for men.” Which leads us to the penis, in which case, Chenu reminds readers that “no means no”. He also tells young men not to fixate about their “wang”. “There are three-and-a-half billion meat swords in the world and yours is not the biggest, smallest or prettiest. She doesn’t care nearly as much about Mr Winky as you do”.
On the subject of sexting, Chenu sits firmly in the “no” camp. Reminding readers of the difference between flirting and being an electronic “arsehole”. And under no circumstances, should you send dick pics. Nor, ask for nudes, he proffers. One of my favourite pieces of advice occurs mid-way through this 111-page book, in which Chenu offers similar advice to that which I give my male friends when it comes to dating. And that is, women’s HAIR is everything. I have always told my male mates that women spend an ENORMOUS amount of time and money on their hair. Appreciate it. Chenu’s advice is sound: “Women wear fabulous shoes to impress other women and great hair to impress men…which is ironic as you are more interested in the bits in between.”
This ballsy book offers loads of practical advice including the Do’s and Don’ts of Date Dining; Courting Tips; How to be a Caring Lover; and even ventures bravely into the torrid waters of What Women Want. Other favourite chapters include advice on how to break up but remain classy; and reminds men that they are feminists too. At the end of this rollicking read, you’ll find a list of Basic Do’s and Don’ts. Buy this book for your sons, buy it for your daughters, and read it for yourself.
Published by New Holland, one suspects this gorgeous guide won’t be the last for Chenu, who, when not making the world a better place through this delicious dating advice, contributes regularly to Traveller in the Sydney Morning Herald, QantasLink magazine, and various other travel publications. I’d love to see this worldly wisdom spiralling into a series of similar books. In a country where our domestic violence and other abuse rates of women are disturbingly high, Chenu has ventured where few Aussie blokes dare to go. Into the corner of women, by reminding men that enough is enough. The fact he manages to do this with such humour, humility and heart, makes him an author to watch.
THIS jaunty journey begins at Fiji’s major airport of Nadi, aboard a stiflingly hot, crowded, 16-seater plane. Regular followers of The Global Goddess know that she finds small planes about as appealing as Brisbane blokes. Some days they turn up, others they don’t. They’re often late, are prone to leaving you stranded in a remote locale, and when things get bumpy, it’s unpleasant. On this occasion, just as we’re about to take off, the avionics screen goes blank (a little like a Brisbane bloke) and we taxi back to the hangar. I should point out I’d rather this scenario occurs on the ground, than when we’re in the air, and an hour later we’re back on board enroute to the remote northern island of Savusavu, via the capital of Suva.
On my Suva stopover I meet two colour characters: a bubbly blonde from Hobart who is off to a health retreat at which, she has been told, she will be handed a snorkel and a horse for the week. The Hobartarian confesses the retreat follows a heavenly hedonistic week in Las Vegas which ensued after she and her brother won a significant sum of cash at Hobart’s casino, departed the gambling den at 2am, and boarded a flight to Vegas with their winnings, four hours later. It was only halfway across the Pacific Ocean, when they started to sober up, did they realise what they were actually doing. Suffice to say, she needs that horse and snorkel real bad.
The other character is a young man from Utah who proudly informs me he hails from a Trump voting state. “Gawd,” I sputter, “but you didn’t vote for him, did you?” The coy look on this young man’s face teaches me a very valuable lesson: That I should never again ask an American that question (I mean, clearly, yet inexplicably, someone voted for him) and I board my next small plane flight convinced I could die next to a Trump supporter. Or worse, be stuck on a life raft out in the middle of the South Pacific, with one. I think I need a horse and snorkel.
I arrive safely in Savusavu for the wedding of my lovely friend Saskia. We met three years ago, in Fiji, just as we she was about to head to a remote island for some voluntourism work. Over breakfast, we were bemoaning the lack of decent dates back in Australia when a mutual friend walked past, heard Saskia was off to this particular island, and mentioned a dive instructor called Pauliasi who worked on that island. One day Saskia wandered down to the dive centre, met Paul, and they fell in love. You can date every bloke in Australia and your soul mate might just be sitting out there in the South Pacific somewhere. And so, on the finest Fijian Friday, they wed. The bride, channeling all of the elegance of Grace Kelly and the groom, mustering that handsome strength of a Fijian warrior. I stand under the stars and thank the full moon for this amazing opportunity. I get to do a lot of cool things in my job, but you can’t buy entry into a traditional Fijian wedding of two people you love.
We all wept. We all danced in the sand to a live band. On the dance floor I was accosted by a Fijian man who introduced himself as Solomon and who offered to show me around the island. He kissed me on the cheek and then he disappeared into the night, never to be spotted again. Minutes later I was introduced to Sonny, one of the Fijian relatives to whom I suspect I had been promised in marriage. We shook hands and then Sonny declared he was off to “get drunk.” I have that effect on men. It was only two days later, over breakfast, that Pauliasi told me that there were scores of Fijian men at the wedding approaching him to ask about the blonde woman on the dance floor (me) and trying to muster the courage to approach her. Opportunity lost, fellas.
Later that night I arrived back by boat from the wedding venue with three other Aussies, all of us in search of a cab on this remote Fijian island. A clean-cut bloke pulled up in his ute, admitted he wasn’t a cabbie, but offered to drive us to our resort. At the other end, we offered him money, be he politely declined.
“No thanks,” he said “I have to park my car for the night, I’ve just been at the wedding and I’m so drunk.”
I really need to find me that horse and a snorkel.
The Global Goddess funded her own trip to Fiji. Keep an eye out for my upcoming blog on Fiji’s luxurious Namale Resort, which was one of the most romantic experiences of my life. And in the meantime, check out some more of my Fiji photos on Instagram @aglobalgoddess
AUNTY Nane’s chuckle is a cross between a garrulous gecko and a violently erupting volcano, the type of which formed the island of Rarotonga, on which I find myself. Aunty, a Cook Islands Tourism Ambassador, is here to tend to my every need, including collecting me at the airport upon my 2am arrival from Brisbane. So dedicated is this generous soul to her role, I am certain that if I asked her, she would also stroke my hair while I surrendered to a deep slumber and sing me a lullaby. She may possibly even spoon me. I decide she is the perfect wing woman to assist me in finding a Cook Islander husband. Yes, I have crossed the International Date Line, or dating line, so to speak, and figure I may as well try my chances at finding love over this invisible border.
Aunty loves to chatter as much as she loves to eat, and over freshly-caught tuna sandwiches on my first day in her idyll island, she gives me the run down on dating, Cook Islands style.
“Cook Islander women are strong minded and determined. We are modern now because in the past everything was about men and the women were in the kitchen and at home. Today, nah, ah,” she says, waggling her finger.
“Women have a big role in the community, at home, at church and wherever they go. Men are having that respect for women now.
“There are a lot of mixed marriages here. There are no taboos about mixed marriage. You have some of these young men who are like ‘I have a white chick, check it out’. I’m like ‘guys, don’t break their heart’.”
Aunty tells me my best chance of finding a Cook Islander husband is to accompany her to church on Sunday. Regular readers of this blog will know I have attempted many unorthodox methods around the world to secure a boyfriend, but I’ve never had a date with God, and so we schedule this in for several days time.
The next day, on a Tuk Tuk trip with Uncle Mata from Tik-E Tours, I learn that the Cook Islander man is “very quiet, very humble, very reserved and they support their women.”
“He is hard working and looks after the family. Whichever woman you pick they are all strong. Men have good values of bringing up their children,” Uncle Mata says.
Uncle’s advice on Cook Islands dating is similar to Aunty Nane’s.
“Don’t go to the pub, they’ll be too drunk and talk a lot of rubbish. Go to church and have a look,” he says.
“Just go up and talk to him. Just say ‘Kia Orana’ and whatever happens after that happens.”
Not since I first learned they gave out free wine have I ever been so excited to go to church.
Onwards I travel, to the island of Aitutaki, best known for its stunning lagoon. Here, my tour guide Aunty Mii tells me she loves her husband “very much” but spends her days trying to avoid him because he is “very stupid”.
“My stupid husband broke the washing machine and now he has to wash his own clothes,” she says.
“In ancient days women had to choose their partners. They had three of four because they had to breed the warriors for the tribe. But when Christianity arrived that ruined everything.”
I avoid asking Aunty Mii whether I should go to church to find a husband, partly because of her views on Christianity, and partly because I am very scared of her. Instead, I ask her if there’s a marriage counsellor on this remote island.
“Yes, that’s me,” she says, breaking into a toothless grin.
Two days before church, I am back in Rarotonga, having dinner with Geoff, 34, who provides me with a contemporary view on dating, Cook Islands style.
“For me, it is not dating per say. I have a couple of girls on the roster and it is a mutual understanding. We wait for the tourist season because the ratio of girls to guys will be in our favour,” he says.
“And white women tend to like Cook Islander guys. You’ve got this revolving door of visitors to keep the bachelors happy and in between you go back to the roster.
“Cook Islander women get complacent real quick. You date them for a year and after that you can’t do right by them. They’ve got that really strong personality.
“A lot of girls are always telling me ‘you are impossible to please’.
Geoff tells me there is also Tinder on Rarotonga but he is yet to find the “ideal woman”.
“The whole idea about the perfect woman I don’t understand yet. Someone with fair skin is quite exotic to me,” he says.
“I’ve had to defend my thoughts on dating many times. Until this system comes crashing down around me, it works.
“One of my best features is not my appearance, it’s because I can talk. I’ve really honed that to a fine art. If I was interested in you normally I’d square off and make sure I touch you on the arm at some stage. It’s all these little nuances you pick up on.
“Then I need to move you to a setting where I’m the alpha male. There will be drinking and dancing. It is so fluid. It’s the meeting, setting up, trying to close and then the logistics.”
Geoff, who has been operating on the same dating scheme for 20 years, has it down to a fine art, even having a draw full of sarongs and toothbrushes for any lucky ladies who happen to spend the night.
“It is a game of numbers. You run the strategy that yields a higher return,” he says.
He admits he sometimes lies to get what he wants and that it can be disrespectful.
“I’ve got four older sisters and they don’t know about this. If they found out they’d try and sit me down and say ‘hey’. I don’t think mum would understand.”
Sunday finally arrives and I dress in a floral frock and place on my head the gorgeous garland of flowers or traditional “ei” that Aunty has bought me from the markets. It’s D-Day. Divinity. Dating. Or Disaster. I enter the church and the congregation is packed, but they all seem to be aged either 5 or 85 with a distinct lack of the middle-aged men I was promised. There’s a visiting Samoan missionary, a huge hunk of a man, but the priest promptly describes him to his parishioners as “married to God”, which, frankly, is a hard act to follow. At one point a sprightly octogenarian breaks free from a prayer line to kiss me on the cheek. There’s lunch with the churchgoers afterwards but alas, no husband.
In the early evening Aunty drops me at dinner overlooking the ocean, paying for my meal before she heads back to church for the evening. I resist the urge to join her again. The only thing I took away from this morning was apparently it’s “Up, Up Jesus, Down, Down Satan.” Instead, from where I sit, the sun is setting, I have a glass of New Zealand wine in my hand, and I can smell the salt in the air. I am alone in possibly the most romantic spot on the planet when it dawns on me, I don’t need a Cook Islander husband, I need a Cook Islander wife. And I can’t wait for Aunty to get home from church to tell her.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Cook Islands Tourism. To plan your own adventure go to https://www.cookislands.travel
I’M in Southern Germany researching a nature story on Germany’s highest mountain and also looking for love. I am seeking an Alpine attraction with a Bavarian boy, having long given up on the bad-spellin’ fellas of Brisbane and their Southern Cross tattoos, motorbikes and drunken manners . And it seems I have come to the right place, as the region in which I find myself is where every decade they stage something known as a Passion Play. While I am actually four years too early for the next play, which was first performed in 1634 as a vow to God to spare inhabitants from the bubonic plague, and now held in years ending in zero, I take the name itself as a good sign.
I am in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, about 1.5 hours south of Munich, and it’s my first stop after a typical epic journey from Brisbane to Europe. What stuns me most is that I appear to be turning heads among the male populous, which suggests either there is a serious man shortage in Germany or I look incredible after 32 hours of travel from door-to-door. Even in the bar, where I sit shovelling schnitzel and beer into my mouth (hey, jetlag makes me ravenous), the waiter begs me to stay to talk to him. He even offers me free drinks, which I politely refuse. And when six gorgeous German women closer to his age walk in and order a round of drinks, I gesture to them and say “Ok, there you go, I’m free to leave now.”
“No, please don’t leave”, he says, adding, with a wink, that his shift finishes at 2am.
Safely back in my room, I re-activate Tinder to my current location where I discover I have 12 new German boyfriends running consecutively. I feel a little like Jesus and his disciples, and based on my knowledge of men around the world, there’s at least one Judas among them. Yes, there’s one or two weirdos, including one wearing the straps to lederhosen and nothing else, but for the most part they are respectful and ruggedly handsome, standing atop mountains, skiing, hiking and riding mountain bikes. And their names are oh-so-German. There’s Helmut and Hans, Holger and Heiko, Wolfgang, Markus, and even a Gander, Gerhard and Geronimo. One is even called Tinder, and I’m not sure if he’s being ironic or if he’s actually called Tinder. I draw the line at Adolf.
My most likely prospect is Markus, from Garmisch-Partenkirchen where I have just spent two days researching a story on Germany’s highest mountain. We don’t have the chance to meet, and just as I’m leaving Garmisch, Markus is headed to Majorca on holidays. He asks what I’m doing the following week, adding that he would like to show me around his hometown. Unfortunately, I’m headed north to Bremen and then on to Berlin before flying home. Markus seems to think there is too far a distance to travel to meet me, pointing out that “distances in Australia are different to distances in Germany”. From my perspective, in Australian parlance, it’s just up the road. We’ve hit our first relationship roadblock.
I am on an international press trip, which means I am in the company of 19 other media from around the world for the next week. I rapidly form an alliance with two Americans and one Canadian. There’s an over-enthusiastic Chinese girl who not only shoots every word uttered by our tour guides on her iPhone, but simultaneously, and loudly, translates it into Chinese. At a Schnapps factory I turn around to find her stroking my hair and filming this encounter while speaking into her microphone. “So soft,” she says lovingly pointing at my locks. Just my luck to come all the way to Bavarian to pick up a Beijing girl.
I head on to Bremen where is appears there is an over-abundance of women, if Tinder in northern Germany is any indication. There’s only about three prospects that pop into my news feed, and one of them is wearing a pink tutu and appears to be slumped over, drunk. If I wanted that, I could just go home to Brisbane. In Berlin I am even less popular with members of the opposite sex. Could it be the longer I stay in Germany, the less appealing I become, or does my entire sex appeal lay in the southern states?
As for Markus, I never hear from him again, and picture a guy back in Garmisch bent over a world map scratching his head over how I could expect him to travel “so far” to meet me. My plane departs Berlin’s Tegel Airport on a cold, grey day, bound for sunny Brisbane, and it’s with a bittersweet feeling that I gently delete our match. Markus, mate, you’ll never know what you missed.
The Global Goddess travelled on a first-class German Rail Pass (5 days within one month) as a guest Rail Europe – http://www.raileurope.com.au; NH Collection in Berlin – http://www.nh-collection.com/de/hotel/nh-collection-berlin-friedrichstrasse;
and The German National Tourist Office – http://www.germany.travel
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
IT may seem strange to be looking for a boyfriend in a place called Fatboys, but this is where I found myself last week, at a resort in the Solomon Islands. And there’s not a fat boy in sight. Named after the character Joe who ate too much and slept too much in The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, life in this South Pacific resort revolves around the same delicious concept. Drinking, eating, snorkelling and sleeping. And I have bagged the best bed of all, the Honeymoon Suite overlooking the lagoon where reef sharks circle in a hypnotic symphony at night. Two things strike me about my room: Am I the first woman in history to spend the night alone in this suite? And why is there a replica of a human skull among the collection of seashells on my balcony?
I’m in the Solomons searching for a solo man and am reminded that it was only about 100 years ago that the islanders liked to eat little white girls like me. But these days you’ll find a place infused with rustic romance and islanders as warm and welcoming as their aqua lagoons. Meria, 25, warns me it’s not going to be an easy task finding a husband here, as things are very different around these parts.
“Here the ladies are mostly shy, even if they have an interest in men they don’t ask them out. Before there used to be arranged marriages. My grandparents had an arranged marriage,” she says.
“Our age group is educated and goes to Fiji and New Zealand and Australia and Japan and most pick their husbands or wives from outside.
“But between islands there is no intermarriage because of former head hunting. In Honiara you have to convince a guy to marry a western woman. Here the men are very shy. Even though they appreciate a lady they are quite shy.
“If you spend three days in a location they are used to talking to you but the western woman has to start up the conversation.”
Unfortunately, my travel schedule has me staying two nights at most in each location, so Meria’s three-day rule blows away with the south-east trade winds.
I decide to enlist the help of Stella, 42, who married a Fijian man and now has a 4-year-old son.
“We don’t date in restaurants and stuff. We sit along trees and playing fields. We don’t sit down for candlelight dinners. We do it by our eyes or pass messages through a person we call Solair after Solomon Airlines,” she says.
“Our parents don’t allow dating so we use a friend or a sister or a cousin to do it for us. Sex before marriage is very big but very secret. Once someone in the family knows they can demand compensation money.
“There are a lot of things to do with dating here.”
Stella says mixed marriages are considered OK and that the women in the central province of Malaita are considered the most beautiful.
“Each place has their own beauty…fair blue blonde, ginger blonde to purple black. Most of the locals go for their own colour. We are multiple-coloured people. Some you will see are black black, some are chocolate and some are black blonde. We speak Pidgin English, that’s what unites us.
“Most of the western men go for western region women with curly black hair, black skin and pink lips.
“Western women like their hubby to be hard working both in bed and out of bed. Nowadays you can find a rustic farmer boy with tough hands.”
I spend the next few days looking at the hands of every man I encounter, while secretly hoping they like very white blonde coloured girls.
Still no closer to catching my solo man, I ask a local bloke. Panda, 37, says Solomon Island men are good lovers because “they like the girls”. And he should know. Panda and his wife Sarah have four children aged 9, 7, 5 and 4 months.
“A man looks for a nice wife who is good looking, hard working and educated. We have lots of small islands here, you just go and choose one,” he says.
“He needs to have good resources, some land and a hard job. It is very easy to find a husband here. Once you go to one of the boys and say ‘I want to marry you, they will says yes…no question!’
“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.”
I don’t end up finding a fella, but I do discover a forgotten paradise. The Solomon Islands is sunsets, seashells and sandbars. It’s local markets of cod, wrasse, green coconuts, peppers, peanuts, mangoes, watermelons and bright red betel nut smiles. These are dugong days set to the sound track of the babble of the ocean crashing over the outer reef. Here are the “Hapi Islands” where optimism spills out of shop names such as Excellent Fashion, Fantastic Hardware, Happiness Shop and the Yes OK Shop. Home to three main groups of people – the Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian – there are more than 900 islands spread across 1600km of ocean and more than 70 languages spoken here. But my favourite phrase of all is in Pidgin English: “Me lukim iu behind” which means: “I’ll see you again.” Yes, I’ll be back, and I’m sure my solo man will be waiting for me.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau – http://www.visitsolomons.com.sb and Solomon Airlines – http://www.flysolomons.com