“Mountaintops inspire leaders, but valleys mature them,” Winston Churchill
THEY look insipid, like a long line of stinking black house ants just before the rains come, trailing their way to the top. I’m standing at the base of Uluru watching a congo line of tourists snake their way up Australia’s most iconic rock, a monument we’ve been warned against climbing, again and again. It’s not just about death – 35 people have died trying to climb Uluru – but deity. The local Anangu Aborigines believe this is a sacred site, to be respected, and yet the visitors still scramble skywards. Under the hot August sun my face burns with shame at my fellow tourists.
In a recent piece for Fairfax Traveller, travel writing colleague and close friend Louise Southerden, who blogs under No Impact Girl, talks about why travellers are drawn to mountains and skyscrapers.
“Ever since we roamed the grasslands of Africa, we’ve looked to elevated locations for safety, for advance warning of predators – or invaders. Visit any castle or fortress from Bhutan to Balmoral (in Scotland), not to mention China’s Great Wall, and you’ll get a visceral sense of this strategic advantage,” Louise argues.
“Sometimes getting high is about escaping the cloying heat of the lowlands. Think tea plantations in the hills of Sri Lanka, the temple-dotted Himalayan foothills of northern India, the snow-caked peaks of Equatorial Ecuador (although Ecuador’s highest peak, the 6263-metre Chimborazo, has long lured climbers for another reason: it’s the world’s highest mountain when measured from the centre of the Earth, not from sea level).
“Altitude gain can also help us face our fears, give us a thrill (and sometimes vertigo) and let us see where we are and where we’re going, and not just cartographically.”
Ironically, I am in Bhutan, being cradled in the bosom of the Himalayas, when I read her powerfully-penned piece. I send her a private message, it’s in the valleys, I argue, that I discover my truth, in life’s troughs, not its peaks. Down in the nitty gritty. Louise, who is also opposed to climbing Uluru and other sacred sites, urges me to trek on and to scratch out my truth on the page. And so here I am. And I am not alone in this valley. Back in Bhutan, the Happiest Country on Earth, they consider the surrounding Himalayas so sacred, that despite having one of the world’s highest mountains, no climbing is allowed, unlike neighbouring Nepal and its alluring Everest. Three quarters of Bhutan’s land mass is mountain, yet its entire population lives in tiny slivers of valley. My nights in Bhutan are spent alone, staring at those mighty mountains, feeling like they’re wrapped around me like a comforting cloak.
On a visit to Nepal in April this year, I turn my back on Everest Base Camp and head in the opposite direction, towards the valley. I interview women who have been stolen from the mountains and sold into the sex trade, but have escaped and are now trained to become paralegals, and save other women in the same dire situation. So desperate was the sex trafficking in this country, that at one point, no teenage girls lived on Nepal’s mountains. The women, from SASANE, a project sponsored by G Adventures, are imploring the world to look into Nepal’s valleys, not its mountains. And these brave women are inspiration indeed.
Months later, my physio, who is an avid climber, and I discuss the death of New Zealand’s experienced mountaineer Rob Hall at Everest in 1996. I argue it’s ego that killed Hall – who had already summited the mountain five times previously – when he stayed up on Everest long after the deadline to leave had passed. My physio reckons Hall risked, and lost everything, because it was one of the first paid expeditions with tourists.
I ask another travel writing mate and avid climber, Andrew Bain, who blogs under Adventure Before Avarice his views on climbing.
“It’s a running joke, even among my hiking mates, that I’m one of those people compelled to stand on top of anything pointy – a peak bagger – and yet I often despair at the lack of respect we bring to mountains in the name of ‘conquering’ them,” Andrew says.
“Massive crowds filter through the Khumbu Valley to tick Everest Base Camp off a bucket list, for no reason other than the fact that it has Everest in the name. In so many cases, it’s not about the beauty of the place, or what it means, it’s simply a word to boast about, a tick on a list.
“Mountains are places that remind me that the world is greater than us – that we can’t conquer the planet as we believe – so to approach them is to respect them, whether we’re standing on top of them being uplifted by them, or simply looking at them from afar.
“I may be compelled to climb them, but I still take immense heart and hope looking at a mountain such as Machhapuchhare and knowing that there are still peaks that are beyond us, if not physically, at least spiritually or respectfully.”
And this is my point. I have a massive respect for those who climb, who forge new frontiers and discover new lands. But do it for the right reasons. Man can’t conquer mountains. Mother Everest continues to remind us of this. Trek but don’t trample. It’s not the Eiffel Tower I want to climb when I’m in Paris, jostling with thousands of other tourists wanting to tick it off their bucket list. For me, the joy comes from sitting in the shadows of this mighty metal sculpture, speaking with the old Parisian gent who ventures there every day with his coffee. That, to me, is the real Paris. I want to float down life’s rivers, part of the landscape, not perch atop it. Let me dive into the world’s oceans and lay on her sandy beaches, feet firmly in the sand. For to me, it’s in these rivets where the truth really lives. And so, on this hot August day, I wander around the base of Uluru, snatching quiet moments among her craggy crevices, listening to her tales, soaking up her soul and begging her forgiveness.
From October 26, 2019, no further climbing will be allowed on Uluru following a land-mark decision by the Traditional Owners of the land and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board.
ON the 10th anniversary of the unhappiest day of my life, I am flying to Bhutan – the Happiest Country on the Planet. It’s been 10 years to the day since my marriage suddenly shattered and I was left to carve out a new life, with a splintered compass. I have spent the past decade travelling the world, for my work and my wellbeing, part story-teller, part marathon runner from myself. And I am exhausted, fuelled only by the irony of this date and the promise of the destination ahead.
The Bhutanese baby is roaring like the engine of the plane on which I am travelling, and the acrid stench of stale cigarettes, cloying to the clothing of my fellow passengers, burns my nostrils. The soothing sounds of the sitar music being piped through the cabin do little to salve my mental malaise. I am enroute to Bhutan, the Kingdom of Happiness. My current happiness level: 5/10. Yet I remain optimistic, even when we stop at the remote Indian airport of Guwahati, more bare paddock than runway, which is shrouded in mist and mystery. Some passengers disembark. Those of us who are flying to Bhutan’s Paro International Airport are instructed to stay on, and identify our cabin baggage. I am the only white person on the plane.
Drukair, Royal Bhutan’s Airline, ducks and weaves around the mighty Himalayan ranges, before gliding to a halt in what has to be one of the most visually spectacular and technically difficult landings in the world. My tour guide, Chimmi, 51, happens to be Bhutan’s first female tour guide, appointed in 1997. Now, around 400 women are guides in a country which boasts around 3000 tour guides. My driver is called Karma. I take both as a good sign. The 1.5 hour drive to Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital is gnarly, all twists and turns, flanked by gushing river on one side, and looming mountains on the other. I scribble furious car-sick inducing notes, as Chimmi attempts to explains the concept of Bhutanese happiness.
“We don’t have any enemies, we have nothing to take. We live in a very poor country surrounded by mountains. We are the Hidden Kingdom,” she says.
“Until the 1960s there were no cars in the country and until the 1980s no planes. We were isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. We didn’t have TV and internet until 1999.
“Before 2004, the village I lived in had no electricity. It was such a beautiful life.”
Chimmi believes it is isolation which made it easy for Bhutan to be the first country to conceive of the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which was introduced by the country’s beloved King in the 1970s.
“GNH is a very basic idea to provide basic necessities such as education, a transparent government, a pristine environment and to preserve culture and tradition,” she says.
“It is something very simple, very basic, and if people focus on that it can be achieved.”
I check into charming, colonial-style Hotel Druk in the centre of the capital. Even my WiFi password is “happy”.
On my second morning, I have a much-anticipated interview with GNH Director Sonam Tsoki Tenzin, in a bid to scratch the surface of Bhutan’s happiness. Tsoki sits behind a desk in front of a blank, white wall, and sniffles. She’s suffering from allergies on this unexpectedly hot day, yet she’s all smiles when I ask her about what makes Bhutan so happy.
“We are not talking about that feel-good when you go shopping or get a promotion. We are taking about authentic happiness. It is a collective happiness for the whole country and people and society,” she says.
“It is more about feeling satisfied and content. Happiness can be fleeting.
“Of course we have social problems but we are quite blessed to manage to survive without things such as terrorism. I know that Denmark, Sweden and Belgium score higher than us but that’s related to economic issues.
“Our quality of life and human relationships are better. It is not about money.”
Tsoki, who has a Masters in Management from the University of Canberra, says there are three agencies dedicated to happiness: The GNH Centre, which is hands on, running programs and workshops; the Government’s GNH Commission, committed to bigger projects; and the Centre for Bhutan Studies, which conducts a survey of Bhutan’s people every three years. Interestingly, the survey found that single women were happier than married women but men overall were happier than women. 91.2 per cent of Bhutanese reported they were overall “very happy”.
“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.”
Tsoki, who works with Australian organisations such as Melbourne’s Small Giants which looks at “sustainable human prosperity”, says the GNH model can be applied anywhere.
“You don’t have a choice, you have to be one global community,” she says.
“Bhutan is not going to stay isolated. In the past 50 years it has had the highest speed of development anywhere in the world.
“We see a lot of things on Facebook and TV that we might want but do we really need it? We are still quite practical people. We have a good respect for our spiritual connection, and practice compassion.”
I end the interview by asking Tsoki, who is 41, whether she is, happy.
“Yes, I’m single, I’m very happy,” she laughs.
I visit the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, a stupa built in memory of Bhutan’s third king and the Father of Modern Bhutan. I pause to chat to a trio of elderly women, all widowed, who, like their peers, come here daily for social connectivity. I am captivated by Phudra Dema, 80, who lives with her grandson and his wife.
“They take good care of me and give me everything I need. They try to keep me happy,” she says.
“The most important thing that keeps me happy is to meet with my friends and to chant mantra.
“We are the happiest country because the King is there to take care of the people. It is as if we are living in paradise.”
Phudra and her friends tell me they would like to adopt me, and that I look 30 years old. My happiness level is rising rapidly.
At Anim Dratshang nunnery at Drubthob Goemba, in Thimphu, I meet 15-year-old nun Yanchen, who will be required to spend as long as three years in silent meditation, at the end of her teachings.
“Happiness is not about being happy myself, but I want to make everyone happy by doing some good,” she says.
“It’s natural, I don’t find any negativity, I’m more focused on religion and our practice.
“I want to spend my whole life here and teach other young nuns.”
Back in Paro, Chimmi and I wander the local farmers markets like old friends, pausing to admire organic fruit and vegetables, while chattering about our lives, and happiness. We talk about how little money actually matters, it’s about connecting to the world in which we live which counts. A Bhutanese and Brisbane woman, from two different worlds, finding common ground in the seasons of our souls. We taste beer at the country’s newest craft brewery and have long, philosophical chats over lunch. There’s penis paintings on the walls of houses in Bhutan, said to ward off evil spirits and promote fertility. We giggle like school girls. We wander into Bhutan’s oldest temple, in Paro, which dates back to the 7th century. So revered is this timber building, it’s said that every Himalayan Buddhist must set foot inside it, at least once in their lifetime. The monk inside allows me to enter, a rarity for a foreigner, and I am permitted to pray for good karma to erase negative energy. I pray for the world to find love.
Later, on my last night and high in the hills at a forest lodge overlooking the Paro Valley, I stand outside on the terrace and inhale the cool cyprus air, searching the surrounding Himalayas for answers to that big life question of happiness. The mountains mock me, relentlessly shouting the same message back at me until they can no longer be ignored. Look at the privilege of travel and the gift of the pen we gave you, they gently implore. You already have happiness. And it’s more than enough.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Wendy Wu Tours – https://www.wendywutours.com.au and flew to Bhutan via Bangkok with Thai Airways – http://www.thaiairways.com and Royal Bhutan Airlines https://www.drukair.com.bt
THIS is the headline which screeched across my desk late last week. And naturally, being a lover of romance (and travel), my curiosity was piqued. Turns out the fun folk at Tourism Fiji are using Fiji’s famed sense of humour to entice us to their islands. With Valentine’s Day next week, I thought I’d take a closer look at what they have in mind. And even for single girls, like me, there’s plenty of “unromantic” options to keep you occupied.
1. Feed the sharks
Feeling a little fishy? Personally, I can think of a few Brisbane blokes who I would like to feed TO the sharks, but apparently this is not an option. On this adventure you’ll join Fiji’s “shark whisperer” Brandon Paige of Aqua-Trek on a dream dive with 8 species of sharks. Yes, you’ll see bull sharks, whitetip reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks, nurse sharks, lemon sharks, grey reef sharks, silvertip sharks and 16-foot+ tiger sharks. Plus, there’s more than 300 species of fish out in this marine reserve which aims to conserve the shark population.
2. Zipline Fiji
The Global Goddess is not a huge fan of heights (unless it’s a penthouse suite) but for others far braver than me, there’s nothing better than flying through the air with the greatest of ease. Take an eco-friendly zipline adventure across 14ha of lush rainforest where you’ll soar over rivers and waterfalls. Sleeping Giant Zipline, 35 minutes from Nadi, boasts five zips ranging from 80m to 160m and flying at speeds up to 40km/h. Much more my style, afterwards, you can take a guided walk through the jungle to view the Orchid Falls.
3. Soak in the Sabeto Hot Springs
This “unromantic” offering actually sounds quite romantic to me. I mean, smothering yourself with mud? Situated between Nadi and Lautoka, the Sabeto Hot Springs are a series of natural hot springs where you can soak in a therapeutic natural thermal mud spa. Locals believe that the sulphur in the hot springs have healing properties. There’s three pools here, set in lush natural surroundings. They’ve supplied the mud, all I need now is a man to join me.
4. Climb Fiji’s highest mountain
Another activity for lovers of heights, you can climb Mt Tomaniivi, Fiji’s highest, trekking through cloud forest to a summit of 1323. Talanoa Treks offers an overnight excursion and on a clear day, you will be rewarded with views across Viti Levu. The bit of this trip I do like the sound of is the afternoon tea and a dip in the river before heading back to the coast. Just plonk me in a helicopter and I’ll see you up there.
5. Potter around The Pottery Village
Can arts and craft be considered sexy? Decide this for yourself at Nakabuta Village, one of the villages still making traditional Fijian pottery. Here, you’ll witness traditional pottery-making methods. What is rather romantic is the opportunity to shop and you’ll discover Nakabuta-made bowls, plates and other items in craft shops all over town.
6. Drive your own dune buggy
The Global Goddess loves a good driving trip and this one sounds like fun, whether there’s a bloke in the buggy or not. Grab one of Fiji’s only self-drive dune buggies and join a guided tour with Terratrek. On this jaunty journey, you’ll discover Fiji’s most beautiful waterfalls and rainforests or head up into the mountains for panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
7. Explore Fiji’s largest cave
I’ve personally done this tour and loved it. Hop aboard an Off-Road Cave Safari where you’ll delve deep into Fiji’s interior and learn about its cannibalism history. People who eat people, what’s not to admire? My favourite part of this tour was walking through Fiji’s largest cave system, Naihehe Cave, which is more than 170 metres long, and at one point, if you don’t fit under a particularly tight spot, it apparently means you’ll become pregnant.
8. Shop like the locals
The Global Goddess isn’t particularly a shopper back in Australia, but plonk me somewhere exotic, and I’ll happily wander for hours. Forage like a Fijian at the Sigatoka Market, which bursts into life in the early hours of the morning. The stunning Sigatoka River Valley is known as “Fiji’s salad bowl” due to its fertile land and you’ll find plenty of pretty produce here.
9. Jetboat the Sigatoka River
One of my all-time favourite Pacific adventures, Sigatoka River Safari is Fiji’s original jet-boat safari. This splashy tour cruises at screaming speed along the Sigatoka River, so if romance to you is having nice hair, forget it. What you will get, however, is a cool ride to authentic Fijian villages and experience a day in the life of a real ‘kaiviti’ (Fijian). If you’re lucky, a handsome Fijian will ask you to dance.
10. Discover Glass Blowing
I’m intrigued by this activity, as I’ve never heard of this in Fiji before. Head to Hot Glass Fiji in Korotogo, and Fiji’s first and only glass-blowing studio. Here, with its views out to the sea, you can partake in a glass-blowing workshop or watch the artists create beautiful pieces from molten glass.
For more information on these activities and the Islands of Fiji, see www.fiji.travel
The Global Goddess took these shots while staying at the beautiful Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, which, admittedly, is very romantic. https://www.outrigger.com/hotels-resorts/fiji
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
LAST week we had the exciting news that Australia has been awarded entry into the prestigious Eurovision competition, being held in Vienna in May. And I have been invited by Austria Tourism to cover this event. Equally as exciting, this year marks 50 years since The Sound of Music was filmed. I’ll also be heading down to Salzburg to ask the big questions such as, how do you know if you’ve fallen into the Von Trapp family trap?
1. Climb Every Mountain
Faced with the fresh alpine air, lush, green grass and the distant tinkle of cow bells, there wouldn’t be a traveller alive who hasn’t been atop a mountain, somewhere on the planet, who hasn’t felt a sudden rush to frolic on the mountain top while singing The Hills Are Alive. It’s annoying, it’s unnecessary and like the Nazi occupation in the movie, it is also unstoppable.
2. Seeking Refuge In Sacred Sites
OK, so a bunch of nasty Nazis are unlikely to be following you anytime soon, so hiding behind gravestones is probably not on the cards, but what traveller hasn’t sought solace in a sacred site, such as a church? Cathedrals are remarkably good places to rest your weary travelling bones, particularly if it’s a hot day. And if you’re lucky, there might be a service on at the same time, which means you could partake in Holy Communion and get a free wafer and a sip of red wine. Dinner and a show, what’s not to love?
3. How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
If you think life on the road is all beer and schnitzels, think again. Travelling is hard work. And from time-to-time, you will be confronted with all sorts of problems, from lost luggage to delayed transport and overbooked hotels. So, your problems may not be as critical as those faced by Mother Superior, who just wasn’t sure what to do with that wayward Maria, but they feel pretty big at the time. Sit down, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, what would Mother Superior do?
4. You’re Wearing Your Traveller’s Clothes
Remember the scene towards the end of the film where the Von Trapps have turned off the car engine and are trying to sneak away without performing in the big concert but they get caught in the spotlights of the Nazi party sympathisers? At this point, Captain Von Trapp points out that the entire family is not dressed in “travelling clothes” but they are in fact costumes for the performance. Yeah, right, we’re all tried to tart up that old t.shirt on a fancy night out overseas. Doesn’t work.
5. You Sneak Out Half Way Through A Concert Performance
Who hasn’t been on an overseas trip and someone, usually your host, suggests you join them for a bit of Strauss at some symphony orchestra? And we all know how fun that is, particularly when all you really want to do is be at the buzzing pub you passed on your way to the national theatre hall. Just pull a Von Trapp and half way through, disappear. That’s right. No need for lengthy goodbyes. By the time they realise you’re missing, you’ll be halfway to another country.
6. You’re So Desperate For Clean Clothes, You’ll Wear Anything
Yes, even a curtain. Turns out Sister Maria was quite the seamstress. We’ve all been there. You’ve been on the road for weeks, your travelling clothes are tatty and tired. You lay awake at night daydreaming of the day you can burn those khaki shorts, never to be worn again. You hate that t.shirt you wear every day with a passion. And then you look around the room in which you are staying and are overcome with the urge to whip up some lederhosen from the curtains. If only you’d packed your Singer sewing machine.
7. The Sound Of Shrill Whistles Make You Run
Captain Von Trapp was really onto something with that whistle-blowing caper. I mean, who speaks to their kids anyway? And when you’ve got so many in your massive mansion, how the heck are you meant to locate them all? Whether it’s some amorous men in Italy, or your inter-country train departing the station, you hear the sound of a whistle anywhere in Europe, and you are bound to sprint.
8. You Are 16, Going On 17
Like the actress who played the lovely Liesl, you are actually 21, possibly even 41, pretending you are 16 going on 17. There’ s something about travelling overseas which allows you to reinvent yourself, after all, you are never going to see half the people you meet again (regardless of the empty promises you make to stay in touch). Whether you lie about your age, your job, or your nationality, we’ve all lied to impress the listener. Even the lovely Liesl.
9. You Take A Vow Of Celibacy
Well, we all know how well that worked out for Maria. About as well as it will work out for you. Yes, yes, we all vow we are going travelling to “find out more about ourselves” and to “learn and grow as a person”. And that might be true. But I challenge anyone who has spent any time at the Munich Oktoberfest to come back and tell me how that vow of celibacy worked out for them. Yes, didn’t think so.
10. You Act All Cute To Get What You Want
You might have thought you got away with it, Greta, all chubby cheeks, blonde hair and lispy tugging at the apron strings: “please don’t go, Sister Maria”, but I was on to your little caper. Having said that, the youngest Von Trapp had a travelling lesson for us all. Whether you are begging for an upgrade, or just the last bed in the youth hostel late at night, it doesn’t hurt to turn on a bit of the Greta to get what you want. You might want to lose the lisp.
To book your own Sound of Music escape to Austria, go to http://www.austria.info/au
A WHILE back I won a trip for two to Queenstown – the adventure capital of New Zealand – which would have been lovely except for one thing. I am not adventurous. Well, not in the conventional, law-abiding sense. To add to this particular journey, I decided to take with me the second-least adventurous person on the planet, my second-oldest sister. To paint you a picture, our idea of a catastrophe is if the bar runs out of Sav Blanc. Now, I don’t want to point any fingers but: Mum, it’s all your fault. You see, the woman who brought us into the world is as neurotic as they come, and when we were growing up, she would prevent us from doing anything. She’d catch us up a tree and scream out “you’ll fall out and break your arm”. Put out a hand to pat a stray dog, and there she’d be hissing “it will bite your arm off”. Eat a Dagwood Dog at the Ekka and she was convinced we’d contract Ebola. Oh yes, I can still hear her, even on a good day.
So imagine the two of us, Scooby Doo and Shaggy, trekking off to Queenstown in the middle of winter, New Zealand’s most adventurous city and in its most exciting season. Never let it be said that our lack of life skills actually stops us from doing something. And I had already concocted a plan. While we were there, we’d try to discover what there was to do for unadventurous types. The idiots guide to Queenstown if you will. So while everyone else was up on the snow fields flaunting their ski bunnies beautiful, we’d be downtown, wining and dining. But just in case of an extreme emergency, as we dashed through the Duty Free store enroute to the plane I grabbed a bottle or two of whisky on the way out, and my sister actually said with that certain scoff of disdain that older siblings have perfected: “What are you doing? We’re not going to need them”.
And on our first afternoon it all went swimmingly. How hard can it be grabbing a taxi, finding your hotel – in this instance the Novotel Queenstown – and having dinner?. Easy, peasy. It was the next morning when it all started to go downhill rapidly, like that skiing we would never, ever be doing. We caught the Skyline Gondola to Top Station, 790m above sea level, my sister holding on for dear life the entire way. I wasn’t too bad, as I was more worried about the next event. Apparently we were both then supposed to take the Skyline Luge down an 800 metre, slippery winding downhill track. We took one look at what we could only describe as a “death trap”, read the word “hurtle” on the itinerary and went and had a hot chocolate instead. Hey, you can get a burnt tongue drinking a hot chocolate.
Things were still going pretty well, in fact, I like to think we came into our own on the Appellation Central Otago Wine Tour. Yes, if there were two stars of that show, it was my sister and me as no one can put it away like the two of us. But little did we know what the next day would bring. The itinerary said Snowshoeing, and described the activity as “experiencing the serenity of the spectacular back country”. We both pictured an undulating alpine walk with something akin to tennis rackets on our feet. Perhaps a charming little restaurant serving Schnapps among the pine trees. Wrong. Instead, something resembling crampons – those claw-like shoes you see on climbers on the Himalayas – were clamped to our feet. And then we started climbing, all the while I’m thinking rather airily: “I wonder how we get down from this mountain?”. Next thing we know, we’re in the middle of a white out and hiding out in an igloo. But the worst was yet to come. Our guide then announced we were just taking a short stroll back down the mountain. It was slippery, it was cold and it was white. And I was terrified. So terrified, I grabbed both the male guide and his mate and made them carry me down the mountain, while my sister soldiered on quietly behind me with the female guide. To this day, my sister still jokes about my personal sherpas, who frankly, I nearly killed with my hysteria causing them to lose their balance and footing on several occasions, making the three of us almost slide into a deep ravine. (I might have made the last bit up about the deep ravine). My hysteria, however, was embarrassingly real to the point when we did eventually arrive at the base, the guide suggested I take up indoor rock climbing to conquer my fear.
We got back to our hotel room, lay on our beds speechless, not able to look each other in the eyes, and cracked open that whisky. But, as we are apt to do, we came good that afternoon when our itinerary suggested a visit to the Onsen Hot Pools. Sitting in a steaming pool, overlooking a mountain, sipping tea and looking at the jet boats below, my sister suggested we could probably try one of those next time. Was she serious? How much whisky had she consumed, exactly?
But our adventurous non-adventure didn’t end there, as the next day we had a 4X4 tour with Nomad Safaris. Again, we were both picturing 4×4 tours we’d done in Australia. In the Outback. Where it’s flat. There’s nothing flat about New Zealand and before we knew it, we were on the edge of a precipice with one wheel of the 4×4 spinning over a deep ravine (this one was for real), on a slushy road. We were so frightened we couldn’t even look at each other. Instead, I focused intently on the Russian couple in the front: the husband suffered from serious narcolepsy so every minute or so his wife had to smack him over the head to wake him up. It was at that point in our program I wished I, too, suffered from narcolepsy. Somehow we survived, went back to our hotel room, and sat speechless on the bed again. Hands tightly clasped around whisky glasses.
On our last afternoon we had a leisurely tour on the TSS Earnslaw to Walter Peak High Country Farm. Given we grew up in the country we were pretty confident this was one activity we could conquer. What could go wrong watching a bit of sheep shearing? Again, it was all going so well, until they decided to round up the sheep into the yard and one particular feisty ram took one look at the two of us, and decided to charge straight at us. Yes, if calamity could happen, it would happen to us. I hate to admit it, but what if mum was right?
We laughed ourselves stupid all the way back to Brisbane and have continued laughing about this adventure for years. Any day now New Zealand Tourism is going to call us both and offer us a role in one of their 100% pure New Zealand ads. Yes, as Crowded House sings in the theme song: Don’t dream it’s over.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Virgin Australia and the Novotel Queenstown.