I AM sitting in my hot Brisbane office dressed in a leopard-print summer dress, reflecting on my life as a travel writer in 2016. Let’s not beat around the boiling bush, it was always going to be a quirky one after I kicked off the year in January at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat on the Gold Coast where I spent an hour in a one-on-one mediation session with a horse, of course.
Yes, Jack, the 22-year-old horse, was quite the listener and as it turned out, I was a good learner, discovering more about myself in that paddock than years of therapists have been to unravel. Working with my breath, and the fact horses are instinctive creatures, I was able to go from having Jack walk away from me (apparently I hate rejection) to have Jack trotting around the ring by the end of the session, based purely on my inner calm and emotions. He even stopped on cue when I exhaled. In that one crowded hour I learned I am prone to being a bit of a bull at a gate, and expecting others to join me on my crazy schemes, without first checking that they’re on board. Jack, you taught me a lot.
In February, and in the name of another story, I plunged into the warm waters off Lord Howe Island for Ocean Swim Week with World Ironman Champion Ali Day and Pinetrees Lodge. I’d never swum out in the open ocean before and learned that it was far more different and difficult to the university pool in which I try to carve up a daily 1km. Swimming among reef sharks and over fantastic coral, I also learned I could overcome sea sickness in rough swells and complete an impressive 2-3km a day. I also learned I’m incredibly stubborn once I push through an initial lack of confidence. Salty and stubborn. And I wonder why I’m single.
March saw me in Fiji, working with the fine folk at the Outrigger Fiji Resort and writing stories about some innovative and compassionate community projects in which they are involved, building new kindergartens and maternity wards. That kindy opened last week and it was heartening to know I was there at that pivotal point in history with people who have so little, but find so much reason for joy. Want perspective on your life? Head to the South Pacific. Sit under a coconut tree and pull your head out of your proverbial. It will change you, I promise.
In April, I was in Germany on a beer tour, also in the name of research, and if you think I had to train for Ocean Swim Week, it’s like I was born for Beer Week. And to think successive maths teachers over the years said I would never amount to anything. Add to that a dash of Mother Nature where I summited Germany’s highest mountain…and by summit I mean taking a gondola to the top and promptly order a beer and goulash. Because I’m hard-core. I explored my animal instinct here by taking to Bavarian Tinder and I was quite the hit in Germany. Not that I had time to actually meet any of my Bavarian boyfriends, but I got the distinct impression they were different to Brisbane boys and not once did anyone send me a photo of their penis. #winning
May turned out to be a journey of a different kind where I had some long-awaited tests and surgery for health symptoms that killed a fellow travel writer last year. While my tests turned out fine, the surgery laid me up for four weeks in incredible pain, and it was a time to reflect and go inwards, something I’m not particularly good at. But when Mother Nature speaks, sometimes you have to listen and it was a good life lesson. I did have a moment of truth while awaiting those test results, questioning myself on whether I was living the life I wanted. And the answer was yes. By June, when I was back on the road in Vienna and Monaco, exploring Royal and Imperial Luxury Europe, I was thrilled. I may have even danced around the house just prior to leaving to Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again. Because I have an excellent taste in music.
In July, I braved a chilly Toowoomba trip to explore the city’s sensational street art. And it blew my socks off. Not literally, as that would have been unpleasant in the cold, but metaphorically. I also took my first trip to Darwin and again, was thrilled by the Northern Territory capital with its outdoor cinemas, national parks, and great dining and accommodation offerings. This is a city which celebrates its sunsets, with hundreds of residents and tourists flocking to the beach to watch the sun plunge into the ocean and that, in itself, was a magical moment. A destination which sells tickets to its annual festival out of an original caravan used to house homeless people after 1974’s Cyclone Tracy? You’ve gotta love that.
August saw me at Sabi Sabi Private Game Lodge in South Africa on a luxury safari and yes, I was lucky to experience the Big 5, plus all the rest. Mother Africa and her beautiful people stole a piece of my heart and I came home reeling from Jo’Burg’s street art to Robben Island where the mighty Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 year jail term. There’s usually about one month of the year where I try to stop, pause, reflect and recharge and it was September this year, which also turned out to be my birthday month, and what a delight it was to be a normal person again, catching up with friends, going to yoga classes, and just “sitting with myself” as we say in meditation.
In October, I was out on the road again, on my longest trip of the year to Canada where I started in Vancouver, sitting in a traditional indigenous sweat lodge with an elder, talking to our ancestors. But the absolute highlight of that three-week journey was the opportunity to go on a walking safari with the polar bears with Churchill Wild. I discovered that the Lord of the Arctic was to be respected, not feared, and that if we don’t manage the way we treat the planet, polar bears may be relegated to the history books.
The conservation theme continued into last month, November, when I jumped on a plane to the Maldives Outrigger Konotta Resort and spent a fascinating few days talking with a marine biologist who is trying to resurrect the reef with innovative coral planting strategies. On a monsoonal Monday I sat on the edge of a jetty weaving coral necklaces from coconut rope that would later be implanted on the reef, in a moment I will always remember when my fingers are no longer nimble and I’m too old to travel. From the Arctic, where the ice is melting, to the Indian Ocean, which is becoming too warm, I had the immense privilege of experiencing the impacts of Climate Change first hand.
Which brings me to December. In two days I’ll be boarding a plane for my last travel writing assignment of the year. And yes, this trip has another animal theme. I’ll be boarding a sailing boat and exploring beyond Bali to the islands around Indonesia, before we arrive at the land of the komodo dragons. Along the way we’ll be snorkelling with manta rays and sharks. And I cannot wait. Yes, it’s been a big year, and moments of great challenge, times when you are so jetlagged you want to weep, a deep-seated loneliness from long weeks out on the road, and a disconnect from normal life. I didn’t find the love of my life, but I know he’s out there. And when I’m out in the world, doing what I love best, hunting and gathering stories, there’s no better feeling on the planet. I wish you a Happy Christmas and may 2017 be everything you dreamed of and more.
The Global Goddess would like to thank all of the tourism and travel operators, local communities, kind random strangers, PR people, publishers, editors and fellow writers, who joined her on the incredible journey that was 2016. See you out there in 2017.
MY lips and tongue are so swollen it’s like I’ve been drinking salty margaritas. I have chaffing on the undersides of both arms, sunburn on my nose and back, and my legs are jellyfish, but my soul is soaring for I have just completed my first ever ocean swim. I am on Australia’s Lord Howe Island reporting on Pinetrees Lodge Ocean Swim Week with ironman Ali Day, and just for the heck of it, I decide that this week, I too, shall get wet. I mean, I have swum in an ocean, so how hard can an ocean swim be?
As per usual, the adventure begins before I arrive at the destination. Regular readers will know that The Global Goddess is a neurotic flyer and I glance at the Dash 8 aircraft in which I am to travel with barely-concealed contempt. This rises to a mild fear when about 30 minutes before we arrive we hear a loud bang, the plane starts to shudder and we start to descend. It’s a good five minutes later before the handsome voice that only Australian pilots seem to possess comes over the loud speaker to inform us there is nothing to fear, we just have ice on the wings. And to think I thought I might die of a shark attack this week.
We arrive safely on the island, a glorious emerald punctuation mark off the Australian east coast, about equidistant from Brisbane and Sydney. On Day One, we gather in front of the Boat Shed where we are reminded it’s a non-competitive week and we are here to have fun. I love to swim and am confident my laps in the University of Queensland pool in the lead up to this event will stand me in good stead. Heck, as part of my training instead of avoiding the fat kid who’d do a bomb dive and cause a massive wave, I practically invited him to jump on top of me to replicate some swell. The fact I took a brief break from my training while I was in Indonesia over Christmas, unless you count the repeated dog paddling to the pool bar, should be overlooked, I reasoned with myself.
We are taken out in a boat offshore in which there is considerable swell, courtesy of a tropical low hanging around this remote island. I’m one of the first off the boat and I’m struggling as the pack glides past me. Worse, I feel seasick and I can’t find my flow. Just as I’m about to panic at my serious lack of ability and the fact I’ve wasted a considerable fortune and time on swimming training, I turn to find Ali Day beside me, asking me what’s going on in my head. “I’m so far behind everyone, I can’t keep up” I sputter, my mouth full of salt water.
Ali reminds me we’re here to have fun. “Come on, we’ll swim together,” he says, proving it takes more than just being a good swimmer to be an elite athlete. You need compassion too. And so, I push on. Breathless, 2.8km and 1hr and 10 minutes later, I wash up on shore. But I am elated, as I made it.
On Day Two the tropical low hasn’t abated even in the normally calm Ned’s Beach on the other side of the island. Ali takes us through deep breathing exercises before he points to the swell and directs us that we’ll be swimming two rounds of a triangle out to sea, before turning a sharp left and then another sharp left into shore. I strike out early again, and keep up with the pack for the first round, before I succumb to seasickness and withdraw after about 1km. I’m mentally beating myself up when the pack returns after its second round. I resolve two things: to buy some seasick tablets and to relax and enjoy the next swim.
The tide turns for me on Day Three and we’re dropped offshore in the Lagoon where I seem to glide effortlessly along the shoreline. The coral is stunning, the sun is shining, and the swell is at our backs, beckoning us along. None of us stop at the allocated point and instead swim on, back to the Boat Shed. Two hours and 3.8km later I float into shore. I’m the second to finish and can’t stop smiling. (A few of the super swimmers might have been off climbing the 875 metre Mount Gower that day). Even the fat kid back the University of Queensland pool would be astounded. I have found my flow and that night, I sleep like the dead. I am confident that I have finally become an elite athlete and can already picture myself crossing the line first in the Coolangatta Gold, clad in my Kellogg’s Nutrigrain sponsored swimwear. I fantasise about launching my own swimwear range, such are my delusions of grandeur.
But on Day Four the swell has returned and so has my good mate motion sickness as we attempt to swim from Rabbit Island to North Bay. It’s a washing machine out there with the turn of the tide and I find myself saying out loud just as I jump off the boat: “I have zero confidence today.” Ali hears this and again, offers to swim with me, asking me what’s going on in my head. I tell him I feel sick and I’m struggling in the swell to gain any technique. He reminds me to breathe only from one side to gain more air and to just focus on enjoying the moment. I point again to the pack disappearing ahead of me in the waves. “Don’t worry Chris, I’ve been there before, believe me,” he says. It has never occurred to me that elite athletes feel like this and that’s all I need to hear to start punching into the waves. I punch and punch out of sheer stubbornness and a fair whack of anger at the ocean. Ali swims beside me and tells me I only have 50 metres to go. “That’s one lap of the university pool,” I pant. “Yep, just one shitty lap of the university pool,” he says. One hour and 2.4km later I arrive on the beach.
Day Five is just as choppy as we cross the Lagoon to Rabbit Island. It’s our last swim of the week and I’m determined to enjoy this, particularly when Ali reminds us that on Monday we’ll be back at our desks, wishing we were in the ocean. I breathe, I focus on long strokes, a face flat in the water, and relaxed hands that “catch the water”. It’s not an easy swim but I stay with the front of the pack and in what seems like 20 minutes, not 1.5 hours and 2.3km later, I wash up on the pebbly shore. Later that day I realise I have swum a massive 12km in five days. I have remarkably refused every offer to catch a boat or board ride into shore. And I have powered on when both my stomach and heart was sinking in the swell. My mind drifts back to Ali’s words on the first day: “We are going to be a bit uncomfortable at times but that’s where the good stuff happens.” And good stuff it is, indeed.
The Global Goddess travelled to Lord Howe Island as a guest of Pinetrees Lodge. For more details on a range on Ocean Swim Week and other interesting and adventurous weeks hosted by Pinetrees go to http://www.pinetrees.com.au
A special shout-out to the Kingscliff Mafia Swim Squad who recognised when The Global Goddess was floundering, and swam beside her, offering words of encouragement. I’ll see you in the Cudgen Creek soon.