I AM perched beachside on the island of Bali, ice-cold Bintang beer to my right, snatching deep, soul-satisfying breaths. I detect the salty smell of the ocean, a fragrant curry being cooked somewhere behind me and the heady scent of clove cigarettes wafting in my direction. I am an avid anti-smoker (I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life) but there’s something about those clove sticks which remind me of apple pie and exotic Asian holidays. I spend an entire hour sitting behind the smoker, passively inhaling the start of my break, which affords me the rare luxury to slow down, and in the end, become blissfully bored.
The next day I’ll board a boat to Nusa Lembongan, an island 30 minutes off of Bali, and battle the cloying humidity and general chaos. But none of this bothers me. I have my bag, a book and time. Two weeks in fact, to not be troubled by the constraints of the clock, or others. I quickly learn the phrase for no worries, sing engken, and will use it often in the next fortnight. I have absolutely no worries in the world. Travelling alone, I take the time to learn a few more useful Indonesian phrases. I want to connect with the world around me, not just hurtle like a hurricane through it. I become adept at the usual greetings, and then move on to the weather. I spend long, lazy days discussing the fact it’s hot panas and there has been no rain ada ida hujan. I become proficient at asking for a table for one satu and in my wildest fantasies, which I have plenty of time to indulge, I imagine I am quite the conversationalist.
On my first week, I have established myself in a traditional thatched roof hut on the quiet side of the island. I float down the steep timber staircase each morning to banana pancakes and pungent, muddy Balinese kopi for breakfast. It’s a small, family-run resort of just eight huts and slowly, I learn to know these Indonesians who delight in my curiosity. I cuddle new baby Made and swim with her cheeky brother Gede, who is five and mischievous. I tease Grandma who scales the coconut tree with a machete. “You’re a wild woman,” I say in English. She may not understand every word, but she gets the intonation and laughs and waves at me. The hard-working Wayan takes the time to teach me even more words. I punctuate reading chapters of my book with dips in the pool in the mornings. By lunchtime, I walk two minutes down a goat track beside the beach to a café on a cliff which captures the best breezes. I eat satay sticks and sip a cold brew while watching a sassy storm grumble on the horizon. The storms will knock out the electricity most days for an hour, during which I’ll sit on the stairs of my hut and watch big, fat raindrops fall on the frangipani leaves. By late afternoon, I amble through the village to a yoga sala I’ve discovered where we’ll stretch and meditate to the sound of a mooing cow in the paddock next door.
By early evening, I’ll shower in my outdoor bathroom before I’m back at my cliffside café, in time for cocktail hour. It’s all margheritas and merriment as I watch the last rays concede the day. I’ll clamber down from my perch when it’s finally cool enough, to one of the restaurants by the beach before I pluck my way in the dark back along the beachside track to my hut. I scale the staircase and climb into my bed, tuck the mosquito net around me, and redolent of childhood holidays, read by torchlight. I sleep solidly, for nine glorious hours every night, to the sound of the ocean smashing against the cliff, only to be awoken by the crow of a rooster. On days when it’s cooler, I’ll wander down potholed roads not caring where they’ll lead. I follow swirls of incense into temples. Cuddle more plump Balinese babies.
On my second week, I move to the more active part of the island and into another traditional Indonesian hut. I have a discussion with a young German tourist who is grappling with the notion of being blissfully bored. “We have no word for surrender in the German language,” she says, without irony. I advise her to go with the flow. That at first, I too found it difficult. But necessary. I rifle through pre-loved books at my resort, looking for a new tome to read into the night. There’s so few English books here, and I resort to reading trash I’d never consider at home. It’s delightfully decadent. I’m so blissfully bored, I even have time to indulge being sick when I am struck down by the inevitable Bali Belly. For once, with no meetings, no pressing deadlines, no travel, I can acquiesce to the illness and lay in bed all day. When I’m well enough again, I snorkel with strangers in the warm waters which produce similar corals and tropical fish to those at home. I fight strong currents to avoid being smashed against the rocks, chat with foreigners. I walk for miles and hire a kayak to paddle the mangrove forest. I learn the salacious saying for just walking, Jalan Jalan, and use it often when I’m approached for transport. It’s indulgent to use my legs for once. I stop and smell frangipani flowers. Observe the neapolitan swirls of clouds at sunset.
At dinner, I become the ardent observer. The German family on their phones, not connecting. The Swedish couple with their two little kids, sipping Rose wine, the sexy wife displaying not only her entire leg but her underwear as well. I giggle to myself. Sink my feet into the sand and truly ground myself. I sweat profusely, toxins exploding from every pore and better than any expensive facial I would receive back home. A young boy who sells jewellery at the beach every day grows accustomed to my presence. Shares a joke with me by pointing at my flip flops, and then his. We are both wearing the same gold-embossed havianas. We look at our shoes, and then into each other’s eyes, and burst out laughing. A rare, shared moment between two divergent cultures. I am blissfully bored. And I adore it all.
The Global Goddess funded her own holiday to Bali and loved every minute, Bali Belly and all. She stayed at Lotus Garden Huts at Mushroom Bay Beach, and Sukanusa Luxury Huts at Jungut Batu
THIS is a tale of scoundrels, scallywags and sailing and it begins with me losing my credit card on my first day in Bali on my last trip of 2016. I have no one else but myself to blame for this mishap, the effects of two champagnes and several red wines enroute adding to the utter delirium of approaching the invisible finishing line of another working year and causing me to lose focus. And so I simply went to a cash machine, withdrew $200 worth of Indonesia rupiah, and left my card in the ATM, never to be seen again.
It took me a good hour to realise my folly by which time my card had well and truly be swallowed by the machine, or was being given a good, old workout by a Balinese man claiming to be a blonde, Australian woman with a non-Indonesian name. I cancelled my card and did what any Australian in a foreign land on their own without any ready source of cash would do…went to the nearest beach bar and ordered a Bintang. The healing powers of alcohol should never be underestimated in my opinion, and it was only several sips in that I realised there was a solution to my problem. And so I emailed a mate I hadn’t seen in some 20 years, my only friend in Bali, and wondered whether he might like to turn up to a lunch we were having the next day with a cool $500 cash.
This is the other thing I love about Australians. We tend to be pretty decent people, particularly when another Aussie is in strife and my old mate Richard Laidlaw, who by the way pens the most excellent Hector’s Diary https://8degreesoflatitude.com
from his Bali home, barely battered an eyelid, turning up with a wad of cash, not unlike a pimp. But I digress. That very morning I was being picked up by another Aussie, Amanda Zsebik, who owned the ship on which I would be sailing for the next 9 days around Indonesia.
I confessed the previous night’s utter stupidity to Amanda enroute to Al likai, and suspected she too, would curse my carelessness. But instead, she offered her view on Bali which has been her home for more than a decade.
“The energy in Bali takes your money. Many of us come to Bali to learn a life lesson quickly whether it is losing money or screwing up a relationship,” Amanda says.
“I’ve really seen the dark side of Bali, I love it, it’s my home, but you learn an enormous amount of respect for it.
“I don’t think they are bad people but in karmic terms they are having a Bali life to learn the dark side of nature.
“I’ve had black magic on me and spent two years in hospital. Bali has an incredible positive energy but there is a dark side to it too.”
So powerful is this dark side that not only does Amanda wear a black coral bracelet on her right wrist to protect against the black magic of which she speaks, but the words “light and love” are tattooed on her left ankle.
Richard, who along with his partner Lea Crombie joined us aboard Al likai for lunch before we set sail, believes the future of Bali will be “the same shit, but more of it”.
“The Balinese were rich in a self-sustaining way but then people arrived with money. There were the artists of the 30s but it was really when the airport opened in the 60s and the surfers started arriving in the 70s. They would see these guys coming and knew they had money and they wanted it,” he says.
“I think its edge, in regional terms, is it is not Muslim. There is nothing wrong with places that are, but you must accept there are restrictions on the western style of life in a Muslim place.
“There is a sort of mystery to the east. The social structure here is so strong that local religion is not really threatened by western secularism. They are prepared to let people party on.
“I think they have been playing everyone for suckers for decades and I say ‘well done guys’.”
Despite its negatives, Bali remains a place for rule breakers, scoundrels, scallywags, and the sailors I mentioned before. And Amanda, 60, who once called upmarket Rose Bay her permanent home, fits into at least one of these categories, offering sailing journeys which take travellers beyond Bali. On the particular trip on which I join her, we travel east from Bali in the direction of Timor, in a journey which will take us to remote eastern islands, to snorkel with the most sublime of sea creatures and to Komodo, to see the dragons. Over 9 days we’ll travel 350 nautical miles which will take 50 hours of sailing.
On the first day of sailing I ask Amanda, who has completed this journey many times, what draws her to this part of the region.
“I don’t have a favourite place because every place is different and every time we get in the water there will be a different thing to look at. I love swimming with the mantas,” she says.
“The thing I love is the constant moving. Spiritually, only 10 per cent of humans are spiritually awake. Jung talks about this. Those 10 per cent who have to see what’s around the horizon or over the next hill.
“It doesn’t matter where I go, just as long as I’m going. The challenge is to find stillness within the motion.”
The stillness within the motion. Her words stick with me during the entire journey. On the rare occasions that I’m sea sick, and on others when I’m sitting out on the deck in the early evening, contemplating the wild ride that has been 2016, and wondering what 2017 will bring. I focus long and hard on this mantra and then one afternoon, as the sun is dipping below the ocean, snorkelling the warm waters off of Gili Trawangan, I concentrate on one particular green turtle, gently lazing and grazing along the ocean floor. And in that one golden moment, the motion finally stops and the stillness begins.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Al likai. For more information on the boat and her sailing itineraries go to http://www.indonesianislandsail.com
Follow me on Instagram @aglobalgoddess
Destination: “Batchelor” Northern Territory. Population: No eligible blokes.
A FRAGRANT frangipani guard of honour framing the road from the airport announces my arrival into Darwin city. I’m driving an automatic hire car and I must be the only person on the entire planet who can’t handle an automatic, my feet fumbling every few metres for the clutch. So poor am I at mastering this skill, that I realise I am actually driving the car in neutral. That explains the odd looks from the people outside the vehicle and the strange sounds from inside. In retrospect, it’s not a bad thing to arrive in a new city in neutral. No expectations. And Darwin is my last Australian capital city to conquer.
Yes, 30 years of travelling the globe and I am possibly the only Australian who hasn’t been to Darwin. In human terms, I am the last cab to Darwin, so to speak. But I’ve heard all the stories. About the croc attacks and bum cracks. Those Top End “terrors” (I’m talking about the blokes here), apparently even more daring than those in my hometown of Brisbane. I’ve seen NT Cops on television and I’m an avid follower of the Northern Territory News’ front-page headlines such as “A croc ate my cock” (you should be so lucky, mate) and frankly, I can’t wait to see what this final frontier is all about. A female friend finds out I’m going to Darwin and assures me there’s a “mansoon” happening up here. Yes, the ratio of men to women is apparently 13:1. The very same time last year I was in Mount Isa where the bloke/sheila ratio is 7:1. Things are improving. According to another friend, the odds are good but the goods are odd.
While I expect to meet plenty of men, what I don’t expect is to find a city that is thriving as much as those frangipani trees. I walk down the Smith Street Mall on a glorious winter day, past the posh Paspaley Pearl store with its swanky shell handles. A few doors down, di CROCO Boutique is selling handbags made from NT crocs for around $3000. I spy some $20 key rings more in my price range. All the beautiful people are sipping skinny chai lattes in the Star Village courtyard, home to local designers.
Down the Mall I wander, stumbling across an old black caravan. There’s a pretty girl inside with a killer smile and I ask to take her photo. She’s selling tickets to the Darwin Festival in August. She points out a plaque on the caravan. Turns out this van is called Tracy, and it’s the original van used to house one of the 25,000 people rendered homeless when Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city on Christmas Eve 1974. It is at this exact point I fall in love with this city. I love a destination with a story and soul and Darwin has both in spades surviving not only the Japanese bombing in 1942, but Tracy too.
Around the corner, I bump into the old Country Women’s Association building. Fair enough, I think to myself, there’s a CWA here. But as I step closer I discover it’s now an eco café serving the kinds of things our grandmothers had never heard of. Yes, there’s acai bowls and skinny lattes where once there was crochet and black tea. On this particular afternoon I have time, and I let the gentle breeze off Darwin Harbour blow me in whatever direction it chooses. I find myself in Austin Lane, just off of Smith Street, where I discover graffiti art galore. Little do I realise that in a few days I’ll be back here, taking a cooking class in Little Miss Korea, a converted loading bay at the back of the old Woolworths complex. Korean chef Chung Jae Lee, who was born on the floor of his mother’s Seoul restaurant kitchen, will teach me how to make a seafood pancake. And God, will we laugh.
But before I cook with Chung, I’ll head to the Wave Lagoon where I’ll grab a boogie board and join a bunch of excited kids in Darwin’s answer to the ocean. And it’s pumping. Queensland board riders hate this sort of choppy onshore surf, but on this divine Darwin day I can’t think of anything more swell.
Days later I’m swimming at Litchfield National Park, spending the day wading from waterhole to waterhole. It’s on this journey we pass through that town called Batchelor. While the spelling is slightly skewiff, the sentiment is spot on. There’s even a Batchelor Museum which forces my face into a wry smile. Yes, single blokes are so rare in Australia, they are now building shrines to them. Of course, this museum is about something entirely different, but it keeps me amused all the way back into Darwin.
I’m in Larrakia country, the birthplace of Australian singer Jessica Mauboy and actress Miranda Tapsell, who I had the great pleasure of interviewing before I came to Darwin. Tapsell was a pure delight and so in love with Darwin it was infectious. I adore how at this time of the year, when the wet season finally concedes to the dry, Aborigines describe the weather as “knock-em down storms” and “clean em-up country”. Everything is fresh. And with it comes an air of possibility. Of Dreamtime and daydreams.
It’s my last night in Darwin and I head out to Mindil Beach for the sunset markets. No one told me how much Darwinians love a sunset and I watch in utter fascination as hundreds of locals and tourists flock to the cool sand at this magic hour to watch the sun collapse into the ocean. The crowd applauds in a gesture which makes me love this city even more. What is this mystical place where hundreds gather to celebrate Mother Nature at her finest? I head to the Deckchair Cinema where the cool breeze blows off the harbour and sit under the stars, slouched in a canvas chair. It’s one of the most romantic settings in Australia and I am all alone, but I am not lonely. For I am sitting in a city which has had everything thrown at it and not only keeps bouncing back, but flourishing. And that feeling, that delicious Darwin magic, is contagious.
The Global Goddess travelled to Darwin as a guest of Tourism Northern Territory – http://www.travelnt.com
IT’S raining a sigh of relief on this humid day, which heralds the official turf turning ceremony at the Conua Primary School Kindergarden project. And aside from providing a welcome reprieve from the mugging March heat, it’s seen as good luck. I’m in Fiji’s Sigatoka Valley, hunting and gathering stories on the community tourism projects in which the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort plays a critical role. And the new kindy is just the latest in a long line of voluntourism activities available to the resort’s guests.
This is a story about hope, community, cyclones and courage. The cyclone component was never meant to be a part of this tale, but when Mother Nature speaks, she cannot be ignored. In late February, just weeks before my visit last week, Tropical Cyclone Winston struck Fiji, killing 42 people, completely flattening more than 108 villages, leaving more than 80 schools without roofs and causing more than $1 billion damage to infrastructure and crops.
While the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort was relatively lucky, weathering only superficial damage to things such as thatching on bures and destroyed gardens, its sister property Castaway suffered more serious damage and will be closed until mid year. Castaway guests were relocated to the Outrigger and everyone was placed in lock-down for six long hours while the cyclone raged. But Winston forgot he was dealing with Fiji. And despite the destruction, it’s still open for business with Fiji rapidly launching a fearless campaign #strongerthanwinston
These are warrior people from a warrior nation and aid is flooding in from around the world. But tourists don’t have to wait for something as devastating as Winston to help Third World nations such as Fiji. Since 2010, Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort has been involved in community projects and in 2014 it introduced the concept of “voluntourism” to its guests. Under the scheme, visitors are invited to become involved in a variety of projects from coral planting on the reef to visiting local village church services.
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort General Manager Peter Hopgood has been instrumental in driving community tourism in the Nadroga province in which the resort is located.
“In my first year as GM I visited the 168 schools in the province and gave every kid a green shopping bag to take home to their parents to be used instead of plastic bags,” Hopgood says.
“We are now three months away from the introduction of Local Government legislation banning plastic bags in the province.
“It is still so pleasing, five years on, that every time I go into town I still see the green bags. Everyone has got one.”
And there are some big projects too. Last November, the resort opened the
$128,000 village meeting and school hall bure at the Conua Primary School in the Sigatoka Valley. The project took 14 months and the assistance of 80 volunteer guests to complete. The latest project is the construction of a $51,000 Kindergarden at the school. When finished in November it will accommodate 30 children. For the first time, the kids will have outdoor playground equipment.
Perhaps one of the most crucial projects about which he is most passionate in the new $384,000 maternity ward at the Sigatoka Hospital, built by the Coral Coast Hotels Association of which Hopgood is chair. The Association includes Outrigger, Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa, Shangri-La Fijian Resort and Spa, Warwick Fiji, The Naviti Resort, and Fiji Hideaway Resort and Spa. Outrigger visitors can book a half-day tour every Tuesday and Thursday to tour the Conua School Kindergarden project, Sigatoka Maternity Ward, and local produce markets. Money raised from tour fees (Adults $64/Children $41) is used to purchase building materials.
Hopgood says while there are many areas of need in the province, the hospital was “diabolical”.
“There were no birthing facilities in this province. Because of the distance, the mortality rate was horrific,” he says.
“Health is the biggest issue in Fiji without a doubt. We do a really good job here on the Coral Coast but we can only really target our area of responsibility. You go outside the province and you see how harsh it is.
“It took us five years to build the facility, now it’s the best in all of Fiji. The reality is Fiji is still Third World but we have a very good hospital.”
The resort also enables 20 international professional eye surgeons to come to the province each year, who restore sight to between 80 and 100 people. And every year, former champion Australian swimmer Shane Gould is invited as a guest of the resort to teach village children, who have to cross the Sigatoka River to get to school, how to swim.
“It just can’t be a hand out to the community. We help those who help themselves. They have to contribute both funds and labour,” Hopgood says.
“From a tourism perspective this is what all the other resorts in the area need to do…engage and bring guests into the community.
“It’s almost like every western child should experience this.”
Fiji may be the occasional cyclone, but it is overwhelmingly warm waters, sizzling smiles, aqua oceans and white sand. These are fresh fruit, frangipani and hibiscus flower days. It’s local seafood washed down by cold beer. Champagne and sunsets. Fire dancing under crescent moons. Shuffling hermit crabs and kids who play outdoors. It’s warrior dances and sanguine smiles. Bold singing and big hearts. Humility, humanity, resilience, family, community and courage. Above all else, Fiji is courage.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort – http://www.outriggerfiji.com
The resort has established a Cyclone Appeal to assist people living in the north of the country. The bank account details are:
Account Name: Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
Bank: Suncorp Bank; Gold Coast Business Banking Centre
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.
EVERY now and then I am overcome by the notion that I just need to disappear off the face of the planet for a week or so. And I generally pick a destination or activity that is way beyond my comfort zone and/or level of ability (which, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, is somewhat limited to drinking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on my back deck while pondering the parlous state of the world). As is often the case when I make any major life decisions, my choices are based purely on how a place name sounds. Yes, you’ll find me in crazy Kazakhstan or yummy Yemen any day now. Iraq sounds quite harsh to the ear but Kabul itself somewhat intriguing. I’m the same when it comes to cooking or eating out. I’ll order Baba Ghanoush while imagining I’m in an exotic Arabian land, or buy all the ingredients to cook a big pot of Jambayla just for one, because I’m convinced someone has made a huge mistake and I’m actually a sexy Spaniard. Woy Woy – well I’ve toy toyed with a trip there too. And it was only last week when I found myself downward dog facing the jungles of Ubud at a yoga retreat that I realised just how out of sync my imagination is with my body.
Lured by this particular retreat’s name “Escape the World” I flew myself to Bali and trekked up to Ubud (by trekking, I mean being picked up in an air-conditioned vehicle by my own driver), and threw myself into this concept with gusto. What could be so hard about a total of 20 hours of yoga, a 22km bike ride, wanderings through the rice paddies, and, most interestingly, 24 hours of silence where it would just me and my mischievous monkey mind?
And I didn’t know it at the time of booking, but French Canadian Claude Chouinard runs Oneworld Retreats in partnership with two Ubud princes who happen to have their regal residences also on site. Unfortunately for me, both princes were also getting married the very day I arrived, but I remain convinced had they just waited another 24 hours, at least one of them would have fallen in love with me at first sight. I mean, what’s not to love about a bedraggled Brisbane girl, hair frizzing in the Indonesian humidity, coming off the effects of her usual red wine and Xanax flying combination, clutching her duty free stash of secret wine and gin in one hand, and a yoga mat in the other? There may also be that teeny tiny issue that I am not Balinese royalty, into which both boys also married, in what is said to be a bid to preserve the culture. And I’m not sure mentioning I’m The Global Goddess and practically Brisbane royalty has the same effect, but I was prepared to give it a shot.
On our first night, Claude reminds us that despite everyone around us seemingly being able to travel, we are only a small percentage of the world who is wealthy enough to do so. He encourages us to embrace our 24 hours of silence and see it for the gift that it is.
“For just one day you can consider this silence a form of torture or one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself,” he says.
“What we know as time is in fact an illusion. For human beings, time is limited to the moment we are born, to the moment we leave this planet, a very short journey considering the age of the universe.
“Live every day by the minute and enjoy as much as you possibly can…the illusion goes by quickly.”
At first I am afraid, I am Gloria Gaynor petrified. But then I discover while I’m not allowed to read, and am discouraged from making eye contact with my fellow retreat participants even when we are in yoga classes together, I am allowed to write. And if there’s anything I love more than talking, it’s writing. But it must be mindful, and we are encouraged to pen the things we really want out of this life, and those we wish to rid, which will be burned later in the week in a sacred Balinese ceremony. After yoga and breakfast on my private balcony, I scribble and scribble until my pen runs out of ink. Before I know it, it’s lunchtime, and the food (like everything else at this retreat) is no hardship. I lunch long and languidly on the typical Indonesian salad Gado Gado (again, savouring how the words swirl around my tongue) and there’s the delicious Dadar Gulung – an Indonesian coconut crepe – for dessert.
I have a massage after lunch, and determined not to sleep but remain “mindful” to my silence, I spend the afternoon painting. I end up finishing 6 paintings (3 of which are all words) and have almost convinced myself I have captured the spirit of the talented Ubud artists who inhabit this lovely land, before I realise my ego again, is outrunning my actual talent. A swim, another yoga session, and it’s dinner on my deck, the highlight of which is steamed prawns in banana leaf. I contemplate cracking open my duty free wine but a combination of wishing to remain mindful and the fact I have a sore throat prevents this digression. My yoga teacher later tells me my throat chakra is blocked because of my fear of the silence. A less enlightened version of myself would argue it’s because of his incessant incense burning.
Each day passes in a similar dreamy rhythm. Yoga in the morning with the affable Iyan Yaspriyana while the jungle around us awakens and the cicadas chant a chorus of encouragement from the forest. Iyan encourages us every day to “go deeper”, reminding us that the mind can sometimes trick the body that it can’t go further, when it can. Daily affirmations are left in our room (and in my case, a harmless tree snake which I embrace as a good sign), there’s a dawn yoga class at volcano Batur, an evening water purification ceremony at Tirta Empul, a Balinese offering class, lunch in the rice paddies, and a closing ceremony at the retreat’s temple in which we pause to give gratitude for our lives. And most of all, I learn to sit with myself, observe the demons, laugh at the monkey, and love myself just that little bit more. According to Baby Ram Das: “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” I can already hear the next exotic-sounding destination whispering my name.
The Global Goddess paid for her own flights to Bali and her Escape the World retreat with Oneworld in Ubud. To book your own escape, go to http://www.oneworldretreats.com
NEW ROUTE TO SCOOT TO SINGAPORE
Those wags at Scoot, the Low Cost Carrier of the Year, reckon it’s the Perth-fect way to travel to Singapore. Yep, not only is the big yellow bird offering a new route from Perth to Singaling, but due to huge interest, they have now advanced the first flight by one week. Scoot will now operate four additional flights starting on December 12, offering an extra 3200 seats during the busy pre-Christmas period. Fares, including taxes, start at just $169 from Perth and return from Singapore from $99. But you don’t have to live on Australia’s west coast to enjoy Scoot. The Global Goddess had the fortune of flying with them from the Gold Coast (she adores Coolangatta airport’s code: OOL) to Singapore and beyond to Bangkok in August. It’s a great carrier offering healthy competition to some of the bigger birds in the sky. And that’s always a great thing for Australian travellers. To book your flight, go to http://www.flyscoot.com
MORE EYES ON THE SKY
Looking a little further afield in the aviation industry, Lufthansa is offering some great deals to Europe for Aussie travellers. For sale until November 30, passengers can choose from 52 destinations for AUD883 plus tax. Lufthansa was the first airline The Global Goddess ever flew on. It was 1987 and she had been awarded a scholarship to travel to Germany. Believe it or not, Michael Jackson (yes, MJ!) was on her plane and she secured his autograph, which she still has. Jacko may be long gone, but Lufthansa lives on and goes from strength to strength. The German flagship carrier has just been named Europe’s Leading Airline at the World Travel Awards for the third time in a row, and its sixth time overall and plans to invest more than 3 billion Euro into its services over the coming months. On top of all of this, they’ve just launched a new online journey planner, to make your travels as seamless as possible. In the words of the immortal Michael Jackson: that’s a thriller. Go to http://www.germany.travel
LIFE IS CRUISEY IN FIJI
IT’S been almost a decade since The Global Goddess last cruised Fiji, but it remains one of her most memorable journeys. Those same smooth operators at Captain Cook Cruises have just released their 2014 departure dates for their two, seven-night Northern Fiji Discovery Cruises: The Four Cultures Discovery Cruise and Colonial Fiji Discovery Cruise. On The Four Cultures Discovery Cruise – the first Fiji cruise to circumnavigate Vanua Levu, passengers have the chance to experience four distinct Fijian cultures, as well as visit remote villages and schools. The Colonial Fiji Discovery Cruise reveals the unique history, art and culture of the Northern Fiji Islands as well as offering the ultimate experience of standing on the natural International Dateline. There’s also day trips to islands, waterfalls, lagoons, volcanic craters, hot springs, thriving markets and children’s choral church service. Throw in a plenty of swimming, snorkelling and diving, and you’ll be feeling like a young Brooke Shields before you know it. http://www.captaincook.com.fj
GET TECHWRECKED IN VANUTAU
The Global Goddess is breathlessly counting down the weeks till a planned work trip to Vanuatu and beautiful Bokissa takes place in early 2014. (In the meantime she is happy to gaze lovingly at this photo below). But before today, she had never heard of the phrase Nomophobia (fear of being out of mobile phone contact). Essentially, on the private island of Bokissa, mobile phone service is so notoriously unreliable, you are forced to undergo a digital detox. Instead of technology, you’ll have to content yourself with day dreaming, fishing, paddling a kayak, diving and that unmistakable squeak as pure white sand pours between your toes. Sure, you can find a place or two in the guest lounge if you simply must have internet connection, or you can spend your days walking through the 71 hectares of rainforest with the butterflies instead. Accommodation is in TV, radio and phone-free air-conditioned fales with their own private deck chairs, gardens and hammocks. This traveller, for one, can hardly wait to get there and switch off, in every sense of the word. http://www.bokissa.com
BIG IDEAS HAPPEN IN SMALL PLACES
In this week’s blog, The Global Goddess unveiled the happiest destination on the planet: The People’s Republic of Woodford. Woodfordia, a Utopia which occurs for just one week every years, between Christmas and New Year, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Now, those creatives behind the festival, has just announced a new concert touring program – The Festival of Small Halls – in which cool music gigs will be played at beautiful old halls in rural Australia. Designed in partnership with Woodford’s fellow festivals around the country, international and national artists will perform at a big festival and then stay on to share the love at a nearby small hall for a month in between. The pilot tour happens next month, at the Mullum Music Festival, and will tour 16 small halls in Queensland, before arriving at the Woodford Folk Festival. For a list of halls, dates, artists and other information, check out http://www.festivalofsmallhalls.com and don’t forget to book your Woodford tickets at http://www.woodfordfolkfestival.com The Global Goddess reckons it’s going to be one sizzling summer, with plenty of cool things to do.
I STILL look for her everywhere. And in the most incongruent of places. When I’m travelling overseas, but mostly in the local shopping centre, where she’d most likely be. Except she isn’t. One year ago I lost my counsellor, confidante and dear friend, Sue Cameron. She died unexpectedly, at the age of 76, passing away quietly from pneumonia. It was a month before I discovered she had died. And on that grey, old Saturday I howled. Fat, serious tears rolling down my face, my body shacking with the grief and injustice of it all. And then I wrote and I wrote, vowing not to let her death undo me. She’d be so cranky at that. And so I haven’t.
I think of her often. On the good days and the bad. On rare grim days I repeat the mantra she told me so often: “Turn it on it’s head, darl.” And I glance at a photo of her I keep above my keyboard in which she wears the same Mona Lisa smile she used to give me when I sought her advice on life’s big issues. It’s a no-nonsense kind of look, with an unwritten caption which I imagine reads: “You know it’s all going to work out, don’t you?” The photo arrived by surprise in the mail, sent to me by her partner Keith, 84. He sent it with a note which read: “Sue gave me the photo and I know she liked you a lot, so here is the original. May God bless you and thank you for your regard for my wonderful Suzie”. I view him from a distance from time-to-time in the local shopping centre. He looks so much older now. His tall frame a bit more hunched. No more handsome hat tilt when he passes by. But he’s surviving. Like the rest of us.
Journalist and author Susan Wyndham has just published a book My Mother, My Father: On Losing a Parent. Wyndham, whose mother died two years ago, has cobbled together an anthology of stories by 14 Australian authors who examine the concept of surviving the deaths of our parents. Some of the nation’s best penmen and women have contributed to this tome, including Thomas Keneally, Helen Garner and David Marr. In her review of the book in the Weekend Australian newspaper, Rosemary Neill refers to our parents as “those who have known us the longest”. I have never lost a parent, but have many friends who have. For me, the passing of Sue Cameron was the closest to this kind of grief I have endured. While not knowing me the longest – although we had been together through 12 turbulent and terrific years of counselling – she was the person who knew me best. And so it was a lonely landscape I faced the day she died. Like losing your anchor in the middle of the ocean and searching desperately for a paddle to get you back to shore.
Apart from the grief which never really leaves – you learn to grow around it – I’ve been fascinated at how my rational mind can know someone has died, but my emotional mind still looks for her. In Saturday’s Courier-Mail there’s a story about a new coffee shop concept called The Death Café where people gather to talk about the concept of death. This pop up concept is not about grief counselling, but more so that people can freely discuss one of life’s most taboo subjects. Attendees can be anyone from those simply curious about what happens after life, to those who have experienced death in their circle or who are facing a terminal illness. It’s run by grief educator Beth O’Brien and funeral director Neil Davis. “Death Café is…an unusual event trying to change how uncomfortable society is about death and replacing it with relaxes discussion and cake,” O’Brien says.
In her review of My Mother, My Father, Neil writes: “For many people, the death of a parent is a reckoning: a catalyst for evaluating a life lived well, or a little outrageously.” These days, I choose to live my life well. Sure, I still have my outrageous moments, chase bad boys, drink champagne with my friends, but I try to temper these with striving to be a better version of me. In the past year I have taken up yoga in the mornings, gone to several health retreats and really participated – bringing home the wisdom learnt and incorporating it into my life. I attend weekly meditation classes, swim or walk in the afternoons. I eat better, drink less. Recently, on my birthday, a friend sent me an email. It read: “I’ve really noticed a change in you over the last couple of months. You seem happier, calmer. It’s a subtle change, but I’m not imaging it. The ‘real’ you is breaking out for all the world to see and love.”
Wherever she’s reading this from, I just know Sue Cameron would be chuffed.