PROVING there’s never a dull moment for me when flying long-haul routes – in this case a 30-hour journey from Sydney to Halifax in Canada – I am joined in the seat next to me by a 20-something, heavily tattooed Australian bloke. According to his immigration card his name is Mel, and judging by his actions, Mel likes a drink or 30. Mel assures me on takeoff he’s taken 3 Xanax and needs a drink or two to wash them down so he can enjoy 10 hours sleep. I know I should be shocked that Mel has taken 3 Xanax, my limit is one of those glorious little pink pills, but I’m more amazed that Mel can still obtained Xanax which is now a Class 2 drug and incredibly difficult to get, and I resist the urge to do a drug deal from the comfort of my seat. Unfortunately for Mel, the Xanax aren’t working and he spends the next 14 hours having one Canadian Club Whisky for every hour of our flight – at one stage he downed 4 in 45 minutes before he was cut off for a few hours – and he stays awake the entire night. Just before we land in Vancouver, Mel confides in me that he needs to “get his shit together” as he’s carrying a firearm. Good times.
I farewell Mel safe in the knowledge he’s probably sleeping the night/rest of his life in a Vancouver prison, and I continue my epic journey across to the east of Canada, a trip which takes considerably longer than it should thanks to storms across the country. We’re stranded on the Toronto runway for five hours during which we are offered a handful of pretzels and a glass of water. I haven’t eaten for 12 hours, having sprinted through various airports to make tight connections, and I could eat a small child. I look hungrily at the big bloke squashed in the seat next to me and start entertaining similar fantasies to those enjoyed by the soccer team that crashed in the Andes and ate each other. When I return from the bathroom, my seat mate has moved, obviously perturbed by my hunger games. I ask the stewardess whether a beer would be out of the question, thus proving once you take an Australian out of the country and add jetlag and hunger, their inner bogan is activated. When we finally take off around 1am, the stewardess arrives at my seat with a pizza and beer and refuses to charge me, demonstrating that Canadians are possibly the nicest people on the planet.
Yes, my journey to the Land of Milk and Honey may have begun without much food, but that situation is rapidly rectified when I attend my first assignment of the day – covering a “sausage fest”. I should point out that Canadians have no idea that a sausage fest back in cosmopolitan Brisbane is when you walk into a social or business setting and there’s loads of good looking blokes with, well, their proverbial sausages. And as I’m still jetlagged and ravenous, my inner bogan has not yet gone to bed, so I spit out “a sausage fest!” to my hosts, who take in remarkably good grace the Australian definition of the term. I spend a salacious Sunday wandering the streets of Halifax eating incredible sausage, washed down with sensational beer, and all served by good-looking men. Yes, it was quite the sausage fest.
My first day ends at the Five Fishermen Restaurant which not only serves delicious seafood, but has the most incredible story. Back in the early 1900s, it was actually a funeral home and when the Titanic sank off the Atlantic Coast in 1912, it was here in Halifax that 250 bodies were brought to shore. And the story doesn’t end there. Just 5 years later, two ships collided just off of Halifax in what is known as the Halifax Explosion and curious onlookers rushed to the windows of their homes to view the initial fire taking place offshore. But the ships then exploded, causing an atomic bomb effect back on land, and 2000 people were killed and taken to the same building as the Titanic victims. To this day, the pulley used to bring coffins upstairs from the morgue still exist in the restaurant’s wine cellar. But even more interesting are the incredible ghost stories in this place. Now, The Global Goddess adores a good ghost story and the women in my family are particular adept at attracting the paranormal and by that I am not referring to all of my disastrous dates back in Brisbane, but dead people. Yes, we see dead people. Not all the time, that would be just weird, but over the years my three sisters and me have all reported similar spooky tales and now, some of my nieces are showing signs that they possess “the gift”.
So, imagine my delight when I’m told there’s a couple of dead guests of the Titanic still hanging around the restaurant. My imagination goes into over drive and a fellow journalist and I wander around the restaurant and into dark spooky corners where we’re told certain “activity” has occurred. We enter a private dining room called The Captain’s Quarters and I am covered in goose bumps. Over the years female waitresses have confessed to being accosted by a young boy who invites them to play. My imagination runs wild and we take as many snaps as we can, hoping to capture a ghost on camera. We cautiously creep up a narrow staircase to the women’s bathroom in which the ghost of a young girl is said to inhabit. I almost pee my pants and feel a strange presence in the end cubicle. When we go back downstairs I ask our restaurant host where the young girl resides. “In the far corner of the bathroom where the end cubicle is,” he says. Shivers run up and down my spine.
Guests have reported taking photos of the restaurant over the year, only to have unusual images appear or their cameras stop working all together. As I publish this blog, I’ve just uploaded all of my Canada photos to date and every photo, save the two I took of The Captain’s Quarters, have uploaded to my computer. Coincidence? I think not. Storms, sausages, spooks and somewhere back in Vancouver, an Australian bloke with a hangover and a fire arm talking his way out of prison. Oh Canada, you had me at hello.
The Global Goddess is travelling in Canada as a guest of Destination Canada http://www.keepexploring.ca
THERE are rumoured to be seven men to every woman in Mount Isa, but on this particular Saturday night I’m interested in one woman and one woman only. I’m in the Queensland Outback on a mission to meet a sheila called Beaver. I’d first heard about Beaver only weeks ago, in fact, I was invited to fight her. And this wasn’t any old catfight, meet-you-after-school scenario. You see, Beaver is a boxer and a good one at that. Unfortunately, for the crowds at the Mount Isa Rodeo where Beaver is to box, I’m more of a lover, than a fighter, and I decline the invitation graciously. Hell, I’m someone who weeps when they get a paper cut, such are the perils of my profession.
It’s day one of the rodeo when I first meet Beaver, boiling a kettle at her camp behind the Fred Brophy boxing tent. Beaver is the only woman in Brophy’s troupe, Australia’s only surviving travelling boxing show. I expect Beaver to be like Queen Bee from the 1970s Australian television drama Prisoner and when I see her with that steaming kettle my imagination goes into overdrive, half expecting her to throw hot water over me while giving me a Chinese burn. Turns out Beaver is simply making her lunch and she politely gestures for me to sit in the shade while she does so. While Beaver may be bigger than the average woman, she’s also huge of heart.
When we met last weekend Beaver, or Brettyln Neal as she is sometimes known, was about to notch up her 150th fight. She first met Brophy about five years ago when she was doing security work out at the Birdsville Races.
“I played Rugby League for Australia and Rugby Union for England and I wanted to test myself as an individual and decided to do boxing,” Beaver says.
“Out in Birdsville we were sitting around and someone said something about Justin Bieber and I misheard and I thought they said Beaver. They said ‘you need to get this Beaver as famous as you can’. So when I got up to fight I said Beaver instead of my real name and it’s stuck ever since.
“I’ve got a little furry Beaver mascot and sometimes Fred will get up and say ‘show us your Beaver’ and I’ll have it in my pants.”
But there’s more to Beaver, and boxing, than meets the eye. The 30-year-old owns gyms in Townsville where she runs youth boxing programs.
“Boxing is a big part of my job. I’ve been given an opportunity through my life and through Fred and I feel giving other people the same opportunity is the right thing to do,” she says.
“I grew up in a broken family but I’ve had quite a good upbringing. I don’t really have a sob story. My contribution is more the fact I am willing to give back to those who haven’t got everything.
“I love life and I get joy of out putting a smile on people’s faces. I strongly believe in doing one good deed a day.”
We spend the afternoon sparring, and by sparring I mean I watch Beaver cook lunch while I stand back as far as is safely possible and ask her questions about her chosen sport, of which I understand little.
“To be a good boxer you need to be very disciplined and fit and mentally tough. I’ve got the mentally tough down, fitness not so much,” she says.
“Here there is no weight class. I think the people who say that women shouldn’t box are normally scared we’ll be better than them. The more negative people are the more I succeed. My drive comes a lot from that.
“The most powerful weapon anyone has is the power of speech. I don’t think you should inflict harm on anyone. Boxing is a sport and it has to be one of the most friendly things.
“I never intend to hurt people. At the end of the day we want to put on a good show and hopefully both of us will have a drink together and no one is hurt.
“Boxing is addictive, once you start, you can’t stop.”
Participants who take on Brophy’s boxers earn $30 for each minute they are in the ring. Beaver is coy about how much she earns but admits what she does make, she donates to not-for-profit youth boxing programs. Convinced she is my new best friend I ask Beaver what her secret manouevre is. At this stage she pauses the interview, takes two gloved hands, and pretends to simultaneously smack me around the head. “That’s the buffalo,” she grins. I think I’m going to faint from fear. I decide Beaver and I will be mates for life. I will never, ever upset Beaver.
I ask Beaver to dress in the outfit she’ll be wearing for her fight. Beaver puts on a skirt over her boxing shorts, which is part gladiator, and part like she’s shredded a local miner to pieces.
“You’ve got to bring a bit of fashion into the sport. Fred likes to say I’ve got hairs on my legs that would spear a rat,” she says.
“Lots of men love me. Everyone loves a Beaver.”
The next night Beaver steps into the boxing ring, but there’s no woman courageous enough, even in the Queensland Outback, to take her on. My friends tug at my sleeve, urging me to take one for the team. “Are you insane,” I hiss with venom dripping from my voice. I’ve seen the buffalo. I know what the buffalo can do. Fred calls a man, who is either extremely brave or very stupid, into the ring to fight Beaver. I’m filled with an equal blend of repulsion and fascination as I watch the bloke box Beaver. In the first round the poor fellow is full of hope. But that doesn’t last long and Beaver easily wins the match before she storms off into the dark night, with a rumoured three broken ribs. Beaver looks as mad as hell. “I love you Beaver”, I shout, my words trailing her like a cloud of dust. Just to be sure.
The Global Goddess travelled to the Mount Isa Rodeo as a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland – http://www.queensland.com. To book a ticket to next year’s rodeo go to http://www.isarodeo.com.au
BECAUSE there is nothing more on this planet that a lonely, single, travel writer with a rotten head cold loves more than listening to the couple in the room next door having crazy, monkey sex, I spend my first night in Noosa rummaging through my luggage for ear plugs and with the pillow over my head. The thing we love second best is not being able to locate the off switch for the room light (in this case, it’s in the kitchen which glows like a full moon), so I also grasp for my eye mask. Looking and feeling like Uncle Fester, I head to bed, strangely aroused and annoyed in equal measure, but resolve that tomorrow will be a better day.
And it is. It’s mid winter in Noosa and I’m on a story researching her hidden secrets, or Naked Noosa if you will. It’s also 27 degrees and while the cold and flu tablets I have taken initially prevent my foggy head from finding the Noosa River along which I have happily driven for the past 20 years, I eventually locate this major waterway and my first appointment of the day. I’m on a stand-up paddle board/yoga lesson with Kelly Carthy from Luxe Fitness Escapes who leads me into the mangroves where I lay on the board, sun on my face, birds in my ear, and perform some basic yoga moves, mindful not to roll over and into the river, which is exactly the kind of thing I’d do. Kelly has just launched the business aimed at making fitness fun in some of Noosa’s secret spots.
“As a trainer I’ve always used the outdoors to my advantage. I only train clients near water and places with a great view and it’s about how can I take their mind of it,” Kelly says.
“On the board or on the sand you are having to stabilise and are using all of your muscles and are more aware of what you are doing. I’m huge about empowering women to be in their own body and not be looking at someone else and to be more mindful about what they can do.
“I want them to feel strong and confident and I think there is lots of space to really empower women to feel strong in their bodies and focus on what they can do rather than how they look.”
Kelly tells me I have great core strength which I attribute to the fact I do yoga, and not all the crazy, monkey sex I’m not having, and I spend the rest of the day strutting around like I’m a super model.
I spend the afternoon with award-winning barista Al Claridge from Clandestino Roasters along Hastings Street, learning how to make the perfect drop. Well, I think I’m here to make coffee, but as is so often the case in my job, it’s the person with whom I’m speaking that turns out to be the story. “Kiwi Al” was one of New Zealand’s top 10 surfers but, more interestingly, was involved in a car accident which left him a tetraplegic – unable to use his limbs or torso. Against all odds it took him more than two years to learn to walk again and these days he lives on the Sunshine Coast, happily surfing and making “ethical, sustainable and environmental” coffee.
“I don’t chase the big money, I chase the waves and lifestyle,” Al says.
“If we’ve got a skill we’re not sharing in life, well then that’s selfish. It’s about raising people’s awareness of being.
“A good barista is like a counselor. Life is 100 percent about choice. Now everything I do is done with the fullest and life is a beautiful thing.”
The next day, I go in search of a bloke called Bear. I heard about Bear a few months back and was utterly fascinated by his name, picturing a large knife-wielding hippie who may or may not kill me. I’m totally unprepared for the 69-year-old who turns up in his 4WD and tells me to jump in his truck as we ride the Noosa Ferry to the Noosa North Shore. Bear, as it turns out, is a big teddy bear, who these days spends his time living with his wife Pam on their oceanfront land and searching for a good spot to fish. We explore this quiet side of Noosa and chat about life and love. I ask Bear the secret to his 48 year marriage.
“You need someone who likes the same things. She was a city girl and I brought her out of Brisbane and had to train her my way,” he says.
“You’ve got to deal with the problems as they come up and just be there for each other.
“I haven’t worked out women, I only had to train one. I don’t worry about the rest of them.”
I return to Hastings Street, convinced I am the only person who has ever gone to Noosa and not had a drink, but spent their entire time in the chemist begging for more cold and flu drugs. At one stage, I’m speeding so much on Sudafed that I actually park my car over an entire resort driveway, thus blocking the ability for anyone to enter or exit the resort. But the show must go on and I spend the next few days on a walking tour of the secret side of Noosa National park (where I may or may not have been looking for the nudist beach), learning to sail the Noosa River, watching a Queensland Ballet Performance, talking about Eumundi Body Art and soaking up the sun. Yes, if you’re going to feel rotten, Noosa is the best antidote to any head cold. I drive back to Brisbane on late Sunday, the stories and characters swirling around in my head like latte art, grappling with how to sum up this naked side of Noosa. And, just when I want to give up, worried I can’t find a way to deliver justice to this divine destination, the words of Bear pop into my head: “When all else fails, just keep fishing.”
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Tourism Noosa – http://www.visitnoosa.com.au
Head straight to Long Shan Temple in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei. Here, you can gamble on God, dice with Dharma and bet on Buddha all at once. In what is essentially a game of Taiwanese two-up, you first take a stick with a number on it. Then, in your head, you tell Buddha your name, where you are from, and what you are asking for (eg: the love of your life). Then you take two blocks of wood and toss them. If they both land face up, Buddha is still thinking about your request. If they both land face down, your request will not happen. If one lands face down and one lands face up, your request will come true. The good news is that one of mine landed face up and the other face down. The bad news is that I am still waiting to meet my “man of honour” that the wood promised. But if I do, I am told I must return to the temple with him.
In Saigon I managed to attract lots of love interest. Just none of it from members of the opposite sex. Rather, it was older Vietnamese women who appeared enamoured by me here, something which became apparent from my first night. While enjoying a Vietnamese omelette stuffed full of prawns, pork and spices, an old lady, who was at least 100, walked into the restaurant carrying a pile of books as high as her head. She pointed to Fifty Shades of Grey, asked, “You want to read” and then punched her first into the air, laughed and said “Boom, Boom!” In the beach resort town of Nha Trang I had a Vietnamese massage where my masseuse slathered me in oil and then proceeded to slap me hard on the buttocks. At one point I thought I’d entered the Red Room of Pain in Fifty Shades. Back in Saigon, I was befriended by a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl who gave me a small doll as a gift, before telling me that her ageing aunt thought I was “beautiful”.
You can guarantee seduction in Samoa, at least by this Pacific island nation if nothing else. For this is a land of tsunamis, tragedy and triumph. Of man over Mother Nature. And it’s also about tribal tattoos, tradition and testosterone. Head to the Samoan Tourism Association Cultural Village in the capital of Apia and you can witness local men partaking in the manhood-testing tradition of a tribal tattoo. I was reliably informed that the only part of a man’s body from his middle back to his knees that is not tattooed is his penis. Curious types like me can go there hoping for a gentle breeze to lift a lava lava to prove this point. You’ll fall in love with this country, which has survived its share of cyclones and a devastating tsunami in 2009 which claimed 189 lives in the South Pacific, many of them children. This is a land of loss, lore and love. And the men are handsome too.
One of the greatest love stories of modern time, and which I’ve been furiously following, exists along the River Kwai, better known for its war history. Here, overlooking the emerald mountains of Kanchanburi exists a young man named Sam. Sam is a Mon man from the displaced Mon people, considered one of the earliest tribes to live in southeast Asia. Sam, 22, a tour guide at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts, is in love with a girl called Jaytarmon in a neighbouring village but he doesn’t own a boat, so access isn’t easy. And then there’s a girl from his own village who is also keen on Sam. Yes, even in the jungle, love is complicated. While you may not find your own love story along the River Kwai and her floating raft hotels, you’ll adore this bridge between the old and new worlds, and this enduring and evolving tale of the heart.
I’m reliably informed that Bali is a hunting ground for cougars but if you’re a reformed cougar, like me, then all hope is not lost. I was once accosted by a Balinese waiter who asked from where I hailed, to which he replied: “Oh, Australia, kangaroo, kangaroo very sexy.” When he saw my baffled expression at the thought of Skippy being a sex God, he proceeded to draw an invisible outline in the air of a curvy bottle of Coca Cola. He then pointed at me and said: “Coca Cola, very sexy.” While my outrageous laughing may have put paid to any love interest, for the rest of my stay, if my girlfriend was looking for me in a crowded pool, she only needed to visualise a kangaroo drinking Coca Cola and up I’d pop. Or should that be hop?
It took me all of five minutes upon arriving at Queen Alia Airport in Amman, Jordan, to realise that Arab men are as sexy as their reputation. I don’t believe I’ve floated through airport immigration anywhere in the world with such outrageous flirts. At my hotel every morning, three young waiters would actually argue over who got to bring me my morning coffee, and be rewarded with a smile. In the end, all three each brought me a cuppa, so it was more like a maniacal grin from me. Charm is everywhere here, with male shopkeepers saying things like “Your lips are like honey”, or “I can see Sydney in your eyes” despite the fact you live in Brisbane.
Back on home soil I’d love to say I’ve cracked the code to attracting an awesome Aussie male, but that would be a lie. However last year I did go to the Whitsundays for the annual Airlie Beach Race Week. Think: 74 islands and 800 horny sailors in town. Unfortunately I didn’t read the fine print, which states that old salts like their calamari young, so to speak, and I’m more of a barracuda. When not staring out at the horizon, I’m told sailors have quite the roving eye. Airlie Beach itself is a backpacker party town, so should you wish to meet a hot, young man you’ll never see again, and are prepared to spend the night in a bunk bed, this is the place for you.
Like her Samoan sister, Fiji is teeming with attractive people, including the women. Which is just as well, as a woman twice the size of both my mate and me dragged us both up onto the dance floor, and then watched our inherent lack of white girl rhythm as they played the funky music. A much better bet, and a lovely day trip, is out in the Sigatoka Valley and to Naihehe Cave. Here, you wade through cool water and pass through three chambers including a tight spot known as the pregnancy passage. If you get stuck, it means you are pregnant. Which makes for an interesting souvenir to take back home.
Every time I skip across the ditch to New Zealand something strange happens. Last year I went into a Wellington prison to interview six “lifers” who were involved in a Prison Gate to Plate cooking event. Yes, the only thing standing between me finding true love was the New Zealand parole office. The earth did move for me there, but that’s only because there was also an earthquake. A few years prior I was in Queenstown researching what non-adventurous souls such as myself could do in the world’s adventure capital. Adventure ended up finding me, and caught in a white out somewhere up on The Remarkables, I managed to enlist two kiwi men to actually carry me down the slippery mountain while I cried hysterically. Needless to say, there’s nothing attractive about a woman with frozen ice tears on her face.
Think like Australia’s own Princess Mary and snaffle yourself a Prince. Hey, if it’s good enough for a real estate agent from Hobart…And there’s a few single blokes on the market including Prince Philippos of Greece and Denmark, who is actually based in New York and does look after Greece, whose economy isn’t so hot right now. You could try Prince Sebastien Henri Marie Guillaume of Luxembour who, at 23, loves to travel and is a keen sportsman and apparently adept at climbing, skiing, swimming and rugby union. For my money, I recommend Prince Wenzeslaus of Liechtenstein. His family is considered the richest monarchy in Europe. Vince the Prince, or Vincent, as he prefers to be called, has never married, but has been known to date the odd Victoria Secret supermodel which makes him simply perfect for the average Aussie sheila.
This blog post is part of The Global Goddess’ entry into the Virgin Australia Top Travel Tips ProBlogger competition. #pbevent @virginaustralia
“The sole cause of a man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room, Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
IT’S almost mid-June and my itchy traveller’s feet are already becoming tetchy, niggling to get back on that road, so soon after I’ve just stepped off the beaten track. After a big six months of travel, I’m taking a brief pause to recalibrate, but it’s not a simple task for me. My body says stop, but my mind roars like those four Rolls Royce engines upon take-off, constantly conjuring up all the possibilities out there in the big, wide world awaiting me. But it’s important to stop, however briefly, if nothing else but to breathe. To indulge in that most sinful of sins, sleeping in one’s own bed.
I started the year with a few domestic trips, out west to Ipswich where I rode in a helicopter to a winery and took my first hot air balloon flight – both of which were pretty big deals for this travel writer who hates to fly. I explored Brisbane’s southside and discovered a Buddhist temple and a whole new side of my pretty city I never knew existed. As Alain de Botton argues in his book The Art of Travel you don’t even need to leave your own home to travel. Much of it is a state of mind.
Things became a little crazy in March with a big trip up to Papua New Guinea but what a delightful visit to this South Pacific frontier it was. I came home with armloads of stories and some beautiful new friends. I was home for three days, enough time to wash, dry and repack my clothes, before I headed off to Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, all in the space of a week. I was sick as a dog on that trip, but sometimes you don’t get a choice to slow down, and it’s amazing what you can do when you really need to.
A long weekend in Noosa, part work, part pleasure followed and I started to dream of the following weekend when I’d be back on the Sunshine Coast for Easter with my sister. But fate had other plans and torrential rain forced the cancellation of our Easter holiday on the Sunshine Coast, but determined to get away, we fled to Fiji instead, where one of our best Easters unfurled among coconut cocktails and South Pacific church services.
Shortly after that, I was in Cairns and Port Douglas, exploring the beautiful tropical north of my state. I hired a car for this trip, switched the radio to some superb 80s tunes, and sang my way along the Captain Cook Highway north. There was a moment of truth when, all alone on a remote beach eating my lunch I though “I’m all alone” with a tinge of fear and sadness. But that was rapidly replaced by jubilation: “I’m ALL alone,” and I skipped back to my rainforest cottage with pure glee.
As fate would have it, I returned to Port Douglas a week or so later for another story. Funny how you don’t go somewhere for 15 years, and then you return to that very destination within a short time frame. I wonder what Alain de Botton would make of that? It was a completely different trip which evoked vastly different feelings, proving it’s the journey, not the destination, which makes the place. As de Botton would say: “Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains.”
I was on the Sunshine Coast a week later, at Rainbow Beach, a place I’d never been, scratching my head as to how I’d missed such a Queensland gem. I spent the night camping at Inskip Point right on the beach while the wind howled outside, and trying to imagine that a week later I’d be in Austria, covering Eurovision. I arrived in Vienna, a city I last visited 20 years before as a backpacker, and hardly recognised the place. It made me realise that while I was fitter two decades ago, I was also very young and, according to de Botton: “A danger of travel is that we see things at the wrong time, before we have had a chance to build up the necessary receptivity and when new information is therefore as useless and fugitive as necklace beads without a connecting chain.” And so it was on my previous trip to the Austrian capital, but not so on this journey. I returned to Salzburg where seven years previously I had gone in search of the Sound of Music magic. I found it again on this trip, and more.
On the long journey home from Europe to Australia, I paused for 10 hours in Bangkok, one of my all-time favourite destinations. Due to the length of my layover I had just enough time to leave the airport, find a hotel, have a Thai massage and sit by the pool in the early evening humidity to eat a Thai curry washed down with a cold Singha. And even then, I found it alluring, tempting myself to stay on, trying to find a loophole to avoid getting on that midnight flight to Brisbane.
I’ve been home two weeks tomorrow and if I’m really honest, it took me about four days till I was climbing the walls. But it’s a necessary climbing journey. I need to write, reset, catch up with friends, go to yoga, attend meditation and, if I’m lucky, go on a date or two. It’s winter Down Under and it’s time to pause and reflect, if just for a little bit. Oh, the trips are already mounting in the coming months, there’s Noosa, the Whitsundays and Mount Isa, followed by Uluru and Canada. I hope to get to Sri Lanka. And that’s just what I know now. And so I sit, write and regroup, but it’s not without its challenges. As de Botton wrote: “And I wondered, with mounting anxiety, What am I supposed to do here? What am I supposed to think?”
SINCE starting to seriously dabble in Instagram during the past year, I’ve noticed a trend emerging about what catches the eye of followers and potentially attracts a new audience.
Here’s my top 10, in no particular order.
Whether it’s this mound of spices I stumbled across at a breakfast buffet in a Bangkok hotel or this bike rack at my local university swimming pool, interesting shapes are always eye-catching.
2. People with a sense of place
Photos of people in general, and selfies particularly, have little traction on Instagram, but where people present a sense of place, it’s a whole different story. This surfer on the beach in Hawaii and this woman in Vietnam, both instantly tell a story.
3. The colour red
A photographer’s dream colour, you can hardly go wrong red. It’s bright, it’s catchy and it doesn’t really matter what it is you are photographing, as long as it’s red, it’s a winner.
Everyone loves a sunset. Surprisingly, fewer people love a sunrise. Post a photo of a sunset, like this one I captured recently in Fiji (no filter required) and watch your numbers soar.
5. Flowers and trees
There’s more nature lovers out there than you realise. People loved this kangaroo paw I published around Australia Day, and they went wild when I discovered the bark of this melaleuca tree in Tropical North Queensland recently.
6. Fun phrases
Every now and then, if you stumble across a quirky sign of a funny phrase, give it a go. This particularly works if it’s got something to do with coffee.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m not a huge fan of food shots, but if you do happen across something interesting, then sure, post it. Just not the sandwich you had for lunch. Unless you invented the sandwich. Then go for your life.
8. Street Art
This has been my biggest revelation in the past year, both about myself and my audience. Turns out I am quite the street art aficionado and I have found myself on the lookout on every street corner for something new to shoot. My followers adore art.
Similar to street art, if you can present something in an abstract way, people tend to love it. I took this photo of a Buddhist tea ceremony in Brisbane a few months ago. It’s essentially a metonym – where you don’t need to shoot the entire frame to tell a story.
Whatever the weather, people love water. Whether it’s the ocean or a pool, there’s something alluring and aspirational about a body of water.
What are your Instagram tips? Follow me on Instragram @aglobalgoddess
IN my four-poster bed, replete with white chiffon curtains, I imagine I am an Indonesian High Priestess. Even my private spa, in which I will later take a skinny dip under the night sky, seems to gurgle its approval of the latest predicament in which I find myself. I have arrived at the Banyan Tree Bintan Island in my usual disheveled state, the effects of some aeroplane turbulence as we crossed the Equator, a reasonable swell on the ferry as we sailed across the South China Sea, several prescription drugs and red wine to fuel my travels, all beginning to wear off. But I remain chipper, for tonight I will sleep under this thatched Indonesian roof, or “alang alang”, in my seaside villa.
Yes, I can be quite the wanker, and never more so than when someone has handed me chunky keys to thick, timber doors of my very own villa, and informs me this is my home for the next few nights. Bintan Island is only a 45-minute ferry ride from Singapore where regular readers know I lived, rather unhappily, some three years ago. If only I’d known of this destination’s fabulous existence, I would have jumped on that boat and never returned to Singaling. Yes, I would have been last spotted swanning around this Indonesian island, potentially joining the local fishermen in their bright blue boats below, in a bid to carve out an existence. The fact I am staying in the luxury Banyan Tree only serves to make this story all the more exotic. Even the traditional monsoon seems to be behaving, blowing cooling south-easterly kisses in my direction.
I’m on a one-week expedition discovering both the Banyan Tree Bintan Island, and Banyan Tree Lang Co in Vietnam. Christopher Columbus I am not. By “expedition” and “discovering” I actually mean partaking in several long, lusty feasts on both properties, punctuated by the odd cooking class and spa treatment. It’s in the Banyan Tree spa on Bintan Island that I meet my therapist, Oza (pronounced Oh-Zah) who instructs me to get buck naked (“not even my undies?”, I mime, rather inelegantly to my Indonesian hostess) before we undertake the “Serenity” massage. Oza smothers me in peppermint oil and for the next hour I feel like I am Charlie Brown’s Peppermint Patty. My friend Amanda is in the next spa villa, and I wonder what treatment, and more important what Charlie Brown character, she smells like. So enthusiastic is Oza about her job, she crams the modesty sheet between my bare butt cheeks, before massaging them with gusto. It’s only after the massage that Amanda informs me she was instructed to keep her underwear on, and there were no sheet wedgies in her villa.
Later that night I return to my villa and discover my towels have been fashioned into two swans in the shape of a love heart and flower petals have been scattered on my sheets. For a brief moment I think Oza may have mis-read the intent of my lack of underpants during the massage, until Amanda posts a photo of her neighbouring villa, with identical set up. We both lament the fact we will be staring at those swans, alone, while conceding the Indonesians must be among the most optimistic on the planet to leave such a letter of love for the two of us, who are not, exactly, what you’d call lucky in love.
Onwards and upwards we travel to Vietnam, where we have a date with the Banyan Tree in Lang Co, a beachside destination some two hours from Danang. Those sexy swans seem to follow me wherever I go in Asia, and I arrive back to my latest villa one night to find not only those birds have been folded and tucked into a corner of my bathroom, but someone has drawn me a bath, complete with rose petals. Could it be Windy, my Vietnamese masseur, who earlier that day allowed me to wear some XL disposal underpants which I may or may not have torn trying to get over my thighs? Windy insisted on massaging my breasts despite the fact that Amanda was in the next room, having the very same massage, yet no one touched hers. I am beginning to think my sex appeal among Asian women knows no bounds, when I discover the bath is actually part of the hotel’s turndown service known as “Intimate Moments”.
It’s only when I’m partaking in a cooking class in the Banyan Tree Lang Co’s Organic Garden that I’m reminded of home. For here are a bunch of herbs, whose descriptions run along the lines of: “Piper Sarmentosum is an erect herb with long, creeping stems” and “Chillies are usually skinny and wrinkled. These chillies usually measure 6 inches long and 1 inch wide.” If ever there was something designed to make me think fondly of the boys of Brisbane, it has to be this herb garden.
But I have no time for such folly, as we are spending the afternoon shopping in the World Heritage city of Hoi An. Amid the chaos of cycles, coconuts, tinkers and tailors, I tend to fall apart. While the girls shop in a feverish manner, I take reprieve under a fan in a corner café and sip a cold bottle of the local Biere Larue. It’s the kind of place I figure the man of my dreams may frequent. He’ll be a fellow traveller, perhaps even a literary type, and I like to think I look exotic and mysterious sitting alone in this Vietnamese café. He’ll glance at me and forget my hair is fuzzing from the humidity or that I wear a moustache of sweat, and think I’m simply lovely, I imagine.
Incredibly, this doesn’t happen, and instead I wander further down the street where I stumble upon our Vietnamese friend Kiet, who has accompanied us on our shopping trip. Kiet is sitting on the sidewalk of his favourite café, Cargo, partaking in one of life’s great pleasures, drinking beer and people watching, and as I join him we linger for a long while, discussing life and love and ponder world issues. Eventually, the tourists disappear, the lights fade and the air starts to cool. And I realise there is absolutely nowhere I’d rather be on the entire planet than at this destination, at this exact moment in time.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Banyan Tree – http://www.banyantree.com and Scoot Airlines – http://www.flyscoot.com
HAVING exhausted every possibility or hope of ever finding the man of my dreams in Australia, I’ve cast the net wider and my search for the love of my life last week took me to Papua New Guinea. I may have also been up there writing a series of travel stories, but never let it be said that I waste any opportunity to find love. What I really adore about my travels is that no matter in which new country I find myself, I merely need to tell a local that I’m looking for love and they are immediately on the case. In this instance, the lovely Lucy, a 50-year-old PNG woman who works at the Kokopo Beach Bungalows Resort, instantly becomes my latest wing woman, and she knows a thing or two about love.
Lucy was married for 18 years to a European man who left her for another woman, breaking Lucy’s heart, but not her spirit. Sure, she went a bit “long long” or crazy for a bit, but who can blame her? We’ve all been there, sista. Then, after six years on her own, raising two children, she met the love of her life, who treats her like she’s royalty.
“I tried to go out with the white man, but he leave me for another woman, so now I only go with the black man,” Lucy says.
“He cooks, he cleans and when I come home, everything is done for me. I love him…and sometimes I hate him.
“My first husband, he came back and asked my second husband if he could have me back. But I don’t worry about that any more. That’s why I look so good. I’m 50 and I look good.”
Every day Lucy tells me that I am beautiful and that I even look like her daughter “she has a sharp nose like you”. She says when I return to Rabaul I must come and stay with her in her village and she’ll find me a man. One night she cooks a traditional dinner in her village home for me and brings it into the hotel where I am staying. She even takes an unexpected photo of me one night while I’m working on my computer, so she can show prospective partners. “They can see that you are hard working,” she says, before scuttling away with a half startled snapshot of me on her phone.
And look, it’s not as if I’m not attracting attention up here in the tropics. Everywhere I go, men, women and children stare at me, and when I catch them staring, they flash me those megawatt smiles synonymous with the South Pacific. It’s in those moments, when the humidity is bearing down on me, that I hallucinate a little and think it’s because I’m stunning, and not simply an anomaly with my blonde hair, green eyes and fair skin, that I am attracting my fair share of stares. It’s only when the baby daughter of my friend Joel, who is showing me around Rabaul/Kokopo, begins to cry uncontrollably when she sees me, that I realise they don’t get too many white women around these parts.
Which is a great shame as this is truly a beautiful country with incredible people, stories, superstitions, customs, cuisine, tradition, adventure and history. Hendrika, 33, a tour guide at the Kokopo Beach Bungalows Resort, has six distinct dots tattooed near her right eye to signify that she is from the neighbouring island of Kimbe. Hendrika says PNG once operated on an arranged marriage system and still does in some parts. But the modern PNG woman looks for a man who is “hard working, honest, has land, is good looking and strong,” she says.
Lawrence, 29, a driver at the Kokopo Beach Bungalows Resort and a Tolai man, says a woman must be “beautiful and hard working around the house”. And “sexy”, he adds.
“In PNG we think the white lady is sexy. We’ve seen a lot of movies. A PNG man and a white lady…why not?” he says.
“PNG men like a woman to look after him. I had an Australian girlfriend once but she was here for work and left after 2 years when her contract ended. Of course I cried.”
I learn that shell money is still used widely throughout the island as a type of dowry and according to Lawrence, I would be worth lots of shells.
Ellis Waragat, a 55 year old Tolai woman, says some traditions remain.
“When there is a sing sing or traditional dance the men will sleep out in the bush, dress up, put on tribal masks and oil and look shiny and they make magic and it is powerful and they can make a woman fall in love with them,” she says.
The good news, at least for me, is women can also use this special oil to attract a mate, which Ellis says is a foolproof approach.
“You put oil on your body and you put your shell money together. When you put this oil on your face any man will fall for you. Just put it on your face and people will be calling to you and talking to you…men especially.”
My time at Rabaul/Kokopo has come to an end, and unfortunately I run out of time to find a tribal man with his magic oil, but this land in which I find myself is so alluring, I hope I’ll be back. I feel there are plenty of fish in this sea, and hopefully enough shells on the beach for someone to be able to afford me.
The Global Goddess travelled to Rabaul/Kokopo as a guest of the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority. http://www.tpa.papuanewguinea.travel A special shout out to Air Niugini for assisting her with airport lounge access. Air Niugini flys weekly directly from Cairns to Rabaul. http://www.airniugini.com.pg
THE very first thing I learned when I moved to Brisbane almost 20 years ago is that the city is divided into two tribes. Those who live north of the Brisbane River, and those who live to the south. So distinct is this demarcation you could be talking about the Scottish and the English. Turns out I’m a true northerner through and through and, with some shame, admit that in two decades I’ve never ever stopped to explore the south, rather giving it a cursory glance on my way to the Gold Coast. But this all changed on the weekend when I was given the opportunity to “cross the river”, pause, and reflect on what the south has to offer. And what I discovered was that the south has soul in spades. Just as the human body has 7 chakras, here’s 7 ways you can discover the spirit of the south side.
1. Back to the bush
Redlands IndiScapes Centre is Australia’s first environmental centre for indigenous plants, and I’m stunned to learn it’s been here for 15 years and I’ve never visited. Which is my great loss, as this 14.5ha site is home to 14 demonstration gardens, more than a kilometre of walking tracks, an environmental information centre and a 600-year-old Tallowwood tree. The good news is that 55,000 visitors a year have discovered this bush beauty which hosts a range of events all designed to acquaint Brisbane residents with native plants. Bush Care Extension Officer Travis Green is passionate about this patch and works with 300 volunteers who plant 20,000 trees in the Redlands region each year. Make sure you stop for a bite in the breezy tea garden café where you can sip on lemon myrtle ice tea while eating native bush tucker.
2. Red, red wine
Regular readers will know that The Global Goddess is rather partial to a drop of wine, or three, and I am more than happy to support local wine makers, all in the name of story research and robust good health, of course. Sirromet Wines at Mount Cotton is one of Queensland’s stunning success stories, clocking up more than 780 national and international awards. Opened by businessman Terry Morris in 2000, this gorgeous property overlooks southern Moreton Bay and produced 640 tonnes, or 500,000 bottles, of wine last year. A highlight of a visit here is the timber antique wine press which dates back to 1793 and hails from the Austrian Hungarian Empire. Around 3500 people a week flock here to sample the 10 varieties of wine on offer, look longingly at the 3000 wines from around the globe in the Morris family cellar (or that could just be me), and dine in the winery’s signature restaurant Lurleen’s, lovingly named after Terry’s wife.
3. Body and Soul
A relatively new entrant to the south side, Body and Soul Spa Retreat at Mount Cotton uses products derived from Australian wild flowers in its spa treatments among this Aussie bush setting. Visitors are first asked to choose an essential oil based on which smell most resonates with them and which corresponds to either fire, water, earth or air. Retreat owner Gail Keith says the process is about balancing the “whole person” so that “you function in your whole life a lot better”. On this particular day I discover I have a strong water element, described as sensitive, intuitive and creative. And my two-hour treatment ironically includes a Goddess Youth Infusion Facial with collagen and hibiscus flower. A cup of tea brewed from native Australian flowers is offered at the end of the treatment, and my water element and me practically float on to my next appointment, looking 10 years younger, of course.
4. Into the woods
Water dragons skip over the lily ponds playing a salacious game of catch and kiss as I sit (rather enviously I might add) on the deck of my charming cabin among the scribbly gums and iron bark trees at Mt Cotton Retreat and Nature Reserve. While the seclusion is seductive, what I really adore is the fact this property has embraced the environment with both hands. Not only is this retreat certified under the internationally recognised Ecotourism Australia, they have established a 20ha private nature refuge which includes three relatively untouched eco systems and more than 75 bird species. Birds on this property have actually been formally identified and registered in the Australian Bird Atlas and in 2011, this retreat created Boom-Ber-Pee (which means koala in the language of the local Minjerribah people) a private nature reserve which protects endangered regional ecosystems and koala habitat.
5. Sit with yourself
I’d heard that the south side had a Buddhist temple but I was unprepared for just how big and beautiful the Chung Tian Temple at Priestdale actually is. The hum of Buddhist chants blends with the intoxicating sounds of silence on this 90ha bushland property which opened in 1992. The City of Logan is home to 215 nationalities and this is one heartening example of the multiculturalism this part of Brisbane embraces. A Bodhi tree, grown from a cutting of the original plant under which Buddha is said to have found enlightenment, is on this site which hosts a number of buildings and temples. Guests who give advance notice can participate in an ancient tea ceremony by donation and in which you’ll learn about the 5 different types of tea – green, red, oolong, yellow and white. In this intricate ceremony Tea Maker William Zhao will explain that tea must be drunk slowly. Even better, William believes red wine is a good for you as tea. I knew it.
6. There’s a bear in there
Another startling fact about the City of Logan that I learned on the weekend is it is home to more than 900 parks and more than 80 per cent of this city is considered “green”. Which makes it the ideal corridor for wildlife to inhabit. Turns out koalas are also huge supporters of the southside, and a really restful place in which to experience these Aussie icons is at the Daisy Hill Koala Centre. Set within the 435ha Daisy Hill Conservation Park, which, by the way, makes an ideal spot for a picnic, a handful of koalas are housed in this environmental and education centre. Now, call me un-Australian, but I’m one of those people who think koalas are a little dull. They sleep for an inordinate number of hours each day, smell a little, are pretty hairy and when they do wake, are pretty scratchy. A little like my ex-husband. But that all changed when I met Harry, the 8kg male, who sprung to life during my visit and struck this sensational pose.
7. Food, glorious food
Until now, when I thought of dining on Brisbane’s south side, I thought of the huge proliferation of excellent Chinese restaurants which pay homage to some of the first migrants to the area. But this is a region which is thriving in a number of foodie fields. From The Berry Patch at Chambers Flat to the Global Food Village at Woodridge, the NT Fresh Cucumber Farm and Riverview Herbs, there’s a range of dynamic producers doing some great stuff here. Let’s not forget the Beenleigh Rum Distillery for a bit of liquid gold, Carcamos Gourmet Caramel Apples, Poppy’s Chocolate, and last, but not least, the unusually exotic Greenbank Mushrooms – where oysters and shiitake mushrooms are grown from a log, like potted flowers. I was gifted one of these beauties and can’t wait to see what springs from its soil. Day of the Triffods or dinner on Tuesday, who can tell?
The Global Goddess explored the south side and Brisbane’s back yard as a guest of Brisbane Marketing. To discover the south side’s soul and awaken your seven chakras, go to http://www.visitbrisbane.com.au
THE River Kwai is a jade jewel as late afternoon concedes languidly to dusk. The longtail boat in which I am travelling roars and sputters like an indigent politician up the infamous waterway towards the floating jungle rafts I have come to know and love so much. Travel writers don’t particularly like returning to the same place – there’s too much world to explore – but there are some destinations which become firmly etched into your psyche. And so entrenched in your soul you are unwittingly lured back. And for me, this is one of them, in part for its brutal war history involving the bravado of Australian soldiers and in part for its sheer natural beauty.
I penned these words a year ago on my fourth trip to the rustic and incredibly beautiful River Kwai region, pondering what it was that kept drawing me back to this part of the world. I still have no answers, but the pull to return there has emerged again, and this year, I’d love to take some of you with me. And so, I am delighted to announce I have launched a new tour River Kwai Travel Writing Delights with The Global Goddess. In early August, we will be meeting in Bangkok where we will spend two nights in a luxury five-star hotel, before we embark on our journey to the River Kwai. And along the way, we’ll be observing, day dreaming and writing about our travels.
If we’re lucky, we’ll bump into my good friend Sam Season, about whom I have written before. I first met Sam Season several years ago, and over the years I have been speaking with him about the most salacious of all subjects: love. Regular readers of The Global Goddess will remember this 22-year-old tour guide, a Mon man from one of the earliest tribes to live in South East Asia. Considered neither Burmese, nor Thai, the Mon exist in a small slither of land along the River Kwai, not far from the Burmese border. The Mon number some 8.14 million people but I remain captivated by this one man. This man called Sam.
At night, he paints his face in traditional Mon markings but speaks with an English accent plucked out of a south London pub, with a smattering of Aussie twang – picked up solely from the tourists with which he works every day. He moved to this particular village when he was 9, and has been studying to finish High School since, in between working 6 days a week at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. And Sam is in love with a girl called Jaytarmon with beautiful long black hair who lives in a neighbouring village down the river. But access to this girl, like internet, electricity and hot water, are elusive in these parts. And to complicate things more, Sam is being pursued by a girl in his own village, who cooks for him and washes his clothes.
Last time we parted ways, on the banks of that beautiful river, Sam had plans to spend the year perfecting his English, so he can gain a mechanics scholarship in Australia and work towards his dream of becoming a car mechanic along the Thai/Burmese border. His plans included professing his love for Jaytarmon and asking her to wait for him and his love. Those of you who know me personally, or have met me through my words alone, know that this will be a journey of humility, heart and humour – the three cornerstones I believe make a great writer, and good human being. Please come and join me in one of the most beautiful trips I have ever done. It will change your life.
For more details on my tour River Kwai Travel Writing Delights with The Global Goddess, please click on this link: https://theglobalgoddess.com/joinmythailandtour/