AMERICAN actor Vince Vaughn is slouching in the lobby of Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, clutching a cup of coffee and a wearing face full of pain. Vince looks like he’s had a big night and I know how he feels. I’ve flown some 13 hours from Brisbane to arrive in these palatial surrounds and about the only two things that aren’t elegant in this gracious hotel lobby this morning are Vince and me. Vince is in town to film the movie Deadpool but I’m here for another pool…of fish. I have bigger fish to fry than Vince.
This is a story about fish and fear. About how three years ago when I was up in Canada on another assignment I’d heard of an amazing adventure where you can snorkel with the salmon. I’ll take any chance to snorkel or swim anywhere in the world and this story angle had me hook, line and sinker. And so late last week I found myself in Vancouver, preparing to fly over to Campbell River and the Salmon Capital of the World, to try my luck on yet another jaunty journey.
As per usual, all sorts of irrational thoughts cross my mind. Last year, when I was in Canada, I went on a walking safari with the polar bears up in Churchill but I was more frightened of the minus 14 degree temperatures than those gentle giants out on the arctic tundra. But grizzly and black bears? They seriously scare me. I’ve seen all sorts of nature documentaries where the bears wait for the salmon run and stand on the edge of the river and pluck them straight out of the water. So how, exactly, would I fit into this equation? In terms of Mother Nature’s mathematics, surely I would be more filling and tasty than a salmon?
My Campbell River cab driver Winston Pittendrigh, 76, picks me up at the airport and tells me snorkelling is not his “cup of tea”. (As a curious aside, there doesn’t appear to be a taxi driver in the Salmon Capital of the World who is under 75, so ladies, if you’re looking for love, this may not be the place for you). But I digress.
“I don’t mind the water but I’m not too keen about going underwater,” Winston says.
“There are lots of black bears around these parts. I’ve seen enough whales and bears, I don’t need to go on a tour.
“I’ve been as close as that door (he points to the passenger door) to a bear. The hair rose on the back of my neck. I opened the door and there was a bear looking at me. He looked at me for four or five seconds and then he went back to eating.
“Bears even wander into our homes of the morning. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen one of my neighbour’s porch.”
The next day, Destiny River Adventures owner and tour guide Jamie Turko, who runs the Snorkelling with the Salmon experience, warns us not to wee in his wetsuits or they will become ours, at a price. I’m a little worried, this is a three-hour tour during which we will spend a good part of the time in crisp 14 degree waters. I can’t guarantee anything and hope if I do pee myself, Jamie can’t spot it from the boat. I suspect Jamie sees everything.
Jamie gives us an extensive safety briefing and then asks us “who is responsible for your safety?”.
“You!” I respond, enthusiastically and incorrectly.
“No,” Jamie says, with a dash of disdain, “you are”.
So, I am the only thing between me and a bear. I will definitely wee in my wetsuit.
“It’s important to lay with your face in the water and to keep an eye on the river hazards, such as the many rocks you’ll dodge along the way,” Jamie says.
“The number one hazard is river rocks. You need to fly like Superman or Wonder Woman. At this water level it’s like a giant game of pinball and you are the ball.
“The number two hazard is wood. There are also lots of fisher people in the river and you don’t want to be their next catch.”
This was not in the brochure, I want to protest, but instead, I take the plunge, flying down the river like a super hero in a four-inch wetsuit, salmon whizzing past my face. At one point, caught in some whirling rapids, I think I may die, or at the very least, get hit in the head by a rock as it’s all just white water like I’m in a washing machine spin cycle. Then fear turns to bravado. How cool, I think, if I survive this, imagine explaining the gash and bruises back in Brisbane. I realise this is my very own dead pool. Perhaps Vince Vaughn needs an extra in his movie? I exit the rapids with a huge smile on my face. Jamie is sitting in the river raft grinning at me.
“That was awesome,” I yell across the river.
And I didn’t wee myself once.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Destination British Columbia http://www.HelloBC.com.au
For all the exciting details of this entire Snorkelling with the Salmon adventure, and other fishy “tails” to have in British Columbia, keep an eye out for Vacations and Travel Magazine. For a poetic version about the symmetry of salmon snorkelling on the Campbell River, keep an eye out for Senior Traveller. Both stories appearing soon.
I AM sitting in my hot Brisbane office dressed in a leopard-print summer dress, reflecting on my life as a travel writer in 2016. Let’s not beat around the boiling bush, it was always going to be a quirky one after I kicked off the year in January at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat on the Gold Coast where I spent an hour in a one-on-one mediation session with a horse, of course.
Yes, Jack, the 22-year-old horse, was quite the listener and as it turned out, I was a good learner, discovering more about myself in that paddock than years of therapists have been to unravel. Working with my breath, and the fact horses are instinctive creatures, I was able to go from having Jack walk away from me (apparently I hate rejection) to have Jack trotting around the ring by the end of the session, based purely on my inner calm and emotions. He even stopped on cue when I exhaled. In that one crowded hour I learned I am prone to being a bit of a bull at a gate, and expecting others to join me on my crazy schemes, without first checking that they’re on board. Jack, you taught me a lot.
In February, and in the name of another story, I plunged into the warm waters off Lord Howe Island for Ocean Swim Week with World Ironman Champion Ali Day and Pinetrees Lodge. I’d never swum out in the open ocean before and learned that it was far more different and difficult to the university pool in which I try to carve up a daily 1km. Swimming among reef sharks and over fantastic coral, I also learned I could overcome sea sickness in rough swells and complete an impressive 2-3km a day. I also learned I’m incredibly stubborn once I push through an initial lack of confidence. Salty and stubborn. And I wonder why I’m single.
March saw me in Fiji, working with the fine folk at the Outrigger Fiji Resort and writing stories about some innovative and compassionate community projects in which they are involved, building new kindergartens and maternity wards. That kindy opened last week and it was heartening to know I was there at that pivotal point in history with people who have so little, but find so much reason for joy. Want perspective on your life? Head to the South Pacific. Sit under a coconut tree and pull your head out of your proverbial. It will change you, I promise.
In April, I was in Germany on a beer tour, also in the name of research, and if you think I had to train for Ocean Swim Week, it’s like I was born for Beer Week. And to think successive maths teachers over the years said I would never amount to anything. Add to that a dash of Mother Nature where I summited Germany’s highest mountain…and by summit I mean taking a gondola to the top and promptly order a beer and goulash. Because I’m hard-core. I explored my animal instinct here by taking to Bavarian Tinder and I was quite the hit in Germany. Not that I had time to actually meet any of my Bavarian boyfriends, but I got the distinct impression they were different to Brisbane boys and not once did anyone send me a photo of their penis. #winning
May turned out to be a journey of a different kind where I had some long-awaited tests and surgery for health symptoms that killed a fellow travel writer last year. While my tests turned out fine, the surgery laid me up for four weeks in incredible pain, and it was a time to reflect and go inwards, something I’m not particularly good at. But when Mother Nature speaks, sometimes you have to listen and it was a good life lesson. I did have a moment of truth while awaiting those test results, questioning myself on whether I was living the life I wanted. And the answer was yes. By June, when I was back on the road in Vienna and Monaco, exploring Royal and Imperial Luxury Europe, I was thrilled. I may have even danced around the house just prior to leaving to Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again. Because I have an excellent taste in music.
In July, I braved a chilly Toowoomba trip to explore the city’s sensational street art. And it blew my socks off. Not literally, as that would have been unpleasant in the cold, but metaphorically. I also took my first trip to Darwin and again, was thrilled by the Northern Territory capital with its outdoor cinemas, national parks, and great dining and accommodation offerings. This is a city which celebrates its sunsets, with hundreds of residents and tourists flocking to the beach to watch the sun plunge into the ocean and that, in itself, was a magical moment. A destination which sells tickets to its annual festival out of an original caravan used to house homeless people after 1974’s Cyclone Tracy? You’ve gotta love that.
August saw me at Sabi Sabi Private Game Lodge in South Africa on a luxury safari and yes, I was lucky to experience the Big 5, plus all the rest. Mother Africa and her beautiful people stole a piece of my heart and I came home reeling from Jo’Burg’s street art to Robben Island where the mighty Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 year jail term. There’s usually about one month of the year where I try to stop, pause, reflect and recharge and it was September this year, which also turned out to be my birthday month, and what a delight it was to be a normal person again, catching up with friends, going to yoga classes, and just “sitting with myself” as we say in meditation.
In October, I was out on the road again, on my longest trip of the year to Canada where I started in Vancouver, sitting in a traditional indigenous sweat lodge with an elder, talking to our ancestors. But the absolute highlight of that three-week journey was the opportunity to go on a walking safari with the polar bears with Churchill Wild. I discovered that the Lord of the Arctic was to be respected, not feared, and that if we don’t manage the way we treat the planet, polar bears may be relegated to the history books.
The conservation theme continued into last month, November, when I jumped on a plane to the Maldives Outrigger Konotta Resort and spent a fascinating few days talking with a marine biologist who is trying to resurrect the reef with innovative coral planting strategies. On a monsoonal Monday I sat on the edge of a jetty weaving coral necklaces from coconut rope that would later be implanted on the reef, in a moment I will always remember when my fingers are no longer nimble and I’m too old to travel. From the Arctic, where the ice is melting, to the Indian Ocean, which is becoming too warm, I had the immense privilege of experiencing the impacts of Climate Change first hand.
Which brings me to December. In two days I’ll be boarding a plane for my last travel writing assignment of the year. And yes, this trip has another animal theme. I’ll be boarding a sailing boat and exploring beyond Bali to the islands around Indonesia, before we arrive at the land of the komodo dragons. Along the way we’ll be snorkelling with manta rays and sharks. And I cannot wait. Yes, it’s been a big year, and moments of great challenge, times when you are so jetlagged you want to weep, a deep-seated loneliness from long weeks out on the road, and a disconnect from normal life. I didn’t find the love of my life, but I know he’s out there. And when I’m out in the world, doing what I love best, hunting and gathering stories, there’s no better feeling on the planet. I wish you a Happy Christmas and may 2017 be everything you dreamed of and more.
The Global Goddess would like to thank all of the tourism and travel operators, local communities, kind random strangers, PR people, publishers, editors and fellow writers, who joined her on the incredible journey that was 2016. See you out there in 2017.
FACT: Canadians are the most polite people on the planet. How do I know this? Having spent three weeks in this beautiful land recently, I can honestly say I have never encountered a more genuine, friendly bunch of humans anywhere in my world travels. Sure, Australians are reasonably happy-go-lucky, but Canadians take it to a whole new level, apologising to YOU if you are clumsy enough to bump into them, which I did both literally and metaphorically on many occasions. Here’s a great bunch I bumped into during October.
Erika Vader (just like Darth Vader, she told me) is a lovely, young Shishalh Nation woman, who took me on a Talking Trees Tour of Vancouver’s iconic Stanley Park. Erika is one of a number of First Nations Canadians who are passionate about preserving their culture and on this tour she explains the Indigenous significance of animals and trees.
From Vancouver I travelled to Toronto, where I stayed in The Thompson Hotel. Attached to the hotel was a diner, where I met Dana. Dana in the diner was a delight. Dana and I had an enlightening conversation talking about the advantages and disadvantages of travelling the world from the perspective of a black woman, and that of a white woman. Before I left, I told Dana I was flying to Winnipeg that day. She packed me a BLT to have for lunch on the plane. Yes, Canadians really do this sort of thing.
I spent a brief night in Winnipeg getting kitted out in polar gear, before I flew to Churchill and onwards to Seal River Lodge to walk with the polar bears. Meet my Churchill Wild guides Derek and Josh, who are better known as the “polar bear whisperers”. Derek and Josh were a bit like Superman. At night, by the fire sipping wine and talking about bears and life, they were just mild-mannered Clark Kent types. But put on that polar gear and strap on a rifle, and boom, Superman. Or, in this case, Batman and Robin. If you’ve never seen two men negotiate with a 400kg male bear who is getting a bit too close to tourists, then this is the trip for you. (Is it getting hot in here?)
Just when I thought I was going to explode from the testosterone out on the Arctic tundra, I flew to Quebec, where I met Eric. Staying in a monastery is not where you’d expect to bump into “the most handsome man in Quebec” but as we know, the good Lord works in mysterious ways. Eric works as a therapist at La Monastere des Augustines, and before I met him, was told by staff that he was a good-looking cat. I’ll be the judge of that, I thought. But yep, it appears the sacred sisters of the monastery and I share the same tastes. Not only is Eric impossibly handsome, he’s also got a good heart. When he’s not at the monastery giving reflexology treatments to tired travellers such as myself (yes, he touched my feet!), he works with dying patients in the adjacent hospital for whom morphine no longer relieves their pain. Yes, I think I met the world’s most perfect man. And it’s no surprise, as Canada is that kind of place. Kinda like Australia, but with a whole lot more snow. And polar bears. And polar bear whisperers. Did I mention the whisperers?
The Global Goddess travelled to Canada as a guest of Destination Canada (www.keepexploring.com.au)
To check out more of my Canada pics, including loads of incredible street art in Toronto, head to my Instagram @aglobalgoddess
THE autumn leaves are turning from emerald green to gold and a rust red, before they reluctantly concede to the season and litter the Vancouver streets like confetti. Pause and take a deep breath and the scent of pine needles hangs in the air, redolent of crisp, fresh laundry on the line. Canadians grow melancholy at this time of year for it means winter is on its way, but visitors adore this colourful contrast.
Sitting in an Indigenous sweat lodge on the rooftop of a Vancouver hotel was never part of my plan. But that’s one of the great beauties of travel. The serendipity. And so, I find myself on a crisp Vancouver afternoon undertaking a traditional healing with Aboriginal elder Old Hands at Skwachays Lodge in which I am staying.
Old Hands is stoking the coals which will be used in my healing when I bump into him on the rooftop. I ask him what I’m about to encounter in this teepee-like structure on the roof.
“We start off with spirit calling and ask our ancestors to come and join us. We tell them we need some help. And then we ask the creator to give us a good life,” he says.
“There are four songs. We are acknowledging that we are a part of everything and everything is a part of us.
“The second round is a prayer round. Make sure you ask for what you need, not what you want because what we want gets us into trouble. The third round is a healing round to detox all the junk that is in our body. We are going to ask the creator to repair any damage to ourselves that we don’t know about. And the fourth round is a thank you round.”
Still unsure of what to expect, Old Hands tells me that some people cry during the ceremony.
“It’s just a way of letting out what’s bothering you. I get guys I work with in prisons who are all tough and stuff and then the next thing they are crying,” he says.
“I work with people in hospices who are getting ready to cross over and the one thing they are afraid of is that no one will remember them. I work with people who are fighting their addictions.”
The one thing of which Old Hands is certain, is the healing power of the sweat lodge, a gift that has been passed down to him from five generations of medicine men.
“I’ve been sweating every weekend since I was 13 and I haven’t been sick since. This is where we heal,” he says.
“I had a friend with cancer who was told he had six months to live. He came for a sweat and the spirits said he needed to do four sweats back-to-back. That was 17 years ago and he’s still alive.
“Tomorrow you will feel like you can run to Winnipeg and the next day you will feel even better. It goes on for about four days.”
We start with a smudge ceremony where we are told to toss the smoke of a burning sage bush over our body. Then we enter the sweat lodge, where it’s smoking hot and completely dark.
“We see the clearest when we are in the dark,” Old Hands says.
As the only woman inside the teepee, I am tasked with sprinkling a pinch of sage on the hot rocks, which sparkle with light. Another man in the tent softly beats a drum while Old Hans calls our ancestors.
“We are taught to be weak minded but our bodies can take a lot of punishment. It’s our minds that give up first,” Old Hands says.
“It just takes something to wake us up. Grandpa used to say ‘the turtle goes no where until he sticks his neck out’. We are all eagles being taught to be chickens. Our lives aren’t happy because we aren’t soaring. When we realise we can soar, our lives change.”
It’s so hot and dark in the tent that I almost surrender to panic, but I sit with myself and practice deep yoga breaths, willing my ancestors to give me the life answers I seek.
After the first healing round, Old Hands announces that the ancestors have told him to give me his drum to keep and that I will know what I need it for when the occasion arises. We complete the final three rounds. I sit in the dark, willing my ancestors to listen to me.
The healing ends and Old Hands asks me whether I am available to meet the women of his band tomorrow, saying the “female energy” would be good for me, but I am flying to Toronto for another story. He nods, tells me to look out of the plane window as I’m flying, saying he’ll send me a message.
The next day I spend the four-hour journey glancing from the plane, expecting to see a bird, and just as I’m about to give up, the thick clouds part and form the precise shape of a polar bear walking.
I haven’t told Old Hands that after Toronto I’m heading to Churchill on a polar bear walking safari and I shake my head, smiling wryly. When I get to my hotel room, I research the spiritual meaning of polar bears. It means rebirth and courage.
I think back to something Old Hands told me: “You’re here to do a story but your ancestors didn’t bring you to Canada just for a story. We were meant to meet.”
The ancient drum beat of my ancestors lives on.
The Global Goddess travelled to Canada as a guest of Destination Canada (www.keepexploring.com.au) For those who have wondered, the drum given to me by Old Hands travelled safely with me across Canada, and despite concerns the elk skin wouldn’t make it through Australia’s strict biosecurity laws, passed effortlessly into the country. The ancestors would approve.