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Hello and welcome to my blog formerly called Gypsy-K. Please note that I am only updating this blog while I am walking from Rome to Jerusalem from September 2015. My online home and permanent blog is at www.kymwilson.com.au. You can also sign up for pilgrim postcards and newsletters here. Thank you for being here and supporting my journey. With love and courage, Kym xx

Thursday, 31 December 2009

An Amazing Year in Review

I don’t believe in living in the past but there can be such value in looking back and reflecting on what has been. As I reflect now, I can truly see how 2009 has been such an amazing year for me. I am truly blessed.

January

In January, I procrastinated a lot. I tried to plan my journey and I changed my mind a lot until I finally booked my one way flight to Phuket. I moved out of my beloved Elwood to house-sit my sister’s place in Glen Waverley, a lovely change of pace from inner city chic to suburban tranquility. I rocked along to Neil Young and trained as hard as I ever had.

February

In February, I battled the heat of Melbourne’s hot, hot hot summer and sweated it out working in an old building with a barely functioning air conditioner. Like most other Australians, I was inspired and touched by the generosity and compassion my fellow Australians showed to the bushfire victims. I stopped working full-time so I could pack up my belongings and head to Asia, indefinitely. I celebrated my dear friend, Barb’s final period of singledom in true Aussie girl style, lots of drinks, dancing and singing.

March

In March, I enjoyed 5 day weekends only working 2 days per week until I finally became unemployed. I shopped for the perfect dress to wear to Barb and Marc’s wedding and helped them celebrate the beginning of their new life together.

April

In April I prepared to leave. I trained, cooked, cleaned and packed. I rode an amazing emotional roller coaster as I prepared to leave my loved ones and the life I knew behind. I cried a lot. And then once I was packed, I became excited. Then on the 16th April, I left Melbourne, headed for Phuket. I settled into my new home, Southern Fried Rice guesthouse and explored Kata. I contemplated renting a motorbike but was too scared after seeing too many accidents. I started training in Muay Thai in the scorching heat, my clothes soaked and dripping with my own sweat. I became an Emergency First Responder and a Rescue Diver and I started my Divemaster training. And I started to learn that "the Universe only provides what you CAN handle, nothing more and nothing less."

May

In May I learned to never, ever disrespect the (muay thai) teacher, unless of course you enjoy additional push-ups. I trained hard and graduated to Intermediate Muay Thai. Training in the heat made me so tired “my feet don’t touch the ground”. I finally broke my turtle drought, my first turtle sighting in more than 50 dives. And I enjoyed watching Thai soap operas with the thai ladies at my guesthouse even if I had no idea what was going on.

June

In June I celebrated my birthday diving King Cruise Wreck, Shark Point and Koh Dok Mai. My first birthday spent diving and my first birthday overseas. I swam 2 kilometres underwater so I could map a dive site as part of my divemaster course. I continued my Muay Thai training with my fragile, constantly bruised shins and then I was promoted to the Advanced class, a reluctant graduate. The madness of Bangla Road and Patong beckoned and I answered. I read and loved Shantaram. I finally learned to ride a motorbike thanks to Ina’s patient tuition and felt a freedom I hadn’t known existed. I ate the best mango icecream in the world but then for a change of pace I prepared to detox, giving up coffee, sugar, alcohol. I became a PADI Divemaster and then I packed up my things and went to Koh Phagnan, not for a full moon party but to fast and detox.

July

In July I went back to Phuket, detoxed and better than ever! Then I prepared said good-bye Phuket, hello Malaysia! I hung out in the Perhentians with my der friend Viv, diving and enjoying the beautiful, clear, turquoise waters of 32 degrees. I logged dive number 100 in the Perhentians, not naked but I did it in a yellow power rangers costume. I went to Sabah where I cruised the Kinabatangan river to watch Orangutans, Macaques, Proboscis monkey and birdlife galore. And I found my diving heaven. I was stunned by Sipadan. It surpassed anything I could have imagined. 3 days, 9 dives, more than 90 reef sharks and 70 turtles.

August

Then I went back to Thailand, but this time Bangkok. I caught up with my work friend, Jarrod and then met up with Viv for what I thought was one last time. I loved the bustling, beauty of Bangkok so much I stayed for another week. I walked with Tigers and bathed an elephant in Kanchanaburi and was so very blessed that the universe brought Viv back into my life. We hung out in Chiang Mai and together got pummelled at the Chiang Mai women’s prison, laughing all the while. Together we went to Pretty Pai and for the first time in my adult life I started to wear pink.

September

"Its time to taste what you most fear. Right guard will not help you here. Brace yourself, my dear...Its a holiday in Cambodia". I loved Cambodia, especially Siem Reap. I was amazed by the crumbling ruins of the temples of Angkor and did my best Lara Croft impersonation. Then I headed to Bali, looking forward to getting back into the ocean and catching up with my dear friends Ina and Arndt. It didn’t start well. I attempted to break my nose by swimming into a brick wall nose first. We went to Lembongan where I was horrified by the sights and sounds of Cock Fighting but also amazed by the beauty of the underwater world. Shivering in cold water, I saw my first ever Mola Mola, 4 of them in one dive. And my heart leapt with joy as I watched my first ever Manta Rays dance and glide before me. We travelled Bali by car and survived our little mishap. We dived Liberty Wreck and marvelled at the tiny pygmy seahorses. And spent some time chilling out in Padangbai.

October

I jumped from Bali to Java by bus and ferry. I got up at 2am to see a volcano at sunrise....Gunung Bromo...the most beautiful but surreal landscape I have everseen in my life!!! I visited Yogyakarta’s crazy bird market, drank Bintang by the pool, watched the passing clouds and ate lots and lots of gado gado.

I came full circle.....back to where it all began, Phuket. I enjoyed eating mango and sticky rice once again, the endless summer and beer o’clock. I was reminded how "the fabric of our daily world is so amazing....don't get so caught up doing stuff that you lose contact with the miracle and how mind-blowing it really is"
I swam in a sea of indecision and discovered that swimming in the sea helps with indecision :) I spent a wonderful 10 days with dearest Diana, beaches, food, diving and Phi Phi.

November

I did the longest and worst trip of my life, a visa run to Kota Bharu. I moved home on the back of a motorbike. I spent two glorious days with my dear friends Barb and Marc in Koh Lanta. I started to miss working. I enjoyed more beer o’clocks at sunset. I screamed in excitement when I saw my first ever whale shark at Shark Point. I finally made the decision to do my IDC and tried to study but was so very distracted by gorgeous weather and the beach. I was (and am) blessed to spend a lot of time with a very hot Italian man.

December

I started my IDC and prayed for time to go very slowly. I delighted as I scored some perfect 5.0’s during my course. I studied and practiced exams. I discovered I was knot-lexic and was relieved to overcome my knot-lexia. Then I faced the IE and won. I became a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor. I was so excited to speak to all my family together at the same time, in the same place at Christmas, one big chaotic conversation. I started writing again after a period of silence. I became the snorkelling queen and even a baby-sitter but with a gentle push of encouragement from my friend Ina, taught my first scuba students. And now I’m about to end this year by making some bubbles with an 8 year old girl before welcoming in the new year with friends, drinks, fireworks and hopefully lots of fun.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

A Christmas Interlude

Sometimes I forget the blessings in my life and I take for granted the basic gifts in my every day world.

Sometimes I get so caught up, following the dialogue in my head, still chasing the perfect life, still believing “I will be happy when…”, being dissatisfied with what is and longing for more, something different, instead of living in this moment and choosing happiness now.

Sometimes I let those negative emotions that simmer in the pit of my stomach reach boiling point, fuelled by too much attention, allowing the anxiousness, self-doubt and fear to engulf me in a sad sea of uncertainty.

Sometimes I overlook the wisdom of my heart, its gentleness over-ruled by the louder egocentric voice of my mind that still thinks it knows best.

Then I have moments like these, when I wake up and see all the blessings surrounding me. I realise with dismay that once again, I fell asleep, ignored my inner wisdom and followed the wrong signs. I am grateful for awakening and that the blips are only temporary.

This Christmas my life is full of blessings. I live in a tropical paradise of gentle smiles, golden sands, aquamarine warm seas, mesmerising sunsets, crisp blue skies sometimes filled with bulbous white clouds, sometimes overtaken by refreshing, tropical rain.

This Christmas my life is simple. I am without the stress of work obligations, fighting for space in the shopping centre car park, joining long queues at the supermarket check-out and demands on my time with places to be.

This Christmas I am completely free to just be and enjoy life as it is in this moment.

This Christmas I am miles away from my family and friends back in Australia but there is much love around from those near and far.

This Christmas, I celebrate all the wonderful, simple blessings in my life. I look back at the year that has been and see the many steps I have taken in this journey. Looking back, I remember, I realise and am grateful for this time and the amazing year 2009 has been for me. Letting go, being free, seeing where the winds and see may take me have lead me to this point in time with all the wonderful experiences I have had this year.

This Christmas I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be in this tropical paradise, the sun on my face, warm water lapping at my toes, for the joy that diving brings and the way it has changed my life, for the amazing people in my world, new and old, and for the love that surrounds me.

Through my writing and my photography I hope I have been able to share some of these blessings with you all.

May the spirit of Christmas stay with us all throughout 2010. May we always remember the blessings in our everyday lives, both big and small with gratitude. May love surround us always.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Diary of an IDC Candidate - Part 2: The IDC

And so the IDC began. I embarked on the Instructor journey…8.5 days of listening to presentations about the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), reviewing all the PADI courses from Discover Scuba Diving to Divemaster, learning standards, standards and more standards, and learning the PADI way to teach in the classroom, in the pool and in the open water. I turned up on my first day, cheerful but feeling a little unsure of myself and unfortunately my first session back in the pool did nothing for my confidence.

Of all the skills we demonstrated for Bent, our Course Director, I struggled to complete one of the most basic, weight belt removal and replacement underwater. I was able to remove it with ease but it then took me, what felt like 5 minutes, to replace my weight belt underwater. I just couldn't slip the end of the belt back under the clasp to do it up again. Frustrated, I started talking to myself through my regulator. “What’s going on? Why can’t I do this? This is stupid!” I muttered as I peered down at my weight belt to see what was going on. I stayed calm, kept persisting, finally did it back up and signalled “OK” to Bent. We surfaced to exit the pool and Bent commented, “Nice weight belt demonstration.” I flashed a cheesy smile and said “I know! I can’t believe it. I have never had problems with that one before.” I inspected my weight belt and then noticed the end wasn’t sitting flush which caused the initial problem and quickly replaced it with another one. Nonetheless, my inner critic gave me a hard time and I went home that evening feeling a little bit bummed.

The next two days were a bit up and down. My first confined water presentation was Partial Mask Clearing. I was so nervous trying to remember everything we had been taught and wondering if I would be able to identify the errors that my “students” (fellow IDC candidates) were instructed to make. I did OK . Well actually, it was better than OK, I scored 4.6 out of 5 and a boost to my confidence. I just needed to remember to have my hand closer to their regulator for this type of skill and remind the student of how to correct their initial error. I went home to prepare for my classroom presentation and second confined water presentation feeling positive and optimistic.

Day 3 was our first classroom presentation. I was glad that we stayed in our small group of 3 students as I have never been a fan of public speaking. My presentation was “Streamline yourself”. I had a lot of fun thinking of my non-diving analogy to use as my contact story. I settled on Formula 1 race car designs. I showed a picture and had my “students” describe its appearance, including lack of “bitsies” hanging off it that would cause drag. Preparation was more fun than delivery and I scored 4.5 out of 5. I was a little disappointed as I thought I could have done much better but it was still a passing score.

Later that afternoon we had our second confined water presentation. This time, I was teaching fin pivot by oral inflation of BCD (buoyancy control device, the jacket that scuba divers wear). Again, I was nervous. The same thoughts running through my head, trying to remember what I had been taught, hoping that I would pick up the errors that my students were told to make, which I did, albeit a little too slowly today and I scored only 4.2. Still a passing score, but the high achiever in me was disappointed with my results and I went home feeling a little bummed not knowing that everything was about to change.

Day 4 of the IDC was the turning point for me. The day that I truly believed that I could do it and I could do it really well. We started the day with our first Open Water Teaching Presentations. I taught Regulator Recovery and Mask Removal & Replacement. I was nervous and my briefing showed it, my voice quivering as I spoke. We went into Relax Bay, Le Meridien’s home reef, and dropped onto the sand at about 6 metres. I was grateful that I wasn’t the first to do my presentation when I discovered that our Course Director was one of our students. But I needn’t have worried. I identified and corrected errors on both skills with ease. I jotted down my errors on my teaching slate so I wouldn’t forget them between the surface swim back to shore, dismantling my gear and giving my de-brief. I gave my debrief and then waited for the verdict from our Course Director...and waited…and waited…because I was given my score last....and…. perfect 5.0’s for both skills. I was rapt and remember thinking “Wow, I really can do this.”

Later that day I gave my second Classroom Presentation on Finding Minimum Surface Interval using the Recreational Dive Planner Table. Again, I had a lot of fun trying to think of my contact story. I used the comparison of planning an overseas holiday with connecting flights because everyone wants to minimise the amount of time spent waiting in an airport. I actually enjoyed giving this presentation, probably because I made my “students” do most of the work, showing me where to find the answers on the table. Well, I wasn’t completely lazy, I did guide them through it. Anyway, the end result was another perfect 5.0. Three perfect 5.0’s in one day. I was doing something right and these scores positively buoyed my self-belief.

Now the course was starting to become fun. I challenged myself to create interesting contact stories for my presentations and I looked forward to my Open Water teaching presentations, wondering what errors were going to be given to my students and looking forward to identifying and correcting them. My in-water rescue demonstration was good. I felt great and started looking forward to the IE….then I hit a major hurdle….knots!

I discovered I was knot-lexic, bow-line knot-lexic to be precise. I had a major inability to tie the bowline in the pool or in the open water. I found it most confusing when I had tied one end of the rope to an object with a bowline and then had to tie the other end of the rope to another object with a bowline. I went through phases of being able to tie them on land and then in the next moment not being able to tie them. This was a very big problem because for the IE, you have to be able to tie three different knots, bowline, two half hitches and a sheet-bend, not just on land but underwater. I was almost at panic point. I could do two half-hitches and sheet bend but bowline kept eluding me. I had practised and practised at home and been able to tie them with no problem. But the first time I went into the pool to tie the lift bag to the weight belt, everything just looked different. I couldn’t tell one end of the rope from the other and I struggled to tie the knots. Eventually I succeeded but not in an easily repeatable manner. My stress levels began to rise. “I am going to fail the IE because I can’t tie a stupid knot” I thought to myself.

I began to carry a rope with me everywhere and every opportunity I had, I practised tying the bowline. I talked myself through it. “Lake is in front of the tree, snake comes out of the lake, around the tree and back into the lake." Sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t. “Jeepers, I am an intelligent person, but I can’t tie a simple knot. What’s going on here?!”

Just when I though I had it conquered, I discovered, in the open water, that I still hadn’t perfected the knot. I volunteered to tie the lift bag to the weight belt first, thinking I would be able to do it easily but I still couldn’t get it right. After several attempts, I shrugged my shoulders and raised my palms to Adriano, our Staff Instructor, asking what I was doing wrong. He tied the knot in front of me but I still didn’t get it. Raising the lift bag was no problem but attaching it? Oh dear. My stress levels took a sharp rise.

I became distracted in class. Focusing more on tying knots than listening to the presentations in class. I would sit there and my rope to the rings in my binder, untie, re-tie, untie, re-tie. Just when I thought I had it sussed, I went back out in the open water for a practice session and I still struggled to tie them easily. “Why?!!!!” I exclaimed to myself, close to tears. “It really shouldn’t be so hard”. Then, after watching my friend Ina demonstrate the knot slowly, I finally figured out where I was going wrong. “Ahhhh, now I get it. You have to hold the snake’s tail, and pull the tree”. After that, I had no more problems. I tied, un-tied, re-tied the bowline, perfectly, every time with ease. Now I felt ready to go to the IE.

The IDC passed quickly. My days were timetabled and full of the things I needed to learn to pass the IE, lots of information to absorb and lots of practice. Every day started at 9am and I generally didn’t leave Le Meridien until 4pm every day but my day didn’t finish then. Although I still found time for Beer O’Clock with my friends, every night was filled with preparation and study and of course, knot tying. No sooner had it begun, the IDC was over. I had passed. It was time for the IE.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Diary of an IDC Candidate - Part 1

I’ve been silent for quite a few weeks now and this is the reason why…..

My longing for stillness, to be in the one spot and stop moving around has been fulfilled. Apart from my temporary departure to obtain a new visa, I have spent 6.5 weeks in one place. Despite the stillness, I decided to listen to the very specific instructions given to me in a dream, those instructions being, “Kym, stop being so afraid and do your IDC” (Scuba Instructor Development Course) which have now taken me on a whole new roller coaster ride. At first, I wrestled with the decision; Should I do it? Do I want to do it? Do I want to work as a Scuba Instructor? Will I be good at it? Should I spend the money? What if I’m not good at it? What if I fail? My mind and inner word have been clouded by fear and doubt. I spent two weeks on the yes, no, maybe roller coaster and then finally I committed to doing it and enrolled myself in the course. I tried to write several times during my period of silence but my inner world was such a whirl, I was constantly distracted by my emotions and thoughts that I struggled to string together anything of real meaning.

Yesterday was prep day where I met my class mates, completed paperwork, revised some theory and snorkeled 800 metres. The course officially started today. I am nervous and anxious. As soon as I wake up, these emotions start flowing forcefully from my belly. My doubting self chimes in and the self-deprecating thoughts commence. Maybe you’re not good enough, maybe everyone else is better, maybe you will fail and so forth.

My dive instructor friends have all reassured me that I will pass. And in fact there is a wager going that I will pass. But despite all of this, my self-doubt is high. Despite everything I have achieved in my life, the self-doubter within me still thrives. I thought that perhaps I had made peace with her this year. By leaving Melbourne and travelling by myself, I have learned so much about me and been reminded many times over that I can do anything that I put my mind to. But the self-doubter within still persists and this is part of the reason I must do my IDC…to overcome my self doubt.

Self-doubt is not the only factor generating my fear. Becoming a Scuba Instructor is a fairytale dream I had a few years ago. Deep down I wished for it to come true but it has taken a long time for me to even acknowledge this longing yet alone allow it to be a real possibility in my world and not just some nonsense, illogical dream. Now I am following my desire and hoping with all my heart that it comes true but there is fear of disappointment, of not succeeding, of not being good enough. In pursuing my dream, there is risk of failure and perhaps crushing my heart and my hopes in the process. But where there is great risk there is also great rewards. So I am chasing the dream.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Running For Stillness

When I left Melbourne back in April, I had no idea that I would end up spending so much time in Phuket. It definitely was not my intention. I came to Phuket to complete my divemaster, train in Muay thai and then move on. Move on I did, but I found myself drawn back in October to rest after a few months on the road and finish my Teaching English course before moving on to India.

Returning to India has always on my agenda. My short visit last year left me captivated, intimidated, shocked, over-awed and wanting more. I have planned most of my other travels and activities so I would be in India by November when the weather is generally better, not too hot or wet. When I arrived back in Phuket I purchased a new Lonely Planet India guide and I started researching and drawing inspiration for my trip.

At first I was flooded with ideas; Mumbai to catch up with a friend and attend a wedding, Goa for some chillout and beach time, Meditation at Oshodam, Yoga in Rishikesh, a very long trek around the south of India and diving on the Andaman Islands. The possibilities were endless and exciting, I was in the process of creating a magical journey. But before I knew it, the excitement gave way to tiredness, a craving for stillness and a cease to my manic movement, at least for a while.

India is big. Much bigger than it seems on paper and this trip was going to require movement, a lot of it. I wondered if I could just pick a couple of places and go for a shorter period of time, but that didn’t feel right either, almost like compromising the vision. I sat with my indecision and waited, knowing that it would sort itself out eventually. And it did, but not in a way I expected it to.

I was woken up one morning, out of a peaceful slumber, by a voice giving me very clear and firm instructions, that it is time to face some fears. No I haven’t gone crazy, but it was clear to me that my higher self was trying to help and give me some direction. In that moment, the decision was ultimately made. I was not going to India. I was not going anywhere. I am going to stay in Phuket.

Judge Phuket on the surface and you will find a large island that is a tourist mecca, crowded with resorts, too many tourists, cheap imitation goods, numerous bars mainly filled with working girls and a lot of sex tourism. But there is a beauty to this island and an ease of being that I have craved for a long time and that I have unexpectedly found here in this tourist metropolis.

Phuket abounds in beauty; divine sunsets over the Andaman sea, white sandy beaches, a warm and tropical sea whose embrace cleanses and purifies every time I am in its embrace. There is simplicity of being. A roof over my head, food on my plate, my needs are simple here. There is freedom; jump on a motorbike and go wherever my heart desires. There is fun and friendship; dinners, beer o’clock, mini-golf and too much fun. And there are personal challenges to face with much support around me.

So that’s how I now find myself running for stillness. I have just travelled 740 kilometres overnight in a mini-bus from Phuket to Kota Bharu in Malaysia so I can get a new tourist visa to stay another two months in Phuket. The journey was long, uncomfortable and sleep deprived. Humans were not meant to sleep sitting upright. But even with all the discomfort, I still found reason to be over-awed with life. I witnessed the fading of the full-moon in the pre-dawn sky as the sun began to rise over foggy fields of green, pearly pink streaks in the sky illuminating the grey puff clouds, the scene was reminiscent of country Victoria in an Autumn dawn. I watched as the sun became shrouded by thick grey clouds and as its fiery orange copper glow emerged through an oval gap in the clouds, fighting to be seen. I wanted to scream for the bus to stop, stop, please stop, be still so I could take all of this magic in. But this was not the time. I stayed silent, and the bus kept hurtling along.

The running was long. Almost 16 hours after leaving my home in Karon I was finally able to check into my hotel at 1.30pm where I soon fell into an exhausted sleep. Tomorrow morning I pick up my visa and repeat the epic journey back to Phuket. Running back to stillness, and to the simplicity of being.


Sunset over Karon Beach 16th October 2009

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Call

I am mesmerised by another sunset. The sun has become a perfectly circular blood orange disc as it begins its final descent behind the thick, grey clouds low on the horizon. I am not the only one who has noticed the beginning of the end of light for another day.

The first call to prayer pulses over a stilling Yogyakarta. Its deep, hypnotic melody, passionately calling for the attention of those who hear the cry, reminding them of the time of day, to pray to Allah in gratitude and praise.

I am not muslim but I, too, feel the call. I don’t comprehend the words and I don’t understand the exact nature of what is being asked or instructed or reminded. But the energy of the call connects to something deep within myself, something ancient and timeless. It leaves me feeling like I have heard the call before. And as much as I don’t understand the words of the call, I have this great sense of knowing and understanding of something my logical mind cannot comprehend, of something far bigger than I. I am being asked to stand still and to remember, to remember who I really am and the whole of which I am a part.

I hear the call. And for this moment, in this stillness, I heed the call and am flooded with peace, grace, gratitude and humility. And I remember. I do not understand but I remember.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Moments like these

I have just witnessed a spectacular sunrise over the Tengerra crater and am about to climb Mount Bromo which lies in the centre of the caldera. It is 6.30am. I have been up since 1.30am and am in desperate need of a caffeine hit to keep me going. I order my coffee with milk and take a seat on the plastic stool and wait for it to be served. That’s when I notice her beside me. I didn’t see her when I first entered the coffee shack, too preoccupied with meeting my objective of having a hot cup of coffee in the shortest amount of time so as not to keep my volcano friends waiting too long.

Her little legs cloaked in faded and mottled pale blue tracksuit pants, , swing back and forth in a slow and gently rhythm, too short to touch the ground from her stool. With a timid curiosity, she peeks at me from under her lemon hooded sweatshirt, also faded and mottled. Her big dark black brown eyes meekly searching my own. I smile at her.

“Hello” I say gently, bowing my head down slightly towards her.

She does not respond but continues to look at me, her eyes full of curiosity.

My coffee arrives. I hold the cup and saucer in my hands and start sipping at the hot, sweet liquid. I let out a sigh of contentment. Maybe now the feeling will return to my feet, numbed from standing in the cold air at 2770 metres above sea level for almost two hours in my Birkenstocks, the only footwear I have with me. Sipping my coffee, I turn to look at my little companion again. She is still staring at me.

I smile at her. “Hello” I say again.

She leans forward and in a soft and quiet voice says something to me, but I don’t understand. She spoke in Indonesian. I shrug my shoulders and bob my head in an expression of apology.

“I don’t understand Indonesian” I tell her and smile warmly at her.

We continue to look at each other as I sip my coffee. I wonder how old she is. She looks so young and small. I point at her and hold up three fingers.

“Are you three?” I ask.

She shakes her head negatively.

“How old are you?” I ask.

She holds up four fingers.

“Are you four?” I ask.

She then adds her thumb, showing me five.

“Oh, are you four, almost five?” She doesn’t indicate yes or no and continues to stare at me.

In her left hand she is holding a little fluffy bag with a stuffed dog on it. She swings this back and forth in time with her legs.

“I like your bag” I tell her and touch it with my finger, hoping to get a response from her. “It’s very cute.”

She continues to stare at me without responding.

I take another sip of my coffee, and then unexpectedly, she holds her hand up for a “High 5”. I tap it lightly with my hand with a gentle laugh. I notice our skin is the same colour but my hand is five times bigger than hers. Then she moves her hand down low to “give her 5”. I bring my palm down on top of her upraised palm, gently, laughing softly. I smile at her and she looks back at me from beneath her hoodie, her legs still swinging back and forth.

My coffee has cooled and it is time for me to go. So I scull the remainder of my coffee in one big gulp.

“I have to go now” I tell her, my head on the side, my smile replaced by a more serious expression. I take her right hand in mine and shake it gently up and down.

“It was nice to meet you” I say and smile.

To my surprise, she takes my big hand in both of hers and guiding it towards her, bends forwards and places a short, sweet kiss on the top of my hand. I gasp silently, not expecting this loving gesture. I respond by guiding her little hand towards me and also placing a soft kiss on her hand. I get up from my stool, look at her one last time, say “Bye, bye” and walk out of the coffee shack.

Sunrise over the volcanic landscape was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed but it is the unexpected gift of love from this little Indonesian girl that I treasure most from this day.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Awesomeness of Clouds

In my old life, I rarely looked at the sky apart from the daily cursory glance to see whether the day would bring rain or shine, or on the occasion that a sunset caught my attention. I rushed through my life, my eyes towards the earth focused on where I would place my next hurried step.

The sky is always above me, night and day. There is comfort in this knowledge but an ignorant invisibility as well.

Now my life is slower, simpler and more time is spent outdoors. Now, I pay attention, I watch, I observe, I see.

The sky is rarely ever the same. Even when it is clear, the hues of blue are always subtly different. But the real beauty in the sky are the clouds. They appear, seemingly out of nowhere. My mind knows that there is a science behind their formation but this matters not to my heart.

I stare with child-like wonder at the magnificent white fairly floss puffs that hang in the sky. The formations are so huge and thick, they look as if I could bounce up and down on them before snuggling into a warm and restful slumber. Never before have I seen clouds so amazing as these. Everyday that I walk the streets of the places I travel, I look up at the sky and marvel at the awesomeness of clouds.





Monday, 7 September 2009

Tears for Torture

As my double-decker bus steadily steams through the streets of Phnom Penh, taking me north to Siem Reap, I gaze out my window, absorbing the sights of Khmer life. Women, wearing colourful but non-matching skirts and shirts selling fruit on the side of the road, some holding young babies or toddlers playing around their feet; families gathered together eating lunch of rice and curry; motorbikes carrying one or two or three or more passengers whizzing past in the opposite direction; contrasts of golden temples, drab coloured low-rise buildings and french colonial architecture which, once across the murky Tonle Sap, quickly give way to simple thatched and wooden stilt houses amidst watery plains of green.

I try to imagine the passing landscape during the Vietnam War and under Khmer Rouge rule but my mind won’t let me go there, for the realities of that time are too horrific for me to fathom fully or even begin to visualise in a real way.

As I walked through the rooms of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which was Security Prison 21 (S21) under the Khmer Rouge regime, my heart wept silent tears: looking at rows and rows of photographs of the faces of innocent victims taken when they first arrived there; looking at the metal framed beds that they were tied to and tortured in the most horrendous ways during interrogation; looking at rows of photos of lifeless faces staring at me; looking at cabinets full of skulls who were the fortunate ones to be shot through the head rather than being bludgeoned before having their throats slashed by a machete to save bullets.

Now as I write this, I fight back great big aching sobs, for the senseless pain these people endured and the loss of life for nonsensical reasons. I simply cannot understand how one human can intentionally inflict pain and torture on another for any reason. Worse still, in this time, where the Khmer Rouge atrocities are abhorred, how some of those responsible do not appear to feel any remorse.

I stared at a photo of a young Cambodian girl held at S21. In her young face, I saw mine reflected. In her eyes, lost hope of surviving yet alone realising all her dreams in life. In her down-turned lips, I saw and felt immense sadness. My heart weeps for her as it weeps for myself if my life were to end now without the opportunity to fulfil my potential.

As I travel around Asia, and see with my own eyes, poverty and the impacts of war, I become more and more grateful for being born in my body, to a loving family, in fortunate circumstances, in a peaceful country. Lest we ever forget past wars, conflict and genocides. May we all be beacons of love, peace, compassion and acceptance. May all that divides us dissipate so we can live the oneness that we are.


Thursday, 27 August 2009

Halting the High Speed Train

A little over eight weeks ago, my life as a gypsy commenced when I left Phuket, the place I had come to know as home for two and a half months. Since then, my life has been one of continuous movement and activity. Some days are spent completely in transit from early morning to evening as I move to my next chosen destination.

I have spent hours on different modes of transportation; buses, planes, ferries; hours sitting in uncomfortable seats sometimes my personal space encroached upon by my neighbour. Hours in barely tolerable heat when air-conditioning and the curtains struggle to mute the effect of the mid-day sun beating on the window beside me. I have spent hours waiting for my transportation to depart to my next destination. And hours packing and re-packing my wheelie backpack to ensure everything fits and I do not exceed weight limits. I have spent hours determining how to get from A to B trying to find the right balance between speed and cost and waiting. I have spent hours and hours walking, my favourite way to explore and feel a new city or town, often getting lost but always finding my way. And naturally I have spent hours indulging in my favourite activities, diving, taking photos and writing.

Deciding where to go, how to get there and then actually doing it, is exciting. I am writing my own adventure story every day and living it as well. In my eight weeks as a gypsy I have….
• Detoxed on Koh Phangan, an Island Paradise
• Dived the Perhentian Islands
• Snapped my way around Kuala Lumpur from Chinatown to Palace to Mosques to Petronas Towers to Menarra Tower to browsing books in Kinokuniya to butterfly park to craft shopping
• Climbed 272 steps to see the amazing Batu Caves
• Paid respects to WWII PoW’s at Sandakan Memorial Park and in Kanchanaburi
• Ventured into the wilds of Borneo to see an Orangutan, proboscis monkeys, long-tail macaques and an enormous amount of bird life.
• Spent 6 glorious days diving around Semporna, 18 dives in total, 9 dives of which were around Sipadan, the most amazing diving I have ever experienced
• Temple hopped in Bangkok where I have seen too many Buddha images to mention all of them but most special were the giant golden Buddha, giant reclining Buddha and Emerald Buddha.
• Traversed the Chao Phrya river and its klongs and seen a different way of life
• Patiently endured Bangkok traffic
• Floated around Bangkok’s floating market, survived the crush at Khao San night market and shopped till I dropped at Centralworld
• Enjoyed the afternoon aerobics at Lumphini Park (as a specatator)
• Climbed the steep steps of Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) only to remember that I am scared of heights and realise that climbing down is much scarier (looking down) than climbing up
• Touched a cobra and watched men fighting snakes
• Unexpected found myself lost in the middle of huge crowds celebrating the Thai Queens’ birthday
• Drank the yummiest cocktails at Bamboo Bar at the Oriental Hotel in my very pretty new dress with my lovely dear friend and eaten random street food
• Ridden a bicycle, yes pedal power, all around Kanchanaburi which just happened to be hotter than Bangkok
• Walked the Bridge over the River Kwai and the Death Railway
• Climbed to the top of the 7 tiered Erawan Waterfalls (in my birkenstocks) and then swam the beautiful pools of fresh water with the nibbling fish
• Patted tigers and bathed an elephant
• Ridden a bicycle, yes more pedal power, around the ruins of ancient Sukhothai which happened to be even hotter than Kanchanaburi.

And all of this, I have done under my own speed and direction

But I arrived in Chiang Mai, approximately 10 hours north of Bangkok, nearly 7 days ago, exhausted. My desire to see and experience this charming city is strong, but the energy to enable the fulfillment of my desire is so heavily depleted, it is almost non-existent. I wake in the mornings and eventually drag my heavy body out of bed. I walk around town slowly, willing one foot in front of the other. I try to stay present and follow conversations but the tiredness fogs my brain and even if I am able to follow, the attempt to do so drains my low energy stores even further.

I feel my body want to crumple in a heap and lie down wherever I may be, sitting in a crowded coffee shop or walking through a crowded market. The tiredness sits behind my eyeballs, wanting to cast its dark net of sleep over my sight and pull me into a deep and peaceful rest. But I don’t allow it. My wanting to make the most of my short time in this city, a place I may never return to, acts as a drive to keep me going. My brain constantly chatters in the background “you should do this, you should do that, you should see everything, you should make the most of your time here, you shouldn't waste the opportunity”. But for all the shoulds, my body and my soul crave rest and deep stillness.

When I stop and listen to my innermost core, it gently whispers, “rest, be still, be kind to yourself, you don’t have to do it all”. The longer I ignored this and indeed fought this, the more tired and exhausted I became. I have been living my life as a short-term holiday maker but I am a long-term traveller. I have been attempting to sprint over a long distance instead of maintaining the pace of a marathon runner. A sprinter cannot make the distance I intend to traverse.

So, finally, I gave in and listened to my inner longing. I gave myself permission to do nothing and to enjoy doing nothing. Hours have been spent enjoying massages, drinking coffee, eating, and watching life happen before me. And finally after 7 days of exhaustion, I feel the fog of tiredness lifting and my sense of adventure and excitement return.

It’s not only been the rest that has helped, the universe has stepped in and reminded me not to plan too far ahead and to take things as they come. I had the next few months planned out, Cambodia then Indonesia, then a month back in Phuket in preparation for six months in India. I loved knowing which direction I was heading in and feeling excited about my plans for the next few months. But some unexpected news has thrown a cloud of uncertainty over where I will be in a few months time. I have thrown all my cards into the air and am just waiting to see where they fall. And the waiting, the not knowing is exciting! It has helped to further lift the fog of tiredness and reignite the fire inside. I am learning that it doesn’t matter where I go or what I do or how much I do as long as I enjoy the journey and not doing can be far more enjoyable than doing anything at all.







Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Stunned by Sipadan

Sipadan. Wow. I could almost stop there because I’m not sure that my words can adequately convey or do justice to the magical beauty of the underwater world surrounding this small island, 36 kilometres off the coast of Semporna in the Celebes Sea. The true magic of Sipadan cannot really be believed until you have been there yourself and seen it with your own eyes. I know this because I have read about Sipadan and heard stories from friends and other divers about Sipadan but none of it prepared me for what I saw. Not even photographs can capture and convey how extraordinary this place really is. Sometimes, the only way to understand something is to experience if yourself.

From the moment I descended on that first dive, below the surface of the Celebes Sea, I was literally gob-smacked. I felt like I was in a dream and stared with incredibility at the life swarming around and past me. There was so much life, at times it seemed that my Malaysian guide, John, was continuously banging on his tank to get our attention and pointing one way and then seconds later banging on his tank and pointing in another direction. First pointing up, then down down, left, right., up and down again. All I could do was look at John, shrug my shoulders, hold my hands palm up in front of me in disbelief and laugh through my regulator whilst tears of joy welled in my eyes.

Since 2005, Sipadan Island has been under the management of Malaysian Parks and Wildlife. The five resorts that were operating on the island have been dismantled. Only one hundred and twenty visitors are allowed on and around the island each day to dive or snorkel and visitors are not permitted to stay on the island. This means pre-planning a trip to Sipadan because most of the dive shops only have seven permits each and these can sell out anywhere from two weeks to two months in advance. However, the result of limiting the number of people on the island is that the dive sites are pristine. There is next to no rubbish or coral damage and there is an absolute abundance of life.

Four minutes into my first dive at a depth of twenty eight metres, I stared in disbelief as a white tip reef shark cruised by about ten metres to my right. It glided gracefully, its fins swaying elegantly side to side as it snaked its way through the water. My breathing increased fivefold from its normal, calm, even pace and my eyes opened wider with delight. I even managed to smile whilst keeping my regulator firmly in my mouth. Onwards, as we glided farther through the water, my eyes opened even wider with incredibility at all the different types of fish before me, many I had never seen before and am still unable to identify. Then fourteen minutes into the dive, another two white tip reef sharks go cruising past my right hand side and on into the deep blue distance. I clapped my hands with glee for the first time that day. Twenty minutes into the dive and another white tip reef shark glides two metres below me. I hovered in the water watching in awe as it disappeared into the distance. Four reef sharks in twenty minutes!

A few minutes later, John tapped rapidly on his tank to get our attention yet again. He points up towards the surface and there silhouetted in all its majesty is a turtle swimming through the water. Watching a turtle move through the water is one of the most amazing sights to see and one of the reasons I adore them. On land they are heavy and awkward, but in the water they move with such grace, ease ad speed. Their two front fins powerfully paddling them through the water effortlessly and allowing them to glide as gracefully as an eagle through the air. And whilst their movement may appear steady and slow, it is hard work if not at times impossible trying to keep up with one swimming off into the distance.

My fondest turtle moment came as a complete surprise. John took me through a small upward slanting opening in the limestone wall, what we call a swim-through. Up I slowly floated, careful not to touch the coral lining the wall. As I came to the top of the swim through and flicked my fins to swim out into the blue again, I looked to my right, and no more than 30 centimetres away was a sleeping hawksbill turtle. It was so close I could have hugged and kissed it. I giggled, first in surprise and then in glee and looked at John, clapping my hands to indicate my joy and appreciation.

As we floated on the surface after this first dive, waiting for our boat to come and pick us up, I was speechless. I could not find one word to describe how I was feeling about what I had just experienced. The best you could get out of me was some incomprehensible spluttering and head shaking. I had seen a total of six reef sharks and two turtles on this dive, the most I had seen one dive. But it was not just the sharks and the turtles that had left me in awes, it was the abundance of life and the condition of the site that had me shaking my head in disbelief. I could not bring myself to imagine what my remaining dives would be like. Was it possible that they could surpass this dive?

Dive two was Barracuda Point which delivered on its name. As we descended, another huge green turtle was swimming down directly below my path of descent. I looked at John, pointed to the turtle and again clapped my hands with glee and crossed my hands over my heart. Minutes after descending, there was a school of silvery Jacks just to our right. These fish were at least sixty centimetres in length and there were hundreds of them, moving together in a tight group. John lead the way, his hands together in an outward prayer position and created a parting in the school of fish. We swam through, surrounded by these large fish on our left, right, before us and behind us. Incredible.

On we went, and John’s consistent tank-banging commenced as the reef sharks started to cruise by. I stopped counting after twelve. I was amazed at how many there were and how frequently they were cruising by, I completely lost count. The highlight of this dive, was not the sharks, but the massive battery of Barracuda. Each fish was over one metre in length. I have seen schools of them in the past, but nothing as large as this. There were hundreds of them. We settled down on a rocky patch, close to the circling school and just watched them for ten minutes. Then slowly, we edged our way forward into the circling whirlpool of movement and settled ourselves down on the bottom again. We were surrounded by these giant silver striped fish of the sea, circling just above our heads.

Suddenly I was feeling a little anxious. I was wearing my Nana’s engagement ring that my Mum gave to me for my 21st birthday present. I always wear this ring, very rarely do I take it off, not even for diving. It is yellow and white gold with a small diamond in it. Nothing huge but it is a pretty diamond with its own small sparkle. Suddenly I remembered stories I had heard about how Barracuda are attracted to shiny objects. “Uh oh” I thought to myself. I have hundreds of these fish around me and one little finger with a little sparkly jewellery on it. I turned the ring around so the diamond was on the palm side of my hand. I then attempted to hide my fingers by tucking arms firmly under my arm pits. Fortunately the barracuda showed no interest in my little bit of bling and my fingers survived intact.

We moved on, and not more than a minute after we left the circling school of barracuda, another white tip reef shark passes us by. Then we come across a small school of yellowfin barrucuda. As we were distracted by this school, I catch sight of a white tip reef shark cruising from my left to my right. I grab John’s fin and point excitedly. Then we notice not one, not two, but three of them swimming by. I look at John, shrug, palms up, and shake my head in disbelief, yet again. John covered his heart with his hands and made an audible “ahhh” sound through his regulator. Was this the most amazing dive ever? At the time I thought so but that was before I had completed dive number three.

Dive tgree was at a site called Drop Off which can easily be reached by strolling out from the beach. The wall at this site literally drops away at an angle of seventy-five degrees for six hundred metres. Again we were surrounded by life, unicorn fish, groupers, angel fish, moorish idols and bannerfish, batfish and again, we were circled by great schools of jacks and barracuda. The marvel of this dive was the amount of “big” life that passed us by. I lost count after twelve reef sharks and ten turtles. We even saw a leopard shark sitting on a rocky outcrop. In mathematical terms, that was a turtle or shark at least every two minutes of the dive (not including barracuda and jacks). This dive was just amazing, like nothing I had experienced before. Again after we surfaced, I was lost for words. I shook my head in disbelief with a huge grin on my face. I was amazed, incredulous, supremely happy and feeling such gratitude for this amazing planet we live on and the privilege of diving somewhere so beautiful.

My favourite dive on Sipadan, and in fact, the best dive I have ever had, was my seventh dive on a site called South Point . The current here was strong and we drifted along at great speed at a depth of twenty-eight metres for the first part of the dive. Every which way I looked there was a shark or a turtle. On this dive we saw a total of twenty-four reef sharks and ten turtles. At around fifteen metres depth, we came across a sandy and rocky flat patch where there were eight white tip reef sharks resting on the bottom. John indicated to us that this is where the sharks come to sleep. We settled ourselves on the bottom and watched as the sharks rested and some swam around. They appeared to be very inquisitive and curious about us. The longer we stayed where we were, the closer they came to us, looking directly at us.

I was lying on the bottom on my stomach in a nice relaxed position. Twisting onto my right or left hand side occasionally to watch as one of these majestic creatures cruised by and behind me One seemed to have taken a particular fancy to me as it swam up and back down my left hand side a couple of times. Then before I knew it, it was gliding right over the top of my fins. I have never had a shark approach me this close before. Although I know these sharks are generally placid, having one come this close to me was unexpected, and the tiniest tinge of fear coursed through my body which quickly transmuted to exhilaration. I exhaled a little squeal, part delight, part fear, part relief through my regulator.

Jacques Cousteau said of Sipadan in 1964, "I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art". In my very limited diving experience, Sipadan compares to nowhere else I have seen. It is a place of such beauty that it is a natural artwork. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to dive here and realise one of my dreams. I can only hope that the Malaysian government can continue to protect and preserve this very special place to ensure the proliferation of the creatures who call Sipadan home and so future generations can see and experience the magic of this underwater paradise in a pristine state.


Photos taken by John, Sipadan Scuba

School of Jacks

Battery of Barracuda

Great Trevally

Green Turtle

Green turtle gliding gracefully

Little turtle sleeping a barrel sponge

Whitetip Reef Sharks - trifecta!


Whitetip Reef Shark

Thursday, 23 July 2009

This is my Kuala Lumpur and Perhentians

Grey, hazy skies, feet fish spas, Petronas Towers, murky river, the importance of Mosques and the call to prayer.
More men than women on the streets, ice Kopi, Chinese donuts, large Tiger beers in Chinatown, walking till my feet hurt and lower back cramps.
Photos lots of photos, discovering Malay time is just like Thai time (things happens when they happen).
Pollution, traffic chaos, confused by the existence of pedestrian lights that don’t ever seem to work, being stalked and bluntly propositioned by overly keen men, inwardly amused by Abinga Lord and the book he wrote that he carries with him as a “pick-up” tool.
Experiencing cupping but not expecting the paint-ball bruises, amazing Batu Caves, witnessing separateness, happiness cloaked and veiled but existing somewhere beneath the surface.
Mobile phone towers “disguised” as trees, light poles “disguised” as flowers, restaurants every third shop and always full of people, late night eating and people every where.
Calls for help always answered, witnessing that politeness is always appreciated even when you are sick to death of being hassled to buy DVDs or take a taxi and you want to tell them where to go but bite your tongue and respect their spirit as a human being.
Homelessness, scavenging, begging, sleeping on streets, hardness of life, poor as well as rich, BMWs, Mercedes, Hermes, Prada, Jimmy Choos.
Not understanding menus, what am I ordering…is it meat? No it’s chicken…aggghh.
Markets, same same as Thailand, imitation everything, Tiffany, Ed Hardy, Nike.
7 Eleven makes me feel at home and Kinokuniya is my Borders away from home except all the books are wrapped in plastic so I can’t browse properly.
Experiencing incredible foot reflexology and amazed by the accurate identification of other health issues just by touching my fet, early morning whistle blowing but never discovering the purpose, stunning tropical flowers, butterflies beautiful butterflies and being followed by dragon flies.
Happy to visit but happy to leave.

And this is my Perhentians…

Discovering that the “ferry” is actually a tiny speed boat and I’m required to wear a life jacket, unsure if I’m going to make it there dry if at all.
Paradise found, turquoise crystal clear waters, golden sands, mountainous tropical jungle, no land traffic only boats, swimming in a blue lagoon caressed by 31 degree water,
Lightning flashes, rolling thunder and rain by night, both soothing and exciting the senses.
Hours spent hanging out with and talking to a dear friend, dreaming, planning opening my mind to to new adventures, new possibilities, expanding self-imposed boundaries, releasing fears and guilt, strengthening intuition, remembering life is short and to live without regrets at what makes me smile.
Awesome diving, stunning pristine reefs, abundant life, swimming through and above thousands of schooling big eye snapper, sighting my first Coral Cat Shark, Emperor Angel fish and Black Tip Reef Shark, meeting George the three-legged Hawksbill Turtle, completing my 100th dive wearing the yellow power ranger.
Eating my daily lunch of succulent, addictive freshly caught fish (extra salad minus the chips), Carlsberg or Tiger beer whatever hasn't yet run out consumed with hot fried vegie spring rolls.
Experiencing the “an iguana just went down the back of your top and now the front of your top” wake up call and laughing so hard I cried.
Cold water showers, living in a room with electricity but no power outlets, sleeping on a mouldy pillow, living with constant dampness, but it all matters not.
Surrounded by couples and families and wondering what has happened to single travellers.
Being asked if I have been playing paint-ball when a stranger catches sight of the cupping bruises on my back.
Laughing at my adventurous friend who has climbed ice-capped volcanoes, hiked unguided for days and climbed massive boulders but who is scared of fish and coral but inspired by her courage nonetheless.
Loving that there is nothing else to do but dive, swim, lie in the sun, read, write, eat and drink beer.
Living care-free and experiencing peace, inner bliss and natural perfection.

Happy Sad

I was on my way to the Perhentian Islands on the 18th July and I found myself feeling happy sad:

Happy to be heading back to the sea, diving and my new beloved friend Viv.
Happy to leave Kuala Lumpur behind me, happy to have had my time there, happy to have fallen in love with photography again and the world through the lens.
Happy that I managed to navigate myself to Batu Caves and the airport the cheapest way possible.
Happy, laughing, joyous tears welling in my eyes as I sing along to terrible Malaysian covers of Bryan Adams and Bon Jovi on the bust to the airport at 7.30 in the morning.
Sad as the realisation hits that a friendship I treasured has changed forever.
Sad because instead of living in the present moment with what is, I once again discover that I’ve been living in the past.
Happy because I consciously recognise this and I can honour that part of me that is sad.
Happy because in knowing and feeling sadness, I am alive, really living and experiencing vivid contrasts of life in all its highs and lows.
Happy because this reminder of the impermanence of life experience calls for me to treasure every moment fully as it occurs and while it lasts.
Sad because in this moment I miss my family and friends back home and the caring, soothing, loving embrace of their physical presence.
Happy because their love transcends distance and I feel it every time I think of them.
Happy because I know all the love I ever need is right here now, within me, inside my heart.
Sad because I feel the pain, loneliness, isolation and perceived separation that one of my loved ones is currently experiencing.
Happy because I can feel compassion and extend my love as a gentle ray of comforting light.
Happy because my life is an incredible adventure that I am choosing and creating everyday.
Happy because dragon flies are appearing to me everywhere and when I least expect them. New beginnings, good omens, blessings.
Happy because I am free, free, free. Blessed and free.
Happy because I am me.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Farewell Phuket

This afternoon, I sat at Naiharn beach, eating sticky rice and mango and watching the foamy waves roll in and rip back out to sea again as the warm breeze brushed my hair away from my face. And I was overwhelmed by an enormous sense of gratitude. All I could think over and over again with a smile on my face, was “how lucky am I?” How lucky am I that I can have this time to myself to be free of work, to do whatever I feel like doing, go wherever I feel like going. I have given myself an enormous gift of time and it’s a gift that I am trying to fully appreciate every day.

It is Monday, and whilst I have been riding my motorbike around Phuket, hunting for sticky rice and then the perfect location to eat it, I know that back home, my friends and family are working hard to support themselves and their families. And here I am, three months in to my self-imposed unemployment, sitting at a beautiful beach in the tropics, indulging myself in a new favourite snack. I am truly blessed to be able to do this.

I have had a fabulous three months in Phuket but it is time now for me to move. And the leaving is happy sad. Happy because I did everything that I set out to do here and more. Sad because I love her and her contradictions and I feel like I’m leaving a beloved friend behind not knowing if I’ll ever return to see her again. Although some bets are being placed by others that I will be returning to complete my IDC (scuba instructor course). We’ll see…

As I rode my motorbike around the island, so many happy memories zoomed through my mind as fast as the passing scenery. Beautiful people I have met through diving, Muay Thai and synchronicity, new friendships formed; afternoons spent swimming and playing at beautiful beaches; learning to ride a motorbike and loving it; riding a motorbike everywhere, free as a bird with the wind in my hair catching tears in my eyes and joy upon my face; hours spent training hard, learning Muay Thai rewarded with bruises and lumps and advancement; spending my first ever birthday diving with a lovely new friend; attempting to slack-line and not taking more than two steps but having fun anyway; wandering around and sampling at the local market; eating Capannina pizza, mango ice-cream, nutella pancakes, fresh, juicy mango and papaya; trying new fruit such as salas and durian; drinking singha and pina coladas; massages, so many massages, foot, thai, back and shoulder; experiencing the beauty of simple, unique sunsets; wats and buddhas; hours spent writing; a few crazy nights in Patong; chatting to my loved ones online; finding and knowing myself more and more each day. Oh, what a glorious three months.

And now it is time to move and I am ready to move. I sat and waited until the urge to move was upon me and now it is here. There’s no hurry, no rush, just an urge to move slowly, steadily, with purpose, with ease and grace. My life is in flow and I trust that each step takes me into a new perfect moment.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

All signs lead to detox...

Life often provides us with sign posts to show us which direction to head next. Sometimes we pay attention to the sign posts and follow them, consciously or subconsciously. Sometimes we ignore them and keep going on the path we have chosen, oblivious to the same sign posts that keeps flashing before us, warning of an obstacle or diversion ahead and pointing to an easier route to follow. Other times we sit and wait for a sign that we think we should be seeing when in fact there is a very different sign post before us but we don’t see it because we are too busy looking for something else.

For me, I am consciously seeing many sign posts in my life right now. They tell me when to go, when to stay and which path to follow. The paths lead me to people who give me information, answers, more sign posts or lead me to other people to provide the same. And it all happens easily and with grace, like floating down a river from one town to the next.

So it is through synchronicity that I found myself heading to The Sanctuary at Koh Phangan for a seven day fast and detox program. Fasting and detoxing is not something I have ever considered before. I enjoy eating and drinking and I would normally give this up for one day, yet alone seven days. But the seed that was planted said detox. Once I got over my surprise and sat with this seed as it started to sprout and grow, I knew detox was the right thing to do at this point in my journey. So I went. And it wasn’t long into my detox that all the signs appeared to show me I was in the right place at the right time of my life.

Koh Phangan is a tropical paradise in the Gulf of Thailand. It is a 45 minute ferry ride from Koh Samui but a world away, depending on where you stay. Koh Phangan is famous for it’s full moon parties when thousands party-goers converge on the beach of Haad Rin and intoxicate themselves with various substances and dance like crazy in celebration of the full moon. Obviously, Haad Rin and Full Moon Party was not my destination. However, The Sanctuary located at Haad Tien Bay just two beaches around the corner was.

As it’s name entails, The Sanctuary really is a sanctuary. From the moment you arrive you can sense the nurturing nature of this resort. Whilst it has a Wellness Centre that caters for fasters and detoxers like me, the resort also caters for everyone else with an alternative bent, unless you are a meat eater. The restaurant is purely vegetarian and seafood only but it still serves alcohol for those who wish to partake of a beverage or two. The resort offers yoga , pilates, meditation, different workshops by visiting teachers and holistic healing. This is somewhere I would definitely come back and stay even if I wasn’t detoxing. It attracts a group of like-minded, friendly people and not your usual young back-packing party goer. And Koh Phangan is beautiful. A dense tropical jungle surrounded by clear blue seas with its own rhythm and orchestra especially at night after the rain when the frogs and the cicadas turn up the volume, and I mean really turn up the volume. They were loud. But I digress from fasting…

Fasting is an ancient ritual. It is said that by eliminating solid food from one’s diet in conjunction with colon cleansing enables the body to eliminate toxins, excess weight, parasites and mucoid plaque. During the fast, you only consume liquids including psyllium husk and bentonite clay shakes five times per day, fresh juice (carrot, apple, watermelon and coconut only), a special broth to replace electrolytes and take herbal supplements five times per day. Despite the lack of food, you will rarely find yourself hungry. The shakes become quite gluggy after ten minutes making you feel quite full.

I, surprisingly, found that I didn’t miss eating. I didn’t crave food in the usual longing way although I really missed eating fresh, juicy, ripe mango. And I really didn’t think about food that much except when we were talking about it at “dinner” which comprised a very garlicky, watery, green broth that we flavoured with lime juice and chili.

My day was filled with activities that I looked forward to more than eating, including yoga, massage treatments, herbal steaming, meditation, swimming, and reading. I am now addicted to yoga and thanks to the generosity of a friend, I have my own yoga mat and instructional CD's to take with me on my travels so I can maintain a regular practice. I am also a convert to Osho dynamic meditations, specifically designed for the active Western mind. I have shaken my body around like a crazy person, danced uncontrollably, spoken gibberish, candle-gazed, opened my arms to and from existence all in aid of quietening my mind. These meditations were so much fun that I am considering a visit to an Osho ashram when I make it to India. But best of all, was hanging out with some really beautiful women and fellow detoxers, drinking ginger tea and chatting about food, detoxing, life, adventures and which path to take next.

As the days of my fast progressed, I found that I felt lighter. Yes I lost weight as a result of the fast but that’s not the type of lightness I am referring to. It was almost as if the emptiness of my stomach and intestines allowed my energy to flow in a way that it has never flowed within me before. My inner being felt much lighter but stronger, calm and at peace. Sometimes my physical energy was low and at other times it was high but towards the end my body started giving me the signs it was ready to start eating again. By night-time of day six and seven, my physical energy levels were so low I felt almost comatose and I knew it was time to eat.

I am now at day four of post detox and I am slowly reintroducing different food groups to my diet and watching how my body reacts to the different types and combinations of foods. So far my body feels best when I eat fruit (one type at a time) and simple salads. It doesn’t appear to be a fan of flour or fancy salads with spicy or coconut dressings. I have not yet had coffee, sugar, chocolate, alcohol or ice-cream, my old indulgences, although the temptation is there to slip back into old habits.

I knew the temptation would be there once I left The Sanctuary, so I had my blood analysed at the end of my detox and before I left. Even after seven days, there was still significant evidence of toxins in my red blood cells as well as yeast markers (say goodbye to coffee and chocolate), signs that my body is not absorbing protein properly and significant numbers of odd shaped red blood cells the cause of which was not identifiable. So although I feel fit and healthy, my blood is telling a different story and providing the motivation to make some changes to my diet. I now realise I need to consciously choose to consume only those foods that I know have nutritional content but also in a combination that suits my body.

The ten days I spent at The Sanctuary were pure magic and I loved every moment of it from the fast itself to the yoga and meditation and the beautiful friends I made. And if the opportunity arises or if I can make it happen, I will return and complete another fast and detox. But for now, I am finally ready to start moving around and leave Phuket, my home of just under three months. I have loved my time here and all the shades and contrasts that she offers, but the sign-posts are pointing south-east…Malaysia here I come.

My 7am shake kit

My 7am shake :(

Dinner

Moonlight over Haad Tien Bay (night prior to full-moon)

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Monkey Mind

The words, stories and messages are spinning round my mind in a water-logged whirlpool. I can see them but I can’t make them stop long enough to grab hold of one of them.

Everyday I experience something new, see something differently, learn something about myself and the world, do something new or realise a dream. There is so much I want to share and write about like the joy and pride in completing my Divemaster, the freedom, exhilaration and fear in learning to ride a motorbike, environmental concerns about seas of rubbish, choosing my next adventure, preparing to leave, the simple pleasure of eating fresh, ripe fruit and veg straight from the plants, and gratitude for the life that I have. But at the moment the topics just keep circling inside my head like a never-ending merry-go-round and I can’t focus my words in a meaningful, flowing stream. The incessant bombardment distracts my meditation and disturbs my sleep. Yes, I am suffering from Monkey Mind.

Today I have packed my bags in preparation to leave Phuket on Monday. I am going to Koh Phangan, not for a full moon or half moon party for which it is infamous, but to detox and cleanse my body, mind and soul. Eight days of fasting and cleansing, yoga and meditation, swimming, lying in the hammock on the verandah of my bungalow resting and reading in another tropical paradise is sure to restore some calmness to my mind and see the words flow.

Tomorrow I ride around this island I have called home for the last two and a half months and say farewells, some temporary and some permanent. And I ride for the thrill of riding.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Sunset #5

Can you remember the last time you watched the sunset? And I don’t just mean watched it like “Oh yeah, sunset, pretty colours, cool”, I mean truly watched it. Not only absorbing the details of the miraculous phenomenon occurring in front of you but really feeling it’s beauty and uniqueness with all of your heart.

I have now been living in Kata for two months, and today was only the fifth time I watched the sun set. The fourth was just yesterday and the third just four days earlier. Each sunset was so beautiful, so unique, so mesmerising that it knocked louder and louder on the door of the dormant promise I made to myself, to appreciate the beauty in the world around me with all of my heart, until today it knocked so loud that I actually heard it in the form of a silent call to go and watch the sun set.

Back in Melbourne, I very rarely thought to watch the sun set. It happens everyday, we all know that. And because it happens every day, it repeats, it is guaranteed to occur, we stop looking at it with a sense of awe and maybe we stop looking at it and appreciating it entirely. It blends into the background of our lives as if bland, boring and commonplace. Even if we do remember it, we know it will be there tomorrow. With so much more "important" stuff to do, we put off paying attention to it until tomorrow and then tomorrow, we put it off until tomorrow.

Even during the time I lived in Elwood, right by the sea, I watched the sun set maybe once or twice when I caught a glimpse of stunning colours in the sky. But for the most part, I was so busy “doing” rushing between one activity and the next or “thinking” about the past or the future that my life was in a mindless blur and I barely appreciated anything in the moment that it occurred.

I wanted to change that. I wanted to slow down my life, stop thinking in the future and living in the past. I wanted to be in this moment now, to feel everything in this moment now and appreciate what was unfolding before me in this moment now and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds me now. How easily I forgot. How easy it is to get distracted by other mundane activities that merely fill in time.

So this afternoon, I felt myself drawn back to Kata beach at dusk. I walked a little way along the beach until I found the right place to sit, watch and absorb this free event. I watched the edges of the sun glow in a peach and apricot metallic glaze peaking from behind dark grey clouds. I watched the light intensify then ebb as the sun dipped further down towards the horizon. I watched the light shimmer and dance its way towards me across the sea and the wet sand.

My eyes took in all that was happening before me and changing from moment to moment. And I tried to feel it with my heart. I so yearned to feel it with my heart. For my mind knows it is one thing to know and appreciate beauty with my eyes but something completely different to feel it and know it with my heart. At the moment, that is my deepest longing, to feel everything so deeply, completely, openly and with love. There's a tugging at the edges of my heart and an invisible tug of war between my mind and the divine. My heart knows that if it truly felt the beauty, it would be overcome, and weep with happy sadness and with joy. My mind is not quite ready to let go of the rope. Yet. But soon, it will be.

“I feel life meet my eyes
And it's the best thing
A beautiful feeling”
PJ Harvey



Sunset #1



Sunset #3



Sunset #4

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

We Ride

The wind blasts my face and rushes past my ears in a deafening whoosh.
My long brown hair streams behind me in a tangling mess.
I move my head close to yours so your words are audible but for the most part, we don’t talk.
Sight, sound, smell, sensation, inundated by our ever changing surrounds.
We ride.
Past tropical jungle, where the wind cools our skin and the earth perfumes the air.
We ride.
Upon cliff tops, overlooking the Andaman Sea with row after row of waves rolling into the sandy shore, innocently inviting but dangerous to the naive.
We ride.
Up hill, down hill, around bends but barely ever in a straight line as the potholes create an inverted obstacle course.
We ride.
Always, the bitumen blurs under the wheels.
By day, the sun intensely kisses every inch of bare skin on my body, my face, my arms, my legs, my chest, the back of my neck.
By night, our movement witnessed by our only constant companions, the effervescent stars and the moody moon.
We ride. We ride. We ride.
And I always wish that our destination is forever slightly out of reach
So we can continue to ride and ride and ride along a never-ending road of bliss.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

I want my MTV!

“I want my, I want my MTV” or so sang Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits back in 1988. I didn’t exactly have this tune in my head when I came to Phuket, but I definitely woke up singing it on Saturday 30th May.

You see, America’s MTV were in town, shooting a reality TV show in the vane of Survivor. They started with 28, twenty-something year old American guys and gals, trying to successfully complete physical challenges without elimination so they could share in prize money of around USD$100,000 plus other prizes. The schedule is fairly rigorous and when they weren’t shooting, the cast were housebound. I call them cast rather than contestants, because each of them have contracts with MTV that go over several seasons and MTV exclusively owns their pretty American faces for the next 7 years.

The cast had the day off from challenges. So, for a day of relaxation, they decided to charter Sea Fun’s boat to “Discover Scuba Diving”. And lucky me, in my capacity as a Divemaster Trainee, was enlisted to assist them in their discovery. Unlike a normal Discover Scuba Diving trip, these customers were only going to do one dive due to time constraints so this was just a half-day trip which would turn out to be long enough for me.

When you think of young Americans in their early 20’s, what image comes to your mind? For me, I pictured white home boys with their pants hanging somewhere below their Calvin Klein clad buttocks plus baseball caps perched too high on their heads. I was only expecting males, so I hadn’t created any mental image expectations of girls.

Ina and I waited with anticipation at the end of Chalong pier for their mini-bus to arrive so we could welcome them and escort them to the boat. Unsure of what to expect and joking about the worst case scenario.

The bus eventually arrived and of course the first people to emerge were three very loud-mouthed and crass American males. “Hello, hello, let’s go f***ing diving” were the first words to greet us. Oh dear. Maybe we were about to experience the worst case scenario we had imagined. We ignored the obscenities, introduced ourselves and shook their hands.

Not far behind them was another male and four females. We watched them as the walked down towards the boat, showing off for the camera as the the crew filmed their movements. Yes, MTV were filming their adventurous day off and yes, there is a chance that you might just see my face on MTV. We all had to sign releases so they could use any footage of us.

They guys were tall and muscular. Their clothes showing off their shapely arms and the odd tattoo. The girls were small and slim. Two blonde, two brunettes. If I had to label them, two were princesses, one was an athletic cheer leader type and one was the rock chick in the style of Pink but brunette and her arms covered in tattoos (she was to become my customer for the dive) . The girls were much quieter than the guys, polite and lacking the macho arrogance displayed by the guys.

On the boat, Ina conducted the boat briefing. This is standard for every dive trip to let the customers know where things are located on the boat and basic rules such as the cabin being a dry area and no flushing toilet paper down the marine toilets. As part of the briefing, she explained how the afternoon would run and asked if anybody was a certified diver to which one of the male cast members responded, “No, but I’m a certified muff diver.” Oh how I cringed. I tried my hardest to keep a straight face but I’m sure it displayed a grimace of disgust and the thought, “You are a loser” kept running around my head.

We ate lunch on the sundeck, and I kept my distance, somewhat repelled by the arrogant, showy energy dispersed by the group. After lunch, I went downstairs to the main cabin to check my phone. The guys walked in, ready to watch the “Discover Scuba Diver” educational DVD and as they entered, Mr Certified Muff Diver asked “Who in here wants a f***?”. I ignored the ridiculous question, finished what I was doing and walked out as quickly as possible. Were these guys for real? Did they really think this type of pathetic behaviour was cool? Do people really want to watch people acting stupidly like this on TV?

The guys and girls were split into two groups based on their teams which meant all males diving together and all females. Fortunately for me, I was diving with the females. We sized them up for fins and masks and helped them into their gear ready to take their first step into the underwater world.

Discover Scuba Diver students must learn some basic skills before they can dive such as how to clear a flooded mask and how to recover a regulator if it is knocked from their mouth. I jumped in the water first and descended to 2 metres, waiting for Ina and Craig, the instructors to teach the basic skills and then one by one send the girls down to wait with me until all the girls had successfully performed the skills and were ready to dive.

The first girl was the Rock Chick. She learned the skills very quickly, descended to me and I took her to the sandy bottom at 5 metres where we could kneel and maintain position due to the slight current that was running. She was so excited to be in the water, her eyes wide open with amazement and excitement. The other three girls took much longer to learn the skills. So there we sat and waited, watching the fish swim past us and around the nearby coral until finally we were ready to start diving.

I accompanied and looked after the Rock Chick. She was so excited that for the whole dive she swam non-stop and with such speed that I hung on to her pressure gauge for the whole dive and was towed around. No fin kicks for me. That probably sounds nice and easy but in reality it isn’t.

One of the unexpected things I have learned during my Divemaster course is that being a Divemaster/Instructor is no easy job, it is hard work. When you think of a Scuba Instructor, what mental image comes to mind? Do you think of the Caribbean or somewhere else warm with sunshine, warm water, instructors casually teaching their students, a couple of hours a day, laughing and socialising with them, breezing through the day, diving and having their students follow them along? If so, you’re kind of right but wrong at the same time.

When someone doesn’t know how to dive, you are watching them the whole time. This is no longer about fun diving for you. This person is your responsibility to make sure their dive experience is safe and enjoyable. You need to manage their buoyancy, make sure they are calm and happy and that they are not too far away from you, if they get to the point of letting go of your hand or you being able to let them swim by themselves.

Many first time divers can’t manage their buoyancy properly and add too much air to their buoyancy control device (the jacket you wear that the air tank attaches to). This causes them to shoot up towards the surface and you have to grab them anyway you can, pull them back down and release the excess air.

Some first time divers swim too fast or they don’t swim at all which means you are either dragging them along with you or pulling on them to slow them down.

Now imagine the situation where you have two first time divers you are looking after and neither of them want to let go of your hand or are able to control their buoyancy plus you have to communicate with them underwater via hand signals that they often forget. Not only are you managing yourself in the water, but you now have two dependents. This type of underwater work is hard and tiring.

So my Rock Chick diver was a fast swimmer, and I got a free tow around the dive site but it was still not an easy dive trying to control which direction she went, forcing her to stop or circle back when we were too far ahead of our group and getting her attention to make sure she was ok. However, she was rapt with the dive. We surfaced and she yelled out with joy, “That was f***ing awesome! I felt like an f***ing fish!”. Ah, what a poetic description of the experience.

After diving, you will find most divers are tired and quiet on the return trip and it’s not uncommon to have a boat load of sleeping divers. This is generally because of the nitrogen build-up in their bodies which takes some time to off-gas. But I also like to think it’s because of the peace and serenity they have just experienced in the underwater world and the meditative effect of diving. And it was no different with this MTV group. After the dive, the showy, arrogant, loud-mouthiness disappeared, apparently washed away and what was left was some young people talking about their surreal, reality show lives.