…holding pattern

Just submitted an application for a job – a promotion that I don’t want but will probably get – while waiting to hear about an unexpected job opportunity that I didn’t realise I wanted so much until today. At the same time anxiously watching the timer tick down to my “end of June” deadline for action.

I am the pause at the top of an inhale at the moment: my first step off the ledge. Caught in an anxious moment of breathless anticipation.

Ill hear about all of these opportunities in the next 2 or 3 weeks…

Weeks!!!! 

Tick tick fuck.

All my careful planning and orchestrations over the past year have made May/June this year the crunch months. I’m trying to control too much outside my sphere and its doing my head in at the moment.

All I can do is wait until these opportunities are either ticked off or taken – and I really hate waiting. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m extremely grateful to have so many exciting opportunities given the current state of the world. But hey, it’s me. Activity is my heroin, remember? Complacency can suck it.

At least the Green card lottery results are in. No luck there and can tick that off for the year.

It’s actually quite an exciting time.

USA, Romania, Antarctica, South America, Dubbo. One of these things is not like the others.

More on these later as things develop. I’m being intentionally vague but there are massively exciting games afoot.

…yes its a tease, but the Interweb’s digital walls have ears.

**I found a heap of old Biggles novels at a book fair today – being a voracious reader as a kid I devoured all these titles and any other series I could find – Famous Five, Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, moving on to Tolkien, Conan-Doyle, Fleming, Doc Smith, Zane Grey, Asimov and Wilbur Smith and more. Perhaps it was these early literary adventures that set a book and movie geek on his meandering path an age ago. 

Anyway some things never change … Book Fairs rule…

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wall…

I’ve hit a brick wall with my creativity in the past few weeks. A dry spell to match the 36+ degree days and hot summer nights here now that summer has kicked it into high gear.

I’ve run out of stories to tell and the fancy words just aren’t there. They are definitely in there and are aplenty but they ain’t coming out easily like they used to.

Being back at work hasn’t helped, although its nice to have a paypacket again see the bank balance increase for a change, I’m certain now that its time to move on. March 2017 is the month and all I have to do is make it through Christmas and New Years intact and save, save, save.

My works’ Christmas lunch was Friday, out at Lazy River Estate – it was nice to see my coworkers together but I felt like an outsider and left fairly quickly – shouldn’t have gone but I committed so…meh… my own fault really.

It was my daughters birthday on Friday and I’d finally gotten hold of her after weeks of silence (her Mum and I don’t communicate well) and we chatted for ages. She’d been in Thailand!!! Of all places to be, her and her Mum had gone to Phuket for 2 weeks and we’d probably been at the airport at the same time at some point. Shes a traveler also – been to the US, Fiji, and now Thailand and shes only 12. Maybe that damn restlessness in me is in her as well. Happy Birthday Bella.

French lessons are going well and so much fun to learn something new, but apart from long walks, I’ve been virtually hibernating at home. It’s been theraputic to pick up the guitar again and doodle though  – I’d forgotten the joy and flow that music gives me. I’m also toying with night photography and star trails again – recently discovered some functions of the GoPro that were surprisingly effective for that.

But for now, I need some greenery and mountains soon as this dry dusty place isn’t for me.

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My office is wallpapered with photographs from my travels and many people seem to like them. It easy to get lost in them and that’s why they are there I guess.

Maybe I should pursue that as well.

I don’t know.

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I was asked to write something for the local newspaper last week (happens from time to time when they need a piece quickly)  and I threw something together from a brief they provided – basically who am I and my travel motivations etc etc – I think I’ve overshared but its too late as its gone to press – what do you think? To much drama? I did take a little literary license at times with some things I guess (apologies Steve and Sandy)

“Adopted at 6 weeks old into a loving family was probably the best that I could have hoped for at the time, even if I had been given a choice. It was in an era where such things were kept behind closed doors and nunnery walls. My biological parents were 19 and 18 at the time – a beatnik hippie artist from Melbourne and a cute neurotic private school girl from Adelaide –  and although they at least waited for me to arrive, they hit the road shortly after and got on with their lives.  I got lucky though with my adoptive family, growing up in regional bliss on a small farm in the South West Slopes of NSW, near the village of Wombat (population 102)

 As most people will tell you, farm life can be both tough but enormously rewarding. I can’t think of a better place for a child to spend their formative years but there was always something missing for me.  My sisters and I spent our childhoods working on the farm; droving sheep for months on end during the droughts (living in the back of a truck), breaking and training horses (hence the broken nose), competing at country shows and gymkhanas, tending market gardens, shearing sheep, drenching and marking lambs, plucking meat turkeys and picking cherries for pocket money at Christmas.  You know, all the normal stuff kids do.

 We weren’t a particularly close family – not having blood ties will do that to you I later discovered. It was that disconnection and a general dissatisfaction with my place in the world that fueled a search for identity that I hadn’t even realised I was on.

 A total bookworm as a child, I was never a farmer at heart and always knew it (much to the disappointment of my adopted parents). Spending too much time immersed in books, film and science to ever be satisfied on the farm, I needed more. I left small town NSW a few years after High School, gravitating to Canberra and the lure of Public Service work. It was the 90’s. There falling into IT at a time just before the Internet was booming. Working for Dept of Foreign Affairs and Dept of Defence in specialist roles, I was able to travel internationally for the first time and immediately something ‘clicked’. Experiencing new cultures and exotic places opened my eyes to many truths and the experience quickly became addictive.

Eventually headhunted into private sector consulting, I volunteered for every travel related project I could get, lucked out and deployed operationally with the Navy, sailing around Australia, Bahrain and the Persian Gulf implementing command and control systems and training their personnel at sea. It was this last stint of risky and slightly dangerous travel that locked in my permanent condition of wanderlust. But then I met a girl (as you do) and the next decade was spent focusing on things that ultimately didn’t work out. Marriage, houses, money, possessions, a nice lawn, fancy car. Social norms. You know the drill. 

 Skip ahead to 2012. 

 After multiple career hops and several different lives, I’d met my biological families and sorted that out, had a wonderful daughter, moved cities and states, fell in and out of love, but the traveling had stopped.

 I ended up here in Dubbo, working for City Council and caring for my adoptive parents as they transitioned into a retirement village and eventually Aged Care. Dad passed away in 2014 and Mum is still hanging in there albeit at the mercy of a devastating dementia thats robbed her of speech and mobility. The experience with my parents in their declining years had driven home the importance and the fragility of life. I’d also realised a few critical lessons: that my parents were just people, that life was short, and that I wasn’t immortal. Time was short.

 Wanting to keep my brain alive in the unholy dullness of country NSW, I began a Sociology/Psych degree at Charles Sturt University via Distance Ed. I embraced local theatre with the Wesley House Players, took workshops and acted in play festivals, got involved in the Midnight Cafe Committee for a few years, even tried my hand at playwriting.  It wasn’t long though before the restlessness kicked off again and the day to day travel of my work wasn’t enough. I needed to address it.

 A now ex-girlfriend introduced me to yoga by way of me being a guinea pig for her Yoga Class programs. It resonated immediately, and through a progression of coincidences I found myself on an unexpected path. I took time off and jumped on a plane for the first time in 10 years. Traveling through the Himalayas, I stopped in Pokhara, Nepal for a time and was turned on to Tibetan Buddhism at the local Buddhist Centre there. The 3 day philosophy course with traditional yoga and pranayama practice was really only an Intro, but it raised more questions than it answered. There were many elements that rang universally true to me. More lightbulb moments, like attachment leads to unhappiness, finding meditation and mindfulness practice useful in daily life, and to do no harm. Or is that last one Google. I always get the two confused.

 From there on my travels became more focused as my life became less complex – I began looking for answers in other cultures and religions – I knew it was the key – moving through Nepal and India exploring Buddhism and Hinduism. Needing a shortcut, I jumped into a more traditional Hatha (Svastha) Yoga practice by undertaking an intensive teacher training in Bali. I didn’t totally drink the cool-aid but it did give me a solid backgrounding and more importantly the language or vocabulary to unlock key concepts of the practice.

 After the Teacher Training my perspective on yogic practice shifted course. Originally aimed at helping myself heal and getting answers to life’s big questions, now I wanted to know more about using yoga and mindfulness training as a theraputic tool to help others – specifically dealing with mental health issues (stress and addiction, anxiety and depression in particular).

 I started on a well respected Svastha Yoga Therapy training program under Dr Ganesh Mohan and the sheer practicality of the course captivated me, illuminating yet another pathway. Asana, meditation and pranayama practice were essential not just for physical but also emotional well-being. Not in a ‘hippie bell ringy flower child’ way but a practical “Hey I’m moving and breathing and Wow! I feel good” way. My new goal was to start a Men’s or ‘Blokes Yoga’ practice initially in Dubbo and then perhaps take it overseas.

This year I have been particularly fortunate to have taken a sabbatical from work – to get ahead on my degree and do more travel to broaden my experience and to help deal with the restlessness.

 Earlier in 2016 I strayed from my chosen path a little while living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest up near Seattle. I faced some challenges there that ultimately turned me back in the direction of my neglected yoga and mindfulness practice. I bolted halfway around the world to Chiang Mai and reconnected with my yoga buddies there to reframe my life.

 Living in Northern Thailand for the next 4 months was a powerful perspective changing experience in many ways. I volunteered briefly alongside Burmese Refugee Support workers: helping out by hand building adobe mud brick housing with a local Women’s group who were providing a refuge centre for burned out Foreign Aid Workers up in Chiang Dao. Sharing their powerful stories and life experience while slogging away in the heat, mud and cement was such a challenging but uniquely rewarding experience as well.

 When Asia got a bit ‘same same’ – the restlessness had kicked in again – I jumped on a cheap flight to Egypt and travelled the Nile valley to explore for a while and play tourist, before tiring of the noise and pollution, moving on to Tunisia for my birthday.

Living in Tunis for several weeks I was in heaven: exploring the clean modern city, its cathedrals and museums, the Medina and then stunning Roman and Punic ruins. Roaming ancient Carthage and then abandoned Star Wars sets deep in the Tunisian Sahara, camping in the mountains near El Kef, hiking remote Jugurtha’s Table near South Western no-go zones on the Algerian Border, making new friends and learning so much but ultimately I barely scratched the surface of this rich traditional Islamic culture. I’ve fallen in love with this country and its people. North Africa has set yet another path for my future and reignited the wanderlust in a big way.

Being used to being alone was so useful! Traveling solo has allowed me to join and leave groups of travelers on similar journeys, buddying up and going it alone when it suited. The disconnect and lack of roots actually came in handy for this nomadic existence – it felt so perfect for me as everywhere was home.

 Recently I’ve met many amazing people from around the planet who were of a like mind; artists and musicians, doctors and psychologists, from physiotherapists to surfers. Everyone I’ve encountered having much the same questions or were on a similar journey.  Who am I? Why am I…? What is my purpose?

 It was a “found my tribe’ moment of the purest kind for me – a global community of like-minded gypsies, connecting through shared experiences and in many ways more of an actual family than I’ve ever had. 

 I’m using my time back in Dubbo to prepare for the next stage of my journey. Learning French to prepare for a trip back to Tunisia sooner rather than later (hopefully). Rebuilding my personal yoga practice and getting my ducks in a row, so to speak, until I feel I have something concrete to offer others.

 I’ll be hitting the road again soon, exploring still but this time with a more defined sense of purpose.”

Yep definitely an oversharer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

re-entry…

So I’m back at work now. You can imagine my excitement.

Back in Dubbo, Australia now for 10 days, spending the last 5 days locked in an office, glued to a phone and computer, staring out a distant window at the sunlight, wishing I was somewhere else. Its ‘Luke Skywalker Syndrome’ at its worst and it’s easy as my office walls are now lined with new travel photos – a quick glance left takes me away to the forests of Olympic National Park and a distant view of Mt Rainier, a bit further takes me diving in Koh Phangan, to my teacher training class in Bali, or the Giza pyramids, or to Carthage.

I’ve led a charmed life this year no doubt about it.

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Now that’s in the past.

Settling back into Dubbo hasn’t been a lot of fun – the numbness and “dead inside” feeling has persisted and the episodic disconnection (almost disassociative at times) is still present but slowly waning. I’m getting out and about, getting as physical as I can on my current prepayday budget. I haven’t wanted to settle back in though, avoiding people and doing my own thing as usual. Walking a lot as I can’t sit still (the restlessness persists and as you know stillness is always an issue). There’s like a constant pressure in my head that I’m attributing to the instant onset of extreme hayfever (yes that a real thing  – there have been people dropping dead of asthma in Melbourne over the past few weeks).

The water here tastes like mud (algae in the river water we drink apparently), the dry heat and hard water has turned my skin to flaky crap and my hair to a dandruffy hair helmet, but the clear blue skies and sunsets in the evenings have made everything worth it.

Almost.

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In the grand scheme of things though, I can’t complain. Decent job, great money, good conditions, new work car (hopefully flame proof after the last one), semi-autonomous and self managing to a large degree. I work alone in a regional area of New South Wales, my immediate supervisor (now retired) is a 3 hour drive away, my team Manager 6 hours, the remainder of my team spread all over New South Wales. Perfect.

Almost.

You might recall that I mentioned that nothing had changed here in the past year. Well that holds true for work as well.

Starting back last Monday, a few people were surprised but most were welcoming (It was a sad day as a colleagues’ son had committed suicide over the weekend so the mood was low). I wasn’t expecting a parade but people passed by in the corridor, a few remarked that they hadn’t even realised I’d been gone.

Nice.

Walking back into my office after 11 months I expected at least SOMETHING to be different. But nothing was (except someone had stolen my 2 x new 22″ monitors and had replaced them with shitty old ones).

I settled back in, checked the few emails filtering in from colleagues who finally realised I was back, and then started catching up on mandatory training that been missed  – online talking head videos about terrorism or radicalisation or somesuch “fear fear fear warning warning warning’ nonsense –  (I suppose to be fair one of our own colleagues had been assassinated/shot point blank right outside the front door of Headquarters last year so a little paranoia is to be expected).

After a few calls from my colleagues, I was again getting drawn into the same corporate bullshit, the infighting and office politics that I’d been happy to leave in the dust. All the same personalities involved, their low morale, negativity and backstabbing once again hurled at me as the corporate factions struggled to find support and numbers. Tiresome and sickening but not entirely unexpected. I usually try to stay above it but sometimes its hard when it catches you off guard and it finds a way in.

It was then I started to feel the psychological load building again as all these familiar things reasserted control over my mind and began manifesting in my body. Pain free for the past 12 months, in this 2 day period things started to happen again. The crunchy shoulder muscles, the hypertension, irritability and anxiety. The shoulder and neck pain came back in 1 day. By Day 2, the tingling in the fingertips and wrists started up again, and lower back pain started to fire up. These things had spilled over and caused Hell  in my personal life and even in the first few weeks of my holiday, had caused aching pain and a lot of discomfort from sitting (especially touring around in Jen’s little 4WD for 3 weeks)

Usually I’d just go and stretch, chillax for a bit but ultimately put up with it. But “Bugger this” I thought – my health is important to me now – and got the local Workplace Health and Safety manager to come in and check out my office equipment. Sure enough, he measured and tested and moved things around, eventually ruling that every single piece of office furniture and equipment I’d been using for the past 4 years was totally unsuitable, too small , or needed changing out.

SO – now I have a standup desk! (at least temporarily)  – IT’S THE BEST THING EVER…and it’s gone a long way already to stop the aches and pains.

Short story is I’m doing ok. It’s not all doom and gloom.

Daily, I’m examining and reframing all the negative thinking, watching my mind, meditating and breathing purposefully. Flicking my gaze to next year while staying rooted in the present. Its a skill for life : less crystal ball gazing and more staying open to opportunity, but luckily I have some amazing friends in other countries that are still traveling and they are keeping me level – <Shaye, Megan, Kate, Anna, Megs, Christina, Connie, Bronnie especially> – if it wasn’t for the support of these guys (albeit remotely) I’d be a real mess.

The tiny OCD part of me still needs a plan ABC to settle down though.

So plan B is off to Bali in February to complete another 2 modules in the Svastha Yoga Therapy program. It’s something I really want to finish and after Bali there’s only 2 more modules to go and I’m certified.

Oh and I’m learning French! – met with a local tutor and shes going to help me over the next 5 months. There’s a plan bubbling away in my head to use Language study to travel the world – get an education visa for a year, study at a language school, move on. French first, then Thai in Thailand or Arabic in Tunisia at Bourguiba Language School.

It’s my plan C if the USA goes up in flames with Trump in control. (Did I mention I’m moving to the US next year?)

Next week brings Doctors visits, assessments and some work related travel to Bourke, Brewarrina, and probably Walgett. Today, I’m enjoying the Sunday sunshine, a decent coffee or two at Dahab Cafe, my new Jack Reacher novel and then who knows what the future may bring.

 

reframe…

“Whats Next?” is a big question that’s been driving me forward for a while now.

 Sometimes you can provide the answer, but most times you cant and the universe decides on your behalf. For me, circumstances back home have aligned unexpectedly to give me a small window to return and cut short my year of travel.

Its been 2 weeks of anxiety, sleeplessness and indecision but I’ve made the call to head back to Australia, even though I still have 8 weeks of “make a decision” time before the deadline to return to my old job lapses.

My reluctance to walk back into the cage of my old life and relinquish this magnificent freedom is manifesting itself physically and mentally. I’ve been sick, tired, happy, depressed – every emotion struggling for dominance. If it wasn’t for the planned 2 week safety net of Chiang Mai to settle my head down I’d be lost. Being able to prepare for reemergence into the real world is invaluable especially when you’ve been existing in an absolute freedom dream state, living for almost a year abroad. The comfortable calm that this city brings me is immediate.

Chiang Mai has been the place that I gather my strength after this rollercoaster year – get my chipped tooth fixed and some overdue dental work , a new tattoo, read a few good books, see a few films, catch up with friends, and meditate on lessons learned over the course of the year.

A friend asked me a few days back what has changed about myself in the past year, and I couldn’t really answer the question. It’s hard to pin down. I thought this would be a year of answers but I have only found more questions. The only thing I’m sure of is that I am not where I am supposed to be. 

What did surprise me is that when it was darkest, I found comfort and strength in a spiritualistic Faith I didn’t realise I had. 

*Notre Dame Cathedral minus Quasimodo.

Anyhow…I’m sure it’ll pass. 

Much like going to the dentist and distancing yourself from the pain, this week Ive completed the process of reentry in a numb,  detached state: contacting my old employer <shudder>, seeking accommodation, transport, flights, logistically getting from point A to point B etc etc ad nauseum. Inside I’m screaming at myself to stop this madness and head West again, but luckily the rational part is in control for a change and has made all the arrangements for reentry into what has become a new Global World Order in all of the worst possible ways.

I am extremely grateful to have had the chance to experience the world over the past year, meet amazing new friends and experience life fully but I am not ‘lucky’ as some have said. It was just good management. I planned and worked hard to save enough money to see me through the year, then tried to roll with the punches as they landed. It was a massive gamble, but it wasn’t luck.

Now for some reason my ‘live to work’ ethic has flipped to ‘work to live’ completely and I’m embracing the concept. We all only get one life and it passes all too quickly. It’s for this very reason I’m never going to be trapped in a meaningless job nor rot in an office ever again.

But as of today, unlimited freedom-wise, it’s done. At least for a little while.

This is my last Sunday in Chiang Mai and Monday afternoon I fly out.

In a week I go back to work.

There is a longer term plan however and this is a temporary means to an end. That has been the only thing keeping me on track. Rationalisation and reframing the negative.

It’s not all bad – I’ll get to see my Mum, my beautiful daughter Isabel, and some of the few remaining friends that I feel close to. But that’s about it.

2016 has been a trial run with a mix of success and failure but more importantly it’s been a year of exponential personal growth.

2017 will be my year and I’m getting excited already.

Reframe. 

 More about Paris tomorrow.

…Far far away!

I’m at a turning point in this trip. Bingo funds.

Push on or turn back but as my Dad always said “It’s bad luck to turn back”.

Leaving the chaos of Cairo far behind, I was heading for Morocco for my birthday. Megan was staying in Cairo, D’ had gone home and it was time to go.

Iris my Californian patents lawyer/Star Wars geek travel bud had just visited some original sets in Tunisia before heading off with her Tinder “boys” into the Balkans. She had planted the seed in my brain however for a small detour on the way to Marrakech.

So I booked the flight and landed in Tunisia – a place apparently scary and very dangerous according to our governments website.

Firstly – what a load of fear mongering crap.  I’ve felt more in danger walking down the Main Street of Dubbo at 3am.

FU travel warnings.

*there ARE a shit ton of heavily armed police, national guard and take-no-bullshit military units around with full body armor, big arse truck mounted machine guns, and tanks but hey…that only spells security to me.

Landing in Tunis a few weeks ago was like emerging into a virtual paradise.

Immigration? Smashed it.  Pssst… you are Australian… NO VISA! Welcome!! Wtf?…then 3 steps out of immigration … Pssst… wanna free Orange SIM card? HERE!…just 20 dinar ($11AUD) gets 3gig data and unlimited calls for 30 days…want to top it up now?… Hell YEAH 🙂

Then I stepped outside. Huh? No scammers or sellers? No garbage? Fresh air? No pollution? No crowds? No traffic?

So this is Tunis? But its all so…so clean and so…so quiet? Am I really in North Africa?

Am I lucid dreaming?

Ok the airport taxis were tricky and I only got a tiny bit ripped off  but lesson learned. The lesson is ignore the taxis and the predatory taxi touts, walk out of the airport case park to the road and hail a cab off the street (with a red window light – green means booked), check he turns the meter on and the rate is correct  (1 usually, after 9pm the rate 2 surcharge starts). Typically airport to the French Embassy in town is under 5 dinars as a benchmark…and off you go.

I’d “Plan B”‘d (yes go on…giggle those that know me) the accommodation as the hostel appeared to vanish after my booking and never returned any calls, answered emails or even their phone. Even by their own admission were hard to find AND they advised never walk in the Medina after dark as it was too dangerous.  So in the 11th hour with not even a booking response I went to Plan B.

Plan B was the best thing ever – an Airbnb with a lovely local lady with some amazing housemates – staying up and letting me in after wandering around the Medina at midnight like a lost lamb.

And so, disheveled and slightly in shock, I met Hasna (eventually), Arianna (+ Dino), and Diana – three amazing Tunisian, Italian and Moldovan women studying and working in Tunis that allowed me to share their home for the initial 3 day trip that’s turned into 3 weeks so far and counting.

Arianna was studying Law here for a little while, and Diana had just arrived a few days earlier but was itching to explore the city.  Day 1 was explore day for me so Diana and I set off and began losing ourselves first in the Medina, then Carthage, swimming in the Mediterranean, then the city at large.

Here to study Arabic and already fluent in several languages (including French and Arabic), she was awaiting her partner to arrive and was the perfect travelling companion to ease me into a completely alien Arabic/french speaking Muslim country. I unashamedly picked her brain to help me get oriented and comfortable with some basic French and Arabic.

We also accidentally broke into the Carthage site via “a secret way” but that’s another story.

**note : ALWAYS explore a hole in a fence, especially the one near the roundabout overlook at the base of the site…shhh

We dove into a local Couchsurfing group meeting and met so many friendly and open people who just welcomed us into their fold.

So much so we ended up on a 2 day camping and hiking weekend with about 30 of them way out west near the Algerian border where we endured endless border patrol and police checkpoints but man oh man, was it worth it.

Best birthday memories made so far in Tunisia:

  • spending my birthday weekend hiking into incredible terrain and traveling with a joyous bunch of Tunisian/Egyptian people:  campfires, singing folk songs, dancing and enjoying life well into the night
  • getting more than a little paranoid by being mega close to the Algerian border then getting surrounded and followed in a dodgy border town by the ubiquitous white Toyota trucks that we know all the terrorists drive.
  • driving through each border town with M.I.A “Paper Planes” on repeat,  blaring out the windows and laughing our heads off at all the white trucks. It became our anthem for the trip
  • Meeting and making many new friends.

But SO much better then sitting alone in a bar in Casablanca and proceeding like I’d originally planned.

*Plus waking up with sticky notes all over the house just totally made my day 🙂

There’s so much to see and do in this small but historically rich country.

It’s been a wild few weeks so far.

*breaking in to and exploring historical archaeological sites at Carthage and Sidi Bousaid.

* wandering the Bardo Museum marveling at the mosaics and weeping at the bullet holes.

*spending days wandering through Punic, Roman and even older ruins.

(I MAY have also snuck into the Les Villa Romaines via the paddock and the thorny hedge next to the large Mosque – hey I was exploring!!! )

*wandering lost for hours in the massive Medina.  (dangerous? …pffffft… night is awesome in there)

*Spending an afternoon at beautiful Sidi Bousaid and relaxing by the Mediterranean.

*a 7 hour bus ride to Tozeur and visiting Star Wars and Raiders movie sets.

(I look smug for a reason – I’m on a freakin Star Wars set!!!)


* the 4wd drive through the Sahara that was incredible.

*a virus/food poisoning that laid me so low in Tozeur I missed Star Wars Canyon and had to fly home. Slept for 2 days and have just now gotten over it.
*the possible source of the camel tagine that brought me undone … Dear God the humanity 😦

*and the general weirdness of being in a completely ancient and totally foreign culture.

I’ve also learned that no matter where I go, people seem to generally like me. Perhaps I’m not as awful a human being as I’d convinced myself I was.

To be continued …

nothing is something…2

Yesterdays post was a blomit, (apologies) but today’s will be a little more considered, interesting and hopefully not so meandering.

After Chiang Dao, we decided to head up towards the Golden Triangle – that opium soaked corner of Thailand where Laos, Burma and Thailand meet. It seemed suitable remote and mountainous enough to satisfy our call of the wild.

We’d need to head up though Fang via Thaton, but I also wanted to go via Mae Sai and Tachilek  – to cross into Burma via the land crossing there – and then head across to The Golden triangle and back down to Chiang Rai before heading down again to Chiang Mai.

Its basically a big Northern loop and we only had a few days to get back before heading down to the Gulf of Thailand for Meg’s birthday scuba experience.

Before we’d left Fang for Thaton though, we wanted to do a day trip and get out of the city . Again the guidebooks weren’t a lot of help, but we’d zeroed in on some interesting things nonetheless.

We decided on a day trip to the Royal Agricultural Project at Ankhang. It sounded interesting as it wasn’t a Westerner tourist spot but extremely popular with Thais.

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Set up by Royal decree by the King, and used as a training facility for local Thai and Burmese farmers to develop modern agricultural techniques and practices. The primary aim being to move away from slash and burn land clearing, and to reduce their reliance on growing opium poppies (and hence reduce the drug trade that has historically ran rampant in the area).

I thought it sounded a little bit shit.

It wasn’t.

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Taking a “special tour” arranged through our hotel (which turned out to be a red taxi truck and a driver that cost a stupid amount for the day) this was easily one of the most interesting things I’ve seen in Thailand. A social experiment and research station set right up alongside the Burmese border, we wandered virtually alone through the massive site, through orchards and lush farmlands, greenhouses and gardens, all immaculately set up and maintained.

Burmese workers picking chrysanthemums or poppies.

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We wandered around for hours, taking in the silence of the hills and the beautiful countryside. Then our driver gave us the hurry up as the rains were coming and we quickly moved on up to the nearby border crossing at Ban Nor Lae to look over the battlements, as it were, into Burma.

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Borders make me nervous. Bad shit happens at borders. Border guards with dirty great machine guns also make me nervous.

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It appeared to be closed at this point, and standing at the border gazing across I couldn’t help but wonder if some bored Burmese border guard was sighting in on my face as I gazed absently across no mans land.

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The best thing about this visit was the small Hilltribe market there – a group of wonderful little ladies in traditional Akha dress that were expert weavers, ruthless marketers and consummate professionals. We ran the gauntlet  – a row of stalls piled high with clothes and trinkets and whatnots, both of us slowly being passed of to each successive lady as we were moved along the market rows (make no mistake, we we being expertly handled) politely looking but refusing each offer (strangely enough EVERYTHING seemed to be 100 baht here).

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(not my photo – i wasn’t game to take a photo as it would have cost me a fortune)

Then as we neared the last stall, they delivered their coup de grâce. The last stall was owned by a teeny tiny grey haired old lady, dressed to the nines in traditional Akha dress with an enormous toothless smile and a personality larger than Tony Robbins.

I never had a chance.

Quickly convinced to buy a 100 baht handwoven scarf each (it was 34 degrees and 90 percent humidity), she turned the charm up to 11 and like a grandmotherly black hole, began to hoover the money our of our wallets.

I managed a brief hug and got the Hell out, but not before almost buying several bags of fruit. Pulling out a massive pair of rusty dressmaking scissors, she insisted on hand peeling the raw fruit and then practically forced it into our hands. We had to eat it or appear rude. Mmmm dirty potentially fatal raw fruit.

Time was against us though and the sun was getting low, so we jumped back into the back of the truck and headed back down the mountain (narrowly missing herds of mules that seemed to roam free along these steep curvy mountain roads). We headed back into town as the road became treacherous at night and our driver was getting anxious.

Settling in for dinner and an early night, after fixing yet another flaky shower heater, it was welcome to hear the rain on the roof, the barking geckoes on the ceiling, and to sleep in a comfortable bed.

And so another day ended, but from the next day onwards, the mood changed slightly.

After week or so schlumping along together in cramped overheated buses, tuktuks and taxis, sharing shitty hotels and run down resorts, shonky meals and bad coffee,  despite the beauty and wonder of this amazing country, there were small hairline cracks starting to appear in our merry traveling twosome. It was only a matter of time really and to be completely honest I’m not the easiest person to travel with (I can almost hear the nodding of heads).

We developed a case of the niggles.

Long silences. Many “Hmmm” moments. Lots of staring off into the distance. There may have been some frowns at times and possibly more than a little frustration. Mostly from me as I tend to project my own issues onto others, then provoke a discussion but hey – its that restless mind of mine creating its own faulty reality again.

It was easily fixed though – after a few days of an odd growing discomfort, she basically called me on it – several times. Kudos actually as its the perfect way to snap me out of this – a quick slap and I’m back in the room. So after an open and honest chat (or two) and some alone time, we established some groundrules, fell back into the rhythm of travel and got on with having fun.

So early the next morning we headed for the bus station, with a relatively short but interesting journey ahead of us up into the mountains again, this time staying at a traditional Akha village in a adobe mud house high in the mountains.

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To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

nothing is something…

Sometimes I have nothing to say.

Its extraordinary…shocking even and for the people that know me well, quite disturbing.

It’s the “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” Star Wars moment.


I welcome it when it happens, it just doesn’t happen a lot.

The restlessness of my mind usually generates a constant background hum and a need for continual motion.  As a good friend recently noticed, it even supplies an audible soundtrack to my daily activities. I hum and ‘doo de doo’ a lot,  sing sentences at times even though I don’t realise it. Talk incessantly. And that’s my resting state.

Now…imagine that after 2 or 3 Americanos. Crazy and annoying to more enlightened, grounded types I’m sure.

Honestly, in my life moments of actual stillness are few, but when they come, oh boy…

So in lieu of a regular conversation I’m blomiting (‘blog vomiting’ – there you go I’ve created a new term) these thoughts out of my limited headspace for your enjoyment.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this so just come along for the ride. Let’s digress…

Stillness. I struggle with it daily.

Moving from my day to day routine to hanging with calm minded yoga people is like running full tilt into a wall of custard and trying to slowly push through it. It drains me of momentum…doesn’t quite stop me dead in my tracks but thickens the space around  me…I feel this as an almost physical sensation … a “slowing”. It’s disconcerting and such a different energy…also quite frustrating as I generally function at full speed (vibrating at a different frequency maybe, I don’t know) and it takes a real mental effort to throttle back.  As a lot of my friends are yoga teachers it is challenging to say the least.

(I recently had a yin yoga session at a friends studio, accompanied by Tibetan singing bowls – during this I experienced this ‘slowing’ again as well as an unexpected but defined energy flow up and down my spinal column – a friend remarked that after this I seemed the most grounded that I’d ever been since we’d met- interesting eh? Imagine if that could be a resting state. More on this another time … Remind me ok?)

Yes I know it takes work and yes meditation will help. Thanks. I’m a work in progress.

…Stillness.

How do you know when it happens?

One notable moment for me was on the Bremerton ferry from Seattle a few months back after a late night out with Jen (yes that again). Sitting across from one another, gazing into her eyes… I just didn’t have anything to say. I felt at peace. It struck me as so odd I felt the need to comment “I have absolutely nothing to say to you” – yep, tactful as always…needless to say she was not impressed.  FYI that is NEVER a good thing to say to your significant other.  Looking back I can see that I was simply happy and had a moment of stillness – also how tactless that may have been and it possibly foreshadowed the events that followed. Anyway … lets get back on track.

So why am I blogging about stillness if I have nothing to say?

Well on occasion even nothing is something and it is notable by nature of its rarity.

I’ve been quietly watching my mind a lot over the past few years. We’ve become…intimate. It loves to run wild with crazy ideas and imagined conversations. It can tell the future, change the past,  read people’s minds and create alternate existences. It loves a plan and is a master of the sneaky ‘what ifs…’.

Traveling alone gives my chattery mindstream unparalleled access and power – gazing absently out the bus or ferry window, these random thoughts sneak and slither, unchecked and unchallenged they conspire,  gather momentum, unexpectedly slap you in the metaphysical face and then dominates the inner conversation. Creates a mental pressure, drives a low mood.  When you don’t speak to anyone for days, this internal monologue cycles and builds, and then when you actually have a conversation with a human being, the experience isn’t fun (for them, anyway). Its a face full of scattered babblevomit – a burst of random thoughts and ideas that have to escape the mind but so full on and unrelenting  it can overwhelm others.

There is no mental release,  just a brief joy from connecting and then the thoughts start to sneak and slither again, waiting for the next chance to escape.

This stillness thing is tricky.

But watching the mind is a fascinating practice. And it is a practice – the more you do it the better you get and the more you see.

Maybe that’s the way to find this elusive stillness that everyone’s talking about .

Which brings me to … Hmmm ..Oh yes – TRAVEL and the visiting yoga buddy!

Meg has been and gone. Seeing her at the airport was like picking up an interesting breakfast conversation at dinner with a close friend – easy, comfortable…normal. We fell into friendship easily a few years ago – just sorta happened that way.  A fascinating person but hard to define. If it helps, imagine a superintelligent doctor-scientist-yoga teacher -spiritualist-model-Disney princess (the one from Brave) so far out of your league it isn’t even worth fantasising about.

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Plus we know way way way to much about each other to be anything else 😉 (hopefully she hates reading self indulgent travel Blogs also)

Anyway…

We’d last said a hurried goodbye in Bali almost 2 years ago at teacher training and then I was late finishing class, missed her taxi, and she was gone.

The visit came out of the blue and as we’d both come out of some recent unpleasantness it was a welcome escape. We’d planned to not have a plan  – nonspecifically reconnecting and traveling around Northern Thailand for 2 weeks, spending a few days first in Chiang Mai getting oriented, then heading off on her first trip to Thailand, then scuba diving for her birthday in Koh Phagnan.

Ok it was a plan. I like plans.

After a few city days, Meg craved green space, forests and mountains so we grabbed an early red truck from the guest house, went the long way to the wrong bus station, grabbed and merrily confused the closest tuk tuk driver , got to the RIGHT bus station, bought our 40 baht ticket, hopped on a green bus and headed North.

First stop Chiang Dao:  An hour and a bit on the air-cooled (ie open windowed) bus. I’d been there before but a perfect introduction to regional Thailand (without too much shock) where we spent several days scoopying around the countryside along the Beautiful Road.

**this is a Scoopy  – a motorcycle named for fun. Just try saying it and not smiling.

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and blissing out at a wonderful place called Nest 2 – little bungalows nestled up against the foot of the sacred mountain Doi Chiang Dao, near the Chiang Dao caves.

Spoilt with amazing local food by a lovely chef named Oh who was happy to chat to us at length about her life and family and her passion for food. She used us as guinea pigs for some of her recipes (the sweet bamboo shoot dessert was simply amazing), and completely destroying me with some fiery Thai curries and soups. *Meg is a chili savant : her capacity to put away extremely spicy dishes both impressed and frightened the HELL out of me. Respect.

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Exploring the bat-filled catacombs of Chiang Dao cave with our Burmese guide giggling “watch out for the bat sheets” as we climbed and weaved and ducked through the inky blackness of the massive cave system lit only with the dim glow of a kerosene lamp,

then wondering at the stunningly beautiful Cave temple on Doi Chiang Dao

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and finally relaxing at the Makhampom art space when the rains finally came through in earnest was heavenly.

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Even though the weather turned on the rain for us we still got out into the last teeth of the Himalaya range and immersed ourselves in nature, wandering through the jungle trails and villages alike, talking and exploring, enjoying the silence of the stars at night and looking for elusive fireflies in the gardens over dinner.

It would have been easy to stay there for weeks, but it was time to move on so we hopped onto the green bus again and off we went, overnighting in Fang (not much to see – shitty business hotel, very industrial but great noodles at the food truck). We got out of there are soon as possible early the next day.

The next stop was the surprising Tha Ton.

The guide books wrote it off as a small town with not much to see but it was really a quietly bustling regional centre with some amazing sights and stunning views over the valley  – AND a great little coffee shop near the bridge barely mentioned in the Guidebooks but actually wonderful and welcoming.


For example Wat Thaton on Doi Thaton was simply stunning – looking like a porcelain teapot but containing the most wonderfully peaceful museum with artworks, texts, and sculptures with a heavy Chinese influence donated from around the world.

And the views! overlooking the Thaton valley with views over into neighboring Myanmar.

So we hiked around the mountains and explored the town in the brief time that we had. Ate at a shitty farang style eatery and instantly regretted it. Especially the deep fried frog.

Oh God…the horror of the deep fried frog. *Tastes like chicken.

Staying in a ‘resort’ (I wont name it – it truly had seen better days) but right on the river close to the bridge, perfect location but really rundown. It was managed by a thai version of Basil Fawlty and his non english speaking (but extremely good mime) wife. They tried really hard though so it almost made up for the places shortcomings.

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It was an adventure all by itself, but as we’d been traveling together for well over a week now the heat, lack of privacy and the constant travel had frayed us both a little around the edges.

For two people used to roaming alone, a week in another’s company was a long time.

There were loose threads hanging, waiting to be tugged.

To be continued…