‘The only journey is the one within‘ – Rainer Maria Rilke

My plan after visiting the US was to head south to South America, however, it just didn’t feel right and I think I was ready to move closer to home. I made a decision to go to Bali (which I had never been to) and visit a friend who lives on an island near Lombok. She had invited me to visit some time ago and although I thought it would be nice, I didn’t really think that I would make it. However, it felt like the right way to go so I decided to change the direction I was taking and then go back to Australia to spend Christmas with my sister in Adelaide, drop into Sydney to catch up with friends and my ‘mum’, then head back to my home town in late January. It’s funny but part of me felt like a failure for not sticking the 12 months out overseas, however, if I did continue I feel that I would have been going through the motions rather than actually enjoying the journey. The other thing is that this journey has taught me to go with my instincts instead of expectations. Everywhere else had ‘opened up’ to me and was basically a smooth flow, however, there was nothing happening for me in relation to heading to South America so I decided it wasn’t the way to go, And at any rate, by the time I landed in Australia I had been overseas for over 10 months which is not a bad innings!

I actually have never been to Indonesia as I was put off by the thought of Australians behaving badly in Bali. I only ended up spending 3 nights in Bali, in Samur (I avoided Kuta!) and then got the boat over to Gili Meno. Gili Meno is a tiny island which it takes 1 1/2 hours to walk around. There are no motor vehicles so you get around by either walking, bicycling or horse and cart. Gili Meno was basically just a farming area where no one lived until the 90’s when somebody realised that it could be a great tourist destination. It mostly caters to tourists and there are about 500 living on the island including ex-pats (like my friend).

Meno (and Lombok) was devastated by an earthquake in August 2018 which impacted greatly on tourism. Gili Meno is starting to rebuild however the evidence of the earthquake is clearly evident. We spent one day in Lombok visiting my friend’s partner’s mother who lived in the jungle in the mountains. She is an amazing 74 year old living on her own in a tin shed which was built after the earthquake destroyed her home. I had planned to explore Bali and Lombok further but ended up staying in Meno and just enjoying relaxing in this little slice of paradise. What I loved most about the island was the simple lifestyle. I would have no trouble living the lifestyle although I would have trouble not being occupied with something other than snorkeling and swimming. In saying that, the snorkeling was amazing. I haven’t done much snorkeling so I don’t have a lot to compare it to but there was so many different beautifully coloured fish and coral there and I saw a heap of turtles too! The 2 weeks I spent in Meno were magic! It was a lovely way to finish my journey.

I then headed back to Australia. It was really weird going back to my home country. It was really weird finishing my journey. I didn’t go straight back home, as I went to my sister’s for Christmas, so I suppose the journey was sort of continuing. One huge thing I have learnt from this journey is to really appreciate the people in my life. I didn’t grow up with my sister as we had different fathers and we lived in different states. I didn’t really get to know her until I was an adult. However, the relationship I have with her now is beautiful and I am so grateful she is in my life. I think she may have become a little tired of me hugging her and telling her how much I love her!

Gratitude for everything and everyone I have in my life has been one of the most profound outcomes of this journey and one I hope to continue cultivating. Travelling such diverse countries and seeing what other people’s lives are like can do nothing but kick in the gratitude for how much we actually do have. I think every Australian young person (and older) needs to travel outside of their middle class comfort zone to ‘see how the other half lives’ so they have an understanding and empathy for others and a recognition of how good we actually have it. The people in our lives are absolutely fundamental to our sense of happiness. Historically I struggled with allowing myself to be open to people as I was scared of being hurt. That is a mistake. We may get hurt now and then and sometimes feel that we could die from the pain, however, being open to giving and accepting love is such a rewarding and beneficial space to be in and totally outweighs the risk of being hurt. The lightness I feel due to my feelings of love and compassion and gratefulness has changed my life and the way I see my world.

I deem myself a bit of a minimalist however travelling for 10 months with 17 kilos of luggage (some of which I didn’t actually use!) made me very aware of how little we really need. I didn’t ‘rough it’ as such (except maybe in India) but I needed very little to make my life comfortable on the road. I had been heading that way before I left on my journey, however, this journey has strengthened my resolve to ensure that my footprint is as light as possible. Consumerism is a trap. We buy things we don’t need and, in some cases, can’t afford, and continue to want more. It’s like a drug which people use in an attempt to fill a void. It impacts on our purse, our happiness and our environment. Gratitude is the antidote as far as I’m concerned. It enables us to appreciate what we have and not feel the need to have stuff that doesn’t matter.

So in the closing chapter of this journey, I reflect on my experiences and what the takeaways will be. There are so many! I have slept in around 70 beds in 11 very different countries – developed and developing; English speaking and non-English speaking; Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic and Christian, and very different cultures. I have met so many people from so many different walks of life and have learnt so much from them. I have had bad experiences however the good experiences totally outweighed them. I have become more courageous and confident however every now and then those embedded fears raise their heads, but that’s ok as it is part of living. Nothing is ever perfect and only we can choose to see the beautiful or the ugly in life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, life is basically about attitude. Notwithstanding chemical depression etc, and the impact it has on people’s lives, life is simply impacted on by the way we view things. Tragedy hits all of us in one form or another. We have the choice to allow that tragedy to define us or for us to take something from that tragedy to grow and moving forward. I will never move on from the loss of my son, but I will continue to move forward and enjoy the life that I have been given. I have so much to be grateful for and the last 10 1/2 months has not been an exception. It has been an amazing journey and I’m grateful that I have been able to share it with you.

Thank you for sharing my journey with me. 💜

The red, white, and blue…

So. I’ve discovered that America is pretty cool. And Americans are really nice people. This may not sound like an epiphany for some of you however it was for me. Although I don’t see myself as a racist, I think I did have a little bit of a bias against America and it’s people. Which is a bit odd considering my brother has lived there for over 35 years and I had met and liked his friends, but I didn’t have the understanding/experience to broaden this to the populace. It’s a little like when people say ‘I don’t like Muslims, however that Muslim, who I know and like, is different’, as if they are the exception to the norm, rather than the norm. My only real intention of going to the US of A was to see my little bro. I have been to San Fransisco and to New York but have never looked outside of these iconic cities to discover what else it has to offer. Also, I didn’t find people that friendly in these cities (a bit like Sydney and Melbourne I suppose..or cities anywhere!). My response to America was ‘first world English speaking country, sounds pretty boring to me’. So, I now apologise, with my hat in hand (if I had one!), for being so closed minded.

As part of my journey, I made a decision to be as open minded and inquisitive as I have been with other countries that I have visited. With that in mind I headed off to an island off the coast of California called Catalina. It is a rich man’s paradise (and I have the receipts to confirm it!) and many famous people worked and played there especially in the 1930’s. It was lovely and I chatted with a number of American people. I even made some friends! But maybe Californians are different to the rest of America (a majority do vote Democrat so my brother tells me!). So then I headed off to Arizona to see the absolutely amazing Grand Canyon. I walked a lot of the south rim track and along the way chatted to different people. They were all lovely! (However, I think most we’re Californian!). Generous in their time and their interest in someone who lives a different life to them and comes from down under.

I drove to the Grand Canyon in my brother’s car. The scenery was wonderful and the actual canyon is breathtaking. It is 446km long, 29kms wide and 1,857mts deep. I couldn’t take my eyes off it (and couldn’t stop taking photos even though there are a lot of similar ones) and it is up there with the standouts I have experienced during this journey. I didn’t venture down into the canyon however there is a path you can take which goes deep into the valley. My lungs do not work well in high altitudes (the Grand Canyon is around 2300mts above sea level) which coming up out of the canyon would definitely have tested. Excuses, excuses, but the fact is I just didn’t want to do it so I didn’t! From there I decided to drive part of Route 66 (as I had to get my kicks!) on my way to Vegas. It was basically a long stretch of country road with some very interesting places along the way. Seligman has an interesting tourist shop with all the Route 66 paraphernalia, and there is a great place in the middle of nowhere called Hackberry General Store which is totally cool!

I ended up in Vegas. What can I say about Vegas! I walked along the strip (although I’ve since been told I should have gone to another area, but it is what it is!). It is definitely a very over the top place which does nothing quietly or by halves! Everything is big and in your face. Not really my gig however I enjoyed looking around and seeing what the fuss is about. I definitely think Vegas would have been much more interesting with other people. As a solo traveller I have found most English speaking cities to be more isolating even though there are many more people. Vegas isn’t an exception. But like I said, it was interesting to have a look. I high tailed it out the next morning and came across this cute diner called Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner. It was over the top as well but a lot more quaint. The views of the Californian hills were beautiful on the way back to my brother’s place.

The next weekend I headed down to San Felipe in Baja, California with a lovely friend who I met through my brother, for the yearly Shrimp Festival. Baja is actually in Mexico however was named California by the Spaniards. The Spanish explored California in the 1500’s but didn’t see much there and then returned in the 1700’s and established themselves. In 1821 Mexico succeeded in gaining it’s independence from Spain however there was a lot in instability in their government. In 1845 the Mexican-American war broke out over land rights and the North Americans claimed California as their own (a treaty was reached and payment was made for the area claimed). The peninsula remained part of Mexico while still maintaining the name California. So I went to Mexico for the first time (other than sitting in an airport in Mexico City). One could say it’s not the ‘real Mexico’ (which it really isn’t) but it was pretty cool to spend time there. Baja has an interesting landscape and is where the desert meets the sea. San Felipe has many gringos (Americans) who have retired there. It made me think about what retirement means to me and how I plan to spend mine. I haven’t come to any conclusions as yet but it is something which I need to contemplate more about in the future. My friends left after the weekend and I stayed for a few more days and did some fun stuff like having a buggy ride through the desert to see the giant cactuses and ripping over sand dunes, and hanging out with gringos in seedy bars (I did class it up by going to an art gallery opening!).

My friend that I met on the way to Catalina invited me to join her and a friend of hers to look around San Diego. She is an interesting woman who has been in the navy for many years. I am historically a bit of a left winger who doesn’t support war and has been known to attend anti war rallies. To meet, and become good friends, with someone in the navy has been a growth experience for me. Ironically, my new friend has many similar values to me in many areas which has reaffirmed my views that stereotyping limits understanding of others and their perspectives. I think as a liberal person, we can sometimes open our minds to minorities and social inclusion issues yet shut our minds down to subcultures that don’t fit in with our ideological perspective. I’ve already flagged my now recognised tendency to do this and my time in the US has challenged my exclusivity within my inclusive philosophical views. It has been an interesting exercise for me to broaden my acceptance of people and their views without necessarily having to agree with them about everything. I loved spending time with this friend as she is a generous, beautiful soul who I believe will be my friend in the long term.

My new friend took me to places I hadn’t seen in San Diego. We went to Barrio Logan where there is street art everywhere and most of it portrays the Mexican story. We headed up to the Cabrillo National monument which commemorates the landing of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542. We then went to Old Town which made me feel like I was in Mexico. It’s worth looking around at San Diego as it does have some very interesting places. The next day I went with my friend’s friend (now my friend! She is from the gulf and has been in the US for a few years and is an incredibly interesting beautiful person too!) to Galleta Meadows which has the most amazing metal sculptures. There are 130 of them across a large area. I only got to see about 20 of them but they are mind blowing, especially with them being out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by national park.

After spending more time hanging out with my brother and sister-in-law I headed off on another road trip. I went up the north coast of California and spent the first few days visiting Santa Barbara, Solvang, Mission Hills and Hearst Castle. I then headed up the Big Sur which was stunning and ended up in Monterey. I had planned to go further however realised that I was running out of time as I planned to be back at my brother’s for thanksgiving. I wanted to go to Yosemite but unfortunately snow storms were predicted and I didn’t want to get caught out so decided to head close to Sequoia National Park in the hope of seeing the big trees.

As it was, I was on the wrong side of the mountain and ended up exploring the desert instead. I could see the snow on the mountains which was pretty cool. I wandered around Alabama Hills and went up to Mono Lake which was about a 2 hour drive and close to Yosemite. I headed over to Death Valley National Park which is amazing. Badwater Basin, which is in the middle of the park is 282 feet/86 mts below sea level and is a massive expanse of salt. This still blows me away!

I took a day off my desert wandering and spent a day in Palm Springs which is a desert resort city. It is like a bit of an oasis in the middle of the desert. It wasn’t a bad place to indulge in art, food, wine and a bit of glitz. The next day I went to Joshua Tree National Park which has the most amazing rock formations and desert plant life. I have always been a lover of lush green landscapes and oceans however my experience wandering around the Californian desert gave me a true appreciation for the beauty of desert landscapes and rock formations. I look forward to exploring the deserts of Australia in the future.

I initially didn’t really see my visit to the US as being a part of my journey. It was just to see my brother (I couldn’t really travel around the world and not drop in, now could I! 😆). In saying that, the experience broadened my understanding of myself and opened my mind to recognising that diversity and inclusion is not limited by beliefs or language or economic status, on either side of the fence. I don’t necessarily agree with its politics, however, I have travelled enough countries to recognise that political corruption, manipulation and opposing agendas is rife across the world (including Australia) and that the people are not a reflection of the political environment even if they support their government. That doesn’t mean that I have to agree with them, however, I do need to open my mind to understanding why they see the world differently to me. Truth is relative and usually dependent on people’s experiences of their world. I don’t have a right to judge that, even if I disagree with them.

Anyway, I look forward to going a little further in exploring the United States next time I visit my brother. My understanding is that the culture is different across the country and it would be great to further broaden my understanding of the culture and its people (regardless of them speaking English!). I had an amazing time with my brother and sister-in-law and I am so grateful for their hospitality, generosity and the use of their car and taking me sailing! (one of the highlights of my trip!). It was the refuge I needed. I spent two traditional days with them…Halloween and Thanksgiving – and it was lovely to join in these events. I also spent time with my gorgeous niece and met some amazing people along the way. The US was supposed to be a time of resting up for the rest of my journey, however, I ended up on the road again for a lot of my time there which was tiring but I absolutely loved it. It was a very different experience to the rest of my journey, nevertheless, much to my surprise, it definitely became an integral part of my journey.

‘Let us sit bent, but talk straight’ – Moroccan Proverb.

After Lisbon, I flew to Marrakech. It was such a culture shock as I had totally gotten used to being in European countries and didn’t realise how such a different environment would impact on me. The fact that I am tired and probably a little over travelling didn’t help. The first day I really struggled to feel a connection with Marrakech and actually felt very anxious. I was staying in my friend’s home on my own in the old Médina and felt a little anxious even there. One thing I am so grateful for was meeting my friend’s friend and his family. They were so lovely and hospitable and treated me like family. They made my time in Marrakech a lot easier. On reflection, I also realised that, although I was fully aware it was my son’s (who died a number of years ago) birthday on the day I arrived, I don’t think I was aware of the impact on me which more than likely increased my anxiety.

I suppose my anxiety wasn’t helped either by the fact that I had my mobile phone stolen out of my bag while I was in the square on the second night. I had been to my new friend’s house for tea and was returning fairly late and a man bumped into me while I was looking at some performers which I’m pretty sure is when my phone was lifted. It’s interesting that on the same morning I had thought to myself that in 7 months I had not had anything stolen from me, and then it happens! It is the first time ever that I have been pickpocketed (for want of a better word) and it is a strange feeling. I actually wasn’t that upset, more annoyed at the inconvenience of not having a phone (I am totally lost without google maps! I’d still be in a India if it wasn’t for my phone!) and also grateful that it wasn’t my purse which had all my money, bank cards and keys to the house in it! So there’s my silver lining. I also realised that I need to be more careful with my bag, so I suppose it was a good lesson.

The funniest thing (well funny may not be the right word) is that I said sorry to him, when he bumped into me! Anyway, I really hoped that karma would bite him on the arse! However on reflection I have thought a lot about what tourism means to the average man on the street who lives in poverty. Tourism is great for those who have something to offer tourists, and they work hard at it, cajoling tourists to buy their goods, however for the average, struggling person the only opportunity tourism does give is that tourists have purses that they can beg from or steal out of. As much as it really did annoy me (and I’m not sure that my phone would have been much help for his circumstances even if he was capable of cleaning it), I also feel that it is understandable at some level. I have no idea what it is like to be that desperate so I have no idea at what lengths I would go to to obtain something of worth. Once again ‘there go I but by the grace of god’.

The Marrakech old Médina is very intense, but also very colourful and lively. Everyone wants to help (for a price, or not) and when my phone was stolen a couple of the store owners where absolutely lovely. There were more friendly people (well mainly men) than there were people trying to get something out of you but unfortunately those experiences tend to stick in your mind. After about a week in Marrakech, I got a bus to the coast to a place called Essaouira which is about 180kms from Marrakech. It was so chilled, including the old Médina, compared to the intensity of the old Médina in Marrakech so I enjoyed having some space. And it was the first (and only) place while I was in Morocco where I had beer! (And the only place I could find it except outside of Tangier!). I stayed at a lovely Airbnb owned by a gay English retiree who was a real sweetheart and great to chat to. I even felt safe walking around the laneways at night although there was an incident when a man approached me in a very quiet lane and made it very clear what his intentions were in no uncertain words! I didn’t feel unsafe, however, I checked that there were people around before managing to find my guesthouse.

I returned to Marrakech and spent a couple of nights with my new friends and then headed off on a Sahara tour for 4 days which landing me in Fes being about 550kms from Marrakech (the short way). The tour was great. I rode a camel to and from campsites where we slept in tents in Zagora and in Merzouga. Zagora was pretty cool however Merzouga is definitely the place to go! The sand dunes go on forever and riding a camel across them is an experience like no other. It was initially a bit scary, especially going down hills in soft sand, but it didn’t take long to get the swing of it (although it is a bit hard on the bum!). There was a lot of driving however the scenery was magic. Along the way there were a lot of police checking vehicles as we headed into towns and I thought it was amusing that cars would flash their high beams to warn approaching drivers. I wander if that is an international sign? The other thing I noticed throughout Morocco was people on the side of the road, more or less hitchhiking, attempting to flag down the tour buses. I discovered later that they have a shared taxi system which is similar to a buses who pick people up until they’re full (or overfull!).

I arrived in Fes pretty exhausted and looking forward to a quick bite, a hot shower and sleep! When I arrived, the guy who owns the guesthouse invited me to his baby’s naming celebration. I had been to a couple in Senegal so to see another countries was a gift. Muslims have these celebrations when the baby is 7 days old. There was music and dancing and lots of food which eventually came out after 10pm. It was probably the best time I had in Fes. The guesthouse was in the old Médina, which was like Marrakech’s old Médina on steroids. The sellers where much more pushy, young men purposely got me lost in the convoluted laneways so I had to pay them to get me out (similar things happened in Marrakech however it wasn’t necessarily money they wanted!). In Fes I realised that the small spaces create anxiety in me and with the intensity of people wanting a piece of you (and your purse) my anxiety rose and I really struggled with the old Médina. When I recognised this, I spent more time outside the old Médina where I could breathe. I spoke to a few women since who agreed that when they were on their own, the sellers and those with other interests became more intense than when they were with a man. As a tall, blonde, solo woman traveller, who also struggles with anxiety, I found the experience incredibly difficult and I was disappointed with myself for not managing it better. But once again, c’est la vie. Another insight into myself and another lesson learnt.

From Fes I got the bus to Chefchaouen, the ‘blue city’ or ‘blue pearl’ which is around 200kms north east of Fes in the mountains. The old Médina is very beautiful and very very blue. Even loose building materials in empty blocks were painted blue! One story is that the Jews came to Chefchaouen to escape Hitler in the 1930s and painted the city blue to remind them of the heavens and to lead a spiritual life. Now they continue to paint it blue and it is a major tourist attraction especially with the Chinese. The old Médina was very low key and more spacious than the medinas of Marrakech and Fes. Outside the Médina there was a river with parkland and a Spanish Mosque on top of a mountain which is accessible by a pathway and a rather large Kasbah! (Which of course, I rocked!). Chefchaouen was an easy place to relax in. The guesthouse I was in had a terrace with a wonderful view where I spent my time when I wasn’t looking around. The only real downside was that I managed to get food poisoning! But the positive is that it also gave me permission to stop for a day.

I then took the bus to Tangier which is around 115kms north of Chefchaouen on the north coast of Morocco. On the bus, I met an amazing Australian woman and her daughter. The woman is also travelling for 12 months and it was great to share our experiences. Tangier is directly across from the coast of Spain and on a clear day I could see Spain and even Gibraltar which was pretty awesome. The Airbnb host was lovely and drove me to places where I could get a shared taxi (or grande taxi). The taxi doesn’t leave until it is full or almost full however costs a fraction of the cost of a personal taxi (or petite taxi). I travelled in a shared taxi to a coastal place around 40kms away called Asilah which has a beautiful, very quiet old Médina.

Tangier was a fairly relaxed place as well. The Médina was a bit hectic however I was staying outside the Médina and didn’t go there too often. There was a cafe called Cafe Hafa just down the road from where I was staying which overlooks the Strait of Gibraltar. It was opened in 1921 and has been visited by a number of famous writers and singers, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Not far from there, there is a huge park which is divided into cafes (no food, just tea and coffee) with at least 100 tables and chairs where the men (and women, but mostly men) drink their very sweet mint tea and play board games. Next to that there is a place for families and children and sports grounds. During the day, the whole park is fairly empty, however, after sunset it is full of people and activity. This area did not have many tourists so, once again, I was pretty obvious, however, most people just smiled at me and said ‘bonjour’ which was lovely.

There were so many beautiful places in Morocco and some amazing people, however, I had difficulty managing my own feelings and my anxiety more so than I had imagined. I have travelled so many countries including third world countries and I was very surprised (and disappointed) at how I reacted to Morocco. As a solo travelling woman, I did feel a bit vulnerable, however, I never felt unsafe. I was a little disappointed that, unlike Turkey, as a non-muslim I was unable to enter the mosques. However, I respect this position which is completely within the rights of the people and their culture, nevertheless I would have loved to have been able to go in. Regardless of the difficulties I encountered, my reflections on my stay in Morocco are more positive as I did have so many wonderful experiences. Riding a camel across the Sahara to sleep in a tent in the desert was in my top three most amazing experiences since being on this journey. I have no regrets. However, I was tired. I felt tired of being a tourist and tired of travelling and tired of negotiating different cultures which I did not really know much about. My next stop is the United States. I felt that this move would be a welcomed relief and as I was going to stay with my brother and his wife I felt that this would give me the respite I needed to rebuild my strength to carry on with this journey.

Lisbon – fairy castles and all things nice.

I have been a bit slack in keeping up with this blog. So here goes…. Lisbon.

Lisbon is an amazing place with so much to see. I stayed there for 12 nights and managed to have a couple of days rest with the knowledge that I wasn’t seeing everything there was to see. But that’s ok. After almost 7 months of travelling with very few days of rest I desperately needed a break. After travelling around Spain with not much opportunity to talk to others once I left Barcelona, I realised how lonely I was feeling. In Lisbon I was so lucky as my friends from Sydney were there for 3 days while I was and we hung out which was so nice. And then the last night a couple of friends from my home town arrived so I ended up having dinner with them. It’s so amazing to have these types of opportunities when being 16000 kilometres from home!

Lisbon has only become a popular tourist attraction in the last few years and they have worked hard to manage the influx of tourists which, from my perspective, they have basically achieved. It has so much going for it on so many levels. Lisbon reminded me of San Fransisco as it had some very steep streets near the ocean. I was a little out of the main city however it was easy to negotiate public transport in and out of the centre. I also did a lot of walking… especially up hills and stairs!

The street art was great. There is an artist, Bordal ii, who uses recycled materials for his street art and is becoming very well known in Lisbon and even commissioned. The government commissions a lot of street art which is pretty cool. I did a lot of walking to explore this amazing city and it’s street art and was rewarded with more than I expected.

The architecture in Lisbon is amazing. From the ancient to the modern. Even the main train station, Gare do Oriente, which was built in 1994 is a wonderful example of architecture. Although I was basically over churches after being in Spain and seeing so much opulence (except Sagrada Familia – still one of my top 3 sights), I did visit a few in Lisbon. The cathedrals and churches in Lisbon were understated compared to Spain’s with very little over the top opulence. My favourite was the Igreja do Carmo church, built in the late 1300’s which was partially destroyed during the earthquake of 1755. The story is that they never repaired it to remind them of the devastation it caused as many were killed when it collapsed. However, it is so beautiful in its disrepair.

If you are in Lisbon, you definitely have to of visit Sintra and Cascais which are both a train ride away. I initially booked a day tour to Sintra and Cascais. I don’t normally do tours, however, I was a bit anxious about doing these trips on my own for some reason. As it was, the universe decided to show me my own capabilities and the tour was cancelled so I took the train the Cascais one day and took my time looking around, and caught the train another day to Sintra. Sintra was amazing. I managed to get the bus up to Pena Palace without too much of a wait (sometimes you can wait for hours!) as I got there early. Although I only purchased a ticket for the outside areas, it was amazing. The line for inside was so so long that I was grateful I hadn’t purchased one. I decided to walk down the hill to the castle (the right decision again as the direction the bus would have taken was bumper to bumper for kilometres). I loved both the palace and the castle which are both nestled in the forest covered mountains. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be and a lot more enjoyable taking my time doing what I wanted when I wanted.

Lisbon, for me, gave me some refuge from the intensity of my travels. I was staying in a separate part of a lovely apartment in the suburbs with a lovely family who provided me with wine, cheese and crackers on my first night and soup and bread during my stay, so I felt looked after, which I sorely needed. I had the companionship and love of my friends while I was there after not really having any genuine contact with people who care about me since Barcelona which was wonderful. I had enough time to recuperate some of my energy and passion for my journey. It was an easy place to navigate either walking or on public transport and I felt totally safe even at night on my own. Lisbon is beautiful and definitely well worth the visit.

‘Everything that can be imagined is real’. Pablo Picasso

The last few weeks have been spent busing it around Spain.

I travelled from Barcelona to Valencia where I stayed for a week. Valencia is a beautiful city surrounded by orange groves (of course!) Not as spectacular as Barcelona however pretty amazing. And the street art! The first thing I noticed when I was walking from the local bus to the Airbnb was the street art, and in the old town it is everywhere. I was more caught up with it than with the buildings! Throughout the backstreets of the old town there is so much street art – some legal, some not. I ended up going on a free street art tour. I’m not a big fan of tours, however this one piqued my interest and was not historical (because we know how much I love history!) and it was Free! There are a lot of these free tours in Spain and there is an expectation to pay something at the end although not a requisite. I did end up giving the tour guide some money as the tour was great and I loved her enthusiasm for street art. I had already discovered a lot of the art, but had missed some major pieces so it was worth it. It also made me more aware of the actual artists, rather than just the art. Summer is not the best time to visit as not only is it incredibly hot and humid. Parts of Valencia stop as shop owners close their shops to head off on summer vacation. That didn’t impact on me very much as I’m not a shopper however the heat did get overwhelming at times. The day it hit 42 degrees and a zillion percent humidity, I escaped into an air conditioned room and didn’t move!

I decided to hit the south coast to give myself a break from the cities (and the heat!). I bussed it down to Torrevieja which I thought would be a quiet little tourist spot however it was a very busy metropolis with an above average (in my opinion) influx of English holiday makers. I stayed in an apartment not far from the beach which was pretty nice. Walking down to the beach reminded me of home as my beautiful little house is 600 metres from the ocean. Although I miss my beautiful space and friends, I know it will be there when I get back with very few changes. It was a nice respite from the heat being near the water and I do love being in the ocean. The most amazing thing about this area was the Laguna Rosa. It was about a 50 minute walk from where I was staying and was well worth it! This beautiful lake is pink and incredibly salty. It’s pink due to some bacteria which is also found in the Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake (according to Dr Google!). Anyhow, it is incredible and worth the visit.

I moved onto Alicante as I had been told it was beautiful. Alicante definitely is a beautiful little city. The focal point of the city is the Santa Barbara Castle which is on a hill near the beach. It can be seen from most vantage points in Alicante. The castle dates back to the 9th century when that part of the coast was in Muslim hands until it was captured on the Saint Barbara feast day (hence the name) by the Castilian Christians. There are less tourists than in Torrevieja and the beach was not as crowded. It was nice to have some more downtime before hitting the big cities again. I was staying in an Airbnb with a Russian girl and a Danish couple. Except for the Danish guy, they were not that friendly which as an Australian out there type of person, I found a bit difficult, however I got used to the lines of non-communication. It was interesting living very separately and almost avoiding each other in the apartment. Travelling solo can be a lonely venture and communication would have been nice. Regardless, I really enjoyed being there. The apartment was beautiful and had a lovely patio with an amazing view of the ocean and the castle. From where I was, I could walk along the beach promenade to the city. In fact, everything was walkable which suited me fine.

Then off I went to Granada. Granada is absolutely stunning! I loved it as soon as I arrived. The old style apartment I stayed at overlooked a cute little square where the local old guys meet and chat. This is something I’ve noticed throughout the European countries I have been travelling around – wherever there is somewhere to sit in the shade, you will find groups of old guys sitting and chatting. It was lovely listening to them, albeit, not understanding a word they were saying! I did the touristy stuff as one does and particularly enjoyed heading up the hills to see the old churches and monastery. The villages around these places are beautiful and it is not as touristy as some of the places. The centre of Granada is Alhambra which is on a hill overlooking the rest of Granada. It can be seen from numerous vantage points. It was built at the end of the Muslim rule in the mid 13th century before being taken over by the Castilian Christians. I didn’t get to go in as the tickets were sold out for over a week and I had already booked my travel ahead of time, which is disappointing but c’est la vie. It was an incredibly touristy area and although it was beautiful especially as it was surrounded by beautiful trees, I didn’t enjoy it as much as wandering the streets outside the city. Obviously I may have thought differently if I had of seen Alhambra as I have no doubt it would have been magnificent.

I took a bus the Seville which is an inland city not far from the border of Portugal. I didn’t take to Seville like I did to Granada. I think part of the reason was that I was well over churches and cathedrals for twofold reasons. For one, I think I need variety in my touristic escapade. Since being in Turkey, I have seen so many churches that I’m finding them a little boring (except Sagrada Familia of course!). I know that they vary greatly, and I actually still enjoy the more gothic churches, but I’m not that impressed by the opulence. Which brings me to the second reason – the full on opulence of the churches and cathedrals. They can be so over the top, and dare I say, gaudy (which appears to be acceptable for churches and Christmas decorations). I’m a bit of a minimalist so find it a bit too full on anyway, however, when beggars are at the doors it definitely reveals the deficiencies in a system where these churches are so obviously rich while people in the streets go without. It contradicts my perception of what Christianity should be about. Anyway, that’s a whole different discussion, however, I do question my unwitting (or not) support of a system like this as I have paid to see these churches. What does that make me? (Rhetorical question…no need to answer!).

I did my usual hunt for street art and found some along the river, however the majority of it was tagging (which isn’t my thing). I found it interesting that the part of the river which was touristy was in good condition, however the rest of the riverside was overrun with weeds and broken glass. Other than that there wasn’t much street art (that I could find) except in a suburb about 30 minutes by bus outside of Seville which reminded me very much of housing commission suburbs in Australia. The area is full of apartment blocks with very little difference between them. Apparently the government wanted to cheer the place up a bit so commissioned street artists to do some work. I’m not sure if it makes a difference for the inhabitants however it is beautiful. I particularly loved the flamenco dancer (for the inscription more than the artwork). It says ‘Now you understand why my heads not bowed, it’s in the click of my heals, the bend of my hair, the palm of my hand, the need of my care, ‘cause I’m a phenomenally phenomenal woman, that’s me!’.

Speaking of flamenco, I really wanted to know something about flamenco so I went on another free tour (and gave money at the end) which gave the history of flamenco. In Seville, flamenco started across the river in Traina which is where the poor and the gypsies lived. The well to do Sevillians saw the Trainians enjoying themselves singing and dancing (the guitar came later as most poor people couldn’t afford them) and wanted the same so they imported some gypsies over the river to entertain them. The guide said that ‘flamenco’ means ‘evolution’ which is essentially what flamenco did. It evolved (devolved?) from ad hoc storytelling to rehearsed entertainment and the outfits became more fashionable and extremely expensive. She also said that the Spanish word ‘ole’ came from the Arabic word Allah and basically means, ‘oh my god, that’s amazing!’. The guide left us at a flamenco bar in the old part of Seville where there was a short free show. After a taste, I went to a show in Triana which was allegedly more authentic than the Sevillian shows. It was in a small, intimate theatre with not too many people and there was a sense of simplicity in the dress and the performance. Obviously it was rehearsed on some level, however, I really loved it and it was a great way to finish my time in Spain.

So there endeth my time in Spain. I have been travelling for almost 7 months now and my confidence as a sole traveller has grown exponentially. Initially I was getting taxis to and from airports and staying in hotels as I felt it was an easier option and less likely for me to get lost and my stress levels were pretty high. I have mostly been travelling by bus between destinations and have not been in a taxi since I was in Turkey, instead using public transport. I have to say though, that I love google maps! (Although sometimes not so much when I end up in the wrong place!). Anyone who know me knows that I have always been directionally challenged. The whole concept of left and right has not set in my brain for some reason and there is no hope with east and west! However, I have been managing to navigate my way around cities with no local language skills and have actually arrived at the right places (and when I haven’t, have enjoyed the adventure and seen some things I may not have otherwise). This is huge for me and may not excite those more directionally capable treasures out there, but for me it is a major accomplishment.

I really miss my home, my friends and the beautiful place that I live in, however, I have become accustomed to this itinerant lifestyle and part of me is concerned that I’m going to get itchy feet once I get settled back into my ‘normal’ life. Or maybe I’ll just adapt. Us humans are very blessed in our adaptability. We adapt to the bad things in our life which decreases the pain, but we also adapt to the good things in our life which decreases the joy. Outside of that, all we have is our attitude. Be miserable about the bad stuff that has happened to us and what we don’t have, or be grateful for the great things that have happened to us and what we do have. One thing that I have been learning on this journey (amongst many other things) is to go with the flow. One of the downsides of being an independent woman is that I always feel that I need to be in control otherwise things will not work out. Since travelling, I’ve come to realise that it is actually the opposite. When you let yourself go with the flow, beautiful things come your way. It may not be what you thought you wanted, however, it will be right for you. Not so great things come your way as well, however, it’s highly likely that they were coming your way anyway and having control of your life and your environment (as much as one can) doesn’t actually stop these things from happening. But it is so less stressful! I’m not advocating for sitting around and waiting for life to happen to you. We all need to have goals and to work towards these goals, however we also need to not be too attached to the outcomes as it doesn’t always go to plan and the disappointment in that can overwhelm us. Travelling has had it ups and downs as one would expect, and at the beginning of this journey I definitely felt a lot of lows, however, it has, and continues to be, an amazing opportunity which I continue to be grateful for.

‘There are some days when I think I’m going to die from an overdose of satisfaction’. Salvador Dalí

The last few weeks have been rather hectic and I have moved around a bit since my last entry. I also lost my mojo… just a bit. It is almost 6 months since I started this journey and I have had the most wonderful experiences, however, it has also been tiring and I’ve been feeling a little homesick (again). I think it is the nature of the travel beast and I’m still finding it difficult to balance the need to see everything I possibly can, and taking time out to recover.

But to catch you all up….

After I left the retreat, I visited a friend I met in Tanzania now living in a city, Vejle, on the mainland of Denmark. Vejle has some interesting architecture on the docks which took my fancy, otherwise it’s a fairly quite, pretty place. My friend is obviously a black African and it made me sad to see how isolated he felt in this city. He felt like he was the only black man there however I saw others and even spoke to a black guy about the African population in Vejle. I think he’s biggest issue was the sense of not belonging to this country and being incredibly home sick for the expansiveness of Tanzania. And it is clear to me, through conversations with him and others, that racism is alive and well in Denmark as it is in many other white dominated countries. White privilege is real and as white people, we have no idea what it is like to live in a black man’s skin, even if we are empathic to their experience.

My friend’s main reason for being in Denmark is that he has a daughter to his Danish ex wife and he wanted to be closer to her. I admire his commitment to his child especially considering the sacrifices that he has had to make to be near her. He also supports some of his family at home. I have met a number of African men who have moved to the ‘first world’ to support their family and even though they are working in relatively low paid jobs, they have created a lifestyle for their families in Africa that they would never have dreamed of otherwise. Families who have lived in one dirt floor room scraping together enough to eat now have houses to accommodate the whole family and more than enough to eat and they live well. It makes me think once again about how much these people have sacrificed for the sake of, not just their immediate family, but their extended family, and how culturally different we are where the sense of sharing is so natural for them whereas our cultural bent is ‘everyone for themselves’.

When I left Vejle, I decided to go over to Sweden for a change of scenery (because I could!). Most of the time was spent in Malmo which is about an hour out of Copenhagen. Malmo is multicultural and the two areas where I stayed had a strong Muslim presence. The second place is supposedly notorious for being the worst area in Malmo but I’m not really sure what that means. One thing I noticed, regardless of said reputation, was that there was a lot of parkland around this area which gave the place a nice feeling and I saw a lot of Muslim families picnicking. I had no concerns with walking around and felt totally safe. While at Malmo, I took a trip to an amazing little place up the coast called Angelholm for a bit of a rest. I stayed at a B&B right next to the sea just out of Angelholm. The area was fairly unpopulated and there wasn’t much around – a bit like an outback Australian country town but by the sea…and with no pub! Sweden, even in the height of summer, is cool relative to what I’m used to. While I was there I hired a a bicycle which I rode north which was a beautiful experience and I did end up having a swim. The water was freezing of course.

Sweden is an interesting place. My Swedish friend told me that the government is very open to supporting human rights issues, such as refuges, women’s rights, LGBTIQ rights (while I was there, Gay Pride was being celebrated) and the right to be nude however they are strict on what they consider issues which are harmful, such as drug use, smoking laws, alcohol sales etc. After being able to walk into a grocery store in Croatia and Denmark to buy alcohol, I was a bit taken aback that Sweden was not as liberal around access to alcohol. However, the other side of the coin is that there is one distributor in Sweden basically monopolising the alcohol industry which makes me wonder if alcohol misuse is indeed a governmental concern or a way of supporting a monopoly. Anyway, it’s interesting.

I went back to Copenhagen to catch up with my son for a couple of days and then flew to Barcelona. Barcelona is absolutely amazing! It is not a huge city by any means however the strong sense of history and the amazing array of architecture is breathtaking. Every corner I turned revealed another jaw dropping architectural discovery. Even the buildings which are not considered tourist attractions were amazing. The other thing I loved was the street art (of course). Barcelona is a busy, noisy, colourful city which is well worth the visit.

The other interesting thing about Barcelona which I didn’t know is that although it is in Spain, it is part of a distinct region, Catalonia, and many of the locals speak Catalonian, not Spanish. Catalonia was historically separated from the rest of Spain, however in the early 1900’s Catalan lost its autonomy and Catalonians were oppressed and forced to adhere to Spanish rules and language. Things started to change in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1978 that other communities were once again recognised and allowed to be autonomous. In 2010, Spanish nationalists attempted to invalidate the laws supporting Catalonian autonomy which resulted in massive protests in 2010 and 2012. The conflict has continued and it appears, from what I can see, that there is still some issues around Catalonia gaining its independence from Spain. There are still political prisoners and throughout Barcelona there are Catalonian flags and banners demanding the release of these prisoners. I have been finding the history of the countries I have been travelling in so interesting which, for one who has had no interest in history in the past, is nothing short of a miracle!

The pièce de résistance for me in Barcelona was definitely the Sagrada Família. I don’t usually pay to go into places like this unless I know I’m in for a treat (or it’s cheap!). When I went to Sagrada Familia initially the tickets to go in were sold out. I purchased a ticket on line there and then however had to wait 6 days to eventually get in and it was well worth the wait. The external architecture of this building is fascinating and worth a visit in itself, however, the inside of this building blew my mind! Walking into this architectural wonderment literally took my breath away! It is more than likely the most amazing building I have ever set eyes on. I have been told that the Taj Mahal is up there with the Sagrada Familia and am now disappointed that I didn’t make the effort, although I’m pretty sure I’ll go back to India one day to see it.

While in Barcelona, I stayed with a Costa Rican friend who I met through my son. She is studying in Barcelona and lives in a share house as many Uni students do. She actually moved house while I was there taking her things, including me, from one place to the other. It was interesting living the share house experience. It has been a long time since I felt like I was couch surfing – I think the last time was many many years ago when I left a relationship and had no where to live dragging 3 young children behind me. Travelling for the last 6 months has definitely had this flavour however I have basically been able to stay on my own (except when my beautiful friend travelled Croatia with me but that was totally different). It was actually a great experience especially in recognising the need to live light and to get on with people you may not actually even know (or like) otherwise it could become a problem. I’ve lived mainly on my own since my son moved out 10 years ago with the exception of a friend living with me for 18 months (who was so easy to live with!), or friends and family visits and Airbnb visitors. I think it is a challenge to live with others in this communal setting and to manage life moving from one place to another is not overly settling. However, it made me think about how unnecessary what we sometimes think is essential is…especially in relation to ‘stuff’.

Most of the material possessions which we accumulate have no meaning or consequence to our lives except to weigh us down, physically, emotionally and mentally. Over the last few years I have become very aware of what I think I need and what I purchase. I suppose I have become a minimalist to some degree. When I was young and broke with 3 children in tow I couldn’t afford anything but the basics. When I started on my belated career path and was earning reasonable money, it took me some time to be able to give myself permission to buy stuff that wasn’t absolutely necessary. I probably went overboard a little but definitely not to excess. However, I basically stopped spending unnecessarily a few years ago when I considered the impact on the environment that consumerism has and the fact that ‘stuff’ does not bring happiness and only clutters and complicates our lives.

Travelling with just a backpack (albeit a large one) has made it clearer just how little we need in this life to be happy. I have some beautiful things that I love packed away at home which I will not begrudge myself of. Notwithstanding, I think we need to be very aware of what is important to us, and ensure that ‘stuff’ is not at the top of the list. My travelling tells me that experiences are definitely important, although, maybe they are ‘stuff’ in a different form. Human relationships are much more important although at times, not as comforting and consistent as ‘stuff’. They are hard work and painful and I have learnt that in so many ways… especially through loss. I have a history of avoiding them and still do in some areas of my life. Nevertheless, they are worth the risk as life is pretty bleak without them. I could have all the ‘stuff’ in the world at my disposal however without human relationships, it means nothing. This isn’t rocket science and there are plenty of people in the world with this manifesto for living, including me, yet sometimes it is empty rhetoric as people continue to accumulate ‘stuff’ and hold onto it so tight at the risk of losing those they love, regardless of the hyperbole. It’s something which I will continue to ponder on especially in relation to how I live my life when I return home.

And so the journey continues… In the next few weeks I am planning to continue travelling around Spain until I reach Lisbon, Portugal and then I’m off to Morocco.

Incognito in Copenhagen….and a bit on the side.

Copenhagen is a multicultural city – a melting pot of cultures and religions. The other cities I have been to on this journey have had some diversity however have mostly been culturally homogeneous. I am totally unnoticeable. Even if it was less diverse, I would still be so unnoticeable as I look like a Dane as many of the women there are tall and blonde. I have experienced situations where after speaking English I was still asked if I was Danish and one guy told me that I speak English very well! (I would hope so considering it is the only language I know!). I had a film crew stop me in a skate park while I was walking the hired bicycle to a coffee shop and ask me to be in a Danish government film. Once it was established that I wasn’t actually Danish, they weren’t worried as no one would know. Anyways, it was interesting to fit in so well into a country that isn’t actually mine, nor do I have direct heritage (although it appears that although my father was English, his ancestors were Vikings so maybe I do have Danish in me!).

Copenhagen is an incredibly beautiful city with extensive green parks and wicked street art. While I was there, it was noisy and colourful and full of life. There were a lot of open trucks driving around the streets full of young people obviously celebrating something. I asked someone and was told that they were celebrating graduating from school. It went for 3 days with other drivers honking their horns and others waving to show their support of these young people’s achievement! I think that is pretty cool.

I hired a bicycle for 3 days to ride around and see everything. I had plenty of time as sunrise is around 4.30am and it sets around 10.30pm (it’s dark a lot of the time in winter). The roads are amazing and created just as much for bikes as they are for cars. There are bike lanes in most places and the road rules which apply to cars also basically apply to bikes. It’s strange being given way by cars and not have them pissed off (which can happen in Australia). Anyway, riding around on the first day looking at the historical buildings and major tourist sites was very cool. Because I was riding I saw a lot more of Copenhagen than I would have otherwise.

The next day I went hunting for street art which took me to new places to explore. I ended up in Christiania which is the hippy area in Copenhagen. They have markets which sell the usual markety stuff however in the middle of the market there are mainly pot and hash stands. I was asked not to take photos there as, I quote, ‘everyone is a criminal’. Although Christiania likes to see themselves as separate from Copenhagen, they are under the same laws which includes drugs being illegal. One of the guys who live there told me that originally the area was military land and buildings and then became a squat for hippies when it closed down. The community eventually purchased the land from the government so it is now legitimately owned by them.

When I was younger and living in Sydney, I always wanted to live in a commune in Nimbin, however, my feelings changed as I realised I had a romanticised perception of life in a commune and I observed the dismantling of their ideals over time. Although it was great to visit Christiania, I could never live there either. I felt a sense of despondency and a lack of freedom which comes from living in a homogeneous sub-culture. It is one thing I love about living in Kingscliff. Although I disagree with the views of some sections of my community, at least there is diversity and the freedom (to an extent) to have ones’ own beliefs and opinions.

On my last day, I looked around for more street art, however, it was raining off and on so I spent some time at the place I was staying. It was a sparsely furnished one room studio apartment with a bathroom, a small storage room and a patio. I actually really enjoyed staying there. I loved the minimalism and simplicity of it. The apartment is in Nørrebro which is culturally diverse and included a large Arabic community. I settled in and felt like I was living there and was a little sad when it was time to move on. Copenhagen has been so easy in relation to my travel experiences. I definitely could live in Copenhagen although I would have to refrain from buying too many coffees as they were 40 danish krone (around $8.70 AUD) for a latte! (The same as I paid for a kebab!). And the weather would probably not suit me as summer has an average temperature of a Kingscliffian winter and the winter is freezing!

I left Copenhagen to go to a retreat in the countryside about 1 1/2 hours south of Copenhagen where my son is now living. It was lovely to see my beautiful boy (yes, he’s a 30 year old man but he will always be my beautiful boy!). Especially as I haven’t seen him for over 2 years. I spent some of the time riding a bicycle through the countryside to the sea absorbing this beautiful part of Denmark. Most of my time was spent immersing myself in a Kama Sutra Immersion Retreat. An interesting way to spend time in the countryside of Denmark! To many of us, the Kama Sutra is a book of interesting (and at times impossible!) sexual positions, however, it appears that originally it was much more than that. It was a philosophy of life as well as love… a ‘map to living’ according to the teacher (and Wikipedia!). It describes erotic energy, as adverse to sexual energy, which involves emotional intelligence and a hell of a lot of non sexualised, erotic touching. It was an interesting experience and pushed me way outside my comfort zone on a number of levels. I learnt a lot about myself and I had to face a lot of the fears instilled in me by my childhood, my self perpetuating insecurities and inhibitions, and the country where I grew up.

After speaking to Danish and Swedish people at the retreat, I realised just how prudish, archaic and debilitating Australian culture can be, especially in relation to nudity. We hide our bodies like they are something to be ashamed of and we only show them if they are socially aesthetically ‘acceptable’. It is really sad as I think it incubates feelings of insecurity and shame especially in young women (and more than likely young men as well). Sadly, young people in Sweden are reverting back to ‘modesty’ possibly due to the influence of American TV according to my Swedish friends.

Shamelessness was one of the topics at the retreat and one which really impacted on me. Shame stops us from being spontaneous, curious and free to be ourselves. I also think it contributes to us doing things that we would rather not do in a clumsy attempt to abolish the power shame has over us. I have definitely experienced that. Not every aspect of the retreat resonated with my values, however, my philosophy in life is that there is something to reflect on and learn from in every experience, and I feel that I learnt a lot from this one. There were many important principles which I have taken with me on my journey to further digest. I also made some beautiful connections with people who will continue to be my friends into the future.

So, this journey continues to challenge me and to be a reflective and learning process as well as bringing me joy… and I continue to be grateful for the amazing opportunities, be they challenging and/or pleasant, that open up before me.