life, travel

Realisations & friendly strangers…


For quite some time I’d entertained the idea of buying a house in or around the Dordogne region of France.

I’d spent countless hours scouring the pages of Rightmove, bookmarking properties.

Here’s the thing, when I finally arrived, I simply didn’t ‘feel’ it.

Interestingly, the apartment I had in Brive la Gailliarde was beautiful.

A circular staircase snaked upward through the centre of the building, it’s steps worn from the imprint of many footsteps that have tread upon them over many years, and quite possibly, centuries.

A Juliet balcony overhung the cobblestone street that carved its way through buildings dating back to the 17th century.

It was historically mesmerizing: but again, I didn’t feel it. Unlike my wanderings through Toulouse where the energy was intoxicating.

However rather than wallow in the disappointment, I embraced the fact that I was meant to come here and make the realization: this is simply not my place.

And that’s okay.

Yet still my love affair with France continues: it’s language, it’s people and it’s culture pull me into its melodic web.

And that sentiment shone brightly yesterday when I stopped at a street cafe for a beer after a long walk to the hostel.

Still wearing Kevin, (Daphne didn’t suit ‘him’) my faithful pack, we had to squeeze ourselves in between small, round tables and bright red chairs. I guess I could’ve just off loaded Kevin, in hindsight it may have been easier, but I didn’t think I’d be there long.

Just as I took my first sip, a group of people approached me and asked me something in French. Now having perfected my spiel, ‘l happily blurted out (and no doubt butchered, their beautiful language).

‘… ah je suis australien, et je ne parle en petit peu Français, parlez plus lentiment, s’il vous plait.

Basically I’m sorry I only speak a little French, could you please speak slowly.

There were no raised eyebrows or sly sniggers, quite the contrary. They responded by speaking perfect English with oh so sexy accents.

Funnily enough, after exchanging stories bestowing them with more of my childlike French, they said when I spoke French, for them, I soundly sexy!!! Too many Pernods perhaps?

There you go, learn a little French and cut yourself loose in France: you never know your luck 😳😳🤣.

What I found most humbling during my time with these lovely people was their kindness and willingness to help me with my French. I was also extremely touched by their praise for my apparent bravery at travelling solo.

I was touched by their praise, however I never feel my solo travels are brave.

It’s interesting to see yourself through someone else’s eyes: I would never have thought myself brave – ah c’est la vie…

So as dusk begins to ascend upon my travels and my time in Europe draws to a close, I can look back upon where I’ve left footprints.

I’m grateful for where I’ve been, who I’ve met and what I’ve achieved.

Brave? Personally I don’t think so: challenging, inspiring & humbling are words that come to mind.

So for now, I’ll spend my last few days in France enjoying the company of an old friend.

And the next chapter?

That remains unwritten…

life, travel

A French love affair…


Walking along paths framed by wheat fields, climbing across majestic mountains and traversing through forests whilst being stalked by horses was an experience I’ll never forget.

And already, I deeply miss walking the Camino.

I miss the feeling of knowing the morning heralded another day of simply being in the present. Another day of simply placing one foot in front of another, hour after hour. It was so humbling and and so rewarding.

I truly wish I’d had more time to finish the entire Camino: unfortunately I did not.

But like others before me, I will return.

Instead, I’m continuing my love affair with France, a country I adore. The language, the landscape and the friendliness of the people.

Some may ‘tut tut’ at that last sentence, but I’ve always found French people to be warm and friendly.

This visit is no different.

My chance encounter with a French couple who’d just completed the entire Camino [Le Puy en Valay to Finisterre, approx 1600kms]. They happily shared very useful advice on walking Le Puy.

Bruno, my Airbnb host who warmly accepted my very last minute booking ( 1 hour), and who then praised my poor French language skills.

The wonderful people who invited me into the masses to enjoy and support Gay Pride.

And today: the wait staff at a restaurant where I stopped for lunch. They chatted animatedly with me before inviting me to join them later for drinks and dinner. I declined as I needed to get back to my Airbnb, however I was humbled by their kindness.

Tomorrow I head further north for a few days of walking through old villages, before heading to Lyon to spend time with an old, dear friend who I’ve not seen in quite a few years.

And just as my love affair with France continues, so does my love of travelling solo.

I’m never lonely, never frightened and despite missing my precious sons, special friends and of course my beloved sausages, life is sweet.

To those who fear solo travel, fear not, for it truly is an amazing experience that heightens the senses and soothes the soul…

❤️❤️🐾🐾❤️❤️

life

A new road to walk…


Due to the date of my return flight, and commitments with my Sausage Dog Hotel at home, my time on the Camino Frances was only going to be 7 – 10 days.

As my walk continued, I knew the day was soon approaching when my walk in Spain would end.

And today was the day.

Whilst walking alone on one of the most beautiful stretches of the Camino, something happened and I just knew today was the day to leave the Camino Francis.

It wasn’t planned, I simply set off earlier than my lovely Camino buddy, Chu and sometime during that 14 km walk to the next town of Los Arcos, I knew my time on this walk had come to an end.

And what an end it was.

Vineyards, olive groves and fields of wheat framed the long stretches of dirt road. In the distance, emerald green hills rolled over the landscape and the endless tweeting of small birds filtered through the air.

I did not listen to music, only the sounds of nature and the gentle crunching of my footsteps on the dirt track as I placed one foot in front of the other.

I felt totally alone in the world. It was peaceful, therapeutic and incredibly calming.

I cannot verbally express the feeling of peace. The feeling of knowing I was on the right road.

My road.

It was then I knew it was time to walk part of another Camino: one that takes the pilgrim through the south west of France from Le Puy en Valay to Saint Jean Pied de Port.

Although my feelings to head to France and walk part of Camino Le Puy were strong, it also made sense for two reasons: firstly I’d be closer to Paris and my flight home and secondly, I’d get to walk through some of France’s most beautiful villages and countryside.

I arrived in Los Arcos and found bus that took me to San Sebastián via Pamplona and then onto Toulouse.

The journey from Los Arcos to Pamplona gave me an insight as to just how far I’d walked. I can’t describe how I felt seeing the massive wind turbines that I passed only 3 days before. It was a highly emotional moment. Had I, a 57 year old woman really walked that far?

I had and I was so damn proud of my achievement.

In Pamplona whilst waiting to my bus to San Sebastián, I spoke with an Italian man who is about to commence his Camino. He looked fit and about 30, yet he said he was getting a bus to Roncesvalles, rather than leaving from Saint Jean and traversing the Pyrenees: ‘It’s too hard…’ he told me. ‘I’ve heard it’s very tough on the body, I don’t think I’ll make it…’.

I smiled at him and said, ‘You can do it, yes, it’s tough, but believe in your ability to do it and you will. If I can, then so can you…’

I saw him a little later: he walked over to me and in broken English said, ‘ I go to Saint Jean, I walk over big mountain like you…’

For the second time today an enormous feeling of gratification flooded through my body. My Camino Frances experience had washed over and inspired someone else.

I felt elated.

I’m now sitting in a hostel in San Sebastián, sipping a cold beer and feeling pretty damn happy.

And San Sebastián is stunning btw..

But instead of exploring, tomorrow it’s on to my beloved France and hopefully a nice walk in the countryside…

life

Sleeping with strangers…


It’s now 0500 on day 3 of my Camino Frances and everything I read about sleep deprivation due to snoring in the dorms has become a reality.

Thankfully the aubergue Chu and I are staying in has a lounge downstairs, and as it sounds like 3 freight trains are roaring through our dorm, I’ve come down to write.

I’d been lucky the first 3 nights – no snorers, but we hit the jackpot last night.

Ah such is life on the Camino.

Whilst the snoring, blisters and physical exhaustion are the difficult elements of walking the Camino, the camaraderie, scenery and personal gratification inspires and drives your determination to push through.

Walking over the Pyrenees on Day 1 attested to that. To say it was physically challenging is an understatement. At times, during the toughest inclines I felt like one of those marathon runners who on seeing the finish line, collapse.

My legs felt as though they’d turned to jelly, I felt dizzy and at times, was on the verge of vomiting. But despite the discomfort, something was pushing me up those mountains. Was it spiritual or simple determination? I don’t know.

Despite the challenges, Chu and I limped into Roncesvalles 10 hours after leaving Saint Jean.

Chu is a wonderful lady from California who I met on my first day in Saint Jean Pied de Port. Something clicked and we just started walking together. Chu is doing the entire Camino and as I can only do part of it due to flight changes, we will soon part ways.

She’s such a warm, funny woman with a wealth of trekking knowledge and walking together seems to fit us both well. We’re both independent woman who enjoy our own company, and over these last two, oh so tough days, we’ve been a huge support to each other. We walk comfortably in silence, neither of us feeling the need to fill that silence, which is quite rare when you first meet. At different times we’ve walked ahead of each other, knowing that we’ll reconnect somewhere along the track. It’s comforting to know someone’s ‘got your back’ but also comforting knowing we’re walking our own Camino.

After our tough climb over the Pyrenees, Day 2 was supposed to be a little easier. And it well could’ve been if our bodies were not trying to recover from the Pyrenees climb. Day 2 presented different challenges, our bodies hurt, we’d both developed blisters, which made the rocky terrain difficult.

We walked with pain, yet we also walked with laughter.

Day 2 took us through rural farmlands where there’s an abundance of sheep, cows and horses, many of whom wear large bells that filter a sense of calm across the Spanish landscape.

Yesterday whilst walking through a thickly forested area we could hear the calming bell somewhere nearby. As we rounded a corner, a horse appeared. It was grazing about 3 metres from the path. We were not concerned or afraid. But within a few minutes another 5 joined the bell wearing leader. Again we were not too concerned and continued past them and on our way.

Before long we heard the bell not too far away and on turning around, we saw our new friends we now sauntering along the path behind us. If we stopped they stopped. If we didn’t they got closer. I’m guessing their feet didn’t hurt as they walked quite a bit quicker.

But their pace picked up and they were soon right behind us. We tried stepping off the path behind a tree, but again, when we stopped so did they.

They followed us for quite some time until Chu decided to hide behind a tree to let them pass. She said they must have got a whiff of her just as they got to ‘her’ tree, as they turned on their hooves and bolted in the opposite direction.

So alongside the snoring, aching bodies and blisters, the laughter has been in abundance. There’s also the wonderful camaraderie. So many interesting people with interesting stories to tell.

The Camino stirs many emotions and despite the physical hardship Im grateful to be having this incredible experience.

life

One night in Shanghai…


There’s always a downside to travelling: long flights and long layovers.

  • Sometimes they afford wonderful opportunities and experiences, whilst on the flip side, they can leave you incredibly frustrated.
  • In my case it was the latter.

    Having 17 hours between flights in Shanghai the best thing to do was get a hotel. And according to Booking.com there are an abundance of reasonable hotels within 10 minutes of the airport.

    With a few clicks, my bed for the night was sorted, as was the free shuttle. All I had to do was get off the flight, get on the shuttle and then get into bed: perfect.

    But like all best laid plans, it often takes only one element to fail and everything turns proverbially pear shaped.

    My failed element was the shuttle. Yep, it wasn’t there.

    Not one to be daunted easily I simply walked over to the info desk where a lovely young girl happily offered to call the hotel.

    Enter problem number two. The number on my booking.com booking was not connected.

    ‘Sorry, number not work, you get taxi…’

    Ok so be it, taxi it is. Still undeterred I asked her to check how far and the approximate cost of the taxi. As any experienced traveller will tell you, unsuspecting tourists often get slogged for small taxi fares. Better to err on the side of caution.

    ‘Ten minute only, 60 RMB…’she said dismissing with a wave of her hand. Obviously I’d used up all my free questions, so off I went in search of the taxi rank.

    It wasn’t hard to find and after being directed to the next taxi, I showed my driver the hotel address, which was also in Chinese. With much nodding and hand waving, there was some semblance of assurance that I was on my way and I felt mildly confident that I’d soon be enjoying a hot shower and a warm bed.

    There was no doubt I was on my way, just apparently not to my hotel and my supposed 10 minute ride quickly became 30. I suppose I should’ve been grateful for the tour of Pudong and to have met a few lovely hotel receptionists at the ‘wrong’ hotels we stopped at, but fatigue and frustration had started to take over.

    Clearly my driver had no idea and just when I was about to try and get him to head back to the airport, he started gibbering excitedly and was gesturing toward a brightly lit building.

    ‘Jie Jia, Jie Jia…’ he shouted gleefully behind his plastic driver protection screen, whilst animatedly pointing at a brightly lit building.

    Apparently, we’d finally arrived.

    Thirty minutes and a hot shower later, I sat on the bed and had a little giggle to myself. Yep, travel certainly presents challenges that can result in frustration, but I guess it comes down to how we let those challenges affect us.

    Sometimes you just have to let it ride over you and smile.

    P.S

    And on the plus side of my soirée in Shanghai. Meeting fantastic China Eastern crew and two hilariously funny Chinese tourists whilst waiting in line to board the flight to Paris. They were in the 70’s, thought I was Russian, then on finding out I was on my own, Australian and walking across Spain, I became their hero 🤣🤣🤣. I could easily dedicate an entire post to them …

    Fabulous China Eastern crew – checking out 1st Class

    life

    Still, stagnant water…


    It’s that same road again,
    the cycle repeats.
    The scenery never changing,
    it remains cold and bleak.
    At times there is sunshine,
    Rays of hope, light and love.
    The clouds though take over,
    Raining sadness from above.
    Try to find light,
    in the bleak, endless hail.
    Searching for a rainbow,
    To repair what’s now frail
    The darkness, the shadows,
    the whispering thoughts.
    The endless days,
    equating to nought.
    Petalless flowers,
    dry, yellowing grass.
    Still stagnant waters,
    a sad, heavy heart…

     

     

    life

    Dipping toes…


    street14©jenhammer copyIt’s good to take risks, don’t you think?

    At the same time, dipping toes into unclear waters is frightening for one can’t see what lurks below the surface.

    But in order to grow, to learn and to embrace the new, risks must be taken.

    Toes should be dipped. For who knows, that unknown water may turn out to be brilliant.

    Crystal clear and filled with endless opportunities offering love, laughter and endless happiness.

    And those ties that hold on to the past?

    They can be released.

    Given permission to float into the yesterdays, taking with them those long held regrets that blanket the todays …

     

     

    life, travel

    On leaving India…


    I love being a silent observer: watching people move through their lives, bearing witness, yet devoid of the need to participate.

    And I love having the freedom to move through life without plans or destinations in mind.

    But I had a plan: a plan to be in India for 12 months, but for reasons difficult to explain my time in India ended, and despite the trials of getting there, leaving is something I am incredibly thankful for.

    Rather than try to understand why it was not be, it can simply be said that I chose to follow my heart and release the weight placed upon me whilst being in India.

    My decision to leave was made quite swiftly and within hours of doing so, I was ascending through the clouds on a Thai Smiles aircraft, leaving India and my unsettled feelings far behind.

    The higher we climbed, the more elevated I felt.

    I’ve always been one to follow my ‘gut’ and from the moment I stepped on Indian soil I felt an indescribable need to flee.  I also felt confusion for I have travelled extensively through 3rd world countries without ever feeling such an intense need to leave.

    I had hoped on arrival at the Animal sanctuary where I was to work, those feelings would melt into the love I could share with the animals. And although the love for the many beautiful beings who called the sanctuary home intensified, unfortunately so did my feelings of dread.  All I wanted to do was run, I don’t know why and I cannot explain, in the end, I simply followed my instincts.

    Trouble is, we broadcast our lives across the pages of social media: I do it, as do many others.  It is not for ‘likes’ or acceptance, it has simply become a way of life. More so for me as a writer and photographer, as I find the opportunity to document fulfilling.

    However the dark side of social media can often raise its venomous head. The need to portray one’s life as perfect –  a life portrayed on the pages can sometimes be quite different from reality. And I probably fell victim to that, for behind the smiles and happy images, in reality I was filled with sadness and dread.

    There were a few exceptions, I did absolutely ADORE Buff the water buffalo – he was simply divine! And I also felt peace with the beautiful Indian family who had warmly welcomed me into their home.

    Their kindness is something I shall never forget: Sagar & Sahill you are truly gems – you made me laugh so much. A post entirely on your comings & goings and funny ways is sure to be in the making.

    But despite my adopted Indian family, as the days lingered, my feelings of dread intensified and I knew in my heart I had to act. But where would I go?

    A number of years ago, I was travelling through Europe and one afternoon whilst strolling through Paris without a destination in mind, I decided to follow the ‘little green man’.

    To explain, when stopped at an intersection, I would simply walk in the direction of the flashing green man ‘walk’ sign. In doing so, I found myself wandering along side streets devoid of tourists, where Parisians adorned bars and cafes with their usual nonchalance and style.

    However not having a little green man to follow in India, I chose the next best thing: Skyscanner’s ‘everywhere’ button.  Once having typed a departure city, Skyscanner gives the option of choosing Everywhere, which brings up countless flights from cheapest to most expensive. And that’s how I ended up in Bangkok – it was cheap and easy to get there and having flown there often as airline crew, I knew it was the hub for numerous other destinations. Once there I used Skyscanner’s ‘everywhere’ again and found myself booked on a flight to Bali.

    And by simply following my heart again, I stayed at the beautiful and tranquil Sarinbuana Eco Lodge, free of charge. In exchange for an incredible villa and meals I simply shot images for their website and social media pages.

    tablesetting3
    HammerPhotography @ Sarinbuana Eco Lodge, Bali

     

    treehousebed3
    HammerPhotography @ Sarinbuana Eco Lodge, Bali

    Tomorrow I head to a villa in Canguu where I shall be spending a couple of weeks dog-sitting 3 fur-babes whilst their Mum heads overseas.

    How is this is all possible?  Through a site called Workaway, I wont go into detail, but click on the link to get more info.  In a nutshell, you do a few hours work a day and in return, you are given accomodation and food.  For me it is not about travelling on the cheap (although it certainly is that) moreover, it’s about having the opportunity to travel and be immersed with local people.

    Unfortunately I will have to leave Bali by 18 Feb as I made a massive faux pas at the airport regarding my visa, but hey, maybe that’s the little green man making my decisions for me.

    Stay tuned…

    yoga1
    @HammerPhotography

    life

    Reconnecting…


    Life takes us down different roads. In our travels we connect, disconnect and reconnect.

    Reconnections can be precious moments that shine light and laughter upon those whose life’s paths have crossed.

    Over a year has passed since Isobella & Eddie connected.

    Yesterday they reconnected…

     

     

     

    india, life, travel

    Where for art thou Indian Visa…?


    I’m starting to get a little concerned.  Why I hear you ask?  Well it’s like this.

    I’m not sure if fate is preparing me for dealing with Indian bureaucracy, which according to a BBC report, is the worst in Asia, or my application for an Employment Visa is simply lying in a slush pile at the Indian Embassy silently screaming, ‘pick me, pick me.’

    IMG_4031

    Whatever the answer, with December 27 approaching at speeds likened to a B777 at 37,000ft, I’m a little worried. For without visa in hand, or more importantly my passport, which is of course lying in wait with my visa application, I’m not going anywhere.

    Adding to the mix, I fear the delay is also due to the fact the big, fat man in the red suit is on his way.  Let’s be honest, the festive season invariably causes life outside of gift shopping to cease and only begins again when the contrails from his speeding sleigh have long since dissolved.

    So where does that leave me?

    Well that’s easy to answer, unlike my beautiful Oscar in the above image, I’m sending out positive vibes whilst patiently waiting, waiting, waiting.

    Stay  tuned…