A few years ago I watched a beautiful movie titled The Way. A touching story about a man whose life changed after walking the Camino de Santiago.
Call me ignorant, but I’d not heard of the Camino before watching this film, but in the aftermath of its ending, I was left feeling the need to discover more.
And on researching, I realised I wanted to walk the Camino. Not because I needed to mirror the impact it had on Martin Sheen’s character, but because I simply wanted to experience the emotional and physical challenges the Camino appeared to present.
As a self-proclaimed empath, it’s the emotional challenges that will undoubtedly be the most confronting. Why? Because the thought of having to share ‘personal space’ with strangers is terrifying as my need for solitude is a profound part of my being. Without it, I tend to become anxious and withdrawn. Couple that with my fear of socialisation and you have to wonder why I’m subjecting myself to such obvious personal adversity. But isn’t that what life is about? Finding ways to challenge adversity, albeit personal or otherwise?
Yes, I could opt out of dormitory accommodation and choose to stay in private rooms, but what is the point of that? In doing so, I’d be taking the easy way out and not honouring my reason for walking, which is, to experience the challenges.
And that brings me to the physical challenge of walking up to 30 kilometres a day across diverse terrain. Funnily enough I’m exhilarated at the thought of placing one foot in front of the other, hour after hour. These long treks will be my emotional charging station. My time for refection, my time for solitude. My time to allow the weight of past hurt to slowly slip away with every forward step. Of course fear is there, I’m human after all, but the need to discover things about myself is far greater than that fear.
My walk across Spain will undoubtedly present a myriad of emotional, physical and social challenges. And as I write these words in the comfort of my home , surrounded by my beloved dogs, I’m ready, ready to embrace whatever the Camino places in my path.
A few years ago I was living and working as a teacher in the Penghu islands, a small archipelago off the coast of Taiwan. As part of my teaching contract, I had an apartment on the first floor of the school, it was small, yet it offered a great view of the surrounding area from my bedroom window.
From this spot I was able to voyeuristically take in the daily rituals of many. Yet it was the nightly garbage collection that had me perched at the window every night.
I shall explain.
Firstly, garbage collection is a weekly ritual in Australia and somewhat straightforward and boring. In the early hours of a council appointed day, a garbage truck noisily makes its way along the street, emptying the contents of each wheelie bin into its large bowels. There is nothing interesting about the process it is simply what it is – a garbage collection.
In Penghu, it’s different, entertaining and occurs every night around 9pm.
With a similar sound to that of an ice-cream truck, the garbage trucks of Penghu fill the night air with upbeat, happy music to herald their impending arrival.
On hearing the familiar tune, residents rush out of their homes laden with bags, boxes and a variety of other vessels containing their daily waste.
At certain points it stops, and as residents know these points, they uniformly wait in line for the trucks impending arrival, then in a very orderly fashion they deposit their rubbish into the back where it is then churned, crushed or devoured.
From my vantage point, it appears to be a beautifully choreographed show with all players performing their roles with the utmost precision and patience.
And as the music fades and the truck’s lights disappear from view, I watch as some residents return to their homes, whilst others linger: perhaps taking this moment to re-connect and socialise.
This seemingly simple, nightly garbage collection encapsulates what I love about travelling: experiencing a city’s unique and quirky rituals and how they shape the way of life for those who live there.
I love Europe, but I am also Australian, which is somewhat problematic when wanting to indulge that European passion.
On the bright side though, I was also an international flight attendant. For many years I served the masses from overloaded trolleys whilst hurtling across oceans in a sleek, silver tube bound for new adventures.
Needless to say this employment allowed me to partake in a number of my own, off-duty adventures. Not all were in my beloved Europe, nonetheless, they all offered adventure of various description of which I documented in a blog I no longer use.
A few posts in particular captured the adventures of a few wintery weeks driving through regions of France, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Rather than let those moments that were filled with mayhem and hilarity, yet also quiet contemplation melt into cyberspace, I have re-posted here.
Feel free to read on – maybe grab a wine or coffee as it could take awhile…
A good friend asked me recently, ‘Jen, do you ever think about where you will be in 5 years?’
On hearing his words, I did not need to think about where I’ll be, for I already knew as a destination has danced in my mind for many years. Now, as my life changes and my family now shape their own futures, the path to that destination is becoming a reality.
So where shall I be?
I shall be somewhere in France, perhaps sipping a good Pinot Noir or Gris, whilst basking in the hue of glorious sunset from the verandah of my home.
Along the verandah’s balustrade, brightly coloured flowers stretch upward and fresh herbs, of which I use to excite my cooking adorn the ledge. In the garden, my precious sausage dogs are taking in the scents, before rolling with passion on the freshly mowed grass.
In the small, yet quaint living room an overstuffed sofa bed bought from a second hand store, lies in wait for my two grown boys who are soon to arrive.
My french is now reasonable and in the last 5 years I have trekked the Annapurna, floated in the Dead Sea and gazed in wonder at the natural beauty of the Northern Lights.
My life is full of simple pleasures. Daily jaunts to the colourful market where freshly baked baguettes and locally grown produce are in abundance. Summer evenings see friends gathering under the vine covered terrace, their faces taking on a warm, orange glow from the abundance of fairy lights intertwined through the vine’s branches. Soft music filters through the night air, as does the laughter of people living a life well loved.
In the winter months snowflakes dance through the frosty air before blanketing the ground, and transforming my garden into a shimmering winter wonderland. Inside, I’m curled upon that comfy sofa in front of a flickering log fire, with the company of a good book and my beloved dogs.
I am content, I have fulfilled long held dreams.
Mostly though, I’m full of love for my beautiful children and loyal dogs who are, and always will be my greatest achievement.
Travel affords wonderful experiences and at times, unfortunate ones. And it is the latter that often allows the true spirit of human kindness to shine.
In the last few days I have bathed in that kindness and I’m so very thankful.
Last week I started to feel those tell tale signs of a cold and sure enough within a day, I was reaching for the tissues and beginning to look like Rudolph’s long lost sister.
Even though I felt a little more lethargic than usual, I simply put it down to environment and whilst I did feel lousy, I pushed through. But as the days progressed, my lethargy and fatigue levels increased to the point where I could barely stand.
Alone in a hotel in Siem Reap with a raging fever, I realised I was very ill and needed to see someone. I went to the reception desk and instantly Paulo the manager was at my side. Without hesitation he called his tuk tuk driver and took me to hospital.
My simple cold has manifested into pneumonia, which although debilitating at least it’s now clear as to why I am feeling so ill.
So even though I am still alone in my hotel, I’m actually not for the wonderful Cambodian staff are continually checking on my welfare.
It is not in their job description to do so and I’m overwhelmed by their kindness. It is so comforting to know that people, albeit strangers, have taken the time to care.
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.
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.