As the city slowly wakens, loads are hauled, tuk tuk’s wait and local Khmer dogs quietly watch the day unfold around them.
In Siem Reap…
As the city slowly wakens, loads are hauled, tuk tuk’s wait and local Khmer dogs quietly watch the day unfold around them.
In Siem Reap…
Tour guides can be found in the most unusual of places. And sometimes in the most unexpected form.
I’m currently in Bali and choose to take leisurely morning walks on the beach. And accompanying me on these walks are some of Bali’s most informed guides.
Yes, they may be of the 4-legged tour guides variety, but their eagerness to share their ‘knowledge’ of their beach and its surroundings is boundless and filled with never-ending energy…
A few years ago I came across a site called Workaway: a concept where travellers are offered free accommodation in exchange for hours worked.
I was a host for some time and now as I’m travelling without any destination in mind, this concept has offered alternatives to regular accommodation.
I recently stayed in a beautiful 5-star eco-lodge in the central highlands of Bali: all the owners asked for in return was images they could use on social media & websites.
As a photographer & journalist, it offered a great opportunity to capture this beautiful place nestled high in the hills, surrounded by crystal clear waterfalls.
Serene, elegant & peaceful…
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.
My experience in India went up a notch yesterday.
Needing to buy a bucket and a case of beer, I set off on the back of a moped with one of the wonderful women from Animal Aid.
Of course that doesn’t sound out of the ordinary, but when you add a 3 – day old piglet, Julie’s son, a case of beer and 2 very large buckets, it becomes decidedly different.
The piglet is Maya, brought to Animal Aid 2 days ago traumatised with several puncture wounds, she was part of our moped entourage as she’s currently staying with Julie for rehabilitation.
So as I shuffled onto the back of the bike, I was handed Maya, who was safely housed in a pink crate similar to a supermarket shopping basket. Carefully placing her on my thigh, whilst my other hand grasped the treasured bucket we set off on our 10 minute ride back to Animal Aid.
However, I need to complete the picture.
On the ride back, Julie’s son Max (who’s 5) was perched in front of her with his feet on the treasured case of beer, whilst the other bucket (yes, I neglected to mention that), which was considerably large blue number, was squished in-between Max and the front of the moped.
It was quite an achievement to manoeuvre (for want of a better word) ourselves and our purchases on one small moped, then scoot along a semi busy road in India.
But manoeuvre we did.
Later, as the beer was consumed with friends over candlelight and good conversation, I had the overwhelming feeling that I was in the right place.
What had started as a bike ride to bargain for a bucket, ended with a night surrounded with like- minded people who shared my passion for animals, and a passion for experiencing all that life has to offer.
As the aircraft descended through a haze of pollution, my first glimpses of Udaipur came into view. White stucco – like buildings dotted the landscape, and the lakes synonymous with the city, sparkled in the early morning light.
Purchasing a pre-paid taxi ticket inside the clean, modern airport, I exited to find drivers waiting to be called to take the fare: a site contrary to what I’d expected. In a very orderly manner, one fellow (who may have been the supervisor) took my ticket then gestured to one of the many drivers. My designated driver nodded respectfully, took my case and motioned for me to follow.
On the 40 minute drive to Animal Aid, the India I had expected presented itself. Horns blared, cows mooched and people jostled with cars, bikes and truck for the same piece of space on roads and paths. It was manic, yet not frightening or confronting. It was India.
After passing through the small city, winding roads that carved through small hills deposited us at the gates of Animal Aid, where a cacophony of animal voices alerted me to the fact we had indeed arrived.
Dogs, donkeys, goats and cows all milled about, some oblivious to my arrival, whilst others inquisitive: sniffing, smooching and seemingly quite interested in finding out just who I was.
A little later in the day, after being warmly welcomed by the family, I wandered around the shelter meeting the many animals whose lives have been transformed by Animal Aid.
Helping to feed a group of calves, I felt a gentle but firm nudge on my left thigh. Expecting to see one of the numerous donkeys who were milling about, I was surprised to find at my side Buff, a baby water buffalo. Roughly the same size as a small cow, Buff was determined to have my attention and let it be known by continually nudging my arm whenever I stopped scratching behind his ear.
Who would have thought after leaving Australia feeling excited and also a little sad at the thought of leaving my beloved family that 48 hours later I would be making friends with a water buffalo?
Afterward as we sat in the garden drinking chilled Pinot Grigio and dining on a delicious lentil curry at twilight serenaded by the sounds of animals, I felt content.
Similar to my departure, my arrival was bittersweet. I do feel content and happy, yet also wish I could share this contentment with my best friends: Stanley, Oscar, Simon & Eddie.
Yes, a bittersweet arrival indeed….
With the arrival of a long-awaited Indian visa, the day of my bittersweet departure has dawned.
I say bittersweet because I’m torn. Torn between the joy of fulfilling dreams and the pain of leaving behind those who complete my world.
Max, Rob, Stanley, Oscar, Simon, Eddie & Mum, fill my life with love, laughter and joy: leaving them, albeit temporarily breaks my heart.
“I feel so selfish,’ I said to Mum this morning. “I desperately want this job in India, but I don’t want to leave you, the boys and the pups”.
My ‘pups’ are my adored four-legged family and they will not understand. And that breaks my heart.
A few years ago I went to live in Taiwan for 3 months and I wrote the post, wish I could speak Dachshund . The feelings expressed in that post mirror my feelings today.
Interestingly enough Oscar, the patriarch of my canine pack is decidedly different today. Normally he is a very chilled, laid back chap who sits alone and simply surveys the day’s events without too much ado. Yet today, he has not let me out of his sight.
I believe he knows. Yet he does not appear to be sad, which is comforting as part of me feels he is giving me the reassurance I need. Letting me know it will be okay, and that I shouldn’t worry. As I write now, I can feel his gentle, rhythmic breathing – it is indeed reassuring and comforting.
Fast forward a few hours and I am now sitting at the airport waiting for the first on my four flights that will see me finally in India in 48 hours. And whilst I walked out of my door earlier this afternoon with quite a heavy heart, I also left knowing that all will be okay.
Bittersweet farewells indeed.
Okay, so when things don’t go to plan you can do one of two things. Be angry or be chilled.
Although I have every right to be angry, it serves no purpose, so I’ve chosen the latter: to be chilled and accept that my elusive Indian visa will arrive in due course.
I’m a firm believer in fate: everything happens for a reason. I’m not here to question the reason, only to live by the hand fate has dealt.
So I remain in Australia with my departure date to India now visible only through the eyes of the Indian consulate.
But I have faith… stay tuned…
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.’
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.
Since making the decision to move to India, the comments and opinions I’ve heard have been polarised. From the negative: “India, are you mad…”, to the positive: “you are an inspiration, I admire your courage…’.
So with the date of my departure now clearly visible on the horizon and the fundamentals of my move sorted (except for my visa but that’s another post), I’ve had time to reflect on this so-called courageous leap off my life’s cliff.
I know I’m not scared for I thrive on adventure, and I’m definitely ready to dip my toes into unclear waters, despite not knowing what lurks beneath the surface.
However from an emotional perspective, I know I’m in for a wild ride. My emotions will make me feel like I’m riding the X2 rollercoaster at Magic Mountain: propelling to great heights one day, before plunging to the lowest of lows the next. But I’m expecting that as it’s one of the side effects of travelling and choosing to live outside your comfort zone. I remember clearly experiencing the lows when I lived in Penghu, Taiwan a few years ago. You can read about my little Penghu breakdown here…
Of course it would be ‘safer’ for me to remain where I am doing the same job, seeing the same people on a daily basis, yet lately I have been feeling like an extra in the movie, Groundhog Day. And for me, that’s not living, that’s simply existing.
So despite knowing I’m about to ride an emotional rollercoaster, I’m going to jump, jump off my cliff. I don’t know if I shall soar or crash, but I do know that jumping will allow growth, knowledge and most importantly, living life without regret.