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…
A dear friend messaged me the other day and spoke about how the best ideas are those that come from the heart. And when you follow those ideas with passion, those ideas are more often than not, successful.
For a very long time I had an idea, one that was born from love and driven by my passion for animals, in particular dachshunds, aka Sausage Dogs.
My idea was to create a space for Sausages to come and stay whilst their humans are away. A place where they feel loved, secure and a place where they socialise with my own beloved Sausages.
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.
I have a house full of Sausages. Not the greasy, squishy, edible variety, but more precisely, the loveable, quirky Dachshund variety.
Having my home filled with four sausages was not something I’d ever planned: it just kind of happened, as most things do in life.
And it all started with Kiri, or Saus as she was affectionately called.
Saus was a beautiful mini-wire haired dachshund who came to live with me by chance 10 years ago.
After having had 3 litters (grrr) and still only 3 years old, she was apparently no longer of any ‘use’, therefore she was in desperate need of a new home. Mum had heard about her from a friend, so Mum called me asking if I’d consider adopting her. On hearing her story, I was more than happy to go and meet her to see if we got along.
The meet and greet did go well and Saus entered my life and touched my heart like no other. Her spirit had been severely broken at some point in her life, however she came to trust me and my love for her, in doing so, we became one.
There are no words to describe the depth of her beauty and my love. She was simply Saus, a beautiful, yet incredibly shy being who gave me permission to be the centre of her universe.
I am, and always will be humbled by her trust.
We shared 5 magical years together, years filled with so much love, so much laughter and so many discoveries of her quirky, sausage ways.
Her passion for cheese. Her need to burrow into her doggy sleeping bag and most of all, her great love of being in the car. She didn’t have to go anywhere, just getting in and being in the car was her pleasure.
It was the getting out and walking bit she didn’t fancy: and her hilarious antics surrounding getting in and being outof the car can be read about here.
But sadly, on one tragic summer morning, I lost my girl unexpectedly from complications of the heart.
I was devastated. And there are truly no words to describe my grief. In losing her, I too was lost.
She had become my world and when she died, part of me died with her. I was inconsolable.
Then the day after my Saus died, I had a call from a rescue organisation asking if I’d be interested in re-homing a male, mini-wire. My response was instant. No, I could not imagine taking on another right now.
Yet a good friend had other ideas.
Despite my inconsolable grief, my friend talked me into going to meet this little fellow. ‘Jen, you might need him as much as he needs you…’.
As I sat on the grass in a park where his current owners and I had agreed to meet, I watched Stanley (then known as Joey) jump out of the car and cautiously walk toward me. With his little wiry head darting from side to side, his body language seemed to scream fear, clearly he was frightened of what lay ahead.
Standing momentarily beside the man who held his lead, he looked around before tentatively walking toward me, cautiously sniffing the area around where I sat.
I didn’t speak, I simply let him do his thing. Then without warning, he climbed onto my lap and buried his head in my arms. I was completely taken aback, yet held him close, hoping my touch would lessen his fear.
A little while later I placed him gently on the grass, stood up and walked toward the picnic table to retrieve a bottle of water. Stanley followed and would not leave my side. At that moment I realised he had made his decision, I was his person.
So Stanley came to live with me, and just as my friend said, we needed each other. In his company, my grief over losing Saus slowly subsided and I believe his memory of a life less than perfect also faded.
Four years on, his loyalty has never waned.
However in the early days of him being with us, that loyalty also seemed to cause him to suffer from separation anxiety. Family told me that when I left the house without him, he would wait by the window, forever watching for my return.
And it was this anxiousness that led to Oscar’s arrival.
At the time I was also still working for an international airline as cabin crew, which had me jetting off to various destinations for up to 4 days at a time. This was hard for Stanley (and me, I might add), so I decided a companion may help ease his separation anxiety.
Enter Oscar aka Bear.
Oscar came to us as a pup, full of life and love and the perfect companion for Stanley. In an instant Stanley was his protector and the two became firm friends.
Whilst I’m told Stanley still ‘waits’ for me, it is not as prolonged as it was before Oscar’s arrival.
Oscar is a standard wire-haired dachshund, so now as an adult dog, he is quite a bit bigger than Stanley and gloompfs along like a big ole bear. And that’s how he came to acquire his nickname, Bear.
About two years after Oscar’s arrival I had another call from Devoted to Dachshund Rescue (D2DR) asking if I would foster a male black and tan smooth, whose family were going through a divorce and could not keep him. At nine years old Simon had only known one family, however within minutes of him coming to us, it was if we were that family. His owner dropped him off and he didn’t look back. Simon seemed to love being with his new brothers, so the decision to keep him was made and Simon became part of our family.
A year later I had another call. Would I foster again? Yes, of course, however Eddie was different. Whatever had happened to him was beyond tragic. You really have to wonder what possesses someone to subject a defenceless, sentient being to such cruelty.
Eddie, as we chose to later name him had been found in an industrial waste bin wrapped in wire. Extremely emaciated and terrified, he was allegedly taken to a pound where he stayed for 6 weeks before D2DR was called. On getting the call they drove 3 hours to retrieve him, and then called me.
When I first saw him I melted. The fear is his beautiful amber eyes was absolute. Ribs and spine protruded through his rich, copper coloured coat and on closer inspection, he had a severe overbite.
I knew that in time, his physical issues could be mended, yet his emotional trauma was another story and would obviously take time to heal. His fear of people was deep seeded, but interestingly, just as Stanley made me his person, it was my son Max that became Eddie’s.
Two years on, Eddie still has an intense fear of strangers and also being outside of his comfort zone: his home. Going for walks is not his thing, nor is being anywhere that involves mixing with people other than his own. He is content to be at home, with his family.
So now I have a house full of Sausages: and what a house it is…
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.