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…

❤️❤️🐾🐾❤️❤️

travel

To sleep or not to sleep…


That is the question.

After 3 nights of listening to a cacophony of snoring, the answer is easy.

Sleep wins!

So I booked a quaint hotel in the old town of Pamplona, and after only a short 2 hour walk from the snoring shed, I’ve arrived.

And whilst it’s not the Sheraton or Hilton, the room is mine, all mine. Honestly, I could do one serious Happy Dance.

I’ve been paying $AU20a night to sleep with snorers, I figure $A65 is worth every cent.

As I write this, I’m sitting in the warmly lit hotel restaurant, enjoying a buffet breakfast. Classical Spanish music plays softly and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the air, creating an inviting atmosphere.

Walking the Camino expends serious energy and when coupled with sleep deprivation, the impact that has on physicality is immense.

And besides, I’ve never been one to conform to the norm and just because one’s ‘supposed’ to stay in hostels when walking the Camino, does not mean one has to!

If the truth be known, I rather wish I’d brought a small tent and sleeping mat, as I feel camping would be more conducive to a good nights sleep.

I’ve seen some pilgrims with pop up tents and sleeping mats; they’re definite smart ones.

Anyway, it is what it is.

With the sleeping decision made, I soon have another decision to make: when to leave the Camino.

Due to my return flight departing Paris on June 17, my plan was never to finish the Camino Francis this time.

Depending on when I choose to leave CF, I may have the option to walk part of the Camino Le Puy, which would allow me to walk through a beautiful part of France. That has its advantages because 1. I love France and 2. it’s closer to Paris and my return flight.

But for now, its a rest day in Pamplona and hopefully a much needed good nights sleep.

travel

Two days and counting…


Daphne has been dressed and undressed multiple times over the last few days. She’s been pulled, prodded, squeezed and squashed, but all for a good cause. For Daphne is and will be my main companion over the coming weeks and her bits being just right is paramount for our upcoming journey.

If you don’t know me personally, then I imagine you could be somewhat confused with the first paragraph. But if you do know me, then you’ll know I’ve always had a penchant for naming inanimate objects, particularly luggage. I spent over 20 years travelling the world as an international flight attendant, and giving my luggage names simply became the norm.

With that explained, Daphne, if you hadn’t already figured is my backpack. And a rather lovely one at that. She’s a ruby red, rather slim 28 litre Deuter: which means I need to be ruthless with my packing choices. Couple that with the fact Daphne and I will literally be joined at the hip, reducing her weight is a necessity.

Stanley, my beloved wire-haired dachshund is not too happy about Daphne’s presence…

So I’m pleased to say she weighs a doable 6.5 kgs. A little over the suggested 10 % of the carriers body weight ( I’m 59kgs) but all in all I think we’ve done well. There are items that have no emotional attachment, so if I need to offload on the way, it’ll be easy.

However I’ve also packed an item that DOES have emotional attachment. My Dad’s rain jacket.

He passed away 2 years ago, and I felt it was really important to carry something that belonged to him. Whenever I travelled he would often tell me to make sure I was warm or dry, so taking his rain jacket is for me poignantly significant. It is also something that he and Mum bought together, so in some ways they are both coming along for the ride. Which, as Mum told me yesterday, makes her really happy.

So with Daphne sorted and Stanley somewhat miffed and definitely suspicious of what lies ahead, we are pretty much ready.

Yep, two days and counting… 🙂

travel

A walk across Spain…


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.

travel

Penghu: a garbage truck and a giggle …


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.

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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.

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Penghu travel information: https://guidetotaipei.com/visit/penghu

featured, travel

In the central highlands of Bali…


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…

 

 

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.

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HammerPhotography @ Sarinbuana Eco Lodge, Bali

 

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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

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.’

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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…

 

featured, india, travel

‘You can stand on the cliff of life and play it safe. Or you can jump…”


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.

 


And how do I feel?

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.

 

street14©jenhammer copy