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, yet when I finally arrived, it simply didn’t feel ‘right’,
The town of Brive la Galliarde was exceptionally beautiful, as was the apartment I rented. It’s circular staircase snaked upward through the centre of the building, stone steps worn from the imprint of many footsteps that tread upon them over many years, or 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.
However rather than wallow in the disappointment, I embraced the fact that I was meant to come here and make the realization that 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 arrived in Lyon and stopped at a street cafe for a beer after a long walk to the hostel.
Just as I took my first sip, a group of people approached my table and asked me something in french. Obviously not understanding their quickly spoken words, yet as I’d perfected my short, french spiel, l happily blurted: ‘… ah je suis australien, et je ne parle en petit peu Français, parlez plus lentiment, s’il vous plait.
Basically saying, but probably butchering their beautiful language: ‘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 graciously 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 sounded sexy!!! Too many Pernods perhaps?
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, however I never feel my solo travels are brave.
It’s interesting to see yourself through someone else’s eyes as I have never labelled myself as being brave.
So as dusk begins to ascend upon my travels and my time in Europe draws to a close, I’m humbled as to where I’ve left my footprint.
I’m grateful for where I’ve been, who I’ve met and what I’ve achieved.
So for now, I’ll spend my last few days in France enjoying the company of an old friend.
After 3 nights of listening to a cacophony of snoring, the answer is easy.
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.
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.
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.
When life deals us what we define as a cruel card, we are left crumbled and broken in its wake. But what if we were to look at that card as a catalyst for change?
Could that seemingly catastrophic chain of events be nothing more than a key that unlocks the door to personal freedom? And by personal freedom I refer to freedom from those voices that have haunted you for years. Those voices who told you, you were not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough or loved enough.
What if that event allowed you to see you, for you. Allowed you to listen to your soul and hear just how fabulous you really are.
Because you are.
It allowed you to see that you fit. You fit perfectly with yourself, and your self is all that matters.
And best of all. What if that so-called catastrophic event allowed you to forgive? And to say the words:I forgive you and I send you love.
And in the words of the wonderful Julia Stone:
The story is different now…but its all okay, for love will find a way to be where love is.
As the aircraft descends through thick cloud, I am given glimpses of my new home. Concrete structures dot the barren landscape, the architecture similar to that which graces the islands of Greece. Yet unlike Greece, the facades are tinged with a yellow hue, those that are not, stand as they were laid, grey and without colour. It is industrial in form, and whilst not beautiful like the streets of Paris or Rome, it is interesting and commands exploration.
So now here I am, in Penghu. Outside, the notorious winter wind howls at the walls of my new home, as if in protest to the walls presence. It is eerie, yet not unpleasant and an element of life here on Penghu that I knew to expect. And with 24 hours having passed since my arrival, I have established my presence and created my space in a two room apartment supplied by the school I am to work for. It is spartan but all I need for now. My only complaint is the very hard bed: through the night I actually contemplate what surface would be more comfortable, the floor or the bed? Seriously! Yet I sleep reasonably well and on waking this morning, exploration of my new surrounds is foremost on my agenda. I have never been one to fear new places, so with camera in hand I head off in the direction of the morning market that my fellow teacher says will supply me with all the food I need. She is right, it is awash with so much fresh produce, some of which is foreign and unfamiliar. I too am foreign yet I feel comfortable and the local people welcome me with warm smiles and offers to sample their produce. I have found my new supermarket, I am sure of that. I buy only a few items, yet I know I shall return daily.
I leave the narrow streets and head in the direction of home. I stumble upon a western style coffee shop around the corner from where I live. Warm smiles invite me in. Christina introduces herself and asks why I am here. I explain. Her English is limited, my Chinese non-existent, yet we manage to share a little of ourselves as I sip on an iced latte. She invites me to sign a wall that many others have done before me, afterward, I bid her farewell and head for home.
Home, that word does not yet fit. I do not know if it will for some time. I am still a little raw emotionally, not sure if I am where I need to be. Yet I will heed the words of my beautiful son, Rob. ‘… don’t come home when your are sad Mum, give it a go, you will be glad you did…’
On a warm summer morning, with Stanley snoozing beside me, I’m taking the time to read some of the wonderful, informative and creative blogs here on WordPress: something I’ve not had time to do of late.
On reading, I remember why I should take the time.
WordPress a positive place, full of inspiration and a place that allows connection with so many people from many different backgrounds and people who I don’t know at all. But on reading, I feel as if I do.
It’s refreshing somehow…
Reading Edith’s write up on A sense of place has me thinking about my own place and how we often don’t see what is around us on a daily basis. I know I don’t sometimes.
Maybe I simply need to open my eyes a little wider as it’s become too familiar. Something it never was during my flying years when I was somewhat of a transient resident, filtering in and out, without seeing.
I’m heading to Malaysia next week to backpack through the highlands with a dear friend.
Maybe on my return my eyes will be wider and I will take the time to see…