Alternatives

I find it hard to go past a National Park without wondering if it will be a better alternative to what is outside its gates, so when I found myself near Horton Plains National Park in Sri Lanka's hill country, it seemed too good to pass by.

After a somewhat speedy and hair-raising jeep ride to get there in the hands of a rally-driving wannabe, the reward was breathtaking cloud forest and plateau scenery and a welcome opportunity to stretch out the legs on the popular 9.5km hiking circuit to World's End and Baker's Falls. 

Although the leopards, boars and purple-faced langur (monkeys) were staying out of sight, it was kinda cool knowing they were lurking in the vegetation somewhere..... but they may have been kept away by the constant chatter from the selfie-stick wielding girl hiking in red ballet flats and a sun frock.....

One of the most impressive things about this National Park is the proactive steps they are taking to ensure this pristine environment stays free of plastic and waste. As visitors enter the park, all bags are checked and any loose plastic items (including bags and shrink-wrapped drink bottle labels) are removed or swapped for a paper alternative - reducing the risk of plastic it making its way into the waterways and onto the plateau.

The results speak for themselves and I didn't see a single piece of litter on the whole trail. Kudos to this National Park for finding a better alternative to managing plastic and for keeping this piece of Sri Lanka special.

 

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Some days are diamonds

"Some days are diamonds, some days are stone" - John Denver summed it up beautifully in his famous song.

Other days come with lots of sparkle but then you find the hard edges that scratch and leave you feeling uncomfortable. Today was one of those days.  

The day started like any normal day.  Rise at 5am, spend several hours on jeep safari driving through a beautiful national park, watch wild Asian elephants less than a metre away, drive up into the hills and tea plantation countryside, find guesthouse with beautiful valley view, go to bed ....... get robbed while you are asleep.

There is nothing quite like a shot of adrenaline at 3.30am when you open your eyes to see a torch shining around your room.  My screaming did the trick and the intruder was gone in a flash while I continued to yell abuse as the torchlight disappeared down the road.  Who knew I was such a pottymouth?  The upside was that even with full access to my valuables, all they grabbed was a small amount of cash (and my train ticket), leaving my credit card, passport and most importantly, me, untouched.

It was a good reminder that, like every other country in the world,  there are good and bad people in Sri Lanka.  The person with my money probably needs it more than me, so I will let karma take it from here. 

While stoney days may leave a temporary bruise, the trick is to remember that diamonds will always be stronger and shine more brightly.

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It's a Stampede thing

"Always deep-fried, always delicious" the sign said. Who knew you could deep-fry Oreos, bananas, cookie dough, gherkins and lemonade?   It's a Stampede thing.

Without an ounce of country girl in me but wearing the customary white cowgirl hat (clearly marking me as a visitor), I was keen to see if two days at the Calgary Stampede in Alberta, Canada would convince me that deserved its claim as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

With the theme of 'Togetherness', Calgary Stampede is an inclusive affair with the Treaty 7 First Nations people as actively involved as they have been since the first Stampede in 1912. They are, after all, the original cowboys.

The grandstand crowds are treated to fast, thrilling, 'don't blink' rodeo events that are over in seconds but leave you wanting more and in awe of their speed and skill.

Between steer wrestling, carnival rides, BBQ ribs, corn cobs, dog shows, miniature donkeys, the biggest freakin' horses I've ever seen, the Indian village, parades, hats, chuck-wagon racing, army tanks, boot-scooting and Bollywood dancing, there is just enough time to enjoy the twangs of heel-tapping live country music.

So was it the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth? It totally was. When thunderstorms hit and the horizontal rain was falling by the bucketload, the main arena evening stage show went on. The performers sang and danced their heart out, totally drenched, proudly Canadian and had the crowd on their feet as the anthem and fireworks finished the night. 

It's a Stampede thing. 

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Believe you can fly

The sound was already magical but then the tent full of men turned around and smiled.

 

A trip to Woodfolk Folk Festival in Queensland is a a whimsical journey to a place less ordinary. It's a special six days where music, circus, comedy, dance, art and singing are accessible to everyone.  Amongst the trees and sounds of nature, festival-goers can watch world-class musicians on stage, join impromptu jam sessions, juggle, chant with Tibetan monks, dance with Hungarian gypsies, listen to philosophy, chill out in the shade, enjoy an icy cold beverage listening to Celtic music, try pottery, poetry, make a paper lantern, groove to hip-hop or just sit back and soak it all in.

 

Or, you can do as I did yesterday at the Singing Space and watch a tent full of men sing. With the amazing Darren Percival in command, in one short hour this group of men of all ages, from all walks of life, transformed from a nervous-looking, slightly reluctant-to-be-here group into a tent full of proud, confident, smiling men belting out tunes. Watching the courage of these men, many of whom struggled to sing a note in tune, being supported by the other men in group as they sang solo into the microphone for the first time ever, was one of the most inspirational experiences of the Festival. As the men turned towards the hill, unaware of the crowd that had gathered on the hillside to listen, the pride in their smiles was unmissable as they saw us all. In one short hour they had created a strength and a bond through singing. They believed they could fly and so did those of us lucky enough to be listening.

With a new year almost upon us, it's this Woodford sense of community, mateship and support that makes me forget the festival sweat and dust and look forward to a beautiful 2017.

 The magicl treehouse

The magicl treehouse

 Matt Stillert in the Pineapple Lounge

Matt Stillert in the Pineapple Lounge

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 Menfolk with Mr Percival

Menfolk with Mr Percival

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 Wildlife

Wildlife

 Ukele session

Ukele session

Going with the flow

"If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It's lethal".  

This wonderful quote by Paulo Coelho was shared with me recently and pretty much sums up Brazil where life is all about going with the flow.

I will be forever grateful for the flow that took me to Chapada Diamantina National Park, seven hours west of Salvador, to enjoy Brazilian outdoors at its best.  To truly experience the best of its mountains, waterfalls and incredible rock formations, you have to work for it and the four day hike I did through the Vale do Pati (Pati Valley) was unforgettable.

It wasn't just about the scenery - it was about the energy and fun that Brazilians bring to any experience and hiking was no different. It was about the sweat, the uphills, the downhills, the snakebite (not me), the endless banter between groups on the trail, the swimming, the fresh sugarcane juice, the local family we stayed with, the laughter and the party. Yes, the party. Of course. It is Brazil and even in the middle of a huge national park, there is always a party and music. 

Similar in parts to the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Chapada is also home to plateaus, swimming holes, cactus and caves filled with the clearest water imaginable. 

Thank you Brazil - I have only seen a very small part of your beauty but will leave filled with memories of sunshine, the warmth of the people, caipirinhas and joie de vivre.

Perhaps the flow will bring me back again one day

 

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 Fresh sugar cane juice - yum! 

Fresh sugar cane juice - yum! 

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Mud map from a local

Give me a mud map and some advice from a local  any day - it's where the adventure really begins.

She warned me I would be the only foreigner/non-African descendant and I was OK with that, perhaps even a little excited about being off the tourist trail.

I was in steamy Salvador. All the obligatory attractions had been ticked off the list and I was in need of a different experience. Even if it did involve a rat (of the furry kind).

 

Salvador is a bayside city full of contrast and energy, particularly in Pelourinho, the historical centre with its cobblestone streets and buildings painted in every colour of the rainbow.  The police on every corner made it feel safe to wander and explore the narrow laneways where music bursts from random doorways. But back to the rat ....

 

With over 4 million Africans having been sent to Brazil as slave labour up until the mid-1800's, there is a very strong African influence and culture in this part of Brazil. Conspicuously pale amongst the traders at the local African market, I stopped to admire the cage of little birds. I thought the man was yelling at me not to take a photo, but he was warning me about the dead rat he was sweeping past my foot. #Gladitmissed.

With bowls and pottery jars for offerings, bark, herbs, unidentifiable fruit and the reddest dried shrimps I've ever seen, it was fascinating to be immersed in the cultural melting pot that is northern Brazil.

Gotta love a local with a mud map.

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 Shrimp. I suspect this is not their natural colour.

Shrimp. I suspect this is not their natural colour.

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 The elevator between the high & low city. A ride was just 8 cents. Bargain! 

The elevator between the high & low city. A ride was just 8 cents. Bargain! 

Moving forward

"Erase all the bad habits you've learnt before" he said. "Now you will learn Brazilian-style". And so my lesson at surf camp began.

Surfing always seems easy when demonstrated and instructed by a Brazilian ex-Pro surfer and in my head, I totally had this under control. 1. Paddle and catch wave   2. Move back foot into position   3. Move front foot forward into position  4. Start carving up the waves.

Ah, perception vs. reality meant It actually went more like this for me.

3. Take so long struggling to move front foot forward into position that I'm now on the sand  4. Fall off in whitewash  5. Repeat

Seven days at Bahia Surf Camp has been the perfect place to soak up the laid-back beach culture of this north-eastern Brazilian state and to reinvigorate the body and mind in the Busca Vida waves. It is impossible not to be happy and relaxed in a place where everything is "no problem".

With the water temperature a perfect 24 degrees, it is easy to see why tourists from all over Brazil love this area.  It's also home to Project Tamar, which protects 214km of turtle nesting beaches along the north coast of Bahia.

It's hard to find time to surf between eating, snoozing and doing nothing but slowly the movements are becoming more natural on the board and I am feeling smugly satisfied that this old dog can still learn new tricks.

Once again I am moving forward. 

 Bahia Surf Camp at Busca Vida near Salvador

Bahia Surf Camp at Busca Vida near Salvador

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Not me surfing (obviously!)
Not me surfing (obviously!)
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 Not a real baby turtle .... 

Not a real baby turtle .... 

Doesn't seem fair

It was clear there was going to be tough competition and it just doesn't seem fair. 

 

After five glorious days in Rio de Janeiro, the title of 'my favourite city in the world (outside of Australia) was no longer clear cut. Long-standing leader Barcelona was facing some tough competition.

Yes there's beautiful beaches that rival the best in the world, Portugese architecture, warm sunny days, art, culture, gardens and nationsl parks on its doorstep but it's something else.

 

Perhaps it was the music that did it for me. My delightful Carioca friend Lulu shared her passion for music with me on a 'slow music walking tour' in the centre of town. It was difficult not to embrace this city after discovering hidden laneways and musicians playing the most wonderful Latin Jazz  (including an incredible guy who played the trumpet & drums at the same time!) and then wandering around the corner to hear Samba music. 

There's an energy and vibe that can't be described in words - it's a feeling. I will remember Rio in the words of my friend as I got into the taxi to leave this morning "I am with you from my heart".

It seems so unfair that one city can have it all. 

 From Sugarloaf Mountain

From Sugarloaf Mountain

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 The tram (Bonde) to Santa Teresa

The tram (Bonde) to Santa Teresa

 Jardim Botanico

Jardim Botanico

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 Fresh air gym

Fresh air gym

 Confeitaria Colombo - a cafe with true art nouveau style

Confeitaria Colombo - a cafe with true art nouveau style

 The beautiful morning light over Ipanema

The beautiful morning light over Ipanema

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Mas or menos

"I'm going to need a smaller bikini next time" was the first thing that came to mind.

If it was anywhere else in the world with beach sand so fine  and white, where huge granite slabs meet the ocean and jungle-green vegetation hugs the city, I'd probably be thinking how beautiful the scenery is.  But I'm at Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, humming that famous song and suddenly feeling very  conspicuous wearing a 'full' bikini bottom. Regulation-size bikinis on this beach seem to come in two sizes only - 'barely there' or 'dental floss' varieties. Next time...

 

But there is a different side to Rio - the favelas. Perched up the hillsides surrounding the city, these informal communities, originally housing its poor, now number over 600 and are an integral part of the city's personality and culture.  On a walking tour through Favela Santa Marta, on the hill behind the famous Copacabana Beach, the brightly-painted exteriors hide the broader infrastructure problems including lack of sewerage system or waste removal.

This favela was made famous by a visit by Michael Jackson who filmed the clip "They don't really care about us", 

 

After awe-inspiring sunset scenery from the iconic high point, Christo Redentor, am reminded of one of my favourite sayings in Spanish - mas or menos (meaning more or less).

Both residents and visitors of this amazing city seem to be surrounded by both more AND less.

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 Early morning on Ipanema Beach

Early morning on Ipanema Beach

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 Favela Santa Marta

Favela Santa Marta

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Finding Nemo

I never expected to come face to face with a bird’s feet while snorkelling.  It’s amazing what you can do close to Melbourne on a hot and sunny Australia Day public holiday. 

Clad in a full-length 6mm thick wetsuit, the anticipation and excitement level was high as our group looked for ‘Nemo’ in the water near Portsea pier.  Nemo was a dive boat. 

About 5km out from Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula sits an artificial structure called ‘Pope’s Eye’ - a semi-circular ring of stone boulders that seems quite out of place in the middle of the sea.   Touted as one of the best (and smallest) marine parks in Victoria, it was easy to see why once the snorkelling action began.    

Giant kelp beds and plentiful, colourful reef fish awaited under the surprisingly clear water, but it was the animals on top of the water here that were equally interesting.  The structure is also a nesting ground for a colony of Australasian Gannets (birds) and their droppings into the water have resulted in a nutrient rich environment in which the marine life thrives.  It was the first time I have snorkelled amongst birds and it’s hard to describe the feeling of eyeballing a winged creature in the water just inches away from your face.   

The Gannets were soon yesterday’s news once we arrived at Chinaman’s Hut, a custom-built hut (in the middle of the sea) which is home for a bunch of fur seals that inhabit the bay.  

With their playful antics and big, puppy-dog eyes, it was ten minutes of pure delight to be in the water twirling, diving and playing up close and personal with these gorgeous ‘Labradors’ of the sea. 

We went in search of Nemo but found so much more.

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Men made of steel

The sign said I was on the Killer Whale Trail where "boats were made of wood and men were made of steel".   

On the far south coast of New South Wales, the old whaling town of Eden was a great place for a history lesson.  

Back when whaling was a major industry in the region, the killer whales (Orcas) would round up the larger whales and drive them into Twofold Bay where the whalers in rowboats could harpoon the gentle giants.  Although the seas were calm during this trip, it would have been a tough life for the whalers as they endured whatever conditions Mother Nature threw at them.  Thankfully the whaling has stopped and the town is now a major fishing hub as well as a  centre to explore the plethora of historic reminders of days gone by.  

After being momentarily distracted by the thought of steel-like bodies of tall, rugged whale fishermen ……..... I was soon in awe when exploring the beautiful coastline, bays, headlands and beaches and historical sites of this stunningly beautiful part of Australia. 

With Ben Boyd National Park, Twofold Bay, Green Cape, Disaster Bay, Wonboyn River and Nadgee Nature Reserve all an easy drive away, there is no shortage of outdoors to get immersed in. 

Maybe it was the dolphins frolicking int he bay or the light playing tricks on me, but when I closed my eyes, I could almost picture those men made of steel. 

Big Sky

I went in search of sun, savannah and wildebeest and that's exactly what I got.  That and big sky - big, colourful sky.  

From the harsh dry landscape, to the predictably spectacular sunrises and sunset, Southern Africa shows off with desert, salt-pans, delta, sand and thundering waterfalls.  It is a continent of contrast and diversity and travelling overland from Johannesburg in South Africa, through Botswana to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, the colours of nature are strong and bold.  

Being poled through the maze of waterways in the Okavango Delta in narrow wooden boat (mokoro) was a beautiful and peaceful experience.  But it was only after seeing the barren surrounding landscape from the air that it becomes obvious why the wildlife depends so heavily on the rains that allow it to come alive for a few months each year.  

A visit to Chobe National Park provided a Disney-moment with a riverside scene where elephants, giraffes, baboons, warthogs, hippos and crocodiles ate, drank, walked and bathed together near the river, together in peaceful harmony.  It just didn't seem possible, but there they all were, right in front of our vehicle, in all its natural glory.  

I do have to admit though, that part of me wanted a big hungry lion to pick that very moment to go on the hunt ……….    Where are all the natural predators when a good photo opportunity presents itself?

Sounds of Soweto

"If you look through that gap you will see her", he said. 

There are some dates that end up etched in my mind forever and 18 July  will now be one of them.

On a bicycle tour through the dusty streets of Soweto in South Africa, an area soaked in political and human rights history, I couldn't think of a better place to spend today.  The contrasts are stark between its slums, vibrant community, empty government housing and memories of those who abolished apartheid.

Today just happened to be Nelson Mandela Day - a UN-declared day and global movement to recognise the legacy he left behind and to encourage all people of the world to spend time making a difference.  Our group visited a community day care centre with children blissfully unaware of the struggles that their grandparents had known before them, but one that I now understand so much better.

And the woman who was clearly visible through the gap in the marquee, joining a group in prayer?

Well that was Winnie Mandela.  So very humbling.

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Living on the edge

As the train emerged from the tunnel, I joined the other passengers in a collective "oooohhh" when suddenly we were on the edge of a mountain looking at water.

The five cliff-side stations of the Cinque Terre on the Italian coast draw crowds from all over the world who come to explore the colourful villages perched amongst rock, vineyards and ocean by foot or by train.

The views from up high are spectacular but have to be earned, as my jelly-like legs reminded me after losing count of the stone steps on the lofty ascents and descents.  Hiking in the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre is very rewarding and sore muscles are quickly forgotten after arriving in a village for a fix of freshly made gnocchi, ragu and vino.

Every village requires going up, usually to get a gelato after taking the obligatory 'selfie' in front of the view.

My favourite sight was on the trail today, watching a young girl negotiate the steep and rocky slope in boots designed for a nightclub, while her boyfriend followed in tow, carrying her large designer handbag.

That's living on the edge.

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Rock the Kasbah

""Bonjour, it's me, from the hotel" he yelled, as he took his motorbike helmet off and pulled up next to me at the bus stop.  "The medina is closed today" he willed me to believe.  But (luckily for me), he worked at my hotel and knew some other shops that were open on a Saturday.  Ah, some things never change.

The pink and orange-washed walls of the Medina in Marrakech are still as enticing and magical as ever and the place hasn't lost its intrigue in all the years since I last visited Morocco.  Neither, it seems, have the scams to lure the uninitiated tourist.   I had to stop myself laughing out loud at one eager young man who tried to casually convince me that he was studying in the US and was also just a visitor to Morocco like me!  He just "happened" to be going in the direction of the tannery and could help me find the way.  Despite the sheer luck and against all the odds of us 'randomly' meeting while I was walking by myself, I chose NOT to take him up on his kind offer.

Behind the fortified walls of the medina (kasbah) lies a maze of laneways, souks and closed timber doorways which hide a hidden world of homes and riads (guesthouses).  The main square (Jemaa El Fna)  buzzes with locals and tourists and is the kind of place you could sit for hours watching monkeys doing tricks, storytellers, musicians and snake charmers.  It doesn't take much convincing though for me to be lured further inside to visit the tucked-away courtyards of the Royal Palace or the myriad of market stalls selling orange blossom oil, leather, silver, the freshest of fruit and meat and of course, those special Moroccan herbs and spices.

Surprise, surprise, the medina WAS open on a Saturday.  Just lucky I guess.

 

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Many faces

It’s rare to visit a country where the people are constantly saying “welcome” – but that’s what visiting Egypt has been like.     

After several years of being in the media spotlight, Egypt has seen a massive decline in visiting travellers and I am filled with sadness for the people and country that rely so much on tourism to survive.   Like many countries with political unrest, the media often paints a picture that is very different to reality.   The reality is that travelling in this country has been fascinating, safe, uncrowded and very, very welcoming.

From the huge Islamic mosques and markets of Cairo to the northern coastal Mediterranean city of Alexandria, down to the mighty stone blocks of the Pyramids and further south to the palm trees, papyrus grass and beautiful blue water of the Nile River at Aswan, it is a country that does not disappoint.

Few places in the world have so vividly captured my imagination and it is hard not to picture being dressed like Cleopatra in ancient times with pharaohs, camels, sand dunes, felucca rides, fragrant spices and a servant or two. 

With so few tourists here at the moment, I had expected to be constantly hassled by people trying to sell me plastic pyramids.  Instead I have had amazing hospitality and constant requests from complete strangers with a smile on their face simply asking me to  “tell people to come back to Egypt”.   

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Walk like an Egyptian

 

"We don't have rush hour", she told me, "we have rush day".  It would have taken 30 minutes to walk back to the hotel.  The drive through Cairo traffic took much longer.  But it didn't matter - I was too busy thinking about the mummified baboon.

The dimly-lit halls of the amazing Egyptian Museum are home to some of the world's most ancient treasures including mummified Kings and Tutankhamun's legendary tomb and mask.  The whole experience felt a bit like being on a movie set and my imagination went wild.  Strangely though, it was the mummified baboon, with it's distinctive snout and body shape, thousands of years old and visible under the layers of cloth, that stuck in my mind.  It's not every pet that gets sent off into the afterlife in a custom-made coffin.

Walking the streets of downtown Cairo, with a female guide, I felt as safe as I have in any city.  The architecture is a strange mix of Arabic and European and the place seems to hum with energy and passion.  Colourful street art depicts the struggle of the Egyptian people and it is easy to see how the Arab Springs revolution gained such momentum.

A cold, wet and windless day turned a sailboat ride into a hard row for my felucca skipper, but away from the hum of the traffic, there was a stillness that felt quite special on this most ancient of rivers.

Unlike most travellers, I am building up slowly to the crescendo of a Pyramid visit.  Good things are worth waiting for.

  


 

The magic

Every year between December 27 and New Year  in Queensland, there is a special place where magic happens.  I had experienced Woodfordia just once but had to go back.  Magic can be addictive.

It's a place where you can escape from reality and where creativity and inspiration abounds.  It's a place where the sense of community, diversity, tolerance and understanding is like no other I've found anywhere in the world and has the most smiling, happy faces you will ever see.  It is a place where there is no inhibition or judgement and you can almost feel kindness in the air.

 That special place where the magic happens is Woodford Folk Festival and for six days and nights, over 1,500 shows attract huge crowds to one of the biggest cultural events of its type in Australia - now in its 29th year.

The festival is a feast for eyes, ears and soul, with all-weather performance venues, festival streets, tree-filled campgrounds and happy, happy people.  An army of over 2,300 volunteers are behind the scenes and allow everyone to enjoy amazing local and international concerts, blues, vaudeville, folk, world music, visual arts, crafts, indigenous, yoga, meditation, folk, rock and pop, circus acts, street performers,  an environmental program featuring talks and debates, acoustic jams, parades, comedy and dance.  

Tucked away amongst the tree-covered hills, nature is always nearby and the mud and rain just adds to the atmosphere.  There is something about sloshing around mud puddles in gumboots that has a childlike innocence about it.  I liked it a lot. Even the bit in the campsite where I got to trample in my gumboots to the portable toilet at midnight. 

For those six days each year in Woodfordia, the feeling that envelopes the patrons, volunteers and performers is one that has to be experienced to be truly understood.  I'm going to try and hold onto that magic for just a bit longer. 

Not the plan

It was most definitely NOT the plan.  I was supposed to be back in Morocco now, surrounded by the colours, sights and sounds of one of the most visually spectacular countries I've ever visited.  I was supposed to be eating amazing food, exploring the medinas and spending time with my adventure travel friends and colleagues.

But as happens sometimes in life, it doesn't always follow the plan.  After having just returned from Myanmar, my back decided that it didn't like the plan to get off one flight and onto another 30 hour trip a few days later.  Regardless of how much my head and camera wanted to go to Morocco, my back said "NOT THE PLAN". 

My back disliked the idea so much that it devised a different, evil plan to cause me so much pain that I would end up out of action ( = staying in Melbourne).  What it didn't count on was the positive impact of the kindness and care I got from the highly underpaid ambulance officers, fire brigade rescue service and emergency care nurses that eventually got me off the plane and cared for me in the hospital.  "Just doing our job" they said.  It's something that I could never put a price on and something I will never forget.

The brain is so much more powerful than the body, so today I showed mine who was boss.  Today I walked. And walked. And walked.  And despite the pain, when the sky is an incredible colour blue and you have to walk really, really slowly, watching every step, the simplest things in life become so much more beautiful.

Maybe it was not the original plan, but I will never again take for granted how precious it is to be healthy enough in mind, body and heart to wander, work, listen, learn, love and experience life in this crazy world of ours.  

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Happy Anniversary

The love affair began last September and one year on, we are approaching our first anniversary.    It was love at first sight and within days of meeting I was smitten.  Sure there would be rough days, but I have continued to fall more deeply as the seasons come and go.

It started with walks beneath grey skies and bare trees than you began to woo me with magical sunsets from my balcony.  I smile as I remember strolling through lane ways of graffiti, stumbling upon tiny little bars and amazing light shows.  And then there were the big events we have shared - the Melbourne Cup, the Australian Open, the Comedy Festival, fun nights celebrating El Dia del Muerte (Day of the Dead), the concerts, the theatre and dancing in the street at the Spanish festivals.  We have embraced the outdoors with bike rides along the beach, day trips into the mountains, national parks and coastline, paddled on the river and run through tranquil bush.  

The romance has continued as we've wined and dined, sat on rooftops, made wishes, found hidden art, admired blanket-covered trees and sung along to incredible live music.  We've stuck it out through rain, hail, wind and shine.  Every day you continue to surprise and delight me with your spontaneity, quirky little surprises and non-stop list of things we can do together.  

It comes as no surprise to me Melbourne that you are known as the most liveable city in the world and now it's official - you and I are 'in a relationship'.  Thank you for a special year.