travel adventure

Wild & free or solid & predictable: what flavour are you?

Wild & free or solid & predictable: what flavour are you?

Are you a creature of habit? Or someone that needs constant change?

It doesn’t really matter which camp you fall into as long as you know which makes you feel most content.

I’m both. I eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch pretty much every single day. I go to the same yoga class with the same teacher twice a week (ideally Bikram) and I cycle the kids to school and back twice a day in our dutch cargo bike (aka our wendy house on wheels). I don’t go out that much so that my introvert is satisfied and I feel calmest when my surroundings are neat and tidy.  All these things make me feel secure and grounded. This is my bourgeois side.

But I also need adventure, freedom and times during which I have very few possessions. I thrive on being The Other, on not knowing what might happen next; I love having my core beliefs challenged and having to think on my toes. This my bohemian side.

Stop, Ground, Breathe...

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Today I woke up in a BAD mood.⠀ It started when I realised that I still hadn't got rid of my sore throat and flu-like symptoms which meant I'd have to forgo yet another day of my usual exercises (stationary mama = bad mood mama). As the morning progressed and I snapped more frequently and with increasing irritation at family members, I could feel that my hormones were on the rampage (day 21 = bullshit radar is on full volume / minimum tolerance settings). I then discovered that the vastly expensive Xmas tree that arrived yesterday is covered in mud, totally lopsided and won’t stand up straight. And to top it all off, I spent most of the morning trying - and failing - to get my head around social media marketing. All of which left me in a bit of a tizz...

Luckily however, (for those around me), I’m now quite good at observing my emotions. So I knew that I did actually have a CHOICE about whether to continue down the road to overwhelm or whether to take quick remedial action.

And since it was too early for wine and I was too ill to go to yoga, I tried to channel my inner mindfulness guru instead:

i) I sat down on the floor (the nearer you can get to the earth the quicker you can 'ground')⠀ ii) I felt the support and solidity of the floor, and how it had 'got me'⠀ iii) I breathed: long, deep, slow, belly breaths⠀ iv) I said out loud, 3 times, along with my out breaths: “I feel supported” (3 is a sacred number and it’s always worth faking it until you make it)⠀ v) I looked outside at the trees: always there, strong but flexible, neither overwhelmed nor anxious, just alive ⠀ vi) I smiled (see above re faking it to make it)⠀

And I felt better!

Because I had become present: aware of my body and its surroundings rather than letting my inner bully/depressive/neurotic run the show. ⠀

I’ve also been staring at this photo, taken of our local beach this time last year when we lived in Koh Samui for a month. It reminds me that we CAN create our own reality and that anything is possible if you are bold enough: we dared to take our kids out of school, to take our jobs on the road, to pack up our house and exit the matrix, all in order to find our true selves on a year-long travel adventure. And we're back. And it worked.

So if any of you are also feeling a bit pants, try doing something that brings you into the now: stop, sit, ground, breathe, affirm and connect to Nature.

And remember, I’m there alongside you...⠀

Are you fulfilling your greatest potential, mama? Are you getting paid to do what you love whilst parenting in a calm and positive way? Are you feeling happy and fulfilled both at work and at home? Because you deserve to! Book a complimentary discovery session with me on skype and we can explore taking concrete steps towards creating a life in which you feel motivated and in control once more!  

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Our big, fat, Greek kiss...

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Ikarian highlights: beautiful sunsets, continuous ocean vistas, the islanders     What I am loving: swimming in a crystal-clear, turquoise sea     What I am struggling with: neither over-ordering nor over-eating Greek food      What I am missing: me time (school is out)     Most impressive thing about Ikaria: its energy     Most disappointing thing about Ikaria: its wine (an acquired taste)     New skill acquired: treating head lice (thank you, Goa)     Family broken/lost sunglasses tally: 13     Items packed that have still not been used: mosquito nets, hairdryer

3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD

POST 16: 13th June 2017, Ikaria, Greece 

Well, we started in Greece, so we thought we'd (almost) finish in Greece. After all, with a month to kill before re-entering the rat race (our house is tenanted until the end of June), it seemed silly not to.

We hadn't always planned a revisit. When we first found out about Goa in monsoon, we had toyed with the idea of moving elsewhere in India. The favoured option was Dharamshala - it is the hilly home of the Dalai Lama, many Goans spend the rainy season there, and I have never been to the Himalaya. But that was before I remembered that we only have one set of cold weather clothes each, that I really couldn't face any more Indian food and that after 8 months in Asia, I was a bit tired of it (and in particular, of not feeling fully relaxed about what I could wear, when I could wear it and what was deemed 'culturally appropriate' behaviour for a woman).

 
23 hours non-stop
 

Photo caption: How parents deal with 23 hour's non-stop travelling from Goa (top left); how children deal with 23 hour's non-stop travelling from Goa (top right); the view from our room (bottom left), the view up to our room (bottom right)

So we looked further afield. Costa Rica seemed enticing, Vietnam and Ibiza too, and whilst all of them boasted what looked like awesome drop-in schools for the kids to attend until the end of the summer term, plus a beach-based lifestyle and a cool, hippy-yoga vibe, none of them offered nearby golf (which is a non-negotiable component of Bobopapa's chosen career).

And so the itinerary for our final European leg was formalised: a second (golfless) stint on the wild and beautiful island of Ikaria, followed by nearly a month on the coast of Catalonia, Spain. Greece thus became our omega as well as our alpha. For what neater way to tie up the loose ends of our trip? And how better to test how we'd changed, if at all?

 
Ikaria
 

Photo caption: beaches, mountains, river gorges and turquoise sea - Ikaria has it all...

It is said that Ikaria either kicks you or kisses you. Indeed, visitors have been known to head back to the airport shortly after their arrival. Similar to other energetic hubs, such as Bali and India, Ikaria holds a mirror up to your disowned emotional baggage. It lifts up the carpet and hides the broom. And when you're not ready to acknowledge what is hidden underneath, it can feel a little harsh. In September we certainly felt its power. But this time, after 9 months of rummaging into our darkest recesses, we experienced a softer landing. Perhaps Ikaria decided that we had transformed enough, that we needed a rest. And so it bestowed upon us a big, fat, Greek kiss.

And here's how it felt: my star sign of Virgo is related to the element of earth. And I am indeed extremely dependable and productive - a mistress of assessing and organizing. Unlike the dictates of this element however, I would not describe myself as orientated purely to what is real, and I frequently find it hard to feel 'grounded'. When yoga teachers prompt their pupils to picture their roots digging deep into the centre of the earth - to feel heavy and supported by it - I often can't. Instead, I usually feel as though I am hovering a little above the ground. In Ikaria however, it was the opposite: I literally felt as though I was being pulled downwards - solid, embodied, real!

 
Play time
 

Photo caption: Play time! Jumping the waves (top left); sampling organic, Ikarian, goat's milk, ice cream (top right); feeding the turtles (bottom left); exploring nature (bottom right)

The locals must sense it too. Because you just couldn't meet more grounded people. In fact, they are absolute models of authenticity. On Ikaria, the western malaise of 'not feeling enough' does not exist; you are simply presented with what is and there is no effort made to embellish it. You get what you see and you either take it or leave it.

The first time round, we found this a little awkward. As is the norm back home, we were expecting to be rewarded for being who we were with a constant torrent of perhaps fake but polite niceties and gushing reassurances. And so the islander's lack of vacant chit-chat automatically led us to think that we must be rubbing people up the wrong way. But we weren't. We just hadn't got it. This time, we understood that small talk simply doesn't exist here: words are neither spoken to fill spaces nor to make people feel better about themselves. There is no need for frills because everyone is loved for who they are. Everyone and everything is enough. And we soon followed suit.

 
our local haunts
 

Photo caption: our local haunts - Christos Raches (or the village that never sleeps) for home-made cakes from the women's co-operative (top left); Anna's Taverna (top right); Thea's Inn (bottom left) and trying to make the most of a dodgy internet connection in order to work from home at Artemis Studios (bottom right)

Other 'wounds' that had been stirred up in us the first time, revealed themselves as healed. The need to be 'in control' for example. A formerly big manifestation of this in me, was to always favour giving over receiving. (Because the latter often felt slightly awkward and embarrassing. So far so repressed English.) Not an issue this time though! Instead, I was able to revel in the incredible generosity of Ikarians: accepting a free gift in the supermarket (without questioning how the cashier could even make a gift of something that surely wasn't his to give?); gorging on almost daily, fresh cake deliveries from the restaurant below our room "for the children"; taking advantage, as encouraged, of the endless bounty of fresh apricots from the tree outside our room - and all this without worrying about paying for it or doing something in return. Indeed, I happily left my coffee bill unpaid for a whole 24 hours because they didn't have the right change for me at the time, and received with a smile both the complimentary donuts at Raphael's birthday dinner and the last minute rounding down of my room bill.

And on reflection, it is really not surprising that the Ikarians are generous. For this is just another by-product of being grounded: if you know that you are enough, just by being you, it follows that there is enough. Once you see everything through the lens of abundance, generosity flows naturally!

 
family
 

Photo caption: when you've treated the whole family for nits and can't get the greasy stuff out of your hair, there is nothing left but to tie it up and channel Erykah Badu (left); our second birthday on the road (right)

And so as each day passed, we were shown how much we had grown in our absence. On our first visit, we had filled our days with exploring and excursions. Caves, mountains, forests, beaches, monasteries, castles and medieval towers - all of them we had enthusiastically ticked off the list. This time, there was no list. Not just because we had seen everything there was to see, but also because we were content just being rather than doing.

I also amazed myself by witnessing how what had really bothered me last time, didn't seem quite so important now: the derelict cars by the sides of the road, the seriously sketchy internet connection. But instead of getting riled by these things all over again, I quietly accepted the status quo and got on with things as best I could. (And those that know me well will realise just how monumental this is; before our trip, drama was pretty much my middle name.)

 
nature
 

Photo caption: nature's slideshow - every sunset was slightly different but equally captivating...

And so our second leg on this quietly powerful island showed us both how we have changed, as well as how we are continuing to slow down. Not just in ourselves but also in the energetic winding up the trip. Because just as Ikaria served as a stepping stone between an easeful life in Europe and adventure backpacking in Asia, it acted as the opposite on our return. Which was deeply comforting. But also a quite odd. Because it made us feel as though we'd been in a bit of a time warp. Despite having spent two thirds of a year away, filling it with action-packed, assumption-challenging, culturally-awakening globe-trotting, the steadiness of Ikaria and its inhabitants almost made us question if we'd ever left. It seemed to make the intervening 8 months shrink into an almost imperceptible slice of time, when in fact they had felt quite the opposite.

Which is all down to the fact that Ikaria and its inhabitants don't really ever change. Indeed, they are defined by their slow predictability. Which is precisely why we love them. Unfortunately though, this made leaving quite a challenge. And it made me realise just how much this half of the trip has felt dominated by good-byes. For as we inexorably edge nearer to our return date, our departures become more and more emotionally charged: leaving Bali was an effort, departing from India was emotional and in Ikaria, I even shed a tear.

 
Xanthe
 

Photo caption: spot the difference - same sign (Xanthi), same girl (Xanthe), same rabbit. Who said we ever left? 

Fortunately for us, life on Ikaria will always be the same. Or at least I hope it will. Slow. Unaffected by the outside world. Untamed and natural. What changes is the way we fit in with it or not. It acts as a barometer for our internal landscape. We may always find it unchanged on our return, but each time it will present us with something different: exactly what it is that we most need to look at.

And luckily, it is still relatively unknown. For now. But shhh! Let's keep it a secret. I'd like it to stay that way...

To see where we are on a map, click here!

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Flying bananas, dancing transvestites and a holy elephant - welcome to southern India!

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Highlight of Southern India: Hampi     Best thing about Kerala/Tamil Nadu: the warmth of the people     Biggest frustration: not being able to order plainly cooked food     Biggest bugbear: the ineffectiveness of local laundry services – the kids are looking more and more like street children     New skill acquired: eating very spicy food     Family 'broken sunglasses' tally: 12     Food I am now sick of: basmati rice     Activity I miss the most: going for a run

3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD

POST 14: 27th April 2017, Goa, India.  

So after four months of a gorgeously tropical but nonetheless predictable daily routine in Bali, we got back on the adventure train, renewed and 're-birthed' (in true Ubud fashion), and flew to Kochi in Kerala. With nothing but a four-night booking in a homestay and no idea where to go next, we prepped ourselves for a culture shock.

 
fruit stalls
 

Photo caption: Asian fruit stalls are always so much nicer to look at than the ones at home (top left); street vendors on the sea-front promenade. Selling food. Of course (top right); chilling out in the cool, breezy park (bottom left); Kochi's sea-front promenade (bottom right). 

I have travelled to India five times in my youth (to Delhi, Ranthambore, Jodhpur and Jaipur in the north, as well as to Mumbai and Hyderabad in the middle) but never to its southern states. And during each of these trips I enjoyed the cosseting that comes with being either a wedding guest or an ambassador for a global brand (the uber-luxurious Amanresorts or ABN AMRO bank). So visiting again almost exactly nine years later to the day, this time with three kids under seven in tow and no security blanket to ease our potential pain, made me pretty apprehensive.

 
Victorian
 

Photo caption: living in India in Victorian times wasn't easy despite what we might think. A quick visit to the largest church in Ooty confirmed this with lots of plaques for women and men in their 20s and early 30s who had died of fever. This particular lady had already had 7 children by the time she was 30. Ouch (top left); always waiting for food (top right); buffalo road block (bottom left); personalised trucks (bottom right).

And yet the first thing that struck us about Keralan life was just how easy it was. Everyone spoke English! Signs were readable! Streets and restaurants were clean and tidy! And, to the kids’ delight, there was finally a whole range of breads on offer instead of just the usual rice suspects. Here, unlike Bali, there were no stray animals to be wary of nor beggars to hound us. The regional government seems to run a very tight ship: no-one has more than two children (as advised), there is no prostitution, all strays are sterilised and the population is 100% educated (hence the lack of begging).

Kochi was a haven of quiet and calm compared to a typical north Indian city - almost Mediterranean in its outlook. Shopkeepers were super honest and the locals went out of their way to make sure we were happy. For example, when going ‘off menu’ and trying to order some plain, ‘green’ vegetables instead of the usual potato, carrot and cauliflower mix, instead of telling me that this wasn't available, the enterprising young waiter hopped on his scooter and went to buy me some from the local market. On his return, he then explained to his chef how to make them into a Thai 'green' curry. By the time I had realised how lost in translation my request had become, I was too embarrassed to say anything. It was delicious!

 
synagogue
 

Photo caption: Jew town - which surrounds the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth (top left & bottom right); excerpts from a book - I never did find out which but I did get quite hooked - that are found on walls dotted all around Kochi - I never did find out why (top right); incense shop (bottom left).

So having left India until the last leg of our trip because I was worried it would be too much of a culture and hygiene shock for the kids any time before then, Southern India in fact turned out to be one of the easiest places to travel around. Hiring a driver to take us (and our mountain of luggage) from Kochi to our final destination in Goa definitely helped. But even our tentative foray into public transport was made memorable by the welcoming nature of our fellow train passengers, their generosity with their food and the spontaneous entertainment provided by our female conductor who kept bursting into song.

 
Alleppey
 

Photo caption: Alleppey backwater cruise: Captain Raphael (top left); local houses (top right & bottom left); a typical Keralan house boat (bottom right).

After three days spent exploring Kochi and one sailing the backwaters of Alleppey (slightly underwhelming), we set off on a road trip towards Goa. It took 15 days, with stops in the hill station of Udhagamandalamhere (for some countryside), Mysore (for some city) and Hampi (for some temples).

Check out our progress here!

India is LARGE and most roads are either in bad condition, mere dust tracks or too narrow to drive along at a decent speed. Thus getting from one place to another usually took at least 8 hours of pure misbehaving torture from the kids and lots of screaming from us. So by the time we got to Goa, our proud driver, Greesh (who announced that driving for 16 hours straight is mere peanuts for a Keralan), was well and truly initiated into the worst aspects of our family dynamic. Thankfully, he seemed to take it in his stride. (Indians are pretty relaxed).

 
longdistance
 

Photo caption: long distance driving with kids sorely tests your patience. Having exhausted all possible entertainment options at this stage, I am pictured here (above bottom) resorting to a family air-guitar competition. We would try to leave around 8.30 in the morning to get to our next destination at around 6pm. Our one allocated pit-stop would be at a road side cafe (example above top) which, despite looking very grotty from the outside, usually produced amazing food. We even inadvertently once ate a plate of crudites (more lost-in-translation ordering) with no adverse effects. Word of advice: always travel with your own bar of soap (some restaurants have water but not all have soap) and never look at where they wash up. This alone will make you ill.

Udhagamandalamhere was our first proper stop after a very picturesque but uncomfortable journey on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. Not surprisingly, this town is more popularly known as Ooty, or 'Snooty Ooty', after the colonials that used to summer here. We stayed in the perfect, period, Rudyard Kipling-esque Lymond House with only three bedrooms, a lounge with a working fireplace and to complete the picture, a beautiful vintage car parked out front.

 
Lymond house
 

Photo caption: Lymond house in Ooty (top & bottom left); me wearing all of my warmest clothes at once when temperatures dropped to 9 degrees inside at night (bottom right). Never can I be accused of showing only my best sides.  

But at a whopping 2,300 metres above sea level, Ooty’s description as a 'hill station' is slightly misleading and the fireplace was put to good daily use when temperatures dropped to a chilly 9 degrees in the evening. (To put this into context, the Alpine ski resort of Meribel is located at only 1,400m asl and the highest inhabited town in the Alps is at 2,100m.) The altitude meant we got seriously chapped lips and two days of splitting headaches but on the plus side, I hardly saw the kids when we were in the hotel as they were so happy to have a huge wrap-around garden and swing to themselves in which they could play all day in less than scorching temperatures for once.

 
Scenes
 

Photo caption: Scenes from our five hour journey on the 'toy train' from Mettupalayam to Ooty. Our carriage for 6 which took 11 of us (top left); a hilltop train station (top right); mountain vistas (bottom left); pee break (bottom right).

Here, we continued to encounter warm, friendly and accommodating people. One in particular went the extra mile by arranging the return of Xanthe’s beloved toy rabbit (without whom she has never slept), who had been left a two-hour drive away in our former hotel. It still makes me smile to think of the solo adventure he must have undertaken to be reunited with us - a trip to the bus station from the hotel, a two-hour plus ride on the bus to Ooty (accompanied by whom?) and then a lift from the station up to the hotel. And the cost of his return by “courier escort” which took less than half a day to get to us? A whopping 60p!

 
Ooty station
 

Photo caption: the queue at Ooty station when we arrived (top left); the locomotive was at the back of the train rather than at the front and pushed the carriages up the mountain (top right); lush vistas of verdant tea plantations and mountain springs (bottom left); SQUASHED! (bottom right). 

In contrast, I didn’t love our self-catering 'coconut grove' accommodation in Mysore. Never trust a venue on Airbnb that doesn’t show a picture of the bedroom (they have added them since). The city itself however was definitely as grand as it is hyped to be: huge, wide boulevards, immense public office buildings and large, leafy town squares. I loved the almost fairy-tale architectural blend of colonial Victorian and Mugal styles in which these imposing public buildings were built. The jewel(s) in the crown were the former maharaja’s palace and the separate palace (now a luxury hotel) he had built exclusively for his guests, replete with essential helipad. (Because one soon finds that just the one palace simply isn’t roomy enough to accommodate one’s guests.)

 
Mysore
 

Photo caption: Mysore's Devaraja market - the stalls extend far beyond those inside the building (top left); Mysore Palace (top right); the view from the top of Chamundi Hill, 1001 steps high! (bottom left); some of the wares on offer in Devaraja market (bottom right)

As is so often the case, the highlights of our stay were not so much the sights but the experiences we had whilst there: an early taste of monsoon season with an evening rain storm of such epic, scary proportions that it definitely would have been described as a hurricane in the UK (another reason not to stay in amongst a coconut grove); receiving a family blessing at the Chamundeshwari temple (Chamunda - the "fearsome aspect of the Divine Mother" - has been the patron goddess of the city of Mysore ever since she slayed the demon that was threatening its destruction); buying oils from a 12 year old wheeler-and-dealer at the incredible Devaraja market; and my Ayurvedic massage which has to be the most unusual treatment I have ever received.

 
blessing
 

Photo caption: having received a red bindi from inside the temple (symbolising divine sight), we each received a physical blessing from the goddess Chamunda in the form of a wrist band, tied several times in an intricate fashion as the holy man recited a mantra (top left); a cow on a busy Mysore street (top right); drinking fresh sugar cane juice (bottom left); buying essential oils - geranium and jasmine - inside Devaraja market (bottom right)

It started innocuously enough with a Hindu prayer, after which came a foot scrub administered by one masseuse, during which warm oil was poured into my ears to clean them and then all over my hair and scalp to moisturise them, by another. They then joined forces to administer a vigorous, four-handed “synchronised” (their speciality) massage, which covered very nearly every single inch of my body. (The Indians may seem prudish in daily life but when it comes to wellness, not at all.) It ended with a steam in a Victorian-looking wooden contraption into which you had to climb in order to sit on what looked like a church pew. The lid of this box then closed around your neck to leave only your head exposed whilst you were slowly cooked. I had to ask them to turn it down twice. Afterwards, I was given two mystery tablets to take with my supper in order to “cleanse” my gut (where the toxins amalgamate after an Ayurvedic treatment).

 
hampi
 

Photo caption: some of Hampi's amazing monuments including a stone chariot (bottom left). 

I was also blown away, in a different way, by our final destination of Hampi. Not knowing beforehand that it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site, nor anything else about it for that matter, we were amazed to find that it is only a tiny village located actually in amongst the ruins themselves.

The site is remarkable not only because most of its historic buildings are so well-restored but also because of the unusual geographical landscape in which it is located: towering temples and majestic palaces rise up out of a palm tree-dotted, desert-like terrain that is broken up by piles of vast boulders, seemingly strewn in every direction. And yet unlike so many other globally-renowned architectural sites, this one was almost deserted! All of which made exploring so magical – you could really feel the ancient energy of the place, despite the daily, 41-degree heat.

 
temple detail
 

Photo caption: temple detail (top left); a pregnant monkey stealing the contents of our bin - I'd filled it with rotten figs: with no fridge nor air con and 41 degree heat, none of our fruit collection survived. She had a feast (top right); river view - where Lakshmi the elephant took her daily morning bath - we never did manage to catch her on time (bottom left); Hampi temple (bottom right)  

Even more amazing was the fact that a two-day, Hindu festival was planned during our stay. We had no idea what this would entail but as it coincided this year with the full moon, it drew hoards of Indian pilgrims from villages far and wide, who either walked for miles carrying their luggage on their head or came by tractor load to witness it. And just as their ancestors would have done before them many centuries ago, they set up temporary homes in, on and under the temples, using them to hang their washing on, to set up shop in or to aid in the display of their wares.

 
templedetail
 

Photo caption: Hampi temple (top left); joining the throngs of pilgrims (top right); bathing in the river to cleanse before the full moon/festival (bottom left); locals squatting in the temples (bottom right).

Indeed, from one day to the next, a little auxiliary town seemed to spring up out of nowhere to accommodate the visitors: shops selling all sorts of clothes, toys, religious paraphernalia, fruit and of course, Indian sweets. There were skills on offer too: hair shavers (it is auspicious to shave your head before being cleansed in the river prior to the festival), shoe shiners, pop-up eateries and even a lone entrepreneur with his mobile, bright blue set of bathroom scales.

As in Myanmar, we discovered that being white with three small kids - two of which are blonde - made us just as much a draw as the festivities themselves. I was constantly being asked if all three were mine (?) and we were never without our little band of followers. These would either just stare at us or try to touch one of the children - I think they thought it brought good luck. Given the number of ‘selfies’ we posed for, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the kids are the new Asian Facebook sensation.

 
Lakshmi
 

Photo caption: Lakshmi the elephant dispensing blessings in the crowd (top left); dancing transvestites accompanied by male drummers and male dancers carrying huge metal poles covered in bells which they threw up and down - heavy duty work! (top right); the crowds waiting for the festival to start - every available roof top was used - even if it was thousands of years old! (bottom left); the chariot moving towards and past us to great cheering (bottom right)

Indians do not do things by halves and the festival itself was a proper extravaganza! The spectacle included a towering, decorated, wooden chariot - the centrepiece and focus of the ceremony as it was dragged by hand from one end of the town to the other - a holy elephant collecting cash and dispensing blessings as it wandered amongst the crowd, flying bananas tied up with bougainvillea (the auspicious aim was to throw them actually into the moving chariot), dancing transvestites, flaming torches, hypnotic drumming and an ecstatic, cheering crowd of thousands.

 
golam
 

Photo caption: one of the "golam" drawn in rice flour powder found in front of villager's houses on the festival day. The floor underneath has been died green with cow dung paste, prized for its anti-bacterial and mood-enhancing properties! (top left); enjoying street food (top right); Hampi temple (bottom left); sweetie heaven! (bottom right)

And all this merry making without a drop of alcohol (it is banned in Hampi for religious reasons) or any other form of drug. Which actually made a big difference to the overall vibe. Despite having three small kids and constantly being surrounded by huge crowds, I never once felt unsafe. Indeed, I felt the safest and most welcome I have ever felt at a festival! Everyone was there to have a good time, and I must have heard the phrase "this is true Indian culture" from those around me at least 5 times. Since we were off to Goa the next day to start the next 12 week chapter of our stay in this incredible country, I took this as a good sign...

To see where we are on a map, click here!

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Living life in the slow lane...

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3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD POST 12: 27th January 2017, Ubud, Bali.   

Ever since I first backpacked around Indonesia as a fledgling 20-year-old, I have secretly wondered if I could live here full time. 21 years later and 8 weeks into our 4-month-long stay, my dream finally seems to have materialised. Leaving for a 2-day visa run to Singapore this week and realising that I really missed the Balinese vibe, only confirmed just what it is (aside from the obvious) that attracted me all those years ago.

It is the speed of life. It is so SLOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWW: here, no-one is ever in a rush; no-one is ever in a frenzy and no-one takes pride in being ‘too busy’ to stop to do something else. People talk meaningfully, they always look you in the eye and everyone’s movements are considered and deliberate. Time doesn’t seem to be measured here in quite the same way as it is in Europe; there is no notion of either ‘on time’ or ‘late’, and group as well as individual schedules are flexible whatever the ‘importance’ of the action being programmed: just as yoga classes, language lessons and even religious ceremonies often start late, pupils and adherents often turn up late. No one is fussed about a few minutes (or hours) here and there because there is no notion of missing out (on the part of the attendees) and there is no concept of disrespect (on the part of the organisers).

Here, timeliness is not a quality to aspire to so it is not considered ‘rude’ not to do so. Indeed, there hardly ever seem to be any grounds for taking offence. The Balinese live in harmony with the flow of life and accept that with flow, naturally comes flexibility.

 
flexibility
 

Photo caption: just one of the hundreds of ceremonies that take place nearly every day throughout Bali but our first as participants. This one was in honour of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom. It was celebrated in temples across the country as well in schools - this one was held for Pelangi school parents, pupils and teachers. Needless to say, it started an hour and a quarter after the 'scheduled' time. 

This is also the case on the roads. There is no sense of possession over lanes and so no resulting outrage from those in the one opposite to your own if you spend too long in ‘theirs’. In fact, here, the act of overtaking takes priority over any other manoeuvre: oncoming traffic slows down to give you more time to complete it and vehicles move to the side in order to make room. Horns are used thoughtfully in warning rather than angrily to sound outrage - if you hear a ‘toot’ it is because the driver behind you is gently informing you to be careful because he is about to overtake.

The Balinese accommodate each other – slowly – and the overwhelming vibe is that of working towards harmonious balance: with one another, with nature and with the gods. Life is lived very much in the present moment. They literally embody the spiritual mantra that not only does everything have its time and place but that everything is perfect as it is. Just observing this being played out around us is calming and nourishing. So bit by bit, we too have followed suit and just as ‘busyness’ is contagious in Europe, ‘slowness’ is as infectious here. There simply isn't any other way to be.

 
offerings
 

Photo caption: Offerings or "canang sari" epitomise the deliberate slowness of life in Bali. Even the word itself is made up of ca - beautiful and nang - purpose as well as sari (essence). Whilst they range from the simple coconut leaf trays left daily around the house to the fantastically intricate kinds offered up on a full moon or ceremony day, they are always beautifully crafted to combine various elements that each represent a major Hindu god. Flowers (which are a symbol for sincerity and love) each represent a different deity and are placed pointing in a certain direction (white for Iswara which points to the east; red for fiery Brahma which points to the south; yellow for Mahadeva which points to the west and blue or green for cool Vishnu who points to the north). Placed on top is a stick of incense - as it burns the essence of the offering rises up to heaven. They are seen as a kind of selfless act - an offering of money and time made partly in gratitude and partly in appeasement to the potentially 'mischeivous' lower spirits. Equally importantly, the act of making them (always a female task) offers a chance to pause and meditate in communal creativity.  

This slow pace is particularly good for me because my natural inclination is towards the opposite: I speak fast; I react fast; I think fast; I move fast. Going from ‘a’ to ‘b’ was always a self-imposed mini challenge: how many calories could I burn in getting there? How much muscle power could I convert into accelerated motion? How late I could I leave it before setting off for the next destination thereby maximising the time allocated on whatever I was doing before? I often listened to reply instead of to understand; I used to try to fix things in order to move on rather than patiently witnessing their unfolding.

Having previously always lived in capitalist societies, whose mantra, 'time is money', had until now seeped insidiously into my belief system, I always thought that speed was necessary. Not only because I had so much to cram into my ‘tight’ schedule: three small kids to manage, a house and its chores to oversee, a wine events and consultancy business to run, womens' circles to organise, blogs to write, yoga classes to attend, runs to be completed – how else could I possibly fit everything into a day? But also because I secretly loved (and still do) the adrenalin rush that comes with speed, the thrill of acceleration, the whiff of danger it exudes.

 
family
 

Photo caption: family-time Balinese style. 

I thought that working in a frenzied state was not only desirable but laudable. But what I didn’t get and do now, is that acting rushed never does extend time. In fact, it usually does the opposite. And so pushing through instead of surrendering to the flow meant that I never felt that there was enough time, regardless of how fast I completed things. It also meant that I was rarely in the present, distracted instead by the ticking hand of the clock and what was next on my ‘to do’ list.

Here, on the other hand, the time at my disposal feels more spacious. I really can be a human being rather than a human doing. Bali has allowed me to slow down, to be more conscious and as a result, to tune into my intuition, heart and emotions. Now it is they that lead the show rather than my busy, cluttered state of mind.

It definitely helps that we have a weekly masseuse, that I outsource our laundry and ironing, and that there is home help who sweep the floor (yay) and make the beds (double yay – isn’t it so much more relaxing to climb into a neat bed that wasn’t made by yourself)? It also helps that the two eldest kiddies are at school with the youngest at nursery in the SAME venue, which means that for the first time in 7 years, I have one drop off, one pick up and a WHOLE DAY in between to do WHATEVER I WANT. Oh yeah!

 
bali
 

Photo caption: Bali's simple, timeless pleasures are food for the soul: the sight of locals tending to their land, atmospheric sunsets, lush paddy fields and exotic beaches. 

But it is more than that. I have changed my attitude: I no longer feel guilty that someone else is doing my washing, nor that I am not the sole provider of entertainment, comfort, instruction and love for my children. Crucially, I no longer feel that it is my duty to do everything and to be everything to everyone just because I am not yet contributing enough financially to feel justified in doing my own thing. Instead, we have realised as a family, that by spending that little bit extra on outsourcing what you can, you get SO MUCH MORE. You get the extra time that would have been spent on chores of course, but you also get space. And from that stems a desire to create that comes from inspiration instead of from a self-inflicted pressure to perform. This then leads to real productivity and true abundance. I hope so anyway. I'm working on it!

I still speak fast. And think fast. But I move a bit slower and I feel less rushed inside. Now, rather than letting it annoy me, I enjoy the ‘bonus’ relaxing time that arises if a class starts later than its scheduled time; I travel in a leisurely fashion and leave more time to get to places; I have implemented a daily meditation practise (something I never felt I had the time to fit in before) and I have started to listen more actively. I have also started to breathe slower, to widen my shoulders and to open my chest (and not just in downward dog). And in finally surrendering to time, it now feels like there is so much more of it!

So the travel part of our year-long adventure has temporarily stalled - the kids and I are even learning to speak and write the local language. We have made a conscious decision to get stuck here, to explore living abroad in a slower and more meaningful way than is possible when just passing through. To quote a friend, Bali has become our 'happy place'. And that surely, has to be something worth pausing for….

To see where we are on a map, click here!

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