Love & Kindness — A Diamond in the Rough.

I am addicted to the remotely located Ningaloo coral reef at Cape Range National Park. It is the worlds longest onshore reef so you can just snorkel off the shore and you are immediately in the wonderland of coral and sea creatures.

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The best bit about this obsession is that it is only twelve hours drive away from my home.

The North West of Australia where the reef is located has a harsh climate with extremely high summer temperatures, dangerous animals, lack of water, very long distances between towns, droughts and cyclones.

The adversity of living in this part of the world can create deeply authentic people who have had to  connect to make things work.

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Advice for cycling this path. Packs of dingos are known to bite bike tyres. Stand as tall as you can, face the pack of dingos (as they circle around you?), if you are with someone stand back to back, look the dingos in the eye, stay close to children and small teenagers, etc. A person needs to be tough to live here.

Cape Range National Park has been upgraded by the Australian Government from prickly, boiling, scratchy desert so that it now has pristine drop toilets, rubbish collection and camping bays at some of the bays.

Yearly I stay at Cape Range National Park and am enthralled by the hump back whales breaching and playing off the back reef. I am delighted when swimming with whale sharks, manta rays or turtles. I enjoy paddle boarding, kaiaking, wind or kite surfing with other large marine animals such as sharks, porpoises and stingrays.

Snorkelling here is like diving into a kaleidoscope of beautiful movement and colour. Within a few minutes you may see enormous green turtles nestling quietly under the reef an arms length away or octopi in tight holes in the coral, then there are swirling schools of gigantic pelagic fish, swaying reed like sea snakes, delicate Spanish dancers plus anything else that can be seen at a tropical reef.

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A small sting ray at the shore.

Last time I visited it was inky black at night with the moon a tiny slit so that the stars jumped out, the milky way was a band of diamonds. The silence felt to me like I was cradled safely in a hole in the cosmos.

There are no more facilities than the toilet and rubbish bins, no mobile phone service, wifi, fresh water, shops or anything else. For that you have to drive an hour away to Exmouth.

At Ningaloo one morning bleary with a healthy hangover of a deep sleep in silence, I almost walked into to a kangaroo that had reached into the “dry” vegetable box that was inside a tent — he was quietly eating carrots. He had already eaten a couple of kilos of bananas so was content. He nibbled away at his ill gotten gains as I walked around him to brew an early morning coffee.

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Just as the coffee boiled two white galahs swirled into camp, and stalked around. They only left after I gave them a plate of fresh water.

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There are many beautiful and interesting bays in Cape Range National park.

In Turquoise Bay I relaxed and surrendered to the current as it swept me over the reef where I came close to a white tipped reef shark and then enormous purple lipped clams that appear to breathe the water.

Later at Oyster Stacks I almost swam into a wobbly gong shark as it sat camouflaged on top of a coral outcrop and then I shied away from a deadly cone shell as it sat on the sea floor less than an arms length away.

Exmouth is the closest town to the paradise of Cape Range National park so after days of no showers and lots of swimming I’m feeling a tad crusty, in need of some civilisation and fresh water.

I took my salt encrusted self into town to have a wash before I travelled on. My hair was standing on end and I couldn’t get a brush through it. I love not having to brush my hair but after some time well…

After days of camping my habit is to have dinner cooked for me at the restaurant in the caravan park where I stay before heading south and back home.

The last time I was there I wandered over to the Potshot pub for a pre dinner drink and quiet read before heading to the restaurant for dinner.

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The Potshot Hotel

I’m a people watcher so when I heard lots of loud talk and laughter at a near table I noticed a very tall, man who appeared to be about fifty or sixty years of age —  it was hard to tell. His hair was dark without any grey and his body was shaped like a modern day Chinese Wealth God. This man had a huge tummy swaddled in a bright blue “T” shirt. He moved lightly on his feet for such a heavy man so I imagined that imperceptibly over time he had swapped his six pack for a keg.

Mr “Blue” as I named him had large heavy framed black glasses with coke bottle lenses that slid down his nose. When he chose to see he tipped his head back and looked down from his great height. His skin was the deep red of a European who had —over the decades — been sun burnt so much that his skin had given up and was perpetually a deep red. As he laughed loudly I noticed the gap in his teeth.

Blue walked lightly and quickly but with the waddle of a heavily pregnant woman. I noticed that he was talking to a couple of young women and that the energy between them was loving, engaged and they seemed to be excited to be together. There was a pinkish glow over these people and they had easy familiarity and respect that made me curious.

I then reminded myself that it was madness to assume anything about anyone or anything in life so I went back to my book.

Later I wandered back to the caravan park and restaurant. In the dark on the excellent bike paths of Exmouth I felt safe because the paths were filled with cyclists, runners and dog walkers enjoying the cool evening air.

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Emu warning signs

The only unsafe part was the emus who are known to be aggressive at times.

Over the last couple of years I have been invited to join people at their table in this restaurant. I guess because it is too embarrassing for the locals to see a single woman eating alone? I’m not sure really.

I had forgotten this quirk in the fabric of the universe so excitedly entered the restaurant thinking about the next chapter of my book.

A backpacker waiter with a strong accent I couldn’t place hovered over me as he showed me my table. He was much taller than me and he bent over the top of me and bumped me as he gave me the menu.

I was distracted by the waiter until I was accosted by a man at the next table who was loudly calling out “Come and sit here!” 

It is the larger than life “Blue” mountain of a man from the pub and he is there with four younger people.

Resigned that this is the way of it in this restaurant in Exmouth — I do.

I notice a couple of grey nomads sitting at the table behind “Blue” and they take a lively vicarious interest in what is happening. It is easy for them to follow the theme as “Blue” is joyous, loud and open with his speech.

Upon sitting down I learn that “Blue’s” name is Walsey — this is because he comes from Wales.

He is excited to have me at the table because he had noticed me reading at the pub.

Walsey emanates smiles. He is loud and funny and seems out of place with the other occupants of the table. Yet they sit there with a sense of protection and caring.

I’m introduced; First to a German couple both slender, refined, beautiful and quiet. Their  eyes were intelligently taking in the play of words as they wash over the table. This couple chip in at times with remarks that are well thought out. I learn that they have opened an amazing business in Exmouth called Social Society where they serve delicious organic food and sustainable clothing.

At the other end of the table are a married couple. The woman is Korean with a round face an easy smile and lots of dead pan jokes. Her newly minted husband is from Ireland. These two are fun they have twinkles in their eyes and a ready humour. They work from Perth in the fly-in/fly-out mining industry. They are a joy to be around because they keep the conversation flowing no matter what Walsey says.

I am the only Australian born person at the table and I recognise that this has been the familiar experience all my life. I am constantly exposed to a soup of different cultural perspectives and ideas without having to travel overseas —I well up with the feeling of luck and gratitude.

Curious I ask what brings them together and the story unfolds.

During the boom time in Western Australia the Korean woman and German couple were in Exmouth working twelve hour shifts in hospitality. They couldn’t  afford the extremely high cost of accommodation in town, so they camped in the bush out of town. They had no facilities — no water, toilets, rubbish collection or electricity. Sort of like being at Cape Range National Park however, without the toilets, camp sites or rubbish collection.

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The bush is harsh in this part of Western Australia

The bush here is hot, dusty, full of insects that bite, plants that sting, snakes, and other poisonous creepy things. There are very few trees around Exmouth and the ones that are there are stunted and provide little shade. I imagined that their tent would have been hellish. After a twelve hour shift they would have had to cook and clean for themselves, cart in their own water, food and everything else and only God knows what they did for a toilet.

These people were from Korea and Germany where they have every facility imaginable so they probably would have been exposed to extreme culture shock.

Their story is told in snippets between jokes, rude comments and various other stories.

At one time Walsey relays that he thought that the Korean woman would never get married because he thought she was a lesbian.

At another time he says he knows that his twenty-three year old Australian daughter is a virgin — for sure.  

He then relates how he behaved when he met the only boyfriend she ever let him near. We then totally understand why he thinks that she doesn’t have boyfriends.

Then he questions me. “Where do you live?”

When I answer he loudly asks “What is the value of your home?” To which I reply; “Way more than you can imagine, I’m a purse.”

I then say to the table “I’m a total nurse and a purse — I understand this is a real turn on for men.” They look amused and then cringe a little when his next question; “What type of car do you drive?” 

I am ecstatic at this situation so in answer I slap my keys on the table. When he sees it is a Mercedes he looks happy.

The two couples wince again and then protectively try to say something to ameliorate his crash-bang queries.

I am in a place of joy, such open gall and innocence all mixed up together in a fully grown man.

At the end of the meal he whips out his credit card and pays for everyone including me.

Back to the story of why they were all together. This is how I heard their story — I am not really sure if I have it exactly right.

Walsey who was living in Exmouth with all the facilities of modern life noticed their situation.  He invited them to live with or maybe around him.

These back packers moved out of the bush and they all lived as a community protected by this big Boomer of a man and for this they love him and respect him.

At the end of the evening Walsey turns to me and much to the delight of the grey nomad couple he says; “Come back to my place.”

By this stage my love for this kind bumbling man knows no bounds — He is a fine soul and I respect him. I let him down gently. I say; “Thanks so much but I have a long drive tomorrow so — no.”

When he insists I gently say;

“Walsey, I don’t want to drink anything more tonight so thanks so much for inviting me but no.”

He has had a few too many wines so asks couple more times until he finally gets the “No” in good humour.

The grey nomads are hysterical. I am blissed out.

Kind, generous and genuine people come in many guises.

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The Doctor who confused arms with legs!

It was 3.15 am and I was in a taxi speeding towards my daughters home in Melbourne.

I had been in Melbourne for a couple of days catching up with Kia and had a wonderful time with her showing me around her favourite spots.

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I had seen Victoria night markets,

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seen quirky fashion and even bought a real 1960’s pair of bathers for summer. We had eaten interesting food seen crazy dogs

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and people plus enjoyed streets of cafes and bars and even Daiso!

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Back to the taxi ride, the taxi driver was asking me about what I was doing so early in the morning. I told him my 21 year old daughter Kia had moved from WA to Melbourne a few months ago and I was visiting. I told him how she had just phoned saying that she had been vomiting without stop since 10pm and needed help. Lucky I was in the city really…

The Sirian taxi driver told me that all his children stayed at home until they were married, some at 34 and one as late as 39 years old. He had five sons and a daughter. He wasn’t judgmental that my daughter had left home so early — just observing difference. He said that he couldn’t understand why a person would leave a loving family to move in with strangers.

I was wondering about our Western need to have independent young adults. I had left home at twelve for boarding school and was living with a girlfriend from school at seventeen. I thought nothing of the fact that Kia was off in the great wide world living life at twenty-one.

A small part of me just wanted to protect her and keep her close and make sure she was safe —my heart remembers her as the vulnerable baby and toddler. In times of stress my heart retreats to the past to those wonderful times— reminiscing the time where I could fix most things for her easily.

The taxi sped the wrong way down Kia’s empty one-way street where she was waiting at the door with a large bowl. After a “U’ie” we were whisked off to the famous St Vincent’s hospital emergency department.

It was really quiet in there with two people in the waiting room—both were sleeping on the chairs and one was snoring loudly.

We booked in and waited, Kia noisily vomiting every few seconds, and crying in pain so much so that she awoke the other two “waiters” in the waiting room.

After half an hour she was given an injection to stop the stomach cramps and she too lay down on the seats getting up every five to ten minutes for another spasmodic emptying.

By 5.30am all three of the emergency patients were still in place in the waiting room. Apparently they had been busy with severely injured ambulance clients.

Kia decided that she had been there long enough and wanted to go home. She got up went outside and I followed. She then had a semi collapse in the street—so back to the waiting room. By this time the drug had worn off so she crying in pain and vomiting her heart out.

At about 6.30am she was shown a bed and after half an hour the nurse gave her some medication and things settled down a bit.

Again she was left until the medication wore off. At this stage she was making such a noise retching and crying in pain that a Doctor finally came to see her.

At about 8.30 am a smiling rounded young Doctor came and in his lilting accent asked her to move her arms straight whilst grabbing her legs and pushing down on them.

Kia was a bit confused and straightened her arms but he insisted that she moved her arms straight and again pushed down on her legs.

Kia asked; “Do you mean my legs?” He responded; “Yes, your arms” and pushed some more. When she straightened her legs he said; “That’s right”.

Now this Doctor who didn’t know the difference between arms and legs was a bit of a worry!

He seemed to know his drugs—even if he didn’t know her body parts!

He gave her some morphine and when that didn’t really work — some more morphine. Finally the pattern of spasm, pain and vomiting stopped. He ordered a battery of blood tests, ultrasound and lots of poking and prodding. He seemed to know that bit of his work and I found out that his accent was Romanian so forgave his ever so slight misdemeanour about arms and legs after a frantic night for him in ED.

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At about 2pm she was discharged with more drugs and no diagnosis. All is quiet finally.

Unofficial Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb in the mid 80’s

In the 1980’s life was a little more simple. Perhaps it was that I was more relaxed and less fearful of doing silly things?

I was in Sydney visiting a friend who I will call Harry. We were sitting around in Ugg boots and Lycra having dinner at his house in Paddington.

I spent the whole of the 1980’s in designer Lycra. I hand spray painted and had elaborate designs stitched onto my tracksuits and other stretchy exercise clothing that I wore all the time. I remember once voting in Cottesloe in a pair of bikinis as though that was the most normal thing to do. My memories of the 1980’s was that it was a chilled time of extreme exercise and physically comfortable clothing.

Just as we were finishing dinner he said to me “Would you like to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge?”

Well… as a very fit and healthy person I was up for any fun so said “Yes”.

There was no official bridge climb at that time. The bridge climb came almost a decade and a half later in 1998. In the 1980’s the only people who climbed the bridge were people who looked after it in some way — or people like Harry and myself.

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Harry had been told how to access the bridge to climb it, so we jumped into his car and drove to the area at the base of the pylons. On the picture above it is that area where there are the upright brick structures. Harry had bought some carpet along so that we could climb over the barbed wire fence.

Once we got there I found out that before the barbed wire bit was a bit of an obstacle course. First we had to scale a very steep wall with the carpet. On the top of the wall was a six foot high fence and on the top of the fence was the barbed wire.

Being athletic and strong that was the least of our problems. The first problem was to find a time span between the security vehicles so that we would not be caught. We waited in the car until a police car came and just as it left around a corner we got into action. We quickly scaled the wall and then the fence, immediately pulling the carpet into the opening at the side of the brick structure where we could enter the bridge struts. Adrenaline pumping stuff! We were both panting and sweating by the time we were secreted way in the dark of the entrance to the bridge.

We went up some stairs and eventually we found the opening where you could climb within the metal spans. Each metal span seemed a bit wider than I was and higher than it was wider.

Here is an old photograph showing a span that we climbed within.

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An old photograph showing one of the spans. We climbed within one of the upper spans.

The slope upwards was really steep and there were large smooth bolts and metal lips at very regular intervals all the way up. It was like climbing within a slippery metal cave. We climbed and at intervals there were openings in the top where you could push back a metal plate and look out.

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The bridge is covered in smooth metal bolts.

My main problem was the Ugg boots as they were not the least bit useful for gripping on to the smooth iron base of the column. After some time we came to the place where it flattened out where we were going to  look out at the very top. As far as we could tell it was the top because there is little slope at the top. To our great disappointment the lookout slot had been fixed shut. I am guessing that this was because the bridge people wanted to dissuade people like ourselves from climbing.

We then retraced our steps slipping and sliding our way downwards again to get to the bottom and back to our piece of carpet. Anxiously we waited for ages for the next security patrol and when it left we quickly threw the carpet over the barbed wire, scaled the fence and then thundered down the sloped wall to be back in the car again after our adventure.

In 2010 I was in Sydney and decided to climb the bridge the official way.

It was such a let down — the original climb was so much more interesting and fun — and it was free. I don’t mean free in cost as the cost was reasonable, I mean free in spirit.

The official bridge climb required enough equipment —the cost of which would probably to keep a whole third world family in food and education for a year. It was slooowwwwww… as slow as the most unfit of humanity.  So slow I could have fallen asleep at any time during the climb. I couldn’t help thinking “Wendy you are spending your life one moment at a time. Is this experience worth it?”

However I have to admit the views were much better.

Harlem – New York

Some places have a vibe and others are more worldly and therefore average. For example much of Manhattan is just like other places in the world – cute bars, restaurants, boutique businesses plus grunge places being upgraded with plants. I am sure that many of these ideas probably came from places like New York, however, we have this sort of thing in Perth.

This world of ours is a global place and we are getting more and more homogenous in ways.

Manhattan – New York— unlike other Western cities I have seen — appeared to me to be a mixture of first world and  third world  scenes. There are neon screens in Times Square along with lots of beggars. There are piles of rubbish on the streets and the majority of vehicles driving past are expensive. The large number of poverty stricken street people are juxtaposed by the people rushing past them who are wearing Rolex watches, Armani or holding Gucci bags.

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Rubbish collection New York style. This man was on a bike at Central Park.

Other places are just unashamedly themselves and one of these places is Harlem. Harlem does grunge and cool better than any other place I have noticed on this planet so far.

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Harlem street shops on a usual day.

It is a mish-mash of races mostly of the brownish variety as there seems to be a fair amount of “great big melting pot” stuff happening. The major race is African American however there are Hispanic, Asian, Caucasians, Jamaicans, African/Africans and all the rest socialising and doing commerce together. I felt that everyone was casually OK to be hanging out in the streets I would recommend Harlem as the place to stay when in New York. Providing that you don’t frequent the streets too much late at night.

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Most people wear hats so there are lots of hat shops

I have to be racist here — and to be racist is not a popular thing — However, it appeared to me that the African and African American people are the people who make this place great, cool and give it the vibe of difference and aliveness.

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Blue on blue

For starters many of these young women are statuesque with braided hair that went below their tiny waists. They are elegantly thin and strong looking. Their elongated bodies not only have petite waists but this is enhanced by rounded butts that sway along with their braided hair when they walk — all very alluring. To make the whole look even more appealing they wear long tight dresses that hug every curve and it appears that there is little underwear worn as there are not bra or pant line to be seen.

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“Out there” braids and florals for all and sundry, Harlem has its’ own style.

Many of the young men are pristine, coiffured within an inch of their lives and their clothing — no matter what their style — is exact and they look like they have just come from a modelling job.

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Mens style – they actually buy and wear this sort of clothing.

Their fit healthy strong bodies are shown off to perfection. Drool…

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A typical young mum…

Then there are the children — most of the little African American girls have their hair braided in cornrow braids, with colourful beads on the end so that when they walk they make a soft sound as they clank together. Others have ribbons or other random stuff stuck amongst the cacophony of their hair styles.

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The children are beautifully dressed with braided hair.
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Close up of the hair and clothing

Every day the parents here can be seen walking their children home after school holding their hands. The children have to run at times to keep up with their tall strong healthy looking “cool” parents.

The little boys also have their hair styled — they are like mini adults with beautifully exact shaved stars, stripes or other shapes. Or they have elaborately stylised shapes on top of their heads. Only African hair could take this sort of styling. The rest of the world of hair would simply flop!

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Kindy kids and their hair

Now I will speak of the elderly — these people are the coolest of the lot. They wear whatever they like. Some of the men wear suits with matching shoes, tie, shirt and hat. The suit could be say cream and the shoes, tie shirt and hat could be green or yellow or orange —the whole outfit is wondrous to behold.

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All ages have their own style.

The more casual look is jeans “T” shirt and shoes all one colour. I have seen white, orange, brown, black, blue and green so far.

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Even the shoes are red.

When I say green here I am talking about lime green, and when I say yellow it is canary yellow. Orange is bright iridescent orange. Pink is of the lollie pink variety. Clothing here is always the brightest colour of the pallet.

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Canary Yellow!

Then there are the African people both the men and women who were born in Africa. They wear those wonderful African clothes with the bright geometrically designed flowing floor length dresses with wrapped turban, shawl and all the rest … Brightening up the street for as far as the eye can see.

The Caucasians, Asians and Hispanic people are pale and bland and difficult to notice even although they are there.

The other thing about Harlem is the fact that the Avenues are very wide with wide footpaths and in summer the people bring out their chairs and tables and sit on the street in the sun.

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Street life, look at the old guys clothing!

Discussing life at full volume — intimate details — at super loud volume, with comments like “this is so personal” “I don’t tell anyone but you this…” Not only do they discuss amongst themselves they call out to people walking along. I have been told : You are in great shape Miss” and that “I love your hat”. It is all very friendly and neighbourly this street hanging out.

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Primary colours for clothing

Just as every culture has some sides that are not so easy to be around Harlem is the same.

Some of the people also have their domestic tiffs right out loud in the street in front of everyone including their children. Here it is not “behind closed doors” it is in your face right out loud and open to the world, sort of dysfunctionally and unconsciously honest when I think about it.

The liquor stores where you can buy wine are like glass boxes where the wine and shop assistants are encased in a glass box. You point at your wine and the assistant gets it for you and then you play using a box where you deposit the money and ID and swing the thing around. They put the wine and change on it and swing it back.

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Wine and spirits lock down!
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How to get your purchase and pay. You need ID.

Personally I don’t actually understand this system because you can actually buy wine and beer at the local deli and supermarket.

I am sure that many of the churches here are wonderful places that are inclusive etc. However, they also have the opposite who seem to find difference and inclusion WRONG.

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It reads; “WE WILL TAKE HARLEM BACK FROM THE PINCH NOSE NEGROS AND THE DEMONIC HOMOS NEXT MEETING 23RD JUNE 2014”. I’m not sure that this would be allowed in Australia it would probably break our discrimination laws.

Then there are the parks. In one travel advisor site it said to visit Marcus Garvey park so I did. What I found was the trees and grass fenced in. Large piles of human faeces on the stairs on the walk up the the summit of the hill. There is so little open space in Harlem so I was shocked to see it so neglected.

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They fence in the trees and grass at the main park in Harem.

There are also some ideas that are so fantastic such as the solar mobile phone charging stations in the park.

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Solar iPad and mobile phone charging station in the park. It included all the cables required so that you didn’t even need your own cable.

Then there was the man who was using the traffic island and traffic lights as his gym.

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This man was exercising on a traffic island – He was using the signage as his gym. He was really buff, proves you don’t need money to look fantastic!

One afternoon as group of about 20 or 30 “bikies” were doing wheelies up and down the street I was living on. They were so loud you couldn’t continue a conversation. The children of the area would wait at the traffic lights and join in with the motor bikes as they went past so there were kids doing wheelies on bicycles and all types of motor bikes doing wheelies with them.  Some of the bikies had four wheel bikes with two people standing on them as they went along on the two back wheels.

Lastly there was the gun shots at night on the street to which I simply retired to the back room of the apartment and went to bed.

I loved Harlem and so when you come to New York don’t miss it!

Officious Officials USA style

Every country has a different way of handling officialdom.

In some Asian countries the officials have the power to do whatever they like — some are corrupt — so I have learned to keep a low profile so that I am not singled out.

I remember last time I was in Malaysia. I was going through customs in transit and an official simply stole my toothpaste — a new unopened tube of expensive stuff. Immediately a hawker kept badgering me to buy some from her — I repeat — this was in the customs hall during transit! The customs official seemed to be OK with the hawker — perhaps he took a commission? It took me some time to work out what was happening and to keep myself safe.

In northern Europe the officials I have encountered are simply like another human — they don’t seem to have any need to do the “power” thing, they talk to you like another intelligent adult and seem to allow a smooth easy flow of information.

Most Australian officials are friendly and helpful however when we get an ornery one they are passive aggressive. They simply make things difficult without saying much. I have learned to get around them with syrupy sweetness so they don’t affect me too much.

In the USA the officials such as customs, train conductors, or anyone working in an official way are like something out of a bad sitcom. My daughter streams those American sitcoms where they scream abuse at each other and it is meant to be funny I think that the officials are like that but due to the power they hold over you it is simply not funny.

They speak really loudly using commands — to put it plainly — they talk down to you. They command to see ID, command people to do things a particular way and their demeanor is as though they are the parent and you are their slightly dim whited child.

This takes some getting use to.

I have tried to be polite to them but they don’t crack a smile or show any sign of friendliness—they just keep on LOUDLY telling me and others what to do.

I tried to crack the code of how to respond but maybe there is no code and we civilians simply need to move along as commanded?

I found customs in Dallas particularly amusing as they officials “told off” person after person for not being able to guess the next step of a complicated security procedure. You are expected to know the procedure and if you don’t guess it right you get ridiculed or told off!

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Kansas City Amtrak station — simply beautiful architecture

When I was in Kansas City Amtrak station they called for people to board the train 30 minutes before leaving time.

There were crowds of people around the exit towards the train. I thought they were queuing for that train.

Anyway to make sure I was doing the right thing I showed my ticket to the official there. He loudly laughed at me and made a joke about how stupid I was for not going directly to the train as requested by the intercom. All the people queuing around joined in with the joke laughing at his words…

Silly me!

No need to be polite here and queue!

Just get on that dang train ASAP as you have been commanded and all will be well.

Joe Danau — Spiritual Artist / Builder

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 8.23.30 PM“When in the bush at first it seems like there is nothing there. After some time the land get’s you then you become part of the land. Then when you lift a rock or look up you notice that the world is teaming with life. Everything is living—the air, everything… This is what I try to put in my paintings—the things that you don’t necessarily see.” Joe Danau

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Joe Danau – Australian Builder and Artist

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Joe Danau found his artistic inspiration and enlightenment from the most unlikely of circumstances.

It is as though Joe has had a few lives in this one lifetime. He began his life in Belgium and his childhood was deeply affected by the war. When peace came he migrated to Australia. He then became a very successful tradie, then builder and businessman with his own sub-contracting company. Unexpectedly he was influenced by a most ‘out of this world’ unusual friendship, to finally find his way back to his original childhood intention of becoming an artist.

This is Joes life story so far.

Joe was born in Belgium in 1935 and the first five years were wonderful years where the people of Belgium couldn’t spend all of their money. Food was plentiful, there was laughing, dancing the Charleston and life was plentiful. His mother owned a cafe in Brussels where beer and food was sold and the cafe seemed to be one constant party for the young Joe.

 Joes childhood

Joes older brother (left) and little Joe in their woollen pants

When he was about five the war arrived in Belgium and Joe he remembers going by horse and cart down the main road out of Brussels with a man who owned the horse, his mother and brother.

Joe’s Mother had decided to take an open horse and cart away from the invasion—it was a quick decision in the heat of the moment.

They were part of a mass exodus and the road was packed with people and their belongings. After one day of walking down the road the old horse was exhausted so they pulled off the road beside a big warehouse. Very soon after they pulled off they heard the sound of German airplanes as they came over machine gunning, shooting and dropping small bombs onto the road and down the side of the road that was full of people. If they had not pulled off when they did they may have been killed.

Soon after that some Germans soldiers drove down the road and pulled over to the warehouse and broke in. They found that it was full of food—biscuits and jam. One solider gave Joe an open tin of jam and he remembers sitting on the stairs and eating from the big can with his fingers.

His mother decided it was really unsafe to stay or go further down the road away from Brussels and so asked his brother to get Joe so that they could return to Brussels. Unknown to the mother his brother couldn’t find Joe and simply jumped back on the cart without him.  They started back down the road without Joe. Luckily for Joe when this was discovered they came back and found him on the stairs with the jam.

On the way back the stench on the road was horrific. There was blood, body parts and guts everywhere. The horse was as spooked as were the humans.  It was very slow going with fear their constant companion.

At this stage a row of German tanks came out from Brussels. The first tank had a big blade on it that clearing everything off the road.

When they eventually got back to the café they found that people had broken in to the café stolen the beer and used the bed as a toilet.

During the war his mother had to run the café to survive. Joe’s father was initially a POW. He had been rescued by the Swiss Red Cross from a camp. He spent his time in an infirmary recovering from a severely infected head injury that was inflicted by a rifle butt while he was a POW.

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Joe on his bike — in front of his mother’s café.

His grandfather thought that the boys would be safer and better cared for in a Catholic boarding school so as a little mite of seven years old Joe went to live in the strict surroundings of a convent for boys.

Joe escaped the brutality of the boarding school by spending much of his time reading.

He became a choirboy so at times would sing in the Cathedral. This was his first introduction to art because the works of Rubens and many other Flemish Masters were hidden away from the eyes of the invader in the back of the Cathedral. The young Joe loved those paintings and vowed that someday he would become an artist.

Joe painted at this time and the walls of his mother’s café were covered with his works.

When Joe left boarding school he was 12 and when 13 Joe was invited to learn at the Institute of Art in Construction. Everyone else in the class was over 20 years old and some were 30 however, this didn’t worry him at all. He was an immediate success as he had been reading books his whole life so won first prize for the theory and was advanced immediately to the second level.

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The certificate from the Belgium Institute of Art and Construction

The day he turned fourteen his father put him to work and Joe started digging trenches for foundations. At the same time he continued with his studies at night school and learned all about stone masonry, and other artistic aspects of building. At his fathers work he advanced to brick laying.

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Joe the apprentice builder at 14 years old

When peace came the Danau family reunited but the friction between the allied troops and the Russians horrified Joe’s father who had spent three years in hospital recovering. He was filled with trepidation and declared: “We’re not going to be caught again… we must get out of Europe.”

In 1951 the family migrated to Western Australia and bought a farm in Donnybrook.

Country life was not to the liking of 16 year old Joe so he moved up to Fremantle.

Joe’s first work in Belgium had been as a stonemason therefore it was natural that he entered the building trades. Quickly he graduated from bricky’s laborer to a full time bricklayer.

Soon after his 17th birthday he met an Australian girl who had two children and they settled in Fremantle. When he was 20 they were married, as he felt very protective of her and her children particularly as she was mentally unwell. They had two more children making a family of three girls and one boy. This marriage lasted fifty-three years and ended with her death at a ripe old age.

In the late 1960’s the building trade slumped and Joe accepted a job at the isolated Catholic Lombardina Mission staffed by Germans in Beagle Bay. Beagle Bay is 125 kilometres north of the pearling centre of Broome in the North West of Western Australia.

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The famous Beagle Bay Pearl Shell Church

Joe had no idea that this would change his life forever and he would return to his original childhood dream of becoming an artist.

Joe became well known to the local Aboriginal people as he was building for their community, in particular an old bloke who was an elder became a regular friend.

The elder was respected and a tad feared as he had flashlight eyes, with a light that smoldered behind them.  His very presence demanded respect. He rarely spoke and when he did he was quiet and of few words. Many people found him intimidating and the Mission locals mainly avoided him.

Joe found that the elder’s beliefs and physicality different — powerful and pure.  Joe understood that the elders way of living was beyond anything that was currently held as possible by most people.

He was not just an elder but also a “Medicine Man” who had walked from the Northwest down a song-line via Uluru to Adelaide and up to Queensland at least twice. Along the way he would perform ancient traditional Medicine Man initiation rituals.

As there were so many languages along the way, the old bloke would have to learn each language. This man was extremely educated and spoke all the languages. At each language group they would pick up a new person and drop off the person who had been picked up when they last visited. This ensured that each language group had a few people who understood all of the languages along that song line.

The elder was from a time when his teachers had little or no contact with white people so his education was purely traditional. His way was often diametrically opposed to the ways of the Christian raised Aboriginals of the mission. Joe noticed that he was feared and ostracized for his traditional Aboriginal beliefs therefore he had few friends and Joe and he struck up a strong bond.

Joe felt that the elder knew what he was doing all the time—it was like he was a fully conscious human being.

Joe reminisces what happened when they went net fishing. When a big fish was caught in the net the old bloke would jump in and disappear below the water for up to two minutes. Then Joe would see a hand with a huge one meter long fish slowly rise up above the water. The fish would be dead. The old man had killed it with his teeth. Joe has many stories of this mans exquisite control and use of his body and understanding of the landscape and animals.

The local mission people had fear around this elder’s ability so avoided him and thus his knowledge. The elder found this to be very heartbreaking but after some attempts to pass on the knowledge and artifacts he gave up.

He told Joe that Christianity and alcohol affected the next generation —he gave special totem objects to relatives as required by law and his people sold them for alcohol in Broome. These artifacts were ancient and powerful and the Christian raised family members simply didn’t grasp the cultural significance of the objects.

The old bloke then realized that respect for the traditional Aboriginal culture was usurped by “white mans ways” even by his blood brothers and sisters. He came to the conclusion that there was no one that he could trust to pass his ancient knowledge onto so he stopped. He told Joe that the original Aboriginal culture would be gone once his generation was gone.

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Cooking lunch on the Beach

No work on Sunday was a Mission rule so Joe would often take a truckload of men, women and children and their dogs to fishing spots or picnics.

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On one of these fishing trips Joe was standing in a small river about knee deep in the water with his fishing rod. The children all started yelling “snake, snake” and a couple of them ran over to Joe and climbed on him literally rooting him to the spot.

Two black snakes swam down the river towards him and they circled him then swam through his legs and swam off.

The elder was watching and interpreted it as a sign.

One day the elder asked Joe on walkabout. Joe accepted thinking that the trip would be pleasurable just like the ones they had done so far—maybe a few days or a week at the most. He had been on many walks with the elder and thought nothing of it.

“I’m just going back to where I came from” explained the elder.

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Self portrait – Fishing at Beagle Bay

Joe had no idea that before him was a walk from Beagle Bay to the Mitchell Plateau in the extreme north of Western Australia. Over 1,000 kilometers of terrible terrain and that this walk would take between three to four months to complete.

Joe remembers…

“There was the elder, two of his nephews, one wife. some children and me. The day we left the Mission we simply collected our hunting gear—I had my own spear and woomera—and we went bush.”

“After two weeks of walking and living off the land and whatever water was offering I was well and truly ready to toss it all in and head for home. But as I had no idea where we were, I had to keep going. My survival was entirely in the hands of the elder.”

“Along the way we met various tribes and mates of the elder and we would stop for about a week. Ceremonies would be held and although I was not formally initiated I was permitted to watch the dancing, singing and the corroboree’s.”

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Joes painting – The spirit of the elder . This is not an exact depiction as culturally the elder would not have wanted that.

“I only had the clothes I was wearing and after some time the cloth became weak and worn until it simply rotted away and I was left without much on. The same happened with my shoes. I was not used to going bare foot so the elder made me some shoes out of bark.”

“I was so dependant on him for everything. We ate what the land provided. We ate little but the foods was so nutritious that just a little seemed well and truly enough.”

“Although I was totally dependant on him at no time did I feel insecure.”

“A couple of times due to the situation I was placed in — my mind would become different — and I became the land and the land became me.  I was floating around in it all wrapped in the blackness of the night.”

“After a few days this feeling would subside and I felt totally at peace. I was filled with a new wisdom and understanding of myself and my fellow human beings and our mutual relationship to ‘our land’.”

“I had become, in fact, a totally different person. The combination of the dancing, the chanting and the elder’s magnetic personality had affected me deeply. Our close human contact while travelling together in the wilderness had given me a deep appreciation of ‘simplicity’—we revealed ourselves to each other without pretence or deceit of any kind. For me this was the first time I had seen human beings acting in complete honesty.”

They eventually reached the elders “place” and a great reunion ensued.

Joe had to return to work at the Mission so a vehicle was found to take him down the tracks via the legendary Fitzroy Crossing, back to Broome and out to Beagle Bay.

On his return home to Fremantle Joe found his had no desire to continue many aspects of his former lifestyle. Once a ‘regular’ at the pub, he gave up drinking entirely, and smoking, and also lost interest in the more material aspects of ‘civilization’.

He gave up building and enrolled at Claremont School of Art where he won many awards over the five years that he was there.

He is known for painting, ceramics as well as sculpture.

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Two years running he won the sculpture award.

Today he owns no car and is happy with just the ‘simple things’.

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Joe 9

Joe 1

Joe

Examples of Joes sculptures

Joe describes himself as an Australian Artist with his unique and unusual techniques that he has developed over the years.

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Joes art techniques are uniquely developed over the years.

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Honey ant people

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Joe with a couple of large paintings

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Joes current art and sculpture

IMG_3181More current paintings 

Joes website is:  http://joedanauartist.com/index.html

Cycling in Hirafu – Japan

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Japan cycling is the best!
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Cycling in Japan

I have found that life always presents wonderful opportunities and if you don’t grasp them immediately they fade away as thought they were never there.

One of these opportunities came for me when one of my Australian friends got a job in Japan. I asked if I could visit. The answer was “yes’ so with that said this is how I came to travel in Japan when I was actually planning to go to Laos.

I was craving a holiday where I could be alone and able to “tune in” to my own inner essence, that part of me that is wise and kind and very, very quiet. It whispers to me and if I am too busy or have too many people around I really get to miss it. It is like missing a lover, a deep ache inside that can’t be placated.

I schedule a long trip every year that involves me being alone so that I can just be with no distractions. People call it meditation but I think that being is more than that—it is getting back to that inner truth where the meaning of life is revealed 24/7.

The first time I really connected to that part of me was on my trip to Sri Lanka and I have taken time like this since. Once a year I give myself a week of silence or what I call “not doing”.

After visiting my friends I decided that cycling in Japan would be the thing to do and Hokkaido would be the place. I read that Hokkaido was mainly forrest and had a very low population density. That sounded perfect.

The time I spent in Yokohama with my friends it was simply amazing. A cooking class, the expats club, wonderful shrines and parks. We actually climbed Mt Fuji in one day that started at 3 am and finished at about 7 pm — five hours up and three hours down with about one hour the whole day to stop. The rest of the time was getting there and back.

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On top of Fuji with Jane

I do recommend some training before doing such a climb, a tad silly to climb it without any prior conditioning.

This  is meant to be about cycling so I will get on with it.

I took the Shinkansen bullet train to northern Honshu and over a week finally made my way up to Hokkaido. I was “feeling out” Japan trying to work out where to go to get my cycling trip. Every cycle shop I visited was either absent even although they were on the map, or the bikes were rickety and slow. I hired an ancient bike in Aomori and peddled around with the fast traffic and no map, I got lost a number of times and forever thank Google Maps— paid for by a Japanese phone company—not Telstra thank the stars! Last year I had used Google maps with Telstra for a few hours in Portugal. The bill was $1500AUD so I didn’t make that mistake again.

Sapporo had only rickety bikes in the hire places I found. Finally I gave up on my cycling trip and just decided to walk up mountains instead. I booked myself into a small Japanese place called “Ramina” in the town of Hirafu in the Niseko onsen and ski area.

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Beautiful quiet and convenient Japanese home stay.
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A lovely place to stay for a week.

It was summer but most places were booked out, I was lucky to get a room.

I took the local clackerty clack train to Kutchan and was picked up by the host of the Ramina and taken up into the mountains to the little village of Hirafu.

Hirafu has already been discovered by Australians and the locals seem happy with that. There is a good amount of “great big melting pot” stuff happening with many little  Euro/Japanese children around.

The guest house was exquisite, the food was top quality authentic Japanese.

Hirafu has a cycling shop called Rhythm cycles  I think it is owned by an Aussie or two, I didn’t quite work out who was the boss. Joe who was my main contact there spoke excellent English and he was one of those melting pot people half Japanese and half Swedish.

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Here I am unfashionably dressed in-front of the Rhythm Cycles store with my bike.

Joe hired me a brand new road bike for approximately $45.00 a day and absolute bargain for the milage I got from this wonderful machine. It was an Allez bike now as I know nothing about bikes and don’t really care too much about the details. I sort of fell in love with this bike. I have a much more expensive Scott bike at home but this bike beat it hands down. It was stable and light and the gears were always just right. I guess some machines just connect with your body and some don’t?

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The Allez road bike

I am not really a cyclist as such, sure I cycle and most times I get the right cycling clothing on but I am not serious about it. I simply love to move. I find that if I don’t move I can’t sleep well. Therefore cycling is a fun way to move and that is why I do it. I know nothing about bikes except that they have wheels and gears and I still don’t understand which gears are “high” and which ones are “low”.

OK I have just googled that. “High” gear is for going down low and “low” gear is for going up high. I guess that must make sense (?)

Andy another guy at Rhythm cycles gave me a small map and this was by guide. Another thing I am not particularly good at is following maps when I am on holidays. When I am at home and I have a time schedule I am excellent at following maps. To get lost or find a new way is not on the agenda I simply don’t have time for that.

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Inside the cycling store

On holidays I go into another time zone and I tend to just play around and find my own way. This proved to be very good for my health because daily I would add another 7 or 12 kilometres to my ride because I simply missed a turn or was having so much fun zooming downhill that I would just not be thinking of where I was meant to be going.

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The Rhythm Cycle – Cycling map

I love to get lost and found again – interesting experiences occur when you allow yourself to “not know” what you are doing or where you are going.

The first day I cycled around the base of a mountain called Mt Yotei. I didn’t read all about how far it was or anything like that I simply saw there was a cycle around the base and thought that it would be pretty thing to do on such a lovely sunny day.

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Mt Yotei

It was is a 59.4 kilometre cycle around the base of this mountain, by the time I limped back up to Hirafu my quadriceps were complaining. This cycle can be a tourist cycle with lots of stops as there are shrines, a organic tofu making place, a National Park and all sorts of restaurants along the way.

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I went back another day, here the local collect fresh mountain drinking water, they back their cars and vans up and fill containers full.
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Fresh mountain water directly from the “gods of the mountain”.
It was freezing cold and delicious.

I simply got on the bike and did it I stopped for the odd photograph and once again when I got a puncture. Murray an Aussie  from Rhythm cycles came out and fixed the puncture for me. Mobile phones are just so useful on a trip like this and a hire bike that gets fixed by using a phone is just the thing.

Japan has smooooooth wide roads. The drivers are respectful and calm  they leave lots of room so I didn’t feel any danger, I actually got a surprise at the difference between cycling in Japan compared to Australia. I didn’t realise how much stress I felt in Australia where I am constantly feeling as though drivers are too close and much too fast. I only realised it when I didn’t feel the stress here!

The sides of the roads often have a lane that is wide and smooth, however you have to keep your wits about you if you use it because it often peters out or there are huge drains.

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The drains often mess up the side of the road “cycle way”

They are not a cycle lanes but often you can use them like that in places. To top off the amazing cycling Hokkaido is not very populated so there is hardly any traffic.

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Smooth wide roads

The second day I cycled what they call the Goshiki Loop. Again I didn’t really take much notice of the map and of course I got lost and did an extra 12 kilometres. The Goshiki Loop is meant to be a 43.3 kilometre loop around another mountain called Annuputi.

What I didn’t realise was that the ride was up for 16 kilometres you get to the top and then the rest of the ride is down. 16 kilometres up and 16 kilometres down with a few kms getting to the up bit and after the down bit.

I started this ride in a wonderful blissful state as I don’t know what I was in for.

Then the road went up and up and up. At one stage it sort of levelled off a bit and it looked like the road was going down. So, I changed in to my big gear thing on the front and decided to coast. Now that caused me to come to a complete stop and I just about started to roll backwards! Back into the little front geary thing and keep peddling hard! It had been so steep that a gentle rise looked like going down, an illusion.

At first I thought “just around this corner it will go down”, and then “just around this next corner it will go down”…however after a long time of that I simply peddled and stayed in the moment listening to the trees,birds and insects looking at the view and enjoying the slow burn of muscles.

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At one stage I had to ride thought a tunnel.

As I was cycling up other cyclists were coming down and talk about respect! Each person who passed nodded at me as they went by. Even the Westerners. Mind you there were not many cyclists doing this silly mountain. Finally I reached the top and then had this terrifying feeling that going down was going to be as difficult as coming up. I am not a star at going fast down hill.

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On top of the Goshiki ride.

I spent the whole time cruising down being very careful to keep my speed in check and finally made it to the flat bits of the land and then I was completely lost.

Anyway, finally after some faffing around I found my way home.

When I got back to Rhythm Cycles they told me that the other direction was the best way to go for various biking reasons that I failed to listen to.

Therefore, I did the whole thing another day the other way around. Guess what? I got lost again. I simply don’t switch my serious “business woman” brain on during holidays.

I think that Japan must be one of the worlds best places to come to cycle. Give it a go and if you ever get up this way Hirafu has the best food and accommodation as well.

Garbage in Japan – an art and a science.

I was in Japan visiting my Aussie friends Jane and Tony. One morning I found Jane sitting with her cup of tea catatonic with “post-traumatic rubbish disorder”

I will explain.

Last Thursday morning Jane thought that it was “bottle day” for the rubbish collection. In the searing heat and high humidity she took four bags full of bottles and cans and clanked her way up hills and down stairs only to find that the wire cages that were meant to take them were all collapsed. She wandered the streets looking for other cages that were yet to be emptied… no luck so she clanked her way back home feeling frustrated and very hot.

Much later I went for a walk and found many cages with “bottle and can” rubbish neatly stacked in them. I then assumed that these cages were still “open for the business of collecting rubbish” so, helpfully — in the searing heat and humidity — I too clank down to the collection point with their rubbish and disposed of it.

 Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 8.07.32 PMThe collapsible rubbish collection points.

The next day we go past the collection point and our rubbish has not been collected. Jane decides to take it back to the house rather than “break the rules”. We take it out and take it back home, Jane is concerned about the “rubbish police” and rightly so!

Some of their expat friends had trouble learning the system. Every time they took the rubbish to the collection point the locals would yell at them for doing it wrong. In the end the woman of the house simply refused to take the rubbish out, so her partner was the one who had to suffer the abuse. Eventually, they had a visit from the “rubbish police” and we are waiting for the next exciting episode on that recalcitrant household.

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Easy peasy it is all carefully explained for you on the top!

Today Jane has frantically and neatly packed their “cardboard” rubbish. Cardboard rubbish is totally different rubbish to the “bottles and cans” variety and it has a different day. At the final minute Tony has taken it down to the rubbish place.

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Jane’s cardboard origami rubbish

Neat as, the cartons washed, dried, cut up neatly, stacked and then tied together as the diagrams in the rubbish manual show you how to prepare your rubbish.

They have to get there before 8 am when it is picked up. They have missed the “cardboard rubbish” for about two months.

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More origami

They arrived back elated with the news that “bottle day” has changed and it is now today! They have also missed “bottle and can” day for a while so this is a very happy event.

 Let’s hope they make it back with their bottles before the cages collapse and they have to wait another fortnight!

So, again they rush outside with all the bottles and cans they have used for the last month.

How lucky! They get there in time and even luckier because at the collection point a Japanese neighbour gave Tony a huge Golfing book.

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You can give and receive rubbish – all in a day of rubbish news.

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Some of these books were collectable

Apparently on cardboard day you also bring out old books and magazines.

One day recently Tony staggered home with a pile of Japanese motorcycle magazines about half a meter high from the “cardboard” day. Much to Jane’s chagrin!

The Actual System explained

Japan has recycling at its’ best it is exciting stuff and the source of much conversation and stress here for a new arrival.

They take recycling very seriously and this is a great thing, however, it is extremely difficult to learn because it is a detailed and exacting science, with very little room for error.

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The cages are meant to stop the crows from getting at the burnable rubbish.

There are eleven different rubbish types and each has a different day to dispose and a different method for handling it before it is disposed.

In order to learn the system you are given a fifteen page A4 booklet in both Japanese and English. Plus you can look up a website called MIctionary.

Here are the different grades of rubbish.

  1. Burnable garbage – this is kitchen scraps, cooking oil, nappies, garden waste (neatly tied and bundles no longer than 50 cm) – plastic items that don’t have a special logo on it. Yes, they burn kitchen scraps and some plastic.
  2. Plastic containers and packaging – this is all plastics that have a special logo on it. This is not “cans, bottles and PET bottles” these are at point 6 of this list.
  3. Dry Cell Batteries
  4. Spray cans
  5. Non-burnable garbage. This must be wrapped and labeled for example fluorescent lights or glass
  6. Cans, bottles and PET bottles
  7. Small metal items such as bottle tops, aluminium foil and perhaps saucepans?

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    Small metal items?
  8. Paper
  9. Used cloth and clothing
  10. Oversized garbage
  11. Dead pets – yep! You read it — dead pets.

You must dispose of the correct type of garbage on the correct collection day before 8 am. I am yet to discover what you do with your dead pet before the collection day — the freezer perhaps?

No leaving it overnight! Get up early and put it in the mesh container before eight.

That means lots of mornings a week taking a different type of garbage to the collection point on the correct day.

If you ever live in Japan you will need this blog!

Sri Lanka 1990 – A war? How could I miss that fact?

On an elephant on the beach in Hurgada

I felt discombobulated by the strangeness I sometimes initially experience when I get to a third world country.

I was sitting on the mini bus on the way from the airport into Colombo. It was as though I was in a glass bubble looking out at the world, the ram shacked suburbs seems to never end, my tiredness from the flight and the sultry heat was having a surreal effect upon my senses.

 My small backpack was at my feet it contained the most essential items for travel survival. A set of warm clothes in the form of a black track-suit. This costume doubled as pyjamas.

OK, please understand that this was just post 80’s where my whole wardrobe consisted of upmarket expensive lycra and track suit exercise gear masquerading as street clothing!

I had a sarong that was also my towel, sheet, dressing gown as well as a skirt or even a dress at a push. A change of underclothes, bathers, toothbrush, comb and this time I had two brightly coloured silk dresses that dried in a few hours and took little room in my pack and weighed practically nothing.

All was ready for my experiment in my consciousness. I was going to Sri Lanka, when I got there I found out that there was a war going on in most of the country. I have not always been very good at researching local politics! I have always figured that if people live somewhere then… I could survive there.

I was going to spend the time “not doing”.  I had made up my own loose translation from Carlos Castaneda’s works, I interpreted , “not doing” as a state where we do anything that we would not normally do.

I had decided that for me, “not doing” was to stop speaking. OK it is practically impossible to travel without speaking, so I would only speak when I wanted food and accommodation etc. The rest of the time I would just see what my mind “did”.

The air was humid, and the vista typically Asian, tropical yet some how a mix of middle class European morals and Asian relaxation. On the drive from the airport I noticed many Montessori school signs. It appears that the Montessori method is popular in Sri Lanka, the structured “play” that “educates” method that has to be studied at great length with special tools and procedures. Interestingly enough I have observed that children will naturally play and learn if left alone. In Australia Montessori is on the fringe but in Sri Lanka it appeared to be the mainstream approach. This juxtaposition of educated choices along with poverty was my impression of Sri Lanka for the whole of my stay. There were carefully repaired buildings but the wear and tear of tropical weather on the painted concrete and timber reminded me of many countries where spirit is willing but the physical money is lacking.

The mini bus took me in to downtown Colombo and along the beachfront road. I quickly looked up the trusty “Lonely Planet on Sri Lanka” guide and found that to the south was the area where there where cheap travellers stays and I got off at what I imagined was the correct stop.

The streets were quiet, dusty and deserted, I guess wars do that sort of thing to the streets. My map in the book told me that there were many home stays in the area. I wandered down the streets towards the beach looking for home stay signs and therefore a place for the night.

I had travelled from Perth to Singapore, after a lengthy stopover I had taken another plane to Colombo. I had been travelling for about a day without rest so was tired and the humidity was still new. I welcomed the heightened sense of smell that the humidity allowed and the feeling that the atmosphere that weighed my body down just a tad… The air felt heavier to breathe with its entry to my airways a little resisted by the moisture. This made me feel as though each breathe that I took required that much more energy than I was used too…

I could feel the Asian lethargy taking over, it was like coming home to the real world where time was fluid and the very air that I was breathing allowed it to be so.

I walked the streets with my book and found that the first three home stays were closed, maybe due to the war. After wandering up and down the streets for about two hours and finding many more closed, I began to imagine that my Lonely Planet guide was going to make me really, really lonely. I was getting worried that I wouldn’t find anywhere to stay for the night. Walking down deserted streets, with a pack and looking for a place for the night after not sleeping for a day was not just wearing me down, it was making me imagine all sorts of things, my monkey mind was engaged and ramping up for a great old whinge. I came to a home-stay that still had a sign up and went inside.

Who knows what the Asian people think about single women travelling? I was 35 years old at the time. By choice I was unmarried, with no children. It appeared to me that the Asians saw women in my state and position as sad characters. After all, I was “on the shelf” with little chance of making a real life for myself, by their values.

After the normal signing in and having to explain my sad circumstances regarding marriage and babies I was left alone in a large room in a silent house and I laid back on the bed and reminded myself to not “make friends” with the people of the home-stay I was to be polite yet allow myself the pleasure of “not doing”.

This proved to be effortless. The people of the home-stay left me alone and only spoke to me when I spoke to them. I found it most amusing that they considered that I required company when I ate. When I was eating they would station the cook at the table with me and she would just watch me eat.

Colombo Beach

I want you to close your eyes and imagine what it is like to have someone watch your every mouth full as you eat dinner. Every cut, balance the peas on the fork, lift it to your mouth, with a few peas dropping by the way as you do so, place the fork in your mouth, Oh, a bit of gravy on my lip, wipe away…. etc. I instructed my mind to just observe, “not do” feel my feelings and be present I guess. Difficult and challenging at the time.

I didn’t explore this cultural difference and just assumed that it was the way they did things in Sri Lanka. I stayed two days, quietly in my room or walking along the wide, yellow, sandy beach. I sat on the bed and meditated. I didn’t know what meditation really was. I guessed that it was a state where I quietened my mind and saw what happened. I found that when I tried to have a quiet mind, that my mind was not at all quiet, it was like many radio stations of constant differing programs that seemed to intersect and take off in different directions only to come back to the beginning and run through the programs again… The programs were boring in their content; fears, worries, imagined problems, jokes, fun, stuff… nothing of real import, just psycho-babble.

I decided to just allow this to be and when I had a thought that was particularly stupid I would re-write it by allowing my mind to visualise the different way that it could be, just to calm the constant terror and bodily sensations that came with the fears. It was a start at what I thought mediation was.

I was reading a book by Sanaya Roman and I had it with me, through out the book were wise sayings in italics, when the mind was particularly annoying I would grasp the book and open a page to get some comfort. For example, I read the phrase:

 What you accept as true will become your reality.

 This would give me another perspective and allow me a few hours of respite before the fear would grip again and my internal “Pandora’s box” would give me another feeling or thought. That book was all I had; yet it was enough.

At other times I would be overwhelmed by bliss, the feeling that all that is simply “IS” and I was all of it.

Bliss can’t be written about as it simply is and that is all I can say about it.

After two days I found that I needed to move on, bliss was as frightening as “monkey mind” it was all so new and different.

I needed the distraction of travel.

I travelled south to the beach side resort of Hurgada. This was a Mecca for drugs, tourists, sun, sand and sex during the not-so-war times. It was now a deserted place where there were large empty hotels and restaurants with very few patrons. I found a four star hotel that had about 100 rooms “new Asian style” with concrete walls that were not quite as straight and true as the concrete is in the west, it had a large swimming pool and was right on the water front. It cost a trifle due to the war and I was the only guest.

Again, I remained polite yet distant, I allowed myself the pleasure and pain of seeing what my mind would do when I stopped talking. I stayed by the poolside, reading and re-reading my book and then putting it down to see that my mind would do without reading or speaking.

After about two days I found that I could see the lights around the coconut palm trees. I was looking at the fronds above me when I could see that there was a light that haloed around them and that each type of plant had a different type of light and energy around them. What? Lights around plants, this was during the height of the day! Yet, there was definitely an additional light around the plants that was their light. Coconut trees have a particularly sharp, directed energy, much as their leaves, they don’t take any nonsense and are direct and plain in their communication. They spoke to me and I was awed to be able to hear them or take what they were saying as real – whatever real was…

Speaking to trees, this was different, my 5 year university education was really having a problem with this!

However, it was better than listening to my mind so the trees won out and I spoke to them. I was then able to hear and see the turtles, fish, water, sand and others around me who wanted a chat. I was happily learning about how they saw reality, which was with a dispassionate love full of power, straight and to the point. They saw what “is” and didn’t seem to judge, They had a very clear idea of what created more love/happiness/balance and what didn’t. They were aware that human beliefs were not very useful for happiness. They let me know about my unhappy beliefs without judgment or fear of my reactions.

At the turtle farm in Hurgada
Hurgada turtle farm

On the third day there were other guests at the hotel, a family. They were an Australian couple about my age and they had two children. I wasn’t too interested in getting to know them. By now I was in my experiment and wanting to “talk to the trees”. I was polite and answered the wife who asked me where I was from. I asked her two questions to be socially correct, the names of her children and why they were in Sri Lanka. They were on their way home after working over seas. I acknowledged her husband with a nod and went back to my “not doing”.

Later that day I was in my room, and there was a knock at the door. As I had been the only guest in this hotel so far, the only knocks I had were the staff giving me a fresh towel or to ask me what I wanted for my breakfast.  Naively, I opened the door. The “Australian Husband” barged in to my room, he was over 6 foot and very broad, he made to grab me and missed, he then made it clear that he was going to have sex with me. I countered with my prodigious verbal skills, terror overwhelmed me and I became focused at getting to the door that was behind him… he lunged towards me I jumped backwards and sideways slowly making my way to the door. My body was in hyper-drive, immediately oily and smelling that particular smell that comes with fear, I could feel the sweat ooze out of me and the pungent smell that came with it.

The door was open and I was yelling and screaming at him. Luckily a hotel staff member appeared at the door, wide-eyed and completely open-faced. I demanded that he make the “Australian Husband” leave. This diminutive Asian man was caught up in the reality of the situation and quietly agreed with me that the Australian man should leave. We both watched as he left, yet, he didn’t look defeated and I felt really unsafe.

I marched down to the reception; the two men at the reception kept asking me why I had allowed him in to my room. What had I done to invite him in? They told me that he would not have come to my room without my invitation.  I demanded to see the manager and again had the same questions. When I said that I would call the police if he didn’t sort the Australian out, he settled down and told me that he would take care of the matter.

I didn’t see the Australian Family again; they disappeared from whence they came…

Back to the mind and what it creates!

What you accept as true will become your reality.

Deep down I had this dichotomy going on, I knew that most men were wonderful kind beings yet occasionally I came across a man who wasn’t. I would allow them to put me in danger. Luckily for me I always won the joust that occurred as I had with this “Australian Husband”  but this just cemented my silly belief that “you can’t trust (all) men”.

Women on the other hand if they were out of line I would just stop the stupidity immediately. Men somehow got more leeway – less direct honesty from me.

It took me many years to learn this yet; here I was at the start of this learning, all those wonderful men in my life that I didn’t really know if I could trust them or not, poor guys having to put up with me. I have always really enjoyed male company the directness and the lack of airy-fairy emotional stuff. Great company, at the same time I hadn’t yet learnt to work out the difference between men who I could trust and the ones I couldn’t!

I stayed for a couple of weeks, the ocean was rough, with a very strong rip so although I was a powerful swimmer I knew that it wasn’t safe for me to swim out into the deep, so I stayed at the poolside talking to the palm trees and doing laps in the pool.

My mind kept me wanting to escape –  so I browsed a second-hand shop and found a book by a man who had swam the San Francisco bridge race and won, (somebody) Scott. He stated that whatever our minds decide to do our bodies could do, so I decided to experiment and see how long I could swim for. I put my bathers on grabbed my goggles and went to the pool and did laps. I swam and swam. After all, I had nothing else to do but listen to my mind so I decided that listening to my mind while swimming was easier than listening when I was still. I swam for hours, two maybe three, perhaps four… I started in the mid afternoon and when I stopped it was very dark. I lost time and time lost me. I stopped because a very worried looking hotel staff member touched me. The physical contact abruptly halting my rhythm I was shocked that it was now dark, I felt at ease, relaxed and as though I had only swum for a couple of laps, Mr Scott was right.

 Sri Lanka is a heavily populated land, yet the people have been very wise in their management of the wild life. Turtles bob up and down in the strong surf at the beach. Snakes slink along in the trees around the water and tame Elephants walk along the streets, with their owners, I even saw a herd of wild elephants when I was visiting a place where there was an enormous volcanic plug.

Sigiriya the Volcanic plug city above the elephant filled planes

In the distant past a thousand or so years ago a whole city had perched safely on top of it. It even had a large “swimming pool” carved out of the rock although more logically I thought that it was probably the water reservoir however, I was wrong it was a swimming pool and the slaves just had to cart all of that water!

Steps up to the city on top of the volcanic plug

In those days there would have been no pumps so all of the water would have been carried on someone’s back up this mountain, up really steep steps. The climb was simply too vertical for animal transport.

I found it easy to tune in to the wealth as well as the toil of the slave class in creating this city way above the Elephant filled planes all around.

It was time for me to travel on and after a trip down south where I saw remnants of the war, I decided to go to Kandy the Lake city where there the Kandy dancers fire-eaters and firewalkers give shows of their skills. Kandy is the fabulous lake nestling in the folds of the surrounding mountains. Beauty is the reason for this city. The mountains and the lake created the city, no one could pass by this lake without wanting to stay for a while, soaking up the natural loveliness.

Kandy Fire eating display
Fire walking
Fire walking

Kandy was a magical place with magical powers people would eat fire, lovers gathered at the edge of the lake and there were animals in the traffic, by the lake and above in the sky.

Lovers at the edge of Kandy Lake

I had been travelling the hard way for many years now and knew that it was a time for change. I no longer felt challenged by arriving in a town and not knowing where I would stay next, I no longer found it unusual that a house had a hole in the ground as a toilet or even that the toilet was above the pig pen with the pigs fighting for my excrement. It was not a surprise when people asked me the inevitable questions about my marital status or the fact I didn’t have children (at my advanced age!!!), or even when men asked me to marry them when they only knew me for a few moments. All of this had become usual. It is that way it is for people in much of the world. Westerners take flushing toilets, the freedoms of expression, cleanliness, personal safety and physical comfort as a right, yet, for much of the world these things are for a select few.

It was now time in my particular existence to travel in another way; yet, my old self resisted the change. It felt “why stay in a fabulous hotel that costs half of the cost of an average hotel in Australia when I could stay in a home stay for less than the cost of a coffee?” The old self won and I found myself in a home stay in the out skirts of Kandy. I unpacked my bag and waited to hear what my mind would say next. I laid on the bed and then felt a severe pang of pain in my solar plexus; suddenly I felt nauseas. I jumped up and ran to the “concrete hole in the side of the bathroom”. I didn’t know what to do next; my body jack knifed and I vomited and at the same time felt that I would be stricken with diarrhoea. I was right and spent the next hour emptying one end or the other. I now understand the expression wracked by pain as my internal spasms made my body contract as they gripped and relaxed.  Sweating the cold sweat of severe pain I looked in the tiny mirror above the basin as I rinsed my mouth, I was grey and the sweat gave my skin a death like pallor. Staggering to the bed I laid down. I was alone again, I had placed myself in the situation where there was no one I knew well enough to trust, no-one who mattered to me knew where I was, or what I was doing. I just told my friends and family Sri Lanka – see you in six weeks. Bye…..

I was again in my counter reality of aloneness, pain and fear. I immediately recognised my life pattern that had been following me or I had been seeking since childhood. Either I was alone and in pain or I was in bliss with lots of kind loving people. I rarely created an in between world where I had love and independence in balance, or if I did I pushed it away subconsciously seeking the extremes.

I use to stay at cheap dives that were not that safe at times.

I rested feeling the pain racking through my digestive system, wondering if I should go back to the bathroom or not. Without warning my body spasmed severely and I saw a ghost like self rise from my body, strangely it had a suitcase in its hand, it floated to the ceiling. It looked at me and said, “It is time for you to change, if you don’t change I won’t return” It then disappeared thorough the ceiling and my body relaxed.

I lay there not judging what had just happened, I just instinctively knew that this apparition-what-ever it was-was right. I shakily got up packed and took one last visit to the hole in the floor.

There was no phone at the home-stay therefore I couldn’t call a taxi. I put my pack on my back and walked into Kandy.  I was worried that I would vomit or even worse soil my clothes on the way, plus I was weak and shaky following the fluid loss, yet I knew that to stay in a cheap home stay was not an option.

I took this photo as I walked around the Kandy Lake to Hotel Suisse.

I made my way down the hill and watched a baby Elephant with a chain around it’s ankle walk with it’s mother down the road, a normal part of the traffic, I kept going until I found myself at the lake and stopped at the base of a tree to rest and drink some water. At the tree was a tree snake curled among the roots, it was very still and it started to tell me that resistance to change was what caused pain for humans. Understanding flooded through me so shakily I rose to my feet and walked around the lake to Hotel Suisse, booked in and went to the swimming pool to rest.

Elephants in the streets and by the sides of the roads.
Elephants in the streets and by the sides of the roads.

Late in the afternoon I was lying by the pool, my stomach was still knotted from the illness. I saw a light high in the clear blue sky, it was way above the pale green leaves of the trees, and I focused on this ball of light that was shooting towards me. As it came closer I saw that it was “myself with the suitcase” it was coming back. It hit my solar plexus with a pleasant sensation, and from that time on I was well.

Sri Lankan hotel room

I moved on to Nuwara Golf club in the hills and was served by waiters who were elderly and had not lost their jobs since colonial times, their uniforms were starchy and very white with the collars and cuffs frayed as the uniforms too have survived since colonial days. I played golf in green fluorescent shorts and dressed for dinner drank sherry before dinner and played billiards in the billiards room after dinner.

Playing golf with my caddy
Playing golf with my personal caddy

I no longer travel on a shoestring staying at cheap dives and seeing the seedy side of life, of course if the circumstances require that I do – so be it, The difference is, is that I don’t seek dirt, cheapness and squalor when I travel. I have found that this has changed my danger levels to almost negligent. I am no longer verging on suicidal tendencies when I travel, I now allow myself the good things in life and enjoy the safety and security.

Temple monkey

Sri Lanka is the land of religion and temples, gems, Sapphires, Rubies, Spinels, Amethyst, Quartz, Alexandrite, Chrysoberyl, Rhodonite, and Tourmaline etc. OK you get the picture this place is saturated in precious stones. Garnets, Zircon, Citrine, Beryl, Topaz, Moonstone, so many types and qualities. It seemed to me that creator in her munificence has given this tiny island more precious stones than any other place on the planet.

Sri Lankan Gems

When I was having a bit of difficulty with the “not doing” part of the trip I would wander in to the deserted Gem shops and browse. I had some knowledge of stones or at least the difference between genuine stones and glass, and at times would purchase a particularly special stone for a few dollars, for really I was not interested it buying them, I was just distracting myself from myself and buying stones was the distraction.

I knew a jeweller in Nedlands in Western Australia called Geoffrey Allen. He was a quaint character, very small, almost tiny and about 75 years old. He looked like a wizened dwarf. His hands were deformed by Rheumatoid arthritis, and his fingers angled off to the sides due to his chalky joints. When I was a young child at boarding school I would stay weekends with my Nanna in Nedlands. Down the road from her house was his shop and in the window would be one or two of his commissioned pieces waiting to be picked up by the wealthy people who lived in this suburb. I would walk by to the supermarket and wonder at the quality of his work and think “Will I ever be wealthy enough to have such beauty in my life?”.

Later in my life I wanted to give a special friend of mine a ring and went back to his shop. This was over 20 years later and the jeweller was very old then. I commissioned a ring that was so incredible it became a heart felt symbol of how I loved and lost and yet still loved. As a customer I asked him to train me in the buying of stones as opposed to glass and he was most willing to show me how this is done.

I used this knowledge in Sri Lanka and the Gem people were appreciative that I had knowledge and would bring out their best stones and sell them to me at very reasonable prices. I didn’t know this at the time for I only had the bare rudiments of gem selection!

When I came home from Sri Lanka I took a half teaspoon of huge stones to the Geoffrey only to find that I had purchased a bunch of very expensive stones for a pittance.

At the time I wasn’t into jewellery in a big way but decided to get him to set some of them. I gave him my bits and pieces of gold that I had collected over time and because they were hallmarked he was able to melt them down and use the gold. Somehow me accepting that I deserved to have more in my travels, to have more comfort, beauty, convenience and safety also meant that I could have more in other ways. I ended up with not only more jewellery but also the most exquisite jewellery artwork.

Many years later I was to visit the art centre in Melbourne and found my jewellers work on display — and he wasn’t even dead yet!

What you accept as true will become your reality.

Sometimes I look like a Christmas tree when ever I set foot from my home with broaches filled with precious stones plus heavily jewelled ear rings and rings to match.

I figure that things in life are transient and they need to be loved and used when you have them, so I do.

The blue silk dress and me at a temple
The blue silk dress and me at a temple

At Hotel Suisse I spent hours just in my room, quietly listening and watching what happened when I was “not doing”. Of course some of the time I “did” such a bad habit, and then for hours I would enter the world of “not doing” and find that I could travel back to Australia in the twinkle of an eye. I went to visit my loved one, Digger the dog. I played in the garden with him and saw that he was well.

Digger the Dog

On another occasion I decided to visit a friend of mine. I was suddenly in his flat and it was dark, I admonished myself for not remembering the time difference! Without thinking I went directly to his room only to find him sleeping soundly next to his girl friend! Shit! This was not what I wanted to do. To be a voyeur; I left and from then on only visited Digger and my work during both work hours and at night.

These experiences became the normal part of my days in Sri Lanka and I was so attuned to them that I found that my pull towards people, getting to know them, distracting myself with them and all of the other things that talking does was no longer so much of a need — it became a choice.

My time ended in Sri Lanka an airline ticket and the call of my business allowed me to move on to the airport, Singapore and home.

The experience of “not doing” has remained with me and I build on it when I need a break from the humdrum of ordinary life.

Sometimes I completely forget about talking to trees and rocks and other sundry things.

Yet, at times my computer, a plastic bag, my hammer or other things that I take for granted call me and speak and my mind is again recalling that all things that I touch, see, smell and hear are All That Is or what ever I want to call the universal intelligence, and I smile at the magic of life and the exacting order of this universe.

Nemrut Dagi to Dyrbarker 1982 – Turkey

After the fear of Nemrut Dagi where I had spent a night with a gun toting Kurdish man and then having to endure the tedium of dealing with “Ron the Canadian” who was trying to be “amorous”.

I arrived that the small hamlet at the base of Nemrut Dagi feeling exuberant because I had survived. Nothing like fear, where I didn’t know if I was going to be raped or shot or both to make me grateful for being alive.

Nemrut Dagi statues and the view!

The people of this tiny place were quiet, closed and they silently looked at us travellers with wide dark eyes. They didn’t appear to find our difference interesting they were simply suspicious of us.

It was as though they were afraid that we could contaminate their little dwellings. Perhaps in some way they were right. We Westerners with our different clothing, greater size, different diseases and chemical smells were a bit of a stretch for a minuscule Turkish hamlet.

We went in to the small ‘shop’ and ordered sweet black tea in tiny cups and waited for a lift to the next town. I was desperate for the “ladies room” so was shown outside into a hut that was perched on the side of a very steep hill. The floor of the hut was made from rough boards and in one board was a hole – this being the toilet. The toilet floor was the ceiling of the pig pen. The whole rickety structure was made from bush poles covered over with mud. Here and there were gaps so that you could see the pigs below and the people outside. It was most disconcerting to use the facilities with the pigs snuffling and fighting below for any “offerings.”  Squatting precariously over the hole in the floor I did wonder about the safety of the pigs, would they get sick with our Western excreta with our different germs? Luckily for the pigs we were a few days removed from many Western wonders so they may have survived!

I started to feel unhinged, the world took an unearthly feel, after a night of being on the wrong side of macho stupidity and now having my modesty challenged. Plus I was not used to pigs below me looking up at my most treasured place to see what I had for them. It all seemed a little too odd and my mind started to become unstuck and drift a little. It took some time to pull myself back together before I felt that I was solid again. Walking helped, and as this village had only a few houses therefore no restaurant or place to stay we walked out of town over an ancient Roman bridge and waited for a hitch by playing frizby by the side of the road.

Playing frizby with the locals while waiting for a hitch

We finally caught a hitch to the next town on the back of a truck half filled with large stones and rubble that shook and released large wafts of dust as we trundled and bumped along balancing precariously on the load. All the way to the next town we had a police escort in the form of a very smooth  good looking policeman. He was upright and dressed in an immaculate army green uniform with lots of badges. To complete his look he had the most modern mirror sunglasses.

This was juxtaposed with the miniscule bike and the beautiful hand made donkey bags on each side for panniers that were filled with green straw. He escorted us all the way to the next town and peeled off into a side street as we entered the first few houses of that place.

We were dusty tired and hungry so went directly to a restaurant for a feed.

In Turkey the restaurants are immaculately clean, and they ring with the sounds of cooking bouncing off the tiles, concrete of the floors, laminex tables and chairs. We found such a place and ordered our food. As we were waiting young boys came to our table and asked us for money and sweets. They were about eight years old with all the cheekiness of that age, eyes sparkling with the idea of Western money and goods. They joked around and jostled as they asked for this and that, and we joked back.

Suddenly the boys scattered. The restaurant owner charged after the boys and caught one. He threw this child to the ground then repeatedly kicked him. The child curled into the foetal position to protect his vital organs and had his arms clasped over his skull to shield his brain. We were all catatonic with surprise, and by the time our brains switched on again, the abuse stopped as suddenly as it started – we were all still sitting with our mouths hanging open—stunned into immobility.

The restaurateur walked back into the restaurant and apologised about the boys harassing us and we just sat there in our stunned silence.

The Turkish at the time had one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world, and yet they were rich in may ways that I believe matter. Their food was always fresh, organic and wholesome, people – well the men, because the women were hidden away in the houses – were cheerful and frequently laughed as they whiled time away in the coffee shops, smoking cigarettes and drinking pungent coffee.

The people and this included the women if I was lucky enough to see one, were dignified and graceful, their bodies loose and easy as they walked and held hands with their friends.

So, this culture of refinement and beauty with sudden bursts of unconscious violence lulled me from moments of exquisite enjoyment and over to shock and back again within moments.

Later in the day we hitched a lift in an large old truck and headed East, I was siting in  the wide cab looking out at the wheat fields. In the late part of the afternoon we found ourselves at a wide smooth flowing river – the Euphrates. We asked to stop and got out. Again no restaurants, hotels or anything. Just a beautiful wide river with an endless sky above.

The Euphrates River with the goats coming down to drink

Here was moisture in the bleak dryness of the rolling countryside, strangely there were no trees on the banks. It was as though the water just poured down from the mountains and somehow prevented the germination of seeds. We asked the truck driver to leave us there on the stark banks with the huge sky. From horizon to horizon was a prairie of grasses and undulating hills. A herd of  goats bleating on the other bank, with their hooves raising puffs of dust that hovered over them as they jostled around and meandered down from the grasses to drink. We were the only humans the whole time we were there and a vast stillness settled over me.

Late afternoon sun camp

The Euphrates river spoke to me of a history unimagined as it flowed through a wide sky and gathered the energy of the wind as it softly played with the flaxen grasses on each side of its banks.

Myself and Peder bathing in the Euphrates

The banks of the river were a chocolate brown mud holding the nutrients of a millennia of daily sedimentary history. We peeled off our clothes and had our first wash for a couple of days, splashing in the river and savouring the icy coolness that had surprised us as we moved from the warm water of the banks in to the deeper flowing centre. We then decided to have a mud bath using the mud as soap to grind away our sweat, and romped around in and out of the water getting cleaner as we played.

Having a Euphrates Mud bath! The equivalent to a modern day spa.

The mud was glutinous and dried on our skins to a pale shade of beige. Claus took off his socks and they became a magnet for the little creatures of the earth. When he returned to put them back on they were covered in ants such was our state of personal hygiene before the swim!

Socks that attract ants

The next morning after a sleep on the banks of the Euphrates River we were really hungry and caught another lift to another road workers camp. Here they provided us with a wonderful fresh breakfast of warm Turkish bread, olives, feta cheese, tomatoes and tea.

Turkish Breakfast at a road workers camp

Peder and Claus wanted to go one way and Ron and I decided to go to Lake Van in Eastern Turkey to see Mt Arafat.(Ararat?) famous because of the biblical story of the great flood.

What was I thinking? Travelling with Ron? However, I was really keen to see Mt Arafat and Ron also wanted to go so…

We had to hitch as there were no buses in this part of the country. I found myself sitting next to the truck driver and Ron sitting next to the door. All through the three hour trip the driver kept missing the gear stick and “accidentally” groping me on the knee, with his hand getting higher with each grope. I would roughly brush his hand away each time and scowl. When I mentioned to Ron to change places he informed me that I was just being neurotic and chose to stay where he was.

I was feeling that Ron was an additional difficulty to deal with along with the Turkish men. Although he didn’t try to sexually harass me anymore his inability to understand that this behaviour impacted on my safety was emotionally wearing.

I was in a hyper-vigilant state with every nerve straining and my adrenal glands pumping out adrenaline to keep me alert. I could smell the pungent smell of fear wafting up from my arm pits, as the adrenaline laced sweat dribbled down my sides to my waist. My face felt like the blood was drained out and there was a heavy cloud over my heart area as we drove along, I was feeling that I wanted to be anywhere but in the present.

Typical small town in Eastern Turkey

Finally we came to a small town and had lunch before getting a lift with three men who were going to Diyarbakir in their sedan car.

They put me in the passenger seat and Ron was in the back with the others. This time the “whoops I missed the gear stick” charade was even more obvious as there was a large distance between the gears and my legs. Again I was rough and rude not knowing another way to deal with this game. Around lunch time the driver pulled off the road and followed a twin rutted track by a stream to a picnic area and stopped.

Opening the door the heat and silence of the place hit me with a vengeance —I stood by the car wondering how lunch would be.

The Turkish men produced some lunch and a bottle of red wine. They handed me the wine and asked me to drink deeply and did the same with Ron. Immediately I knew what they were trying to achieve as they handed the bottle between the two of us. Now, I don’t drink during the day and just pretended to drink, but I noticed Ron taking some large gulps of wine, and realised if Ron became drunk I would be even more vulnerable.

I was in an “out of the the way place” with four men and my only chance of safety was the potentially drunk Ron.

I was now at the stage of my relationship with Ron where I didn’t spare any conversation on niceties. I warned him that if he got drunk and I was raped then I would also implicate him. This would mean that he would spend his time in a Turkish goal waiting for the police to charge him.  The threat of his trip being ruined got his attention.

Together we decided that the safest tack was to get them drunk and then they would be less focused.

From them on we just pretended to drink from the bottle and the Turkish men drank the rest between them. A worry fraught hour of passing the bottle backwards and forwards and it was finally empty, and we observed three very tipsy Turks giggling away as they shared with us the delicious fresh food. Every now and again they would huddle together talking softly. Another hour later the food was finished and quite suddenly two of the men came over to Ron and flanked him entwined their arms with his and lead him away from the car through some trees – within a few seconds I was left alone with the driver.

Ron didm;’t compute what was happening I believe that he just thought that he was very popular and easily went along with the guys.

I immediately moved to the other side of the car as as the driver approached me, he kept moving around the car to get closer to me and I repositioned myself to stay at the diametrically opposite side.

“Cat and mouse” with me as the mouse. I was screaming for Ron to return and felt that if he could return I was probably safer. Ron heard me and came back shocked at the sight of our game. At this stage we had stopped for over two hours and the afternoon was getting late, and we still had to drive to Diyarbakir. The Turkish men must have decided that it was all too hard and so we all piled back in the car, this time with me in the back next to Ron and a door, away from prying hands.

Typical road side scene in Eastern Turkey

I imagined the haven of Dirabakir for we had heard of its bus stations, restaurants and hotels. I thought it would be a place where things were a little more Westernised and we could relax. No more hitching, cadged meals or sleeping on riverbanks or mountain tops. A place big enough where the male harassment would be less due to the worldliness of a large town.

In the later afternoon we arrived with the dusk giving the town a soft presence of dusty streets and the tinkling sounds of crockery and children playing. The three Turks let us out in the main street and wearily went their way.

We were dirty, tired and irritable so with our heavy packs we went looking for a place to sleep for the night. We found that Eastern Turkey was very different from the Western area.

At the first hotel they would not hire separate rooms for each of us and they would not hire us one together.

The next hotel we asked for two single rooms and they asked if we were married.  We said that we were not married and then they told us to go they didn’t take unmarried women.

Finally we told the third hotel that we were married and asked for a room and we were given a huge room with two single beds (thank the stars!). The bathroom consisted of an enormous draughty room with a cold water tap in one corner and a dank hole in the concrete floor in the other that was the toilet.

The furnishing of the bathroom was a small bowl that you filled with the tap and poured down the hole. Both rooms were clean and painted a light lime green, the ceiling, walls, doors and thankfully they left the floor a concrete grey.

We were off the streets for the night!

The next day I wanted to look around town because Diyarbakir is on the edge of the Tigris river and I wanted to go and have a swim in the Tigris. I walked down to the rivers edge onto a wide jetty, it was a relief to get away from Ron. I have always found time alone and exercise a great stress relief.

Although I was dressed modesty people frowned as I walked along alone, I noticed that there were no other women walking alone in the streets, I was one of a kind.

At the edge of the jetty there was a man who was with three young sons between the ages of 5 and 8 and as I stood looking at the Tigris. The children picked up fist sized stones and threw them at my feet. They stung and hurt, the man who was with them just quietly watched as I flinched at the pain of being stoned.

My first reaction was to I quickly leave the jetty area so that meant no swimming in the Tigris at Dirabakir.

I decided it would be safer to go to a shopping street so walked down a busier street that had shops each side with the shop keepers sitting in the doorways in the morning sun.

As I walked along the men and male children all looked at me suspiciously frowning as I went by.  There were no women in the street. A teenage boy of about 17 years old picked up a stone and threw it at me and it stung as it hit my upper back. Almost immediately many of the young male children in the street did the same and within a few moments I had large stones hitting me in the upper back, lower back, calves and feet. They put a spin on them so that they really stung as they hit and sort of veered off due to the spin on them.

In retrospect I realise that they could have made brilliant cricketers in India or Australia.

For a moment I didn’t know what to do and the crowd of male children was increasing by the second. I decided to just challenge the biggest one of the group and turned around and ran after him screaming at him to stop.

The boys scattered– a shopkeeper then ran after the teenager I challenged. He threw him to the ground and repeatedly kicked him in the head.

I just got out of there as fast as I could while the boys were distracted from me.

That afternoon I got the first bus to Ankara and then a flight to Istanbul

Seeing Lake Van would have to wait for another time.