Tuesday 31 December 2013

A year in the life of an eco-travel writer

So, dear friends, here we all are again at the comet-tail end of the year, after another 365-day trip around the sun. Did you enjoy the ride? 

Reflections - Koh Chang, Thailand
Of course, in our Earth-world, today is traditionally a day to reflect on where we were this time last year, and what has happened between then and now. 

This used to be something I did in private, with pen and paper. Now we all share so much of ourselves online, it seems only natural that this be a place to record milestones too. It's been a big year of change for me - endings, beginnings, new ways of working, learning new skills, lots of firsts. 

So permit me to indulge in a wander down 2013th avenue, or rather come with me. Writing is invariably a solo act, and I often travel alone too. So I'd appreciate the company, and I can thank you along the way, for all the ways you've kept me going, and sane, during this year of adventures and upheavals. 

1. Camping in Cambodia - the year started in a deceptively normal way, with travel. The highlights of the trip were an overnight camping trip in the wilds of Koh Kong, and a couple of nights at the "hotel that wouldn't die", the Raffles Hotel Le Royal, in Phnom Penh. 

Simple beauty, Okinawa
2. Okinawa - before I knew it, it was February and I was on my first media trip of the year to somewhere I'd always wanted to go: tropical Japan. The best part, besides staying a night at the Zen-inspired luxury hotel Hyakuna Garan, was revisiting all the reasons I love Japan.

The sublime Treehotel, Sweden
3. New kinds of work. As well as travel writing, this year I started doing copywriting for Inspired Adventures, which organises fund-raising challenges all over the world, and worked on an eco-blogging project, writing daily stories on sustainability and fun ways to live green (reviewing the world's most beautiful eco lodges, for instance) for the Grand Tours Project - which saw Australian Keith Tuffley tackle all three of Europe's gruelling three-week cycling races to raise awareness for sustainability. 

Happiness is a Lord Howe holiday
4. Lord Howe Island - I got to visit my favourite little island in the world twice this year. Once in June with my lovely friend Emma, for a real holiday. And again in October for the incredible, inaugural Wilderness Challenge Week of adventures to the island's wildest places that are usually off-limits to tourists. 

Still miss that view...
5. I moved out, and dropped out, in July. Leaving the house I called home for 10 years was an adventure in itself. Lots of life lessons about what's essential and how to give away or responsibly dispose of the rest. It was also scary, stepping off into the unknown. But if I’ve learned anything in almost 20 years of freelance writing, it’s to not freak out in the face of uncertainty. 

Buddhas in Ubud
6. Ubud - for the month of August, my home was the delightfully eccentric Michi Retreat, just outside this little hippie-earthy town in central Bali, Indonesia, where I learned how to travel on my own dime, and at my own pace, again. In a word: liberating.

7. Learning - I learned to speak Mac, when I bought a beautiful Macbook Air so that I could design my first ebook using iBooks Author (more on this later), and to do more writing on the road. Mission accomplished: I had 81,093 words and 115 pics published this year, not including blog posts or the 19,506 words I wrote for the Grand Tours Project. I can also speak Kindle and iPhone now. I'm a fully equipped digital gypsy.

Behold, the king - at Ulusaba
8. South Africa & Kenya - I travelled with my dad for the first time in 20 years in September. We saw beautiful Cape Town, drove what is possibly the most scenic coastal drive in the world (to the Cape of Good Hope), went on safari at Ulusaba, visited Kibera slum and Karen Blixen's house in Nairobi, and did a camping trip on the Masai Mara. A trip of a lifetime.

9. In October, I was honoured to receive three Australian Society of Travel Writers awards, including Travel Writer of the Year, for the fourth time (still can't believe that). Big thanks to all the sponsors and the ASTW. You can read my winning stories here - about charitable tourism in Cambodia, that luxury hotel in Okinawa and the Arkaba conservation walk in South Australia.

10. Back in Sydney, while living in a hotel at my hometown (another first) and surfing again at Manly (bliss), I finished my first ebook, Adventures on Earth, which will be going live on the iBookstore very, very soon – it’s currently being reviewed by the Apple gods. I have trumpets standing by. In the meantime, have a look at the 30-second intro video:

Last but not least, I'm seeing the year out in South East Asia, first Koh Chang in Thailand, now Luang Prabang in Laos, brought to both places - in the spirit of this anything-goes year - by serendipity rather than any real planning. 

What will the next revolution around the sun be like, I wonder? May it be a good one for you, full of love, peace, kindness to all beings and adventures of all kinds. Over and out, until next year...

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Living the gypsy lifestyle

I've been thinking about the difference between "staying" somewhere, and "living"- is it just a matter of time? You stay in a place for two weeks, live there for two years. Lately I've been feeling that the time is irrelevant, at least for me, in my current circumstances. Not having a home right now, I seem to make a home out of wherever I sleep (except for planes, of course).

Writing - about Africa
- in Thailand
Since moving out and dropping out in July I've had four places I've called home. First, there was Michi Retreat, the artists' colony in Ubud - no artists in residence when I was there, for all of August, unless you count the eccentric professor who owns the place and understands what it is to be a nomad: he lived in hotels for 30 years before moving to Bali decades ago. 

Back in Sydney again, I lived in a small hotel too - in my hometown. My room at Manly Lodge was like a small apartment and had everything I needed - it was a short walk to the beach, and everything else, there was a place to keep my surfboard, the staff were super friendly (thanks, Jeff and Vincent, I've forgotten how to say "thank you" in Cantonese). 

I even reviewed it for The Sydney Morning Herald, as if I'd stayed there a weekend - in fact, I stayed there six weekends (and the weeks in between). I had a routine: surfing or swimming every morning, writing and checking emails in the cafe downstairs, walking to friends' houses nearby. Leaving it a few weeks ago was almost like leaving home all over again. 

My hammock, my home
My latest home-on-the-road was a small cottage at Blue Lagoon on the Thai island of Koh Chang. It was Walden (with apologies to Henry Thoreau) by the beach, one of the most adorable places I've ever stayed and the epitome of simplicity - just a bed with a mauve mosquito net and a light blanket, shelves to put my things on, a bathroom, a verandah with a wicker hammock and folding French doors that opened up one whole wall of the place. 

It, too, felt like home for the two weeks I had there. Maybe because I was working rather than holidaying or sightseeing (though the days were so long I did manage to read two novels, do some kayaking, and swam and did yoga every morning on the beach). 

Walden by the beach
And it's run sustainably (by a French-Thai cooperative), that's important for a home-that's-not-quite-home: fresh drinking water on tap (no need to buy water in nasty plastic bottles), a permaculture garden, chickens that eat the kitchen scraps (there's also a compost for restaurant leftovers). They also make their own biodegradable soap, detergent, mosquito repellent and, coming soon, shampoo. I've posted more pics on the No Impact Girl facebook page.

Now I am in Luang Prabang, Laos, listening to Christmas carols in a cafe that sells French pastries as monks in bright orange robes walk by and I look out on the Nam Khan, a tributary of the Mekong River. (The Lao people don't celebrate Christmas, of course, but wherever there are tourists, it seems, there is tinsel.) 

Beach sunset love, from Koh Chang
It's probably the prettiest town in South East Asia with its French colonial buildings and traditional wooden Lao houses. I'm looking forward to exploring. I don't even have any pictures yet because I arrived last night and it was foggy (and cold!) all morning and the sun has only just come out. 

So until next time, happy Lao Christmas, everyone. May the gypsy spirit be with you all.