Category Archives: An adventurous life

To detour is not to er

Path through a green forest in Germany

How do you find your way somewhere new? These days GPS usually predominates over ye olde book of street maps. Do you ever do what I do when you know the general area but don’t know specific streets and just decide you will find your way without the aid of GPS or map simply by driving and following your nose. Whenever I use this method of getting places, it often results in a longer journey and several u-turns, but I do cover new ground and sometimes discover new routes, or sights I’d never seen before along the way.

I was traveling in Europe recently and I hate to look like an obvious tourist, so one thing I did was try not to look at my tourist map very often, or else I’d photograph sections of the map but then only consult them on my iPhone, so it might just look like I was just using my phone like every other technologically preoccupied person wandering along the street.

At one stage I was on my evening walk along a path on the side of a hill above a German town. The path was turning the cover to the left, away from the direction I wanted to go in. To the right was a gap in a fence and a sign I didn’t fully understand (it was all in German) that indicated a route that went downhill and to the right. I stepped into this area and began to follow the downward path. It was like I’d plunged ‘Into the woods’ or into Wonderland. We’re not used to tall, lush, bright green forests back home. But here was a true fairytale forest. The kind of place you expect to trip over elves or see a sword floating in an enchanted pool.

Away from the slightly busier walking track it also felt eerily quiet, like a place someone could sneak up on you in the depths of the deep dark wood. I hastened through the wood in case anything undesirable was lurking in there, but I couldn’t help but be struck by the beauty of the bright green wood, its giant trees far overhead with their spreading branches providing the shady paths.

And as it happened, even through I had taken the detour through the wood, instead of going back a tried and true way, I came out the bottom of the forest, not far from the path I needed to be on to head home.

Sometimes single mindedness gets you everywhere, but sometimes a detour is worth the time and in the bigger picture provides you with more inspiration to think outside the box.

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The art of packing: leave the sausages at home with the bathtub

Hand bag on top of wheel-along suitcase seen from above against a tiled floor with one foot

“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go” – I’d love to be able to sing that right now, but unfortunately it isn’t true yet. I’m packing for travel at the moment (or supposed to be packing). The more you travel, the more you realise there is an art to the packing – having lugged a sleeping bag around in the European summer for three months and never used it, I know you regret every excess kg in your bag when you’re on the move. There may be people out there who love to pack, but I wouldn’t say I’m one of them. I tend to leave it until the last moment so that it’s super stressful, and yet I still want every new fangled slash-proof-water-resistant-bag-container-contraption and every super-dry-wicking-bamboo-hemp-hybrid-hyper-lightweight-piece-of-clothing to be just right.

If I’ve learnt one thing from friends’ mishaps it is never travel with fresh food. Confiscated moon cakes, sausages in the suitcase that went off during a three-day monsoonal detour, leaked chilli-full fermented cabbage Kim Chi in the bag and soft cheese confiscated due to its apparent similarity to explosives all tell me to leave the food at home if I want to preserve sweet smelling (or at least neutral-odour) clothes and belongings and not have to go through the heartbreak of seeing perfectly good food thrown in the quarantine bin.

What can we learn from the great travellers of yore about the art of packing? I’ve been reading a biography of Gertrude Bell recently. She did a lot of travel in the middle east, as well as climbing a number of peaks in Switzerland. Of course she had one thing I don’t: an entourage. If you want to bring your own china tea set or bath on your desert travels, it’s recommended that you engage a team of strong, dedicated helpers with their accompanying pack beasts, and you probably won’t be able to manage 5 cities in 10 days if you want to travel with the ultimate comforts of home.

Packing is really distilling life down to its essence, working out the bare minimum possessions you can survive with day to day. I always find something freeing about leaving my house behind and living only out of what is in my suitcase, it makes me realise what is important in life and how much I relish experiences, places and people, and how much possessions and caring for them can hold me back. I have many possessions I treasure, but in the end I find being able to leave them and get out into the world a richer, more engaging experience.

Music to pack by

In an effort to get myself to achieve anything, I normally need to think creatively and turn whatever the task is into a project. For example, I could pack a bit everyday for the time it takes to listen to one of my Packing Songs.  I can’t say any of my previous playlists have been dedicated to the art of packing, so this is a venture of the moment and I’ll see what I can come up with that isn’t just incredibly twee. There are a number of packing, moving and travelling playlists already out there, so I’ve just got five songs here that are meaningful to me. If you are packing to travel like me, or packing to move: here’s to packing and traveling light:

spotify:track:6ZSTinOwx5dKFYc6iYyGDn

spotify:track:2KESN3Vjy8fzMvzSH0vgkP

spotify:track:1c9ZZvFtpbpnWZPLX3ebh3

spotify:track:0xyFNJSyGzEPAezW6zNs7s

spotify:track:6Deb529ZxTKzOe5u1lgnCO

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Lurking in trees writing down number plates: the life of a junior sleuth

Shadow on grass

Solving mysteries involved taking puzzling clues that were only part of a whole and deciphering them to work out the big picture.

I may have mentioned this before, but I love mystery. As a kid, most of the books I borrowed from the library or saved up my allowance for were about mysteries and the secret societies, clubs and gangs of kids who set out to solve them. Secret Seven, Famous Five, Trixie Belden, Lone Pine club, Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Buckinghams, Bobbsey twins, Five Find-outers, McGurk mysteries and more. Mystery solving 101 usually involved finding and interpreting clues, seeing strange objects or faint traces, parts of a whole, and then putting them together to solve the crime and catch the culprit. Of course, apart from clues, wearing badges and having secret meetings in sheds and eating afternoon tea were essential – I mean, what would the Famous Five have been without their ‘lashings of ginger beer’?

As a child some friends and I formed our own Famous Five. It wasn’t very sexy to have a cat as a fifth member, so I think we tried to coerce someone’s escaped pit bull pet who happened to lift his leg on our front lawn into being our ‘Timmy’. Some of the activities our Five (or Four) engaged in were lurking up trees and taking down the number plates of passing cars – I think this was supposed to hone our skills of observation, because I’m not sure what else it was achieving. There was a wedding reception venue around the corner from my friend’s house and I think we suspected some suspicious figures were attending, so we snuck into the grounds (in our school sports uniforms) – if that was your wedding and there were some strange kids in grubby school uniforms in some of your wedding photos, it was probably us. I think we’d seen two many 1940’s Hollywood noir films, because we got it into our heads that men who smoked cigarettes were suspicious, especially those who surreptitiously discarded the butts in shrubs and I think we tried to ‘shadow’ or ‘tail’ some likely suspects. in the end I think my friend’s mother discovered where we were and dragged us away for a scolding – like all those adults in the mystery books who refuse to believe the kids, I’m sure she caused some nefarious nicotine-addicted wedding guest to get away with a heinous crime. Like many a misunderstood crime-solving genius, our true value was never quite discovered.

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Escaping shoes, seeing green and the camaraderie of sea-sickness

The Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island

Travel is bliss: A visit to South Australia’s granite boulders, the Remarkable Rocks, on Kangaroo Island.

Thinking about what constitutes bliss for me – one experience I relish is the opportunity to travel. I have a need for new experiences and intellectual stimulation and discovering new travel destinations helps meet that need.

What is it I find so blissful in travel? Apart from discovering places that are new to me, although I do love culture and the hustle of cities, I also revel in getting away to places where the sky is wide and the night stars are not dimmed by manmade light. I also love the feel of a warm (not too scorching) sun on my skin, and the opportunity to go barefoot, or expose my feet to the elements. Sometimes I long to escape shoes. I read something once about someone’s theory that grounding or earthing yourself somehow by touching your bare feet to the earth could help ease jet lag. I have no idea about the foundations of this theory or its effect in practice, but I certainly find something elemental about walking barefoot on uneven ground or sand (preferably free from ants and snakes etc.).

In other possibly pop psychology, I’ve also read that just seeing green has a positive psychological effect on our brains and I know something in me opens up when I’m away from the concrete constructions of suburbia and instead surrounded by plants and soil. I love discovering unfamiliar species and seeing if I can spot various plants in flower. The times that I’ve been alone, or with quiet people on a path and we’ve had the opportunity to spot a bird or animal that would have otherwise gone unnoticed are times I cherish. On a visit to Kakadu, due to a series of circumstances, only a few of us in a group got to see Leichardt’s grasshopper, a bright orange creature who I’m told can only be found in one type of terrain, on one particular plant. There’s a great thrill in seeing something that is rarely seen, and seeing it not in a zoo but in it’s own habitat.

Another aspect of travel I appreciate is the random conversations and interactions that can occur. You can meet people in all sorts of situations: for example, as fellow sufferers of seasickness on a seal-watching trip in the Southern Ocean and then end up visiting a steak house together (even though you’re a vegetarian) and going to an abandoned lot to hear a rock band who do Mongolian throat singing as part of their act. It’s these interactions where your path crosses that of another that you remember, and value, even if you never meet the person again. In a place where you don’t know anyone else, and maybe where you don’t even speak the language, organic connections are made and memories of discovery shared. The bliss of travel.

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Excelling under pressure but dysfunctional in the ordinary

Sand dune

One of the most interesting people I’ve met this year has been dead since 1926. I’d heard her name before I really met her, but if you’d asked me anything about her, I would have been very vague. Now I’ve had a window into the inner workings of her life, heart and mind. She’s a lot more human now than when she was just a reputation to me.

A charismatic conversationalist who came to life when conversing about the poetry of the east, travel and archaeology and many other subjects, she had auburn hair and knowing blue eyes. Gertrude Bell was a woman of great energy. She mastered in her lifetime of 57 years 6 languages, mountaineering (summiting some previously unscaled peaks), gardening, cartography, archaeology, mountain and desert travel and diplomacy (developing a network of connections across the tribes living in the Middle East). Some say she was also a spy and she is credited with assisting in the founding of modern Jordan and Iraq. She certainly excelled at extremes and under extremes. Her personal life was tragic – her mothered died when she was a child, her family wouldn’t allow her to marry her fiancé, who died tragically while still young and she later had a fervent, unconsummated affair with a married man who then died at Gallipoli. She fought to defy the set paths unmarried women of her generation would normally have taken – she loved her family, but she threw herself at challenges time and again. She would not be confined or limited.

Why was I drawn to her? Drawn to read her biography? It called to me from a shelf in Dymocks book store, from the moment I saw the desert landscape and the title Queen of the desert. Sometimes I think I wasn’t born for the maintenance of life and its routines and sometimes I think maybe I’m just lazy.  The things that give me life are the crises and the extremes and the times you have to just push yourself and don’t have the leisure of reflecting. What does me in is the day-to-day, the repetitiveness of it all. It’s tedious and soul-sucking. I call myself a project person – someone who finds energy in projects, events and dramas. I think this draws me to other project people – other people who soared in the challenging times, but maybe didn’t do so well in the ordinariness of life – I feel like they’re my tribe.

I had a phase of reading the biographies of early aviators, Charles Lindburgh, Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson. I love the tales of their early aviation achievements, of how close they often were to death, only saved by chance, or by their own wits. But they were often driven back to the skies when their earth-bound lives failed. Amy Johnson had a difficult family life and a failed relationship, Charles Lindburgh had a child kidnapped and life was never quite the same again. In an aircraft they could block out society and challenge themselves, and travel to the ends of the globes, meet new people in far away places, land in danger or land to the cheers of adoring crowds. Despite Johnson’s and Earhart’s tragic deaths, they died doing what they loved.

In Western society today there are not so many ways to really challenge yourself. I fell in love with Robyn Davidson’s book Tracks long before it was a movie. Her lone travels with camels and dog across the centre of Australia, having learnt to train camels under harsh conditions in Alice Springs, were epic. She too was fleeing family issues, but her achievement and the freedom of that time were great. And like Bell, Earhart and Johnson she broke female stereotypes, something those around her didn’t quite know how to handle. I’m not a risk taker, but travel, living off your wits and responding to crises, taking on challenges and seeing them through – these all appeal to me – and even more when suburban-bound life disappoints or threatens to overwhelm me with the mundane. I’m inspired by those who’ve come before who forged new paths and roles where there were none. Life is short, do the things that make your eyes light up.

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