Jordan: The Sands of Time

We found shelter for the night inside the crumbling walls of a crusader castle.  As dawn approached we made our descent, clamoring over rocks and sliding down cliffs of sandstone, there, hidden amidst towering hills we found the city of Petra. Continue reading

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Meteora

There are few places in the world that evoke a sense of wonder like Greece. From ancient monuments to the mighty Gods, to the deep blue sparkle of the Aegean Sea.  To windswept islands where white washed houses hug the cliffs, to the  cosy tavernas that serve up homemade Ouzo and crusty white bread with Kalamata olives and pungent feta cheese. While the lure of basking in the sun on a rugged island has always been irresistible, I finally managed  to drag myself away from the beach and head to the mountains. A picture spotted on a postcard had drawn me to the fabled monolithic rocks of Meteora, where monks have long sought solace in the monasteries that perch like birds nests on top of them. Continue reading

Donau Toba, Sumatra

Published in the Bali Advertiser

Seventy four thousand years ago Sumatra was rocked by one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of all time. Anthropologists believe that the resulting dust cloud that covered the earth killed most of the planet’s population. From the mouths of hell sprang the tropical island paradise of Samosir, perched in the middle of Donau Toba the world’s largest crater lake. Continue reading

Return to Blue Lagoon

Today I went back to Turtle Island….. its been five years since I left this island paradise, but as I walked down the dock it was like I never left at all. Just like the old days Richard was waiting for me in a cart to take me on a tour of his gardens – his pride and joy.

Richard Evanson is the most amazing and inspiring man I have ever met, and it was thanks to him and his vision of creating a community owned resort in the remote islands  that I first came to Fiji. Continue reading

Back to Fiji

Life is funny, one minute you are striding down a certain path, and the next, tragedy strikes  like a metaphorical avalanche and the path is swept away from under you. But all the cliches are true…. out of the darkness comes the light…..as one door closes another opens…… And so it was that a disaster on the harsh rocky island of Gran Canaria  in Spain seven years ago would change my life in ways I never could have imagined.

Fate, and the trade winds blew me to Fiji where I landed a job on a remote island in the Yasawas.  Here I worked with a local, tradition-bound community domineered by a powerful autocratic chief, and answered  to a wealthy and eccentric American billionaire (owner of the island where Blue Lagoon was filmed). It was a crazy time typified by cyclones, a  coup, and suffocating heat, of sabotage and skullduggery….where cheeky spirits roamed by land and sea, and tales of cannibalistic forebears were shared over many a bowl of kava.   But what i remember most is the laughter, the singing, the awe inspiring beauty and the big beautiful smiles of the Fijians who welcomed  me to their island home.

Two years passed and my life became totally entwined with the community….All my friends told me how lucky I was to live on a coral fringed island, but paradise is a lonely place and slowly island fever took a grip – it was time to go.  Leaving was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but  knew I would come back, Fiji was a part of me and I had come to love these islands fiercely and unconditionally . And now, five years later here I am. Oddly enough, it is like nothing has changed, and memories, like the incoming tide, roll in relentlessly. My time here is brief – just one month –  as  I ‘resort sit’  Navutu Stars, a boutique resort owned by my amazing Italian friends Maddalena and Freddy. Actually, the timing has been extraordinary, as I am writing a book about my time in Fiji but had lost the freshness of the experience and had been thinking of ways I could return – when out of the blue Madda called and asked me to come.

I am remembering so well the isolation, and the peacefulness, it seems so incredibly still after the chaos of Bali and it has taken me a while to adjust to the pace of Fiji time. The rhythm of life is so slow here, but this is the magic.

http://www.gatherenterprise.com/quicktime_video/fote_fiji_oarsmans_bay.mov

A different side of Singapore

Singapore, a gleaming metropolis of soaring skyscrapers, manicured gardens, and people in suits; where shopping malls are supersize, electronics are truly king, and chewing gum is illegal. I have passed through the city many times, but never considered it as more than a brief stop on my way somewhere else. Now I have a three-day visa run and am determined to get a glimpse into life beyond the shiny facade. I catch a bumboat to Pulau Ubin, a small island that is home to one of the last remaining kampoengs (traditional villages in Singapore).

I rent a bicycle and pass through palm groves and rubber plantations and soon find myself in thick rainforest; sunlight peeps and teases through the leaves, interspersed with drizzly rain. It is disgustingly humid and I feel like I am trapped in a steam bath, the gentle rises in the road have me pedaling madly and I regret not paying the extra for a mountain bike. A giant − almost komodo size − lizard stalks across the road in front of me, and monkeys swing through the canopy high above. Eventually I come to the Chek Jawa wetlands, a conservation area that is home to Singapore’s richest ecosystems. The timber boardwalk starts on a pretty boulder strewn beach, and winds around a seagrass lagoon. In the shallows I spot cowrie shells, shrimp, star fish and a pair of tiny seahorses. It leads on through giant mangroves and mud mounds, built by the illusive mud lobster, then back onto a path through dense coastal forest. I reach the parking area and find that it has been overrun by monkeys, one perches on the seat of my bike another sits in the wicker basket. Thunder rolls in the distance and the sky has turned black. I really don’t want to get caught in a tropical storm and once I regain possession of my bike I pedal furiously, passing small farm houses surrounded by fruit orchards, trees laden with ripe durian and fields of tropical flowers. I arrive back at the kampoeng with its quaint houses and Chinese lanterns, just as the rain sets in. I find shelter in a quirky restaurant swamped in pot plants and twisting vines and wait out the storm. It’s dark by the time I get back on the boat and the bright twinkling lights of the city beckon across the water. The natural jungle of old Singapore is left behind and I am soon back in the concrete jungle that is modern Singapore. The bus passes through suburbs filled with colonial mansions and then right through the heart of Geyland, the vibrant and garish red light district with sleazy massage parlors, night markets, and xxx girly bars with pumping music.

Little India
Refreshed and showered I head out into the labyrinth of streets that make up Little India which is buzzing with all the trappings and trimmings of the Southern Indian Tamil Culture. The streets are rowdy and chaotic with hawkers selling garlands of yellow flowers and kitch Hindu iconography; Bollywood music blares out from loud speakers. I take a seat in a sidewalk cafe and am soon eating aloo gobi, palak paneer and chapatis, washed down with a mango lassy. The air is thick with the smell of cardamom, and women glide by sheathed in bright saris and laden with gold jewelry. I wander past ornate temples swathed in garish colour and am overcome with nostalgia for my days spent traveling in India. I am easily lured into a costume jewelry shop filled with sparkling adornments, and eventually leave with a bag filled with gaudy earrings, hair trinkets and jingly jangly anklets.

The Evolution Gardens


 

Located at the famous Botancial gardens, This 1.5 hectare area provides a journey through time and depicts the evolution of life through the ages. The entrance is marked by a column of petrified trees and the path leads through different areas, starting with the barren, desolate ‘Lifeless Earth’ 4,600 million years ago. Onwards through time, I pass prehistoric plants and trees that look like something out of a sci fi film, as well as giant dinosaur footprints, and a magnificent grove of Cycad palms, modern survivors from the Jerassic era. Then on through the first flowering plants that sprang from the earth 144 million years ago.

Kampoeng Glam
I have just a few hours left and one item remains on my agenda, and that is to visit Kampoeng Glam – the heart of the Muslim community with streets named Arab, Kadahar and Bhagdad. The breathtaking Sultan Mosque acts as a landmark; it’s design was influenced by the Taj Mahal and it is composed of a mesmerizing swirl of minarets and turrets topped with a shiny golden dome. A pedestrian street lined with tall palm trees leads up to the mosque and the area is imbued with a quiet, lazy charm. I spend my last hour exploring the alleyways and small shops filled with spices, Persian rugs and rolls of shimmering silks and rich brocades. And then my time is up, and its with more than a little regret that I make my way to the airport. A city that I had dismissed as boring and soulless has turned out to be multi faceted and endlessly fascinating

Travel Stories

When I was 21 I left Australia strapped into a giant purple backpack…… I wanted to go everywhere and see everything and my quest took me around the world, from the steamy jungles of Mexico, to the pyramids of Guatemala, and hidden surf beaches in El Salvador. Travels through North America led me to the icy mountain peaks of Canada, and the ancient red wood forests of northern California, then to Hollywood and Venice Beach and a summer tour with the Grateful Dead. From New York I flew to South America and travelled by land from the coke hazed streets of Santa Marta Colombia, across the mountains through Equador and Peru. I saw the sunrise over Machu Pichu and watched pink flamingos dance in a bright red lake in midst of the vast salt planes of Boliva. There was a gut churning flight over the Nazca lines, and the discovery of a desert strewn with mumified bodies (complete with hair and nails) and an awestruck moment watching the sun set and the full moon simultaneously rise over the Valley of the moon in Chile. Across the world, the rosy hued hidden city of Petra in Jordan revealed its secrets, and long summer days were spent exploring the rocky churches of he surreal valleys of Goreme in Turkey. I rode a donkey through the valley of the kings and lost my heart in Istanbul, the magical city that straddles Europe and Asia. There were long cold winters in London and a long term affair with Italy – with its streets of marble, ornate fountains, craggy coasts and beautiful food. Asia called and a dream came true with the rising sun over Angkor Wat in the jungles of Cambodia. There were long slow boat rides through the rivers of Laos and hikes through remote mountains in the north of Thailand, and then there was India in all its colouful chaos, a country like no other, more an experience than a destination. After 15 years wandering the globe I washed up on a beach in the fiji islands. For the next two years travel writing was replaced by an altogether more serious and stationary job managing a resort on a remote island. These days I live in Bali and spend my time writing about food and luxury villas, I miss my days of wild adventure, but you cant carry around a backpack forever! I still travel when I can – Indonesia has thousands (17,000 in fact) islands to explore which should keep me busy.