The Dance of Courtship in the Modern Age

I’m a single 30-something and like many of my friends, colleagues, housemates, fellow singles, I’m on the apps. The instant gratification, judge-a-book-by-its-face, half-hearted conversations, digital dating game. Subtlety is absent. We all know it’s going to lead to one of three destinations: love, lust, or (more likely) nowhere.

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Then there’s the more subtle dating game – the meetups where you mingle with like-minded individuals, hoping perhaps that your next bae/boo (who the hell created those lame terms?) is equally as excited about origami or the art of calligraphy or paddle-boarding.

And so I found myself at a salsa class. Not for the dating aspect specifically, but more for the ‘let’s see if I still remember how to do this’ (I didn’t) and the stepping-outside-of-the-comfort-zone-ness of it, as well as the meet new people factor.

Now imagine if you will, meeting a complete stranger and making the initial small talk while simultaneously trying to remember new steps, pick up their rhythm (which is sometimes lacking), madly co-ordinate arm movements AND seem natural. Ever seen a giraffe drink water? We’re talking that level of awkward. Depending on your partner of course.  And oh what an interesting mix of type-cast characters in the coop.

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Let’s start with the instructor himself. The Flamingo.
Clearly, his big dream was to be on stage and maybe he even once was. Whatever the case, the full body rolls and flamboyant arm flicks, the excessive hip shimmies and brag-drops about his 20 years of dance, clearly indicate that in his head, he never left the spotlight on that stage.

Next we have the participants. Now I can’t say much about the ladies as, being one myself, I was in contact only with my dance partners who moved to the partner on their right in a circular fashion every 2 minutes. Thus the speed-dating aspect.

rooster.jpgFirst comes the Rooster, the puff-chested strutter who is really only an experienced beginner at most, but executes his moves as if he’s on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and spins you so aggressively that your head fights a battle to stay on your neck, all the while critiquing your style and technique.
 

ostrich 2Next is the Ostrich – the nervy, unco-ordinated sweetheart who is just way too excited about putting his hands on a woman to get the moves right, but tries really hard non-the-less. He attempts to disguise his anxiousness by squawking out heckles at the teacher and putting on a thin layer of boldness.
 

peacockFollowing him we have the Peacock, who is clearly there to shake his tail-feathers at all the gals, stringing his French charm into an endless flow of coquettish quips, thinking that his words are binding us in a spell, but not noticing that we are all, well, intelligent beings.

 
penguinNext up we have the Penguin (but not the one from Happy Feet) who is so intent on concentrating on the moves that he forgets to even look you in the eye, but rather counts out loud and watches his feet move, and you are left feeling like an appendage to his (un)creative process.

chickenFinally there is the Chicken. He knows the steps and he knows the rhythm, but they are not the same steps and rhythm as the one you and everyone else are dancing. He is dancing to his own beat and keeping time with him is next to impossible.

I could go on but you get the gist. Ultimately it was a fun experience…. and fun to talk about afterwards. I did learn some salsa and meet some new faces. Did it lead me to true love? Doubtful. Although there may have been a cool, calm, cooky Cockatoo in the back that ruffled my feathers slightly. So I guess time will tell. 😉  cockatoo

 

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Finding Equilibrium Down Under

The Balance of a Home

I’ve travelled far and wide, lived for long and short periods in foreign countries, restarted my life over and over again.

I’ve braved the cold, grey streets of London where the world seems largely to be irked by your mere existence and a helping hand and friendly face are beacons in the tempest that is the overcrowded overflow of London humans.

I’ve traded up for the sunshine and spirit of Barcelona, where the locals grudgingly tolerate your trespassing in their mecca of cobblestones and grand old churches, and the international party youth run wild through the ever soggy streets, oblivious to it all. Where a vibrancy and joie de vivre hides a seedy underworld of drugs and petty crime. Where pups abound in the streets, as does their poop, and tourists and permanent visitors jostle down La Rambla soaking up the slightly crazed energy.

I’ve sabbatical’d in Morocco, in a tiny surf town where the morning call to prayer rings in the day and time seems to stop as do the eyes of local men on the surfers girls’ little bikinis. Where goats sit in trees, men sit on stones and surfers sit in waves.

I’ve travelled across the ocean for a true love and imagined a new home and life and happily ever after, only to be cast back down to reality in a rather brutal manner.

I’ve retreated to Thailand to learn the art of Kung Fu and the art of riding a scooter and the art of ignoring the pungent street odours, while admiring the ornate temples and kind people.

When I think of the plethora of sights and sounds and cultures and experiences I’ve seen and had, it makes me want to pack my suitcase and keep moving, forever, never setting down roots for fear of becoming trapped in the mire of normality.

But we all crave a home, a nest, a place to belong.

I don’t very clearly remember thanks to the rose-tinted glasses through which I now view my recollections, but I know that there were many times that the listlessness and lack of direction was more overwhelming than the sun-baked fish on the streets of Bangkok or the spice-stained stalls of the Marrakesh markets. That my experiences and adventures were bitter-sweet, laced with the taste of uncertainty and fear, with the awareness that I was taking an incredibly winding path to my destination, wherever that may be.

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Now I find myself in Australia. Today is my one year anniversary since I, reticently, made the move to a more ‘normal’ life. I won’t say it’s been an easy transition, and I won’t say it’s going to stay the 9-5 grind for very long because my plans always ultimately lead me to travel. This plan just happens to be a bit more long-term, and perhaps will give me a place to come back to between journeys.

Australia is a little utopia and the rules and regulations here keep it so. It’s a combination of casual friendliness and clipped passive-aggression. It’s beautiful and safe and clean and lovely. And more than anywhere, I would say, it feels like home. Maybe that’s because of the army of travel buddies that now reside here and form my tribe, as well as the new ones I’ve collected over the past year. Maybe it’s because I can imagine a future for my parents and future family here that wouldn’t have been a reality anywhere else I’ve lived so far.

Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like running anymore, at least not all the time.

Of course, Australia hasn’t accepted me without a fight and I’m still fighting. There’s a reason the borders are so tight – if you’ve got an island paradise, you’re going to protect it, especially from those dreaded South African imports with their silly accents and weird sayings. Oh my hat it’s been a tussle! And who knows if this is really a struggle-snuggle between me and Australia and eventually we’ll end in a cuddle-puddle of joy. Or if we’ll fight until our relationship turns toxic and bitterly part ways.

Whatever the case, it’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be passionate and it’s going to be worth it – even if the outcome means I have to move to Bali and live in a grass hut (a flashback to a childhood dream?). Or go back to my beloved Barcelona.

As the Australians would say, I’m not here to fu@k spiders.

Dancing With Your Demons

IMG_0413My Kung Fu adventure has come to an end and as I write this I’m sitting in Johannesburg Airport, on my way home to surprise Mom for her birthday. As far as my folks are aware, I’m at a hostel in Bangkok and on my way to Bali tomorrow. Little do they know that in a few short hours I will be gatecrashing Mom’s birthday dinner. 😀

In reflection on this month of Kung Fu and extra month around south and north Thailand, various people have asked me: did I get what I wanted out of it? Well, the answer is not at all, and way more. That makes no sense. Let me clarify – I still can’t beat anyone up, but I can beat myself. Before you start thinking, sadist….

One day during training, I asked a fellow trainee what she was imagining when she was punching, because this girl can hit! And I was on the receiving end. Let’s just say the protection pads weren’t sufficing. She replied, “I imagine my own face.” My immediate reaction was ‘quit hitting yourself’. She went on to explain that you can run from your demons or you can embrace them and dance with them. What a thought!

So this got me thinking, what did I gain from this experience? Did I kill some demons or just form a grudgingly accepting relationship with mine?

Here are the 5 demons that came under my Tan Tao (Chinese broad sword):

Self Doubt

As with any new venture, I was initially scared, uncertain, out of place, wanting to leave, wanting to run away. This concept goes way beyond just the Kung Fu though, and has been a stumbling block for as long as I can remember. I now realise that with time, patience and commitment (shudder), I can do pretty much anything given enough practice. I survived a bloody month of Kung Fu in ridiculous heat and I didn’t kill myself on a scooter. I learned that you can do something 100 times and still find small things to improve each time and this is the act of mastering it. You have the chi (read:energy/force) and the abilities. You just need to develop them. When you set about it this way, your focus is on the task at hand and not on your bouts of lack of confidence.

Anger

I’ve had a lot of anger for a long time. Anger at those who’ve wronged me, anger at the situations that have impeded my reaching my goals, anger at God or whatever divine force rules the universe. I have realised though, that the person I’m really angry at is myself… for my own waste of time through self-pity. For my own limiting, wavering, wimpering voice in my head holding me back. I would initially picture a certain ex’s face while punching and kicking and it gave me a lot of venom for my strikes. I realised however that I was more angry at myself for still feeling that anger than I was at the actual person. A month of Kung Fu has not taken this anger away entirely. I’m still feisty as hell, but it’s allowed me to focus that aggression towards healing within.

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I crossed many paths on this trip with interesting, special, inspiring people. They showed me again that everyone has a story and taking the time to get to know it is a worthwhile endeavour. One such person stuck and reminded me that it’s okay to be human. That the imperfect package is acceptable and celebrated. That being real is better than the picture-perfect version of ourselves. And that there are people that can and should be allowed into my little protective bubble, gradually, carefully, in time, and that can and will genuinely care for no other reason than a mutual recognition of each other’s worth.

Focus (or lack thereof)

One thing that was stressed over and over in our sessions was to relax. Now when you’re trying to send all your energy to the tips of your fingers, remember to breath, remember the moves, give it the required power, it’s really difficult to relax. It almost seems counterproductive. Yet after a while, you learn to be aware, to be focused, to be ready, but to be calm and unrigid. I didn’t quite get it – maybe another month – but I started to and this really does help with focusing on the important. When your chi isn’t in your head and you’re not stressed out, you can proactively focus on what’s going on and be ready to tackle situations.

Alone

This has been an issue for many years. I don’t like being alone. I never have. And yet my travels and lifestyle have pretty much kept me alone for the better part of 8 years and have meant many solo voyages into the unknown. Miraculously, I have finally come to embrace and even enjoy this solitude. Don’t get me wrong, wine is best shared with loved ones and friends (unless there’s a lack of wine – then it’s all for me), but there is something valuable in the time one spends with oneself. It allows you to focus on what’s happening in your inner world and appreciate your own oddities like you would that of a good, quirky friend.

So I guess you could say that I did conquer, or at least make peace with, some demons this month.

This morning, on my flight from Nairobi to Joburg, we flew over Mount Kilimanjaro. The pilot gave us ample warning so we could get our cameras out and I got the shot below. What an incredible and unexpected experience!

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There’s so much to see, if you can only open your eyes and focus beyond your issues. They’ll probably always be there, but if they are, they can at least be passive observers of the beauty of your life, instead of the foggy lens through which you view it.

** Update: Now at home in PE and the surprise was perfect. Video here. You can’t see much but the voices say it all.

Practice Makes Progress

Two weeks have passed at the Kung Fu retreat just outside of Pai and I’m not yet a master, of course. Everyday I do get some little things a bit more rightFullSizeRender. This, however, is not a story about Kung Fu. This is a story about a scooter – a scooter named Stealth. And a rider who lacked stealth – me. One could say we were the perfect pair.

The night before committing to this venture of one month’s scooter hire, I was questioning everything. Do I really want to do a Kung Fu camp? Is it worth it? Maybe I should just go stay in Pai where you can walk everywhere. What if I don’t like the food? What if I die? Maybe I’ll break a leg and not be able to do the workouts and that will be a waste. Excuses upon excuses built as my anxiety mounted over the prospect of getting on a two-wheeled motorised deathtrap. This may seem melodramatic and to be honest, it was a bit pathetic, but the mental struggle was real.

Despite the sleepless night, I took my nervy self to the town, procrastinated for a good half a day and finally committed. AYA scooter services took one look at my panicked eyes, my tense shoulders and my inquiries about lessons and gave me the most bashed up scooter they had, which is probably a smart move for both of us, because I won’t get blamed for the damage I inevitably do to this poor creature. On day one of getting Stealth, the ‘instructor’ took me out back to a gravel road, let me loop it once, wobbling and shaking all the way, before pushing me out into traffic. I then forced myself to take the bike out at least once a day for the next few days, but still took any chance to jump on the back of someone else’s bike for a ride.

The days passed, the Kung Fu classes started, the meditation sessions started (yet to progress on that one), the muscle pain was excruciating and then subsided, I remembered more moves, I got more flow, I floundered, I recovered, the scooter driving got less and less shaky, but still at a pace that would embarrass any self-respecting person. Then came the day of the visa run. (A point to note that I had had to exchange Stealth twice due to a flat tire, broken headlight and lack of wheel alignment. Not as a result of my errors, but such was the calibre of bikes they kept giving me).

So Stealth 3 and I saddled up. Luckily I had my trusty compadres to make sure I came out of the experience alive. With Cyndy ahead of me on her kickstart motorbike, and SFullSizeRender (1)am behind me on his pretty puFullSizeRender (2)rple prowler, we set off on the 300km journey to Mae Hong Son to renew our visas. 11 hours (due to scenic detours) later, after windy roads, hairpin bends, learning the ability to lean into a turn and not fall over, and gaining a speed of around 70kph, we returned home and shared some well-deserved beers. Stealth 3 was sated, I was relieved, Sam and Cyndy were completely unaffected.

Swinging in a hammock at Edible Jazz Bar that evening, listening to some acoustic tunes and relaxing after a long day’s ride, I had an immense sense of satisfaction. And it dawned on me that this feat that was so intimidating only a week or two before, now brought a sense of achievement, empowerment and confidence. Scooters aren’t deathtraps (touch wood), I’m not completely uncoordinated and a pussy. Kung Fu moves can be learned slowly over time and complete strangers can become good friends who are responsible for the continuation of your mortal existence.13015615_1770687006484391_1096778868695489838_n.jpg

With time and patience and commitment, things do develop. The tough thing is to train my western mind that is used to instant gratification, to be patient and not get frustrated with the lack of immediate results. While I doubt perfection is attainable, this experience is showing me that practice really does make progress.

99% of the time

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99% of the time, I’m happy with the road I’ve chosen.
I’m content with my avant-garde, change-fuelled lifestyle where comfort is a luxury and a relief in between the living out of suitcases and the sensory overloads and the foreign misunderstandings and the excitement of being solidly outside of a comfort zone.

99% of the time.

And then there’s the 1%. That dreaded one. Where the paddle of loneliness winds me and steals all my air.

That one where I long for a familiar face and a comforting certainty of being.

Where I question my decision 8 years ago to turn down a more regular and yet attractive path and go in search of the awe-inspiring.

Where I wonder if the lost years of nearness to family and loved ones are worth it.

Where I’m unsure whether my adventure has healed me or damaged me further.

And then as if a fading dream I can only vaguely remember, the feeling is gone.

I’m back to appreciating the incredibly blessed life I have led and the doubts become a mere pang in my heart for my family and friends.

I’m back to following my gut and embracing my experiences and practicing presence and trying to be positive and kind.

But smiling pictures never tell the full story. They omit the 1%. We all choose our paths for a reason at the time we choose them and none is better or worse than another. One day we’ll all come to the same point. And we will all have those 1% moments intermittently. Thank goodness they’re fleeting.

A Little Slap and Tickle in Thailand

IMG_8182Thai massages are a perfect metaphor for the country itself. At once relaxing and painful, relieving and intense, forcing you to your limits and then leaving you a heap of stress-free flesh (and that’s without the happy ending!).

I’ve been in Asia just over a week and I’ve realised that this is the land of extremes. One minute you’re sweating your bits off, the next you’re floating in a tepid turquoise sea. One second you’re devouring delicious local cuisine, the next you have crippling gastro and can’t leave your bamboo hut.

It got me to thinking that aIMG_8220nything phenomenal seems to start with a struggle. You almost have to earn your place in this paradise. This could be said of most things that are worth it in life. You can’t have a ripped body without loads of exercise and hard work. You can’t build a business without loads of time and sleepless nights and risks. You can’t experience incredible things without a huge, scary leap of faith. Sure, some get it easier than others – some have a high metabolism, a trust fund or happen to live in paradisiacal surrounds, but most need to go through the fire before they reach the steel phase.

And I really don’t know that I’d have it any other way. Sure, the shit times suck. They’re the times you want your mom and your teddy and (depending on your affliction) chocolate. They make the good times so sweet though. The rambling through jungles, the swimming with glittery glowing p
lankton,IMG_8252 the wading into crystal clear water and snorkelling with rainbow coloured fish.

Thailand is beautiful. Exquisite. Tasty. Stinky. A little dirty. Hot as hell. Overwhelmingly green and turquoise. Friendly and so incredibly foreign. It’s hot pink tuktuks and stray dogs full of ticks and beautiful coconut smoothies and grass huts on the beach and sunsets. It’s massages and crazy hairdo’s and temples and floral garlands.

It’s the burning tongue of your first bite of chilli which soon turns to a tolerance for the pain and an appreciation of the enhanced flavours it releases.

These are first impressions. Stay tuned for more.

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Four Continents on One Cruz

Alas, the much-anticipated Cruz the Coast has ended for me, and it couldn’t have been with a better and more varied group of people. A devilish Slovenian, a fiesty Espanola, a karmic Pole, a drunken monkey Kiwi and a charismatic Yank. Add to that a chilled Aussie tour leader and her scrappy Irish fiancé and you have a recipe for crazy times and lots of fun. 

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It’s been sad slowly saying goodbye to everyone but such is the nature of travel. The rest of our tour swung between relaxing days on the beaches of Arraial d’Ajuda and Buzios (which is the happening hangout of many rich and famous thanks to Brigitte Bardou and her fondness of the place), random burgers in the tiny village of Itaunas, a Caiprinha-drenched boat cruise in Arraial de Cabo and finally massive party nights in Rio. We’re all sad it’s over but we’re all glad for a bit of down time. 

 

So over to Rio. Stunning… from afar. When you enter Rio on the giant, epic bridge, there’s beautiful jungle-draped hills and mountains surrounding you interspersed with water and somewhere in the folds and slopes of these is the city. When you get to the central party district, Lapa, however, it loses its beauty a bit. Up close Rio is grungy. Funky, but grungy. 

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We launched our time in Rio with a Halloween party to end the tour, held in the heart of Lapa. The streets here are closed off to cars at night and come alive with food vendors and drinks kiosks. There are people playing drums and guitars and there is a general festive feel in the air. There is a very definite insecure feeling though. You’re warned not to walk alone, not to take anything of value and not to act like a tourist, but when you’re pale, blonde and don’t speak a word of Portuguese, it’s hard to disguise that fact. People do approach you and ask you for money for their dinner and pursue it for a while, but generally if you’re with people (preferably guys), you’re okay. 

 

After sleeping off the cachaca of the previous night, we launched our first day in Rio with a trip to the famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. The songs formulate images of bright colours, paradisiacal surrounds, feathers, dancing girls, beauty in all forms. In actual fact, they’re just beaches in a posh area. Our lack of enthusiasm for the place could have been due to the very overcast weather in Rio this weekend – everything looks more idyllic in the sun, but still, not all that. The beaches we visited on our tour in the quiet little hidden towns along the coast were much more impressive. 

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The botanical gardens are worth a visit – very pretty and serene. Jesus is yet to be experienced as the cloud cover needs to lift. So all in all, the Ciudad Marvalhosa (Marvellous City) has not really impressed me all that much and once again I have proved to myself what I’ve experienced before – just not a big city kinda gal. Small, funky, artsy, beachy. 

 

So now three of the initial 8 intrepid travelers remain and will do so until Wednesday where we’ll go our separate ways and I’ll head to the island  paradise of Ilha Grande. Current mission: to work from the comfort of a hammock and get healthy again. Previous mission: Portuguese is going to take longer than anticipated. Meh. It’ll happen. 

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