A Sudden End to Travelling

It was a sunny afternoon and I was blissfully taking in the lush balinese scenery from the back of the moped that Finn was driving. We were riding from Amed, a small diving and fishing town on the east coast of Bali, to Denpasar, the southern capital. The road was windy and hilly and our rental bike had seen better days. The breaks seemed to be wearing down from all the hills.

The view from the road.

We slowed down to follow the road around a harmless looking curve and our wheels suddenly slipped out from under us, throwing us to the ground. Our fall happened about an hour into our three hour trip. We had all our stuff with us (two small backpacks) because we were going to stay in the south for a while. We were going to find a nice beach and hang out for a few days or a week before going to Lombok to hike the second biggest volcano in Indonesia. First we had an appointment at the Immigration office to take our pictures for our Indonesian visa extensions.

But then we were on the ground. I had some scrapes, but they were shallow. I expected Finn to be in similar shape and that we would get back on the bike and drive to somewhere to clean our wounds and keep going. I jumped up before I knew what I was doing and took a look at Finn. He was still on the ground. The scrape on his knee was shockingly bright white when I expected to see red. His bone was visible.

He asked me to help him up and I considered that in an accident you’re supposed to leave an injured person on the ground and wait for an ambulance to avoid making the injuries worse by jostling them. I doubted there would be an ambulance service where we were in the middle of nowhere Bali, so I grabbed Finn’s right hand and pulled him to his feet. He was unsteady. Some local people had rushed over and asked if we wanted to go to the hospital. I knew Finn was badly hurt when he said yes. I looked in his eyes and he seemed far away, his gaze unfocused. He was in shock.

The local people kindly helped us into the back of their car with all our things. We left the motorbike in their yard and a man drove us the 10 minutes to a tiny local hospital. He said he would wait with the car and our bags while we were treated. I took his name, phone number and address just in case we needed to find him to get our motorbike back. There were dozens of people waiting in rows of chairs outside the hospital, but Finn and I were rushed past them into a tiny treatment room right away. A team of three or four doctors and nurses superficially cleaned and wrapped our wounds, but quickly deemed Finn’s injuries too complicated for their facility. We asked for pain killers for Finn, but they ignored our requests. I retrieved our possessions and we were sent in an ambulance to a bigger hospital.

 The siren was loud and the ride was bumpy, shifting Finn’s injuries painfully. I hoped we weren’t going to far from where we had left our rental bike. After fifteen long minutes we arrived at the hospital. Finn was transferred from a stretcher onto a hospital bed in a big room with curtains separating patients. We appeared to be the only foreigners in the building and few of the staff spoke English. The ambulance driver came to collect $20 in local currency for the ride. I kept asking for painkillers for Finn, but my requests were deflected. The building was run down and noisy, with the familiar bright florescent lights of a hospital. The ceiling had water stains and was missing panels. Everything seemed ad hoc, makeshift. I was wearing small shorts and a crop top, making me feel exposed compared to the conservatively dressed people, so I put my sweater on even though it was hot.

Finn was finally injected with a painkiller and felt a little bit better. The doctor, a young-looking Indonesian man with wavy hair and a reassuring smile assessed Finn and sent him to another part of the building for x-rays on his shoulder and knee. I followed Finn’s stretcher, carrying all our things, my knee bleeding down my shins. People loitering in the halls stared at us as we passed and asked what happened. Seeing foreigners in the hospital was exciting for them.

Despite the low budget hospital, we received relatively quick service. Finn was x-rayed and brought back to the big room and the doctor came over to discuss the results with us. Finn had a broken collar bone, but his knee was only scraped. Finn and I realized we would probably go back to Canada since Finn couldn’t have any fun traveling with all his injuries. He wouldn’t be able to swim, hike or surf, so what would be the point of staying in Indonesia? All our plans changed the moment we fell off the bike.

We pointed out Finn’s elbow to the doctor, which had become freakishly swollen, so Finn was sent up for another x-ray.

 In the meantime I was offered treatment for my abrasions. I laid down and rocks were removed from my knee and the scrapes on my arm, belly and hands were treated with disinfectant. It was extremely painful, but I didn’t feel worthy of complaining because of what Finn was going through.

Finn came back down and we learned that his elbow was badly broken and needed surgery. The x-ray showed that a small piece of his elbow was floating off on it’s own like a rebellious teenager. A screw was needed to attach the pieces again, but it would have to be done in the hospital in Denpasar, the capital of Bali, or in Canada.

We weighed the benefits and drawbacks of having Finn’s surgery in Bali or Canada. It would have been better to have the surgery sooner, rather than wait until we could get back to Canada, but Canada might have better medical treatments. Finn would go home to recover anyway, so we doing the surgery there would be more comfortable. Finn wanted to ask his mom for advice, so our doctor graciously offered his iPhone which had a data plan and that worked just well enough for Finn to be comforted by the sight of his mom on Skype, who encouraged him to go home for the surgery.

 On our way out of the hospital.

With a lot of difficulty we walked a block to a restaurant to eat and figure out our steps towards getting home as soon as possible for Finn’s surgery. Before leaving the country we had to finish our Indonesian visa extensions. We had handed in our passports to start the process to stay in Indonesia for another month and missed our appointment at the immigration office when we crashed. We were in the middle of nowhere, a few hours drive from the airport and immigration office in Denpasar. Our bike was left at someone’s house on a country road and needed to be collected and returned to Ubud, a town an hour away from Denpasar. We wanted to be on a flight the next night.

The staff at the hospital said there were no taxis in town. Some of the ambulance drivers who were loitering around the outside of the hospital asked how much we would pay to do the trip in an ambulance. We made a few offers, but then they said they wouldn’t do it for any price. I went to the store across the street and asked if they knew where we could get a taxi and ended up negotiating a $60 ride to pick up our motorbike and then to Denpasar with a local guy in his mom’s car.

We collected the bike where we left it and I drove it behind the car all the way to a hotel in Denpasar. It was a relief to have managed the first step towards getting home. By this time it was after 9pm and we were tired. We ordered a mediocre pizza from Pizza Hut to our hotel room and went to sleep.

Early the next morning I drove the motorbike to Ubud to return it and took a taxi back to Denpasar. The taxi driver spent the entire hour trip telling me how amazing I am and what a great husband he would be for me. I was so not in the mood. I rescheduled our visa appointment at the immigration office, so when I got back to Denpasar I helped Finn out of bed, which was covered in his blood, and into a taxi. Finn’s bandages had bled through and he looked in bad shape. Because of the scrapes on his knee and foot he had trouble walking and any nudge on his left arm caused him serious pain.

We met up with the representative of the travel agency assigned to help us with our visa extensions, Dionne, and had our pictures and finger prints taken. First Dionne said we could have our passports returned to us in two days, but we needed to leave the country right away, so he said he could have our passports delivered to our hotel that evening at 5pm. We went online and booked flights for 9:40pm, but I was worried that our passports wouldn’t be returned to us in time. In Southeast Asia things are often delayed.

Finn rested while I packed our things and cleaned up the hotel room. We had to leave in about an hour and a half and we hadn’t received our passports. I was getting anxious and tried calling the travel agency and our contact from the immigration office, but they weren’t answering. I drank the contents of the extra water bottles that were lying around the room, but when I finished the last one it tasted a little off.

Weeks earlier, some hippies on Gili Air had given us a bit of water with acid in it, but we hadn’t tried any of it. I totally forgot about it until I accidentally drank it all in one gulp. I looked at Finn and said, “oh no!” in my most concerned voice, “I drank the acid!” He responded, “puke!” I induced vomiting in the toilet and emptied my stomach as best I could. I didn’t want to be high, I had to carry all our stuff and help Finn. There wasn’t anything else I could do but stay relaxed, try my best to follow directions and not attract attention to myself. Thankfully, our passports were delivered directly to our hotel room and Finn and I took a cab to the airport. Our trip would take over 30 hours and three planes before we would land in Vancouver.

I handled tripping on acid in the airport and on the plane pretty well. Everyone was looking at us because of Finn’s serious injuries. His knee was wrapped in a bandage that had soaked through, leaving huge red blood stains with yellow around the edges. Everything looked wacky to me, but Finn said I seemed relatively normal except that I found his jokes more funny than usual. The drab airport looked technicolour to me. The posters and signs looked like video screens blinking and shifting. The words “Gate B” were probably drawn with plain black or blue letters, but to me they looked like a metallic rainbow.

I managed to go into an office and get a wheelchair for Finn. The wheelchair came with it’s own attendant to push Finn to our gate. I filled out a form for the wheelchair, but I misspelled Fnn’s name, and struggled with Cananada as well.

Finn didn’t have adequate painkillers for the flights. I could tell he was in an extreme amount of pain, especially during take off and landing. He was traveling with an untreated broken bone and massive abrasions all over his body. He looked like a bloody mess and could barely walk. Thankfully there were wheelchairs for him in the airports.

When we got off our plane for our second layover in Manila, Philippines, Finn’s wheelchair attendant took him through a door and told me to follow everyone else and that I would end up in the same place as Finn eventually. I was concerned because Finn wasn’t able to do anything by himself. He couldn’t push his wheelchair because of his broken elbow, so he was quite helpless. I was brought to a waiting room and told to sit there for a while. I asked several times where I could find Finn and was told not to worry and just to wait. I sat in the waiting room for over an hour and asked again about Finn, so one of the staff brought me down the hall, into a big, empty room where and asked if it was my boyfriend sitting in his wheelchair alone, pathetically facing a wall. A staff had wheeled him there and left without saying a word.

It gave me a taste of what it must be like for people who live in wheelchairs. The staff would ask me things about Finn, even though Finn was right there. They didn’t treat him like a normal person even though his mind was fine, only his body was injured.

 The row of people in wheelchairs waiting to board the plane.

We made it Vancouver safely and Finn’s mom picked us up at the airport. Finn was taken straight to the hospital where he spent twelve hours waiting, having his abrasions treated, getting x-rays and making appointment for his surgery. It was good for him to be home for treatment and recovery.

 Finn before surgery.

It’s taken me a couple weeks to find time to write this post because I’ve been occupied with apartment hunting and the surprise of suddenly being back in Vancouver. Finn has already had his cast removed and is doing physiotherapy. He will regain full range of motion in his arm and shoulder within four weeks.

IMG_0016Finn’s arm right after the splint was taken off.


Gili Air: Psytrance and Island Living

The afterparty for The Pirates Retreat was a mini psytrance festival on a popular island for tourism, Gili Air. At 5pm on the last day of The Pirates Retreat three quarters of the pirates took a boat, some cramped vans, another boat together, and arrived at 930pm on the island. There are no roads on Gili Air, so donkeys and carriages waited to carry our luggage to our accommodation. Finn and I only had small bags so we carried them ourselves.

The retreat captain, Jay, booked bungalows for most of the pirates at Matahari, a small resort on the south side of the island. There was a day between the retreat ending and the psytrance party beginning, so most of the pirates relaxed for the day. Finn and I walked around the island and had ice cream. We didn’t do much except read and use the internet, which we hadn’t had access to during the retreat.

The perimeter of Gili Air, which can be walked in an hour, is dotted with restaurants, bungalows and dive shops. The inside of the island is filled with small farms, local homes and a mosque. The restaurants had the usual tourist menus of poorly executed western dishes and bland versions of local dishes. I liked one restaurant called Mowie’s because they made decent cappuccinos and healthy western style breakfasts, smoothies and salad. The island reminded me of Don Det in Laos, except much prettier because it’s on the ocean instead of a river.

Once the psytrance party started at sunset it kept going for three solid days. A colourful, psychedelic stage and dance floor were set up near the path on the ocean. Black lights and fluorescent colours decorated the area. Donkeys with carriages still used the path regularly and the ravers had to dance out of the way when they came through. Behind the main stage was a lovely ‘chill out’ area with a different DJ and dance floor, a trailer from which a local woman sold tasty Indonesian food in a paper cone and a tent with hippy clothes and jewellery for sale.

The party looked awesome, but the problem for Finn and I was that we don’t like psytrance music. At all. Its pounding bass is too quick for me, the only way to dance is to bounce on the knees. I prefer upbeat music that makes me want to throw my whole body into movement. Psytrance music all sounds similar to me. It’s like one long song being played for hours and days.

I like variety in music, ups and downs and moments to get excited. It’s too bad I don’t like the music because I like the people who go to psytrance parties, the psychedelic stage designs and the atmosphere. Especially during the day I want to be around more chill music, something that matches the beautiful sunshine. I danced and hula hooped with the music for a while though and it was fun, but I wasn’t passionate about it like some people who partied all night and were still at it the next morning. Even in the rain the party raged on. The pirates from the retreat set up fire spinning beside the party so I liked hanging over there, chatting with people and watching the show.

One afternoon Finn and I drank some mushroom shakes at our resort restaurant, rented snorkel gear and went looking for turtles in the water on the sunrise side of the island. We found lots of beautiful fish and coral and found a turtle. We started following the turtle and it led us through the underwater world. Turtles somehow look graceful and clumsy at the same time as they swim and scuttle on the rocks. We followed our turtle tour guide all around the shore and when we lost track of it we found a new one. The turtles looked huge underwater, but when they came up for air we could see that they were only about a foot and a half wide. I reached out and touched its shell and it felt hard, smooth and a bit slimy.

After having spent weeks at Sacred Circularities and then The Pirates Retreat it was nice to spend lots of time relaxing without worrying about missing activities. I liked running into friends from The Pirates Retreat around the island.


The Pirates Retreat: Fire Spinning in Indonesia

Finn and I have been hula hooping for most of the year and recently started learning poi. I’ve been learning to juggle and Finn has started spinning the obscure illusion prop buugeng. We decided to attend The Pirates Retreat to meet fun people and spend time learning about our toys on a remote tropical island.

We showed up at the pick up spot in Seminyac, a beach town in the south of Bali, at 630pm and Finn spotted a tall man with a huge bag that contained either fire staffs or golf clubs. He turned out to be a friendly fire spinner who led us around to where the ‘pirates’ were waiting for everyone to arrive before getting on the bus.

It was clear right away that this was (thankfully) a very different event from Sacred Circularities. For one, it was a mix of men and women rather than only women. Also, people were drinking. We were offered beer right away. Some of my friends from home may be surprised to know that I don’t really drink anymore. I’ve indulged on occasion when there were $1 cocktails or local people offered a glass of their wine in friendship, but I’m not really interested in drinking anymore, for now at least. It was costing me an obscene amount of money and I often ended up blacking out or doing things I regret. Without a hangover it’s easier to wake up for a morning run too.

Despite my lack of drinking, the alcohol created a fun atmosphere. The bus ride was a party. I loved the boisterousness and silliness. It was great laughing and get to know everyone. One of the most enthusiastic drinkers ended up having to pee and couldn’t hold it until our next stop in Ubud. It turns out ziplock bags have many uses.

We stopped in Ubud to pick up more pirates and eat a bit of food with everyone before continuing the journey to the island. The first boat we took was to Gili Lombok at 1030pm and since the ride would take four and a half hours I was quick to claim one of about 30 thin mattresses covering a section of the small ferry. Finn and I paid for 3,500 rupiah (about $3.50). I was happy, despite the heat and the mattress being too small for Finn and I, to sleep for a few hours.

It was still dark when we landed on Lombok. We watched the sun rise and drank bad instant coffee in a little restaurant on the shore until four blue boats arrived to take us and all our luggage (circus props sticking out of every bag) the final 45 minute leg of the 13 hour journey.
I was worn out by the time we arrived on Gili Nanggu, but I was thrilled to be on a beautiful, tiny island with lots of fun, excitable circus people. I went to sleep as soon as I was shown my bungalow.

The Pirates Retreat rented out all the bungalows on the island, so we were alone except for tourists who came on day trips. In addition to tourism, the island was also engaged in conservation. There were three or four windmills visible above the trees as our boats approached the island. Baby sea turtles were being raised in big tanks to bolster the local population and coral seeds were scattered off the coast and protected with cages until grown. I saw great results when I was snorkelling. Five metres from the beach the water was teeming with colourful fish and vibrant coral.
There were about forty pirates all together. Most were white, about two thirds were male, many were French, including the organizer (captain), Jay Firecat, plenty were Australian, some were from other parts of Europe, a few were from North America and a couple were from Japan. Most were over age 25 and under 40. All were talented fire spinners and performers, some were the best in the world at what they do.

The first workshop I attended was acroyoga, which involved a ‘base’ supporting the ‘flyer’ as they take different poses together. I had very little experience with acroyoga, but I had a knack for it and the acroyoga sessions were my favourite activities of the retreat. The poses involved strength, balance and coordination. It was rewarding to get into acrobatic positions I thought were beyond my capacity. Because I’m small it made sense for me to be a flyer. I faced my fear of jumping up so that my shoulders balanced atop my base’s raised feet as they laid with their back on the ground. It took core strength to move into different positions and work with the base as they turned me around from below.

Despite my small frame, I have strong legs, which meant basing was easier for me than flying. I laid on my back and supported the weight of my flyer on my feet as I turned them into different positions. The only trouble was when my flyer was taller than me, which made some poses awkward.

During one of the morning acro classes I had a moment that would be a cliché in the embarrassing stories section of a teen magazine. I didn’t realize until after, but some period blood had leaked from my mini shorts and the inside of my thighs were smeared red. That might have been uncomfortable for my spotters helping to support my hips as I balanced upside down spread eagle.
Every night after the workshops there was a fire jam. A dj spun loud electronic music and everyone took turns fire spinning. Once the first prop is lit the fire is passed from prop to prop all night. On the first night I spun fire hoop, which is different from a regular hula hoop because the wicks stick out around the hoop. What you can do is limited compared to a day hoop, so I found it challenging and awkward. I was still getting over the fear of grabbing the hoop in the wrong place and hitting the flame with my hand. Feeling the heat of five flames around me was intimidating especially since they swung so close to my body.

The next night I spun fire poi for the first time and I loved it. It was less scary than the fire hoop, even though I had far less experience with poi. The flames don’t have to come as close to my face and I could do the same moves that I practiced during the day. I got up and played with the poi when a bunch of people were spinning so I wouldn’t be the focus. Because I’m a beginner I felt shy when everyone but me finished and no one replaced them, leaving me alone spinning in front of professionals. I knew it was an accepting an non-judgemental group and I was having fun so I wasn’t really afraid.
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(photo credit Reece Dunn)

It was a treat to see professional performers spin poi, fire hoop, fire staffs, rope dart, dragon staffs and other obscure fire props whose names I don’t know every night. Some of the spinners playfully chased each other around with the flames, clowning around. I was inspired and humbled by the ease and grace that some spinners danced and manipulated their props.

Everyone ate meals together, which were included in the retreat costs. For breakfast we had a few options to choose from, of which I always chose a banana pancake, which came with a few pieces of fruit and a coffee (or tea). Lunch and dinner buffets included stir fried veggies, some meat and tempé (an Indonesian soy product that I love). It was adequate, but repetitive, oily, bland and not frequent enough for me. I was always overly hungry by meal time.

There were workshops in buugeng, staff, double staff, dragon staff, poi, hula hoop, yoga and acroyoga. I did every yoga and acroyoga class. The last yoga class was held partially on the beach and partially on a floating barge that we swam to for the resting poses as the sun set. It was so relaxing that I fell asleep at the end and woke when someone jumped off the barge and gently splashed me. I did most of the hula hoop workshops and learned tricks, tosses and balancing hula hoops. I attempted some of the poi workshops, but they were tough for me to follow as a beginner.
I also learned from practicing on my own and getting help from people casually. There were no official juggling workshops, but juggling clubs were left around so I played with them and got tips as people watched me struggle. My new goal is to juggle fire clubs.

By the end of the retreat I had made lots of friends. Everyone was friendly, down-to-earth and a pleasure to be around. I would offer any of the pirates a place to stay in Vancouver if they pass through.
(photo credit Brian Neller)

Losing my Surfing Virginity in Seminyak

IMG_0756Seminyak is a busy beach town with lots of hotels, restaurants and surf shops. It reminded me of Sihanoukville, the seedy beach town in Cambodia. It was slightly dirty and lots of people were aggressively selling things. The prices were high, but I negotiated some deep discounts at the local shops. We found a hotel with a pool called Seminyak Point not too far from the beach. This was where Finn and I would try surfing for the first time.

When we talked about trying surfing, people warned that it’s difficult and frustrating. I was prepared to hate it at first. I remember struggling to learn to snowboard. My teenage self fell in the snow and cried in my boots while my dad patiently waited for me to pull myself together and keep going. After putting the hours in I learned to love snowboarding, so I hoped surfing would be the same.

Finn and I walked around the beach and checked out some different options for surfing lessons. Many glossy companies offered lessons, but we had a good feeling about a group of young local guys relaxing under umbrellas with a handmade sign. They joked with us and seemed good natured. We negotiated a cheap price for two guys to help us for an hour.

First we were shown on land how to lay on the board. Not too far forward or too far back. He demonstrated how to jump up to catch a wave; counterintuitively, back leg up first, and then the front leg. We practiced jumping on the board on land. Our feet had to be parallel to each other, perpendicular to the board with our knees bent. Then we were ready to try it on the sea.

We waded out to deeper water with the boards and the guys showed us how to keep our boards from being tossed out of our hands when the waves came. I was a bit jealous that the more funny and charismatic guy was helping Finn and his boring brother was helping me. We got to the right position and laid on the board, facing towards the shore and waited for a wave. I focused on what I had just learned on land, how I would jump up and place my feet. After a moment the guys chose a wave and pushed us into it. I felt the rush of adrenaline as I was propelled forward and heard my teacher yell, ‘Now!’ I placed my back foot on the board and then my front foot. I was almost up, but unsteady because my feet were angled slightly towards the front of my board. I wobbled and fell into the water.

We tried again and again and I managed to get to balance on the board sometimes, other times I fell right away. Some of the waves were pretty strong and hit me in the face while I was trying to get into the right position. We were all pushed over by the salty, foamy walls of water. The afternoon sun was beating down from the sky and reflecting up from the water. A few times I rode all the way to the shore. Those times when I didn’t fall were extremely satisfying. When I focused on getting my feet in the right position and keeping my knees bent I could catch the wave. If I lost concentration I toppled into the water. This sport was challenging, but satisfying. I had made progress already and had an idea of how it works.

By the time the lesson was over I was ready to stop. Finn and I were waterlogged and exhausted. Surfing was as hard as it seemed, but I enjoyed it. I had fun and didn’t feel too frustrated. We ordered a couple coconuts and relaxed under the umbrella with our surf teachers and their friends for a while to recuperate.

The next day we drove to nearby Canggu Beach with a hula hooper friend. There were lots of surfers there, so after relaxing on the sand for a little while I rented a board to try surfing on my own. I spent a long time paddling out, trying to get into the right position and figuring out which waves to take. While trying to position myself sometimes a big wave came and I tried, with varying success, to brace myself against it to keep from being pushed over and churned like a dirty sock in a washing machine. I paddled to where most surfers were and observed which waves they were taking. I wasn’t sure of the etiquette and didn’t want to step on anyone’s wave.

It was much more difficult on my own, without someone getting me into position, telling me which wave to take and pushing me into it. I tried to learn from the other surfers to see how long they paddle into the wave before popping up. After a half an hour I had made a few pathetic attempts at standing up, but fell instantly. I was too focused on choosing the wave and getting into position to remember my footing. I almost gave up after 40 minutes because I was tired, but I was just starting to get a feel for the waves, so I gave it a few more tries.

I paddled into position, watched the waves and concentrated on my task. I planned to paddle hard, really hard, and then quickly and precisely place my feet perfectly perpendicular to the board. I would keep my knees bent and balance my body on this wild ocean carefully and gracefully. A wave came and I was ready. I almost jumped up, but the wave turned out to be too small, so I didn’t take it. Another wave came and it looked nice. It was big enough, nice and frothy. I started paddling as fast as I could. The wave was quickly upon me and I felt it push my board forward. I was placed my front foot and then my back foot. I was balancing! For a second, maybe three, and then I fell and twisted in the ocean current, happy to have lasted that long. I was surfing!

Hula Hooping in Ubud, Indonesia

Sacred Circularities is a hula hoop retreat that happens every year in Indonesia. Finn heard about it from someone at Burning Man last summer and since we were going to be in Indonesia anyway it sounded like a fun thing to do. It’s really expensive to attend, so we filled out a long application form and got accepted as volunteers during the 2nd and 3rd weeks of the retreat.

The retreat was held in Ubud, a town in the middle of Bali that westerners flock to for yoga retreats, fancy hippy gear and spiritual living. Indonesian architecture is different from the other places we have visited in Southeast Asia. I liked the use of decorative parasols. The vegetation was taking over every brick, vines crawled through cracks in the walls and trees spilled over the streets. The air was heavy with tropical humidity. We rented a motorbike for the two weeks of the retreat in town and drove it to Ananda Cottages, the retreat venue.IMG_0663

My volunteer job was to write three blog posts per week for the Sacred Circularities website, for which I was given free accommodation and access to all the retreat programming. The general volunteers could only access two workshops per week, plus the yoga and ‘inner alchemy’ sessions. My guess is that they wanted the bloggers to have the full retreat experience so we can write about it and also to keep us happy so we write nice things, but it seemed unfair that the general volunteers were given access to so little.

The resort was on a completely other level from the places Finn and I had been staying on this trip. Our room had a huge four poster bed, air conditioning and a patio with a table and chairs. Right outside our doors was a view of palm trees, rice paddies and a swimming pool. All the buildings at the resort were made of brick and thick wood beams, with detailed decorative carvings.IMG_0628
At the first volunteer meeting in the afternoon before the retreat started we helped prepare the welcome gifts for participants and the volunteer coordinator went over our responsibilities and privileges for the retreat. General volunteers like Finn were only entitled to attend two of the nine workshops each week and at the meeting we learned that food was also not included. We were also told to buy a phone so that we could be contacted, which seemed like an annoying expense to require of volunteers. I told the volunteer coordinator that I was disappointed to learn food wasn’t included and now we were being asked to buy a phone and Finn is only allowed to participate in two workshops per week. It got tense. She said Sacred Circularities is a luxury retreat and we couldn’t expect to access it as general volunteers.

After the volunteer meeting was the opening ceremony. The participants were all female and of diverse ages, from 20 – 65. They were mostly white except for some black and east Asian participants. The majority were from North America, a disproportional number from Alberta, lots from Australia, several from the UK and a smattering of people from other countries such as South Africa and Japan.

I guess I should have been ready for the hokey, new age-y spirituality of a retreat called Sacred Circularities, but it was more than I had prepared myself for. Words such as Intention, Magical, Sacred, Manifest, Spirit, Eternal, and so on, were overused. I was at the retreat to meet fun people, play with toys and get better at hooping, but other people attended because they believe the hula hoop is a ‘sacred’ circle. About ten to fifteen people took advantage of the invitation to place a personal item on the ‘alter’, which was a table at the back of the room. Some special rocks were passed around the circle for each of us to hold as music was played, group singing took place and a local priest blessed each person. Then we danced in a circle and twirled into the middle one by one to say our name and our intention for the week before being showered with flower petals and given a candle to place on the alter.

I went jogging most mornings before the daily schedule at Sacred Circularities started off with yoga or a “spiritual version of Zumba” called African Dance. It felt great to have already gone for a run and yoga class before eating breakfast. A breakfast buffet was included in the price of our room, so it was a daily struggle not to overeat first thing in the morning. I binged out on fresh fruit, yoghurt and granola with peanut butter and honey. I drank a fruit smoothie and coffee too. The problem was that I went back for a second helping of granola. The bigger problem was when I went for a third. When I topped it off with pancakes my mouth was in heaven, but later I felt like a bean bag. I felt like I should be rolled to the first workshop like the greedy blueberry girl in Willy Wonka. I loved the breakfasts so much.Breakfast buffet

There were hula hoop workshops and ‘inner alchemy’ (meditation and spirituality) sessions throughout the day and a hoop jam in the evening where everyone played and danced with their hoops. During free time I sampled delicious restaurants around Ubud, got a few massages and drove past the monkey forest. I didn’t end up actually entering the monkey forest, but there were monkeys all over the parking lot so it was fun to look at the animals from the road.

At the end of every class the teachers did a recap demonstration of the moves they taught so that participants could film it to remember later, but volunteers were told we are not allowed to film the recaps. The founder, Jaguar Mary, said it was because the recaps were a ‘special gift for participants’. That sounded didn’t seem to fit the concept of ‘eternal abundance’ that was brought up throughout the retreat. It’s supposed to mean that there will always be enough for everyone, which is obviously not true. There wasn’t enough space in the workshops for volunteers to participate, for one.

One of Finn’s jobs was to assist in some of the hoop workshops, which sounded like a great job because he would be able to attend more workshops, but then he was tapped on the shoulder and told he wasn’t allowed to participate if he was volunteering. He had to wait behind the teacher just in case the mic volume needed to be turned up of down, but wasn’t allowed to pick up a hoop.

In the middle of the first week there was a holiday called Nyepi. It was explained to us that it is a day of reflection, on which no one is allowed to go into the streets. Religious people fast for the holiday and stay in their homes with the lights off. The resort management wrote on a big chalk board that we were not to leave the property. At breakfast everyone ate together and everything was usual, even the resort staff were talking and laughing without restraint, but after that most of the Sacred Circularities participants I saw throughout the day were silent. A bunch of people hung out by the pool all day without talking. It was boring and too bad that we missed the opportunity to get to know each other better. I was glad Finn was there so we could talk to each other in our room at least. I already did a 10 day silent meditation retreat last year, that was enough for me.

The next morning one of the Sacred Circularities participants complained that disrespectful people were so loud during breakfast on Nyepi. Being spiritual just for the sake of it annoys me, but being holier than thou about it really gets on my nerves. I asked her if she was Hindu and she said she wasn’t, but she thought we should at least talk quietly on this holiday that we all just learned about, even though we were only among foreigners. I told her I didn’t maintain silence because I’m not a practitioner of the local religion. There are lots of holidays I don’t celebrate. We all spent the holiday on an isolated resort so our voices weren’t disturbing local people. I should have pointed out that we weren’t fasting or leaving the lights off either, which are also part of Nyepi.

The equinox, solar eclipse, and new moon were big news around the retreat. The moon cycles and how they affect our bodies and minds was a hot topic. I overheard participants talking about their concern that they were absorbing the dreams of the people who had stayed in their room before them. They would need to clear out the old dreams with a sage smudging session as soon as possible.

I was responsible for writing three blog articles per week and provide a photo to attach, which sounded easy, but I felt at a loss for what to write. I felt alienated by the particular brand of hippiness and didn’t know how to write about it. For my first two articles I took some things that other people said and wrote about them. I wrote about the special, supportive community of Sacred Circularities and the healing power of a movement practice like hooping. I had heard people saying these things, so I thought they would go over well. I was happier with my third blog article, which was an interview with one of the teachers, but when I let her read it over before posting it she wanted me to take out most of the more interesting stuff. I didn’t want her to be unhappy about the way she was portrayed, so I allowed the changes, but I’ve learned my lesson not to give future interview subjects control over their interviews.

I met some great people at the retreat, despite the annoying ones. All the hoop teachers were very down to earth and fun to be around, and I really enjoyed some of the participants and volunteers. I was happy to make friends with people from around the world because now I have a reason to go visit places.

In the second week I was in the swing of blogging and was much happier with my articles. I wrote about the hoop balance class for my first post, which turned out nicely. For my second post I wrote about how the hula hoop community is mostly female and how it feels to be in a female space. I don’t particularly like being in a female-dominated space, I much prefer gender balance, but I didn’t want the article to be negative so I wrote that I like gender balance as well as positive things about a female only space. I also interviewed female and male participants for the article.

The other blogger for the second week, Fenixx, and I were responsible for proofreading each other’s work, but it turned out that Fenixx didn’t like my writing. She said my first article was too focused because it was only about one workshop. She said my second article was too general, that it wasn’t the right format and that she wanted to talk to the founder of Sacred Circularities, Jaguar Mary, about it. I told her I would send it to JM myself, and when I did I got an email response from Fenixx saying that Jaguar Mary wanted me to rewrite my article and make it more inclusive. I was sitting at breakfast when I got the email and Jaguar Mary was in the room, so I went over and asked her what was up.

Jaguar Mary told me gently that my blog article may alienate men and make them think they aren’t welcome at Sacred Circularities. She carefully communicated that she wanted me to rewrite the article and make it less man-hate-y (it wasn’t). It’s her event that she’s trying to promote, so I agreed to make some changes.

There was a ‘tribal market and performance showcase,’ every week, but the week before it couldn’t happen because of the holiday, Nyepi. Vendors came to Ananda cottages to sell expensive, beautiful hippy clothing and jewellery in the afternoon and then Sacred Circularities participants, teachers and volunteers performed for everyone. The performances were fantastic. I had no idea that some of the participants were such great performers and the teachers blew everyone away. The show was a big highlight of my time at Sacred Circularities.

Sacred Circularities had enjoyable moments, despite my complaints. I liked to swim in the pool and just be near it. I spent a lot of time practicing hooping, juggling and spinning poi, in and out of the workshops. I worked on doing a handstand and slowly improved. Lots of people gave me tips. I liked the nightly hoop jams where everyone played and practiced together with loud music. It wasn’t until the last two nights that I realized how much my hooping had improved. I was able to do a bunch of moves that I couldn’t before and I felt comfortable flowing with the music.

My favourite moment was the second to last day of the retreat during free time when an impromptu pool party started in the afternoon. The weather was perfect, someone put on music and we had fun together. Helly, one of the participants, made a compilation video of a bunch of us hooping that day. You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6sDKhOjX1k

I was working on this blog post on the last day of the retreat and had been writing down all the things that annoyed me before going to the closing ceremony. I didn’t want to do anymore silly ‘get into your body’ dances, I was sick of metaphorical workshops with little substance and wanted to be out from under the authority of the volunteer program.

In the closing circle I realized that I was the grinch in the group. Sacred Circularities wasn’t for me, but it was exactly what most people wanted. I was the negative one who dislikes silly exercises and hippy spirituality and that was my problem. The mic was passed to each person to share something with the group and most described a feeling of connectedness and love. They described spiritual awakenings and life changing experiences from the week as they broke down into tears of joy. It was such a dichotomy from what I felt. I’m glad that lots of people love Sacred Circularities, but by the end of two weeks I could hardly wait to get away from it.

Pai New Favourite Place in SE Asia

Finn and I boarded a minibus from Chiang Mai in the morning. The driver handed each passenger a bag as we got in and I wondered why, but it was a short lived mystery. The 762 curves along mountain roads made me more ill than any other ride on this trip. At least the scenery was nice, and after a few hours of testing my intestinal fortitude we arrived in the centre of Pai, nothern Thailand.

We had a reservation at Pai Circus School Resort, so we walked along the main road and out of the town centre to find it. Along the way I was excited to see restaurants were selling avocado, brown rice and creative smoothies. We stopped to get some delicious ice cream in waffle cones and after following signs and walking along a path for about 10 minutes found the circus school across the river on a hill.

The view from the circus school was spectacular. Beyond the infinity pool you could see the hilly landscape far into the distance. There was a pool table and a gazebo with hammocks and a wide open space for playing with hula hoops, poi, or whatever toy you prefer. Young people were lounging everywhere, soaking up the sun. Our $15 triangular hut was tiny and contained only the minimum furnishings: a mattress on the ground, a lamp and a mosquito net. The blankets were flimsy and thin so we were freezing at night. There were big holes in the floor, which made be worry I would clumsily fall through one or accidentally drop my valuables out. We wanted to stay there anyway because the circus school and pool were fantastic.

Most of the people who stayed at the circus school weren’t interested in circus, but stayed at the school because of the beautiful view and chilled out atmosphere. Most days there was a beginner poi lesson from 3pm – 6pm for $20, but I didn’t take one because I’m not particularly interested in poi. The best thing about the circus school was making friends over the course of the week. A small group of us who were passionate about hula hooping, poi, other hippy props and circus found each other and become good friends quickly. Three new Americans friends told me about a flow toy festival called Pacific Fire that happens in Oregon in September. I definitely want to go to that. It was great to be around passionate people because it reawakened my and Finn’s interest in hula hooping. I also learned to juggle a bit and Finn learned some contact staff.

Every morning in Pai I went for a run and then to breakfast with Finn and our new circus friends. A place called The Good Life served delicious, healthy, natural foods, so we ate there every morning until we found a place that was even better called Om Café. All the food was healthy, affordable and unbelievably delicious. They had lots of vegetarian options like quesadillas, hummus, poached eggs, avocado and grain salad. They had a smoothie that was nothing but blended avocado and coconut milk for $2. It was hard to choose between getting a cappuccino or a smoothie, so sometimes I got both. It felt indulgent, but necessary, to top the meal off with fresh carrot cake with perfect cream cheese icing.

In the evenings we usually walked into town and strolled through the night market. The stores stayed open after dark and stands selling food, jewellery or clothing popped up. A stand called Juice Queen had fantastic healthy smoothies with generous helpings of fresh fruits and vegetables, real cocoa, avocado, homemade peanut butter and no added sugar. I was floored by the healthy deliciousness. All of it was amazingly cheap too. A high protein vegetable smoothie cost $2 and a strawberry banana smoothie cost $1.

After a few days we forgot to extend our room reservation at the circus school so it was sold to someone else. Initially we were disappointed to move out, but then we found a place called Family Huts that was nearby, which was half the price of circus school and the bungalows were a lot nicer, so it turned out that our eviction from the circus school was actually a good thing. We still spent a lot of time hanging out at the circus school and they were happy to have us because we contributed to the circus atmosphere.

Pai is surrounded by lovely wilderness, but aside from my morning runs I only went out to visit it once. Finn, our new friend Melissa and I rented motorbikes for a few dollars for the day and went to relax by a waterfall. The water was cold but refreshing when I jumped in for a short swim. We met a few people at the waterfall and chatted a while before moving on to another tourist attraction called the Land Split, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a tourist attraction created around a split in the ground that I would barely have noted if I walked by it on a nature hike. I was glad we went anyway because at the entrance is a little stand with snacks and drinks by donation. We sat down on hammocks and juice, wine, peanuts, chips and fruit, all made on the property, were brought over to us. We relaxed and then dropped a few dollars in the donation bin on our way out.

After that we rode the windy road up to a huge canyon. I walked and climbed along the dusty, narrow path that would never be open to people walking in Canada. It was extremely high and looked dangerous, but it provided a beautiful view and fun negotiating the way along the uneven terrain. I ventured out on my own and met some lovely Americans who invited me to hang out with them along the path. It was the perfect way to end the day.

Another afternoon Finn and I went to a fermentation and kombucha making workshop that was advertised all over town by the Good Life restaurant, which is also the primary kombucha producer and distributer in Pai. The workshop was a short walk out of town on a small farm. We were offered bottles of kombucha to drink as soon as we got there and were told to help ourselves to more whenever we wanted. I wasn’t the biggest fan of kombucha but I wanted to give it a chance because it supposedly has wonderful health benefits. Also, I can’t resist things that are free. I drank a bottle and didn’t mind it. Throughout the workshop I drank more and more of it, largely because it was something to entertain myself with.
A man named Lance, a large aging hippy from northern Saskatchewan, ran the first part of the workshop about fermentation. “The only things that don’t ferment are our spirits, our souls,” he said. He went on about the magic of fermentation for over half an hour before getting into the process of it. He talked about people’s misguided fear of bacteria, “If you step into the flow of nature at the appropriate point, you have nothing to fear. Fermentation is observing that part of nature.” Lance told us that processed food is ‘dead’ because all the bacteria is killed, so it doesn’t give our digestive systems necessary bacteria, which is why we should eat fermented foods, yoghurts and foods with active bacteria.
Lance pickles and ferments anything and everything. He showed us the freezer bags of random vegetables that he threw together to ferment the night before. He had also packed a bag of kimchi vegetables and fermented it for a day for our class to work with. We wrapped the freshly fermented, spiced kimchi in bok choi and into freezer bags to ferment further and kept some fresh for our class to eat at the end of the day.

Konstantin, who goes by Kay or Mr K, a small, good-natured Ukrainian man with a goatee, ran the second part of the workshop. Before getting into kombucha, he showed us that you can put certain little mushrooms in milk, soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk or any kind of milk-like product and turn it into yoghurt or kefir overnight. He told us about bacteria with a long winded metaphor about good people stopping bad people in human communities. I was amazed to learn that the process of making yoghurt is so simple. I found the prospect of making my own granola and yoghurt once I have a stable living situation again exciting.

Kay taught us about the history, health benefits and process of kombucha in long-winded, if passionate, explanations. I could hardly believe these men ran this workshop daily with this much enthusiasm. I was drinking bottle after bottle of kombucha the whole time and developing a taste for it.

Kay brought us into the cellar and showed us big jars of kombucha at various stages of fermentation and had us taste some. Along the wall were shelves of mysterious looking-jars with liquids of different dark colours. We were told that one jar contacted a pickled tiger penis. Kay passed around a bottle for us to smell, but Finn and I weren’t listening when he told us what it was. I thought it was for tasting, but I didn’t want any. Finn put a little in his glass and drank it, but it tasted terrible. He asked what it was and Kay said it was fermented beaver kidney. We weren’t supposed to drink it.

I was getting really hungry by 430, but the workshop was supposed to end at 5 with a communal meal. Kay wasn’t finished at 5 and kept up the tangential ramblings and silly jokes for what felt to my rumbling stomach like forever. I had enjoyed the workshop, but had completely lost my ability to concentrate. Kay slowly handed out starter mushrooms to participants who wanted to make kombucha at home or on the road and made them name each one. “I’ll call mine Clementine,” said one participant. When it was my turn to receive my mushroom I almost wanted to refuse to name the silly little thing, but I didn’t want to ruin the mood with my hunger-induced grumpiness, so I said it’s name was Comet. I don’t know why I would name it Comet, but it’s all that came to mind.

At 5:30 Kay asked if we had discussed everything and I couldn’t resist but answer, “yep!” which I hoped didn’t come off as rude. Still he talked for another fifteen minutes and then we were free to go to the table where a spread of kimchi, bagels, cream cheese and pickled vegetables, all produced on the property, was laid out for us. I impatiently waited for others to sit down at the table before I started hungrily shovelling lots of food in my mouth.

After the workshop, Finn and I went to the circus school where we could watch and participate in a fire show most nights. Finn had tried the fire hoop for the first time that week and was hooked on it. The circus school had already asked him to perform for one of their parties.

That night after the workshop I was trying to have fun, but my stomach started to turn and I was nauseated. That afternoon I had drank about five bottles of fermented tea and then ate a huge spread of pickled vegetables for dinner. It was far too much for my bacteria-unaccustomed stomach to handle, so it suddenly emptied itself onto the grass of the circus school before I could make it to the toilet. I read later that you’re supposed to introduce kombucha to your diet slowly, starting with half a bottle. It was unfortunate, because I had finally developed a taste for the healthy, hippy drink, but now just the thought of it makes my stomach turn.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia Finn and hadn’t met many people who we really connected with. The party scene in most tourist areas attracts a lot of superficial people, but in Pai there was a community of people who were into having fun, but not only getting wasted and shopping. Pai isn’t very exotic since it’s built for tourism and full of westerners, but it was great to be around open-minded people who enjoy the same things as us.

Chiang Mai Favourite Place in Southeast Asia So Far

The trip from Luang Probang, Laos to Chiang Mai, Thailand took a lot longer than it should have. When Finn and I crossed the border into Thailand our connecting bus had already left without us, so we had to spend the day in a tiny border town. I was pretty annoyed at first, but couldn’t complain too much because the travel company that sold us the bus tickets took us to a little resort to spend the day by the pool to wait for the next bus in the evening. We ate lunch in town at a little vegetarian restaurant that had fantastic Thai curry.

We arrived in Chiang Mai at 11pm and since it was high season for tourism in Thailand most of the hotels were completely full. We walked all around the centre of town and eventually found a little guesthouse called Baan Na Na in the old city which had a single dorm bed available. Thankfully they let Finn and I share it for $8 and I fell asleep right away. It had been days since I’d slept in a bed and I was still recovering from being sick, so that tiny dorm bed felt like the most comfortable place in the world.

The best thing about Chiang Mai was the food. I had been craving healthy food for months so it was fantastic to find delicious fresh food, brown rice, avocados, all kinds of tasty, nutritious meals. There were vegetarian restaurants everywhere. The food in Laos was really oily and bland so the Thai food tasted spectacular in comparison. Finn and I spent hours sampling different food. The night market was cheap and offered dozens of stalls selling fresh fruit, pad thai, curries and a variety of other food.

We decided to splurge on a Thai cooking class, which cost about $40 each. There were lots of cooking classes offered in Chiang Mai and they all look similar so it was hard to choose. I looked through the half a dozen brochures at our guesthouse and picked one called The Best Thai Cooking Class. I sent them an email to sign up and they and responded right away that they would pick us up for the class in the morning.

At 9am the next morning we clambered into a 15-seater van full of other tourists. The man running the cooking class, named Permpoon, was gregarious, middle aged and Thai. He spoke great English and was always smiling. The first stop was the fresh food market, where we each chose 6 dishes that we wanted to make from 20 options. I felt silly standing around in a big group of tourists while Thai people did their shopping. Cooking class helpers bought the ingredients for all the food we would make while Permpoon walked us around the market and taught us about the food. I learned that morning glory is called that because the flowers only bloom in the morning.

After the market visit we went to the a farm outside of town where the cooking class was held. We picked a few hot peppers and eggplants from the garden and walked through the picturesque grounds to the instruction area. The large building had high ceilings and no walls and twelve cooking stations with stoves, cutting areas, pots and woks for each of us were set up in a semi circle around Permpoon’s station. We helped ourselves to coffee, tea and water before getting started.

The other people in the class were from all over the world and most of them were under 30 years old. Everyone was in a great mood, which helped Permpoon’s jokes land exceptionally well, even when repeated. He asked someone to help him cook, but give him a massage first. Everyone laughed, even me. He asked someone to keep their eye on the time and let him know when the food is ready in 10 minutes. If the food burns it’s their fault! The crowd was in hysterics. The laughs were just as big or maybe even bigger the second time.

Permpoon led us through how to make curries, pad thai, coconut milk soup, tom yam soup and stir fried vegetables and we made papaya salad, mango sticky rice and spring rolls as a group.

At the end of the class we ate the food together and everything tasted amazing. We were given the ingredients measured out in advance and told precisely when and how to cook everything, so making the food didn’t give me a huge sense of accomplishment, but we were all given a certification for having completed the course.

Other than the cooking course, Finn and I spent lots of time walking around the city. There were cute little shops, great cafés and art spaces everywhere. We had foot and Thai massages for $6 per hour and they were fantastic. Chiang Mai was great because it’s a real city, not like the phoney tourist towns we had been visiting. There were lots of tourists, but the place wasn’t built only to service tourism like Vang Vieng and 4,000 Islands in Laos seemed to be. Many people told me before this trip that I would love Chiang Mai and they were right.