There are only two ways to visit the unspoiled Bali you’ve always imagined: in your dreams, and by motorbike. The surf in Uluwatu is golden and yoga in Ubud is enlightening, but I realized that to truly experience Bali, I had to get on a scooter and get lost.
Luckily it’s dead simple to rent two wheels in Bali. Everyone and his cousin will rent you an automatic scooter for around five dollars (50,000 IDR) per day, complete with a helmet and a quick lesson for newbies. My guy, Putu, speaks English with an Aussie accent and keeps a selection of lovingly maintained scooters and motorbikes parked in his home courtyard. He met me at the Puri Mango guesthouse in the resort town of Sanur with an acid green Honda Vario; it looked like I was straddling a mutant grasshopper. Foreign drivers technically need an international license, but with police corruption built into the system it’s well known that if you get pulled over, just flip the cop a fiver and you’re good to go. I once asked for change on 100,000 IDR and the officer smilingly obliged.
Bali’s traffic is organic. It transcends road rules and relies on body language and intuition over road signs and signals. But it doesn’t take long to learn the language and become part of the flow. I mimicked the locals on two wheels, weaving through the chaos of chicken trucks and ceremonial processions. I learned to cut out of traffic jams by hopping up on the sidewalk, and to honk my horn out of compassion, not aggression.
With a rain poncho stuffed under my seat, I navigated my way through the mayhem of the tourist beach towns, toward the volcanic heart of the island. Paved roads stretched up into green hills of endless rice terraces dotted with colourful temples. Suddenly I was in postcard perfect Bali. The smell of burning garbage was replaced by rain soaked earth and mouthwatering satay cooking on roadside grills. Cruising past green ribbons of young rice shoots, I understood why UNESCO chose to protect this living World Heritage Site from encroaching development.
After two hours, I arrived in Munduk for a weekend of sweeping views and black velvet night skies. I checked into a family run hillside guesthouse and relaxed with a fresh young coconut at their rooftop restaurant. On a clear day in Munduk, you can see the Bali Sea from 800 metres elevation, and when the clouds roll in your mind gets lost in mystic skyscapes. Refreshed, I set off on an easy hike down through a traditional food forest for an energizing swim under the Tanah Barak waterfall.
The owner of the guesthouse told me not to miss “the big tree,” so the next morning I got back on the bike and drove twenty minutes to one of Bali’s most sacred banyans in the tiny village of Gesing. Legend has it that during battles against the Dutch colonialists, local heroes hid inside the tree.
Climbing into the cool sanctuary created by the banyan’s massive roots, I left an offering to the gods, asking them to preserve this island paradise – and to guide my scooter safely down the mountain.
October in Toronto. The leaves are turning red and drying out, and so is my skin. This morning after my shower I opened a bottle of apricot oil and rubbed it between my palms to warm up before slathering it on. It smelled faintly smoky. Not necessarily how you want your body oil to smell, and I considered mixing it with a few drops of essential oil to mask the scent. But as I rubbed it on my neck and shoulders, the oil had a magical effect. It transported me instantly back to Ladakh, a timeless land of treacherous Himalayan passes and ancient Buddhist monasteries. It’s somewhere I don’t mind being reminded of as part of my daily cosmetic routine.
I spent most of June in Ladakh with my partner Scotty, wrapping up a five month journey through India: from South to North. We rented a Royal Enfield in the tourist centre of Leh and drove through snowstorms and sand drifts in this high altitude desert inhabited by Buddhists and border police.
We dared altitude sickness and frostbite to stop us as we maneuvered through whilteouts over Khardung-La, the world’s highest motorable road. In the Nubra Valley, on a steppe trampled by ancient Silk Route caravans, we listened to ladies sing in reedy little girl voices. They danced in slow, deliberate steps in felted boots with curled toes while we sipped on chang, moonshine made from sour fermented barley.
As we crept around gravelly corners, we waved to underage Bihari labourers who smiled back despite spending day after displaced day chipping Ladakh’s cliffs into smooth roads. In whitewashed villages and herders’ camps, we drove past Ladakhis watching the skies change while their sheep, goats and yaks grazed on the rough grasses.
We skipped pebbles from the shores of a landlocked saltwater lake – Pangong Tso, whose length stretches like a purple ribbon deep into Tibet. Giant Buddhas watched us from hilltop temples, and rainbow prayer flags sent their message out on the breeze: nothing is permanent.Neither was our trip. Our final stop in Ladakh was the village of Man, a farming settlement down a rocky road on the shores of Pangong Tso – about as far down the road as civilians can get in this borderland.
We stayed in a homestay with Tsering Namgyal, a modest and resourceful Ladakhi. He is a farmer who runs the village’s only “shop” out of a shed next to his cow’s pen. Tsering is also a Tibetan doctor, and his family temple has a floor-to-ceiling shelf stocked with jars of pellets, herbs, and tinctures scrawled with traditional names.With his son away working as a veterinarian in Leh, Tsering’s daughter-in-law Dolma spends her days caring for her in-laws, their teenage daughter, and her own two toddlers. Both kids were filthy and happy, playing with scissors, stray cats, and farm tools. Both had chapped, red cheeks and raw lips and nostrils, burnt by the cold Himalayan wind and the harsh UV rays. I played with them and the other village kids for hours, drawing pictures with my watercolour pencils and singing English alphabet songs. As the temperature dropped at night, we joined the family in the kitchen and sat huddled on cushions watching Hindi movies that seemed to be coming from another planet. The kitchen shelves were packed with patterned plastic thermoses and sets upon sets of decorative teacups – probably part of Dolma’s dowry – enough to serve the whole village! I couldn’t stop looking around the room and even tried to sketch the neat but cluttered scene.
The centre of the action was a small metal fireplace with an oversize kettle on top. After dinner, Dolma stoked the fire with dried dung and heated up water for the kids’ baths. We had a small bottle of apricot oil with us and gave it to Dolma to soothe her daughter’s skin. It had been working wonders for us over the last couple of weeks – protecting us from the freezing wind on the bike and replenishing our skin at night. After a couple of restful days in Man, we returned the Enfield and then flew to Delhi, centuries away. Before we left Leh I stocked up on apricot oil from a little fair trade shop, bringing small bottles as souvenirs for friends and a couple of bigger bottles to use on my dry skin in Canada.
Pure apricot kernel oil has essentail fatty acid compounds which make it a great moisturizer for body and face. It is high in vitamins E and A, and its soothing anti-inflammatory qualities make it a natural way help fight eczema and other skin irritations. My skin has been loving it!
The woman in the shop in Leh told me that an old man living in a small Ladakhi village makes the oil himself. I imagine him pounding the kernels in a kitchen similar to Tsering Namgyal’s. When I slather the apricot oil on my skin, I can smell the smoky dung fire heating up water for butter tea and imagine Dolma’s babies smiling at me with cheeks as red as the maple leaves falling outside my window.
Ladakh has gotten under my skin, and the memories of Tsering Namgyal’s cozy kitchen in the village of Man will keep me warm through the Canadian winter.
The streets of the holy city twist and loop an collide into each other like the golden coils of a jalebi sweet. Walking them is a dance, turning shoulders, hopping over piles of dung and garbage, jumping aside to let a motorbike rumble through or to give way to a man with a yoke of birdcages, a woman balancing a milk jug on her head, or a sadhu doing his mad Shiva jig. These are streets you roam at a pace dictated by cows. The only people who walk quickly are the corpse bearers, chanting their call-and-response as they carry the dead, shrouded in gold and orange, down to the burning ghat.
But the Varanasi streets are cool, so narrow that the rows of houses, shops and temples defend the ancient pavement stones from the white heat of the Indian sun. When the rare brave shaft shines its way into this maze, it assaults the senses, raising a stench from the gutters and beads of sweat from my skin. Momentarily blinded, my pupils adjust to scan the ornate balconies draped with a rainbow of drying sari silk above my head.
Back at street level, a glossy smear of sunset red paint coats a thigh high temple; inside it, oil lamps flicker and fresh wreaths of marigold, jasmine and roses caress a Shiva lingam. I dance my way past shops selling orange, red and gold offerings, past men who spend their lives cross legged in cubby holes folding paan leaves, past silk merchants, sweet shops, and children playing in front of their homes.
In this incarnation, we spend only three days here, too quickly gone up in smoke from a chillum with Shiva’s face glowing through the carved pink stone. Sun rises and sets on the river, as we row past ghats – each one with its own purpose and character – and dip our mortal limbs in its waters.
Drinking endless lassis to stay cool, and stopping to sample sweets and small meals from the street vendors, we saturate our days with Banaras’s multi-sensory elixir.
At a nighttime fire puja at Dashashwamedh Ghat, men swing blazing oil lamps in a synchronised spectacle of devotion. One night, we entertain the stoned local youths with impromptu ‘baba yoga’ session on the concrete platforms at Meer Ghat. In the afternoon heat, droop eyed cows and lean wild dogs wander among the ashes that smoulder and reveal shrivelled feet and greasy skulls at Manikarnika, the burning ghat. A lone young monk paces his rooftop at sunrise; another blows a conch at sunset to end his puja in the upper window of a Mughal palace-cum-luxury hotel.
And everywhere, people immerse their bodies, clothes and babies in the Ganges, raising and lowering brass jugs, fresh blossoms and flickering lamps to take their place in this 6000 year old dance.
Living vicariously through the Nepali porters we encountered on our Himalayan trek…a reminder to keep my kvetcing to a minimum. These guys are under 5ft tall and carry these loads on tump lines that compress their spines as they climb the mountains in flip flops for hours every day. Occasionally they stop to rest on a stone wall like this one, where we caught our breath on the way down from Panchase Peak.
This porter’s wire cage was full of pasta, oil, canned tuna and other supplies for a group of trekkers. His buddies carried tents, folding tables, and an unbelievably weighty assortmet of ‘essentials.’ We packed much lighter – Scotty with our big pack full of warm clothes and some snacks, and me with my day pack with our books (Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen – read it!!!!), jackets and other odds and ends. No porters, no guide; we carried our own weight and followed our own trail.
We’ve just come back from this truly epic two week trek in the Annapurna region of Nepal, and it’s time to update the blog. I’ll try to keep it light.
The gods’ ancient tumbling was
Monumental, come to rest now
Balanced on a sun-warmed shoulder
Running through this valley
Vein of quartz, rose and rust
Thread and mirrors, fire and bells
Goatherd at the aqueduct
Monkeys in the graveyard
Rama sent me to find you
Asleep by the river
Arise and we’ll walk on sunburned soles
To the shadow cool place
Where the five headed cobra appeared
And a thousand year old tree
Reaches its roots down from the sky
Arise and we’ll find the sage inside
Whose eternal stillness
Keeps drawing us into the cave
Where powder and oil and smoke
Tell the gods we have witnessed their works
Why should a high school English teacher care about land contours?
That’s exactly what I asked myself as I worked on my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) at Milkwood over the past two weeks. I filled pages with doodles as the teacher mapped out swales and sketched aquaponic systems at the front of the class. The truth is, I don’t care much about land contours at the moment.
What I care about as a teacher – and now a certified Permie – is what permaculture can do for education. In order think about those big ideas, I decided to dedicate some time to studying the technical details of permaculture design. Two weeks later, along with a notebook full of gorgeous doodles, I also have a head full of knowledge. The things I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks might not be directly relevant to my professional life but are fascinating nonetheless. And more – this new insight is shaping the way I look at the landscape around me and at the people who act within and upon it.
The PDC involved more frontal classroom teaching than I had expected. I signed up thinking there would be more time spent outdoors learning through doing. While we did have sessions walking around the property observing, for example, how the swales and dams collect water throughout the property, most of our time (8:30-4:30 daily) was spent in the Woolshed – our classroom/dining hall/social space. The lessons were engaging and sometimes interactive, and the final design projects challenged us to synthesize our understanding and apply it to workable model of permaculture design.
If you’re going to spend 8 hours a day listening to someone talk, you’d be hard pressed to find a better candidate than Nick Ritar. Dude knows a LOT. He peppers his lessons with entertaining and instructive anecdotes, drawing from his experience in permaculture design but also from his background in the arts and in the corporate world. Nick and his co-teacher Floyd Constable taught us about the principles of permaculture, the design process, and the various elements that make up this holistic system (energy, trees, water, soil etc.).
I got to spend two weeks as part of a diverse community of learners. I’m a newbie in more than one sense of the word – new to Australia, new to country living, new to ecological systems thinking – and I learned heaps from conversations over meals and campfires with my classmates. They come from places like Tasmania, Barcelona, and Canberra! They are market gadeners, cattle farmers, festival coordinators, and chook fanciers!
Studying, eating, camping and working together through morning chores, hailstorms, and late-night design sessions, we created a strong community. It’s amazing how close you get to 28 people when you’re sharing two composting toilets.
So while I might not care about land contours, I care about the power inherent in activated, intelligent people, creating communities and working together to bring about positive solutions to some of the planet’s most pressing issues. And this is where permaculture can be so hugely beneficial to our crippled education system.
It’s about making connections between fractured knowledge bases and segregated disciplines. Valuing long-term thinking and accepting failure and feedback on the road to growth. Recognizing and nurturing symbiotic relationships between parts of the big picture.
Nelson Lebo, a doctoral candidate at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, is eons ahead of me in his application of permaculture ideas to education. This is someone I’d like to talk to. He talks about teachers needing “more nuanced approaches…for them to want to embrace some of the ideas surrounding permaculture. Those ideas include ethical decision making, applied science, sustainable living, and systems thinking. One strategy is to use permaculture design as the process for engaging teachers and students, not as a desired outcome.”
This is exactly what I’ve been talking about all year. It’s more than growing veggies at school. For one, school gardens have been successful around Australia, but are a bit harder to do back home where the ground is frozen for most of the school year. Also, permaculture needs to be an overarching framework, not an add-on, in order for it to be adopted by teachers.
Learning permaculturally, not learning about permculture. Make sense?
After learning so much at the Milkwood PDC, it makes sense to me. The PDC is over but the grand permaculture design for my life is just beginning…
Oh yeah…and I rapped at the talent show on the last night:I’m a break it down like fungus on a stump While Billions of bacteria do the humpty hump Thermal mass like a dinosaur 10 tonnes, maybe more I’m a heavy hitter like a dark painted concrete floor And, no, I ain’t quitting my rhymes are hard hitting Dropping bombs in your wheelie bin It’s like real sh*ting
I’m a big city girl rockin’ lipstick heels and pearls climbing fake plastic trees in a styrofoam world Day after day I’m up up & away Drop a quarter in the meter Half an hour to play I’ve been racing ’round like Flo Jo People to see, places to go Restaurant opening art show, Who are you and who do you know?
Had bourgeois issues Grab a box of tissues Crying from the pain But you can’t explain what bit you Tried psychoanalysis Emotional paralysis I would sing along but I don’t know what this ballad is And it don’t make a sound Stress builds underground Take a fifty ton machine To excavate this mental mound
What I need are some solutions Left the urban the noise pollution I have an attraction to action Came to join the revolution Feel the sun on my face my pulse pumping the bass Spreading knowledge like organic mulch All over the place We got ideas brewing like compost tea Only one life to live before they compost me We’re in each other’s business like OPP It’s all good at Milkwood, rock the PDC
As a kid who spent summers canoe tripping around the Canadian wilderness, I used to look down on the Weekend Warriors. These urbanites would load up their cars with gear, don some stupid hat and a lifejacket that didn’t yet smell like mildew, and spend 72-hours max connecting with nature.
At the end of the weekend, sunburnt and satisfied, they’d blast the AC all the way down the 400 and settle back into their colourless urban existence. Sure, I lived in the city 10 months out of the year, but I got to feel superior to them because I was out there for all of July and August with the mosquitos and the bug juice and the starry night skies.
This month, I am a weekend warrior…in reverse. I’m spending my weeks working at Berridale, an organic farm in the Blue Mountains, a couple of hours west of Sydney. I pick berries and weed garden beds for 8 hours a day, “shower” in a swimming hole and sleep in a tent in the Megalong Valley. I subsist on a peanut butter-heavy diet and wear the same thing every day.
On Friday afternoons, I haul my backpack and my filthy aching body onto a commuter train, pass out for a couple of hours with Sigur Ros on my headphones, and arrive in Sydney to spend 72-hours max connecting with culture.
I’m a reverse weekend warrior. And it works. I feel more balanced this month than I ever have before. I used to say I wanted to work at something where I’d use my brain for six months of the year and my body for the other six months, and this is about as close as I’ve gotten to actualizing that lifestyle.
I get my fill of sunshine and eucalyptus scented mountain air during the week. There is lots of quiet reflective time, without cellphone reception or a computer. The kookaburras laugh as I weed endless rows of blackcurrants and kangaroos dart out in front of the car on the way home from work. Alpacas munch on the compost heap. The berries are delightful: tiny strawberries that taste like bubblegum, raspberries so ripe their kernels crumble when you pick them. It’s an antioxidant smorgasbord! There are a few other workers on the farm, and we alternate between friendly conversation and meditative silence as we work.
On the weekends, I stay on the pull-out couch at my friend’s luxurious apartment. I bust through the door and head straight for the shower before I can even talk to him. Swap my mud-caked blunnies for wedges, and I am transformed from a country girl into a city girl. Instead of being outed as a Weekend Warrior by pasty white skin with more glare than an aluminum canoe, my farmer’s tan outs me as an Urban Weekend Warrior.
I spend two or three days soaking up the city – eating in the Chinatown foodcourts, going to clubs and concerts, brunching with friends. I stay out late and sleep in. I swim laps in chlorinated water. I drink lots of coffee and fiddle with my iphone on the subway.
But on these urban camping trips, I notice I’m pounding the pavement with a slightly slower step and a more tranquil gaze. Even in downtown Sydney, the mountains have a hold on me. Sunday evenings, I head back to the Blue Mountains, with my one outfit freshly laundered and a restocked bag of muesli.
Like a Weekend Warrior throwing the tent in the garage until next year, I turn my cell phone off and stash it in my backpack, already nostalgic but ready to settle back in to daily life on the farm.
New Years Eve 2011 was forgettable. I spent the week leading up to December 31st going back and forth with 3 friends trying to decide what to do. A promising party cancelled due to a bedbug infestation. Not interested in paying $75 for a champagne flute and overdressed 905ers. The improbability of hitting one party on Roncy and another in Leslieville. The fear of starting the new year on a downtown street corner, shimmying to stay warm on numb feet without a cab in sight.
Once the nasty little critters infested Plan A, a million Plan B’s were tossed around. My gmail archives show a chain of 22 emails, including one that reads simply:
Yes, this is quite a quandary.
I knew which party I wanted to go to, but nobody else would decisively commit to it. I finally opted to stick with my indecisive little crew and ended up having a very mediocre night of texting, waiting, and wandering around Little Italy & Kensington trying to figure out where to go next. At the end of the night, feeling vaguely resentful and unfulfilled, I made a new years resolution. I resolved that I would stop waiting around for other people to do the things I want to do. 2011 was going to be the year of going places alone instead of not going at all.
I thought of this resolution last night, as I sat on the grass drinking a jug of Pimm’s watching the last rays of summer sunshine kiss the tops of the gum trees on the hills surrounding the Glenworth Valley. I looked around at the painted faces of my new Peats Ridge mates, and realized that for once in my life, I’ve truly fulfilled my New Years resolution. Whether it was deciding to check out a TIFF movie, drive up to the cottage for a day, or move half way across the globe for “no good reason,” my inner voice has not been drowned out by a cacophony of social pressures. All year, I have tried to ignore the drive to seek external validation of my desires.
And look where it got me!
New Years 2012 is one that I will not forget (except for the parts that I can’t remember). I rang in this apocalyptic year surrounded by strangers but feeling at home in the world. Instead of waiting around for someone to suggest a Sydney New Years plan, I was proactive and signed up to volunteer at Peats Ridge Sustainable Arts & Music Festival. I found a rideshare through a Facebook group, and headed up before sunrise on December 27th, two days before the festival began. I joined a dedicated team of vollies (they shorten everything here…getting used to it) decorating a tent with sparkly hearts and disco balls, mustering cars through dust choked paddocks, building bamboo structures, and swapping stories over meals in the crew tent.
I was dismally prepared, with a broken tent pole, a dead flashlight, and no BYO, but everyone I met was happy to lend a hand or share a bottle. By the time the festival began, I was walking around with my feet caked in mud, feeling like I owned the joint. Everywhere I went, one rag tag crew or another beckoned me to join their mob.
We spent our days soaking up heavy doses of sunshine and new music, swimming in the mucky river, doing laughter yoga and dance workshops. At night we danced our faces off, absorbed the psychedelic carnivalesque atmosphere on the festival grounds, and sat around in the wee hours sharing a hookah with crew of body painters. I went to Peat’s Ridge alone, but as soon as I unzipped my tent each morning, I was surrounded by friends.
Last night, Gotye counted down to midnight on the Bellbird stage and the crowd went nuts. I hugged my new Aussie friends in their feather boas and glittering facepaint, feeling sure of myself and proud of my decisions.
Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and fulfilling new year. I’m still in the market for a shiny new 2012 resolution…hit me with some ideas!
This month in Sydney, the streets have taken to the island for the Outpost Project. Graffiti artists from around the world have pasted, stencilled, painted, and otherwise transformed the abandoned tunnels, warehouses and factories on Cockatoo Island into a street art paradise. This World Heritage site in the middle of the harbour used to be a prison (obviously) and a shipyard until it was decommissioned in 1992. I am a colour addict, and this afternoon at Outpost gave me a fix that will last for days.
Looking at good street art is never passive. It changes the environment and sets a tone that challenges passersby to walk by and ignore it, then grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you until you take a second look. It warps our iconography (like in these Hello Kitty and Little Red Riding Hood paste-ups) and creates new icons – like the ubiquitous Shepard Fairey Obama image.
Several rooms invited participation, like the sunny little zine reading room, located in the former pay office. A suitcase with pens, scissors, twine, and note cards sat in the corner, and burlap pillows lined the periphery of the room. There was a web of twine crisscrossing the ceiling and zinesters could add their two cents and suspend it from the web. I wandered through the sun-dappled mobile of words, looking at the zines, quotes, notes, and objects that people had contributed. Then I sat down and got to work, having a casual conversation with another wanderer who popped in. Here’s my contribution:
And some of the others – from the profane to the inspirational:
I always get shutter happy around graffiti (scarcely 3 days in Berlin this summer resulted in a few hundred photos of walls). There was too much to capture – and definitely too much to throw up on this blog. A dark tunnel lined with canvases and a sound installation, Junky Project pop can creatures hiding in plain sight, warehouse walls painted with a gigantic flying Vexta bird-girl or a ROA rat-race, a cityscape made of cardboard boxes, Anthony Lister’s giant grinning balloon heads looking down from rooftops…one visit really was not enough and I hope I make it back before Outpost closes on Dec. 11.
Outpost is ambitious and varied, encompassing everything from framed Banksys…
…to freshly defaced signage:
In the ” Pastemodern” paste up rooms, I played with colour isolation to pick out different elements. I like this series in red, blue and green:
Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings.
Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty & frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.