Cambodian Village Life

After a month of Rugby World Cup shenanigans and family time in England, my travels took an unexpected turn and I jumped on a plane bound for Siem Reap, Cambodia. Definitely did not foresee such action, but it turns out it was an excellent decision. 

Whilst in Spain, I was also applying for various yoga jobs in Europe, just throwing my CV out there and hoping the universe would provide. Old universe came through, but as usual, it was in a highly unexpected way. 

So now I’m in Cambodia, working in the traditional Khmer village of Bakong, near the temples of Angkor Wat, surround by rice paddies, an overwhelmingly stinky marketplace, curious-looking cows, tiny children dressed proudly in school uniforms riding bicycles far too large, dusty brown roads and dense green jungle. The villagers throw wild, loud parties that begin at 4am and finish at 3am. They celebrate life, death, weddings, anniversaries, getting a new cow, their neighbour getting a new cow, the anniversary of 100 days since their neighbour got a new cow…. Anything is a reason to party, and I respect that. I also respect and relish my one hour of silence between 3am and 4am, when the wailing and chanting ends and the frogs begin.

   
   
I’m teaching yoga at Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Retreat, quite possibly the best yoga retreat in Cambodia, but maybe I’m biased… I live in a little thatched hut, with a mosquito net that I keep throughly tucked into my mattress, and a broom to sweep out the fresh gecko poop. My pet gecko is called Fred, and sometimes I burst into my room to find him squatting hurriedly in the corner, an alarmed look in his beady eyes as he is caught doing his thrice daily ablutions! One of Hariharalaya’s pure intentions is to get people back in touch with nature, and there’s no doubt it has done that for me…  A frog squad lingers outside my hut at dawn and dusk, exchanging tales from pond life, leaping over each other and avoiding my huge human tread. Once, on a sleepy midnight trip to the bathroom, I stepped firmly on something very soft and squishy, which turned out to be a tiny frog, fresh from tadpole life, and I felt so sad and mournful. 

  
There are also giant worms, and I mean so so large. As long as my leg (which in fact is not very long but long if you’re a worm). The first few weeks I was here, there were still remnants of the rainy season, and after the rain the giant worms would come out to play. At first I thought they were snakes. And then the first time I saw a snake, I thought it was a giant worm, so I peered at it curiously, considered prodding it, until one of the Cambodian girls came sprinting out of the house, broomstick in hand, and started bashing at it furiously with all her might. She turned to me, eyes bright, and cried “ees small, but ees baaaaaad!”.  Poisonous worm, otherwise known as snake. I should not be left alone in the jungle.

  
My first week was a challenge. Up at 5.30am every morning, sometimes earlier, learning the ropes, planning classes for groups of 20-30 people of mixed yoga experience, from all different backgrounds and languages, and trying to balance doing a good job with socialising with guests. Plus I was dealing with the culture shock, the temperature and humidity, jet lag, a cold turkey vegan diet (pun intended) and caffeine withdrawals. 5.30am is rough WITH a nice cup of English breakfast tea or strong coffee, but without… I truly felt like a zombie going through the motions. Jasmine tea and meditation is what I have to work with. Days off though…

  
My first two weeks of morning and night meditation was a STRUGGLE. I’ve tried to meditate regularly over the past couple of years, but never really got into the rhythm. Here I have no choice, which as it turns out, is exactly what I needed. I could not sit comfortably for half an hour without fidgeting, worrying about bugs in my hair, scratching mosquito bites, adjusting my shawl, rearranging my sitting position from cross legged to kneeling to cross legged to kneeling.. I soon realised that I am obsessed with being comfortable (which anyone could guess from my collection of chunky jumpers and yoga pants) and that maybe it is quite good for me to sit with the discomfort for a while. And that’s when my meditation improved. Amazing! I mean obviously, it’s still bloody awkward sometimes, especially when a moist slimy gecko lands on your leg in the darkness of evening meditation, and you can’t see what it is, so you let out a wisp of a scream and jump from the ground, fumbling for the light of your phone then realising you don’t have it because it’s a digital detox and all phones are contraband, so you scamper to the bathroom and sit on the toilet until the meditation bell rings to signal dinner time, and you emerge, pale and shamefaced, admitting defeat by a wayward gecko.

  
There are many humorous moments, and many meaningful ones too. At the end of each retreat we do a closing circle where everyone shares something of their experience. Sometimes people start crying which generally makes me cry and then the sight of me crying makes other people cry because it’s not very pretty, in fact it’s a bit scary. It’s a healing place though and I’m so grateful that I’m a part of it.

   
   
 The next retreat is over Christmas, so that’ll be weird. Vegan, wine-free Christmas? If I was Santa I’d stay at home. But maybe it’s a good opportunity to give Christmas a different meaning. My family dinner this year will be with my lovely workmates and retreat-goers, passion fruit smoothies will be my prosecco, and the treehouse will be my Christmas tree, the sunset will be my Christmas lights… These are the things that people who live on yoga retreats begin to say. Village life is going to my head. 

  
I’m currently enjoying a luxurious three nights off,  recovering from some kind of savage bird flu (maybe just normal flu but I like to be dramatic), partaking in hot showers, green juices, mineral water, jacuzzis and vast swimming pools. All the different types of water please. I recently had a very bad, very boyish haircut from a lady in the marketplace (in hindsight, not a good idea) so I don’t particularly want to go out where lots of people can point and laugh. “It’s not so bad!”, my friends cry, but they’re not the ones with a frizzy mullet. 

  

I will be back soon with more tales of Cambodian village life. This post was mainly about insects and creepy crawlies, but this stuff is important to cover. In the meantime, if you’re in Southeast Asia….. book yourself in for a retreat here

  
   

  
  

  

  

  


…. And please bring me some Christmas dinner. 

Butt Ugly

Feeling a bit prudish? Avert your eyes. 

In my past week working on a naturist resort in southern Spain (tick that one off the list), I have witnessed many different types of body in their naked prime, and it is safe to say that everybody differs wildly. I mean WILDLY. 

  

 We get very used to our own bodies, we know which bits we like and which bits we would quite like to chop off and flush down the loo never to be seen again. But all these other bodies! My sweet baby Jesus! Saggy old man bottom, thigh hair that you could have , nipples that would poke your eye out if you got too close, terribly awkward tan lines, strangely protruding belly buttons.. The list goes on. So the next time you think that your bottom is too big – it probably is, but at least it doesn’t hang down behind your knee caps. You have that going for you. 

It has, all in all, been a tremendous end to my time in Spain. Bit of cleaning, bit of drinking wine, bit of food prep, bit of dog feeding. Andy, the charming host, spends his life travelling, setting up shop in one place for as long as it feels right then moving on. It’s a constant, ever changing adventure and his welcoming nature makes everyone feel at home. As a volunteer, we get fed and watered as well as the guests, and spend the days preparing for meals, cleaning up, sunbathing nakey by the pool and entertaining the guests with gin & tonic,  yoga and magic tricks (all at the same time).

My last evening we consumed a vast amount of wine, goats cheese, and fancy chicken things, then watched as Andy tied two of the other helpers together with a rope and instructed them to find their way out. Just your standard Monday evening really. I told Andy I was going to relay this event to my mother; “mum, the host of the naked place tied up his female helpers and watched as they tried to untangle themselves, all the while swilling his wine and laughing jovially!” Oh, how we laughed.

   
 I decided that the time was right for a dip in the hot tub, and naturally (haha) our guests wanted a go too, so I found myself bobbing around, butt naked, with an elderly English couple, discussing naturist retreats in New Zealand and whether in fact you really need a place to be naked, or if we should just be able to get our kit off anywhere. I think there is a time and a place, and it is generally not socially acceptable to bare your bottom in the workplace, for example, or in the supermarket, because we only want fresh meat from the deli man, please and thankyou. 

  
We settled in for a while, my bottom would not quite touch the bottom of the pool because I am short in length , so I floated and imagined I was in outer space. Mike spread his arms across the back of the spa pool, and his face was contorted into an expression that I mistook for great pain, so I asked him what was wrong and he said “ah, no, I’m just relaxing”. Let’s not relax too much Mike. 

Janet floated around like a curvaceous pale angel, and her legs kept emerging above the water, and she kept looking down and crying out “ooh go down leg! You naughty thing!” She was a few wines in at this point. She let go of her wine glass and we watched, awestruck, as it floated across the surface of the pool, like an alcohol boat, and then there was a fireball that flew across the sky, and all was good in the world.

  
 I decided to leave Janet and Mike to relax naked together in the hot tub, my time had come, and I sloped off to bed to bask in my last night of nudity and try to ignore the tiny itchy things that nestled into my bosom crevice while I slept.

I awoke this morning, dressed myself, said goodbye to slobbery Dino the Great Dane and Billy the Goat Whisperer. 

   
 
Now I can’t help but look around me at all the other humans on the airplane and idly wonder, “how hairy is HIS back?” , or, “what’s hiding under THOSE fetching brown corduroy trouser legs?”

What have I become! A… Naturist? Or a perve? You decide.

Naturally.

You would be forgiven for thinking I had perhaps fallen into a wine stupor in an Irish pub and never awoke again. The last time I posted I think it was something to do with the weather, cycling in the rain, living in a cottage, and feeling slightly deflated about my choice of summer location.

To catch you up –  the weather did not improve, in fact it may have gotten worse. But I learnt that if you let the rain stop you, you will never ever do anything in Ireland. Overall it was an excellent summer. And then I learnt that if I wanted sun, I should go to Spain. So I did.

    
Here I am, after one month of intensive yoga training in a tiny Andalusian village. I have sprouted muscles in places I did not know you were allowed to grow muscles, and last night I enjoyed my first piece of meat in many weeks. I barely remember eating it because I was like a savage, starved hound. It could also have been the wine that impaired my memory.


The yoga course was intensive, but in different ways to what I expected. Living in a house with three other random females, there is always a bit of drama, but the most dramatic moment was being awoken at 3am by one of the other girls, who was sure she heard someone in our house.. either it was the wind, an active imagination, or a confused elderly spanish man on his way home from the local bar….. I lay in bed for the rest of the night, heart pounding. The next night I behaved like a small child and slept in my friends room with her. I was the youngest on the course, therefore it is okay for me to be the weakling. I may grasp the philosophical teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, but I am still a little girl that is slightly scared of the dark and monsters.


I chanted a lot of mantras, read a lot of weird spiritual yogic textbooks, giggled at the words “anus” and “perineum”, got very good at wind releasing pose, mastered a visually pleasing forward bend and discovered the art of Yoga Nidra – conscious deep sleep. So now, when I say I’m doing some yoga, I’m really doing a big sleep. Heads up. I am also very good at breathing now, all different types of breath! So fun, but slightly alarming for passers-by.



We also took a trip to the Hare Krishna Temple in Malaga. I felt as though I was being initiated into a strange cult. There was a five year old child being breast fed by her mother in the courtyard, decrepit older men wearing white robes that left nothing to the imagination, and at one point (much to my amusement) I was caught up in a hare krishna conga line! The woman in front of me had armpit hair that I probably could have braided, and they all had a distinctly “spiritual” smell to them, as though they bathed in incense. I surrendered to the moment and showed them some of my best “middle of the party circle” moves, then we made a swift exit and headed to a cafe for coffee and normality.


Obviously, it was not a high enough dosage of weird for me, because I arranged a slightly unusual work exchange placement for my last week in Spain. What better place to get a full body tan than a nudist resort?

I am here now, fully clothed, modesty intact, and it is glorious. My companions include a great dane called Dino, who weighs the same as a muscular adult human being, and a small scruffy dog called Billy, with two different coloured eyes. Dino comes to say hi and smears his rope of drool all over my clothes, which is very endearing. He is so large that I might try to ride him one day, if he doesn’t mind too much.

  
 Today I put on my bikini for some sunbathing, then remembered I would be the only weirdo wearing clothing by the pool, so I eased myself into it by removing my top half, then half an hour later I removed my bottom half and squirmed in a very prudish way. I lay there, thinking how I had laughed when I first found this place on HelpX, but it stuck in my mind and obviously I love a good naked challenge.

 
 Things I am slightly concerned about are nipple burn and/or the state of my bottom, because I never really see it, and I don’t know how the view is back there, but i am sure someone would tell me if there were any issues. Also ants are rife here, and they seek out the lovely warm spots on one’s body. As long as I don’t accidentally dribble honey on myself I should be fine.

Naturist problems eh!

The grand auld cottage life.

And so another Irish summer begins, yet a hot water bottle is necessary every night and my evenings mainly consist of sitting by the fire wrapped in my poncho and pondering my choice of country in which to spend the “sunny season”.  For the third year in a row – when will I learn? Or at least, when will I learn to bring extra pairs of socks and waterproof over-trousers? 

It’s hard to plan for bad weather when you’re in Greece, knee deep in raki and zooming around on scooters in skirts. 

There must be a reason I keep returning. Is it… The sheep? No, although they are pretty adorable. Even when they stop for a suckle at mothers teat in the middle of the main road, and simply expect you to stop and gaze upon them, as if they are what you were cycling furiously up the hill in the driving rain for.

 

 I have to say, my humble abode for this season makes the bad weather more bearable. I come home, wet and bedraggled, like a wee hamster flushed down the toilet, and my cottage welcomes me with open arms. The shower pressure may be more ‘geriatric dribble’ than ‘power shower’, but i have learnt that if you sit awkwardly in the bath tub, fill it to a mid – bum cheek level, then turn on the hand held shower head and hold it over you, sloshing a bit of water around like a naughty baby,  it’s a whole new bathing experience. It’s just a bit awkward when you need to wash your hair, because a girl only has so many hands, and you need at least one to grip the side of the tub to prevent a slippery death..

  

  
The open fire can really make or break a cosy night in. Now, having grown up with log fires, a turf and coal fire is a whole new challenge for me, and one I am so willing to accept. My first time trying to light the beast ended with me retiring to my bed, chilly, with only a hot water bottle and failure to accompany me. I have tried, several times now, but I cannot seem to get the ratio of firelighter: coal: turf correct. My housemate lights a mean fire, so tonight I watched over her shoulder as she lit it. Now I sit, regally, by the roaring fire, casually hiffing chunks of turf on the fire, swirling my red wine, gazing into the flames and remarking out loud to no one in particular, “By Jove! What splendid heat!”

  
In the morning I shall climb on my noble bicycle steed and begin the daily trek to work, come rain or shine, hail or gale. It’s character building stuff. (And I look ridiculously good in high visibility rain gear and men’s overtrousers).

  
Ahh, the Wild West of Ireland. It’s good to be back.  

The Cretan Obesity Centre, and other stories.Β 

 

 Ahh, sibling fun.

I met Josh at Crete airport and one of the first things he said to me was “we’re not camping.” Having spent a week in our tent aptly named “The Womb”, including one 48 hour period during a storm in the Italian mountains where he could not leave its confines, he was ready for a bed to rest his weary head. He was also pretty ready for some good food, after existing on whiskey and carrots for a little too long.

  
It’s basically been a week of consuming awesome Greek food and alcohol, sunning ourselves on Crete beaches, hooning about on a scooter and seeing some pretty old stuff.

Being in recovery from a savage bout of Turkish Tummy food poisoning, my stomach couldn’t really cope with a lot of food, but I slowly and persistently coaxed it into sampling the local Cretan cuisine. My body was telling me no,  but my mind was telling me “Greek yoghurt, woman!”.

   
   The thing I personally love about Greece is that just when you think you’ve finished your meal, they bring you a small jug of raki and a dessert platter (sometimes two!) and you just feel so fondly towards them that you tell them you will marry their son. Perhaps that’s the raki talking, and perhaps they planned that all along, but if it’s free then who’s complaining? Is he handsome?

  
One particular night in Chania, at a restaurant on the port,  we had consumed some stuffed vegetables, a marvellous Greek salad and slab of moussaka, and we were already pretty satisfied. Then we were brought our nightly nightcap of raki and dessert, consisting of almond cakes and a plate of six glistening donuts. Josh’s inner fat boy jiggled his stomach, moistened his lips, and cried “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED !” 

Sadly all I could do is sit and watch while he hoovered all six of them, which I found both mildly repulsive and strangely fascinating. Needless to say, the next day he experienced a severe food hangover, and could only muster the strength for a light, oil free salad. 

A lesson we learned: you don’t have to to eat ALL THE FOOD. But you do have to drink all the raki. 

We watched some traditional Greek music one night, which was hilarious and deadpan. These four guys sat on little stools with their instruments they have obviously been playing since they were 3 months old, their fingers flying across the strings, making incredible music but staring off into the corner of the room like they were on the toilet and there was no reading material. I loved it.

  

Our favourite day was when we hired a scooter and scooted about the island, visiting beaches and eating Greek salads in all different localities, remarking on the thicker cut of the red onion or the curious addition of parsley in some varieties. We like to think we are now connoisseurs of the Greek salad.

  
I look very good on a scooter, I have decided, and I would quite like one. Some say you should not wear flappy pantaloons and sandals on a scooter, but it’s all the rage really, and I like to feel the wind against my little toes. I clung to Joshua like a koala bear initially, feeling like I was going to topple off down the cliff side and impale myself on an olive tree, but eventually I loosened my vice grip on Joshua’s beard and relaxed.  

  

 We also went to the palace of Knossos just outside Heraklion, which was a fascinating excursion, but naturally we couldn’t enjoy it until we had had a frozen yoghurt and a coffee. Frozen yoghurt is basically every second shop down the street, and I feel like we sampled a good selection of the flavours, a personal favourite being the simple Greek yoghurt with honey. 

   

     
  

There’s a running theme of food, and that’s not a bad thing. We one day came across a building called “The Cretan Obesity Centre”, with some very sorry figures going in and out. I feel like it was a near miss for us. It doesn’t sound like a good place to go.

So now I return to work in Ireland, with slightly snugger (a word?) pants and considerably less money, resigned to the fact that I will be living off meaty slop and taters for the next few months.

  

Joshua is off to spend two weeks walking alone across England, sleeping in The Womb and talking to himself, dreaming of donuts.

  
  

Turkish Baths – Let’s Get Weird

 

 On our  second day in Istanbul, Asti and I decided we must bite the bullet and go in for a traditional Turkish bath, called a Hammam. 

It was so hot, in all respects.  

For 100 TL (about 25 pounds, or 50 NZD), we were melted, bathed, scrubbed, shampooed, pummelled, massaged, slapped, poked, oiled, clayed and fed Turkish apple tea for two hours of our day. We could have stayed longer, but we couldn’t handle the heat.

We found a traditional Hammam, 300 years old on the corner of our favourite street, and it looked a bit dodgy from the outside but once we were inside we met a NZ couple who recommended it. They were gleaming with perspiration and had a slightly dazed look in their eyes, but you can always trust a fellow kiwi.

We were given sexy Turkish towels and plastic slippers to change into, and unsure whether we were to keep our knickers on, we took them off… A dubious choice, but obviously we wanted the AUTHENTIC experience. 

I didn’t take any photos of the baths, because it was wet in there and because I was naked. 

  

Stage one: Lie face down in your towel on a large heated slab of marble in a room of 40-50 degree heat. This is because they “want you to sweat, ladies”… We shared the room with a a small yet rotund Turkish man who sat in a pool of water in the corner and had his body parts lathered in foam by a bath boy. He wore a modest flap over his man bits, but he might as well not have. The bath boy then turned his attention to us and threw bowls of cold water over us, because he could probably see our levels of sweaty discomfort. Our towels stuck to our bodies and the little man in the corner giggled and muttered things in Turkish that we could not and did not want to understand. 

Next we were taken into the scrub and lather room! Oh my. Levels of sweaty discomfort came to an all time high as my washer woman entered, stark naked apart from a scanty underpant, her ample motherly bosom and gut direct in my eyeline at most times. She had no shame, and I respect her for that. She whipped off my towel, said something in Turkish to Asti’s washer woman ( we were all sharing a cubicle) and gestured vaguely to my body. I can only assume she was saying “my my, never have I ever seen such a shapely, yet toned, figure in all my years of scrubbing naked ladies”… We’ll go with that. 

She slapped the marble bench and barked “face down!”, pouring bowls of water all over me as I try not inhale when the water gets to my nose. Her exfoliating mitts were thorough and unforgiving, and I did almost kick her in the face when she started on my little toes. Every time she wanted me to turn over (a very dignified, supple movement when you are soaking wet, butt naked and covered in slippery foam), she would slap me on the rump and cry “TURN!”.

I was enjoying it,in the way that one enjoys any situation in which you cannot control anything, therefore you must forget all worries and let yourself be led. Asti and I were squirming with the giggles trying not to stare at anyone’s naked bits, which were very hard to avoid. Naked bits everywhere, I tell you! She she sat me up to scrub my arms I giggled and attempted to bond with her.

 “hahaha! I’m so dirty!” 

“…..yes, you dirty. TURN!”

She popped me on the ground where I hunched, knees close to my chest, as she firmly kneaded my skull and doused me in more water.

Next we were wrapped in robes and taken into the main room, given apple tea and engaged in conversation with the owner who liked to sit and chat to us semi naked, rosy-cheeked, heathy glowing women. He has a good job.

Our massage was next, and I was a little apprehensive. Somebody told me that they beat you with olive branches,  but thankfully there was no beating. She lubed me up with some kind of oil, and made a comment about my calves… ” so MUSCULAR, so fine”. Im pretty sure that’s what she said.. I was a little uncomfortable that she left my side of the curtain open as she chatted with the men in the reception… Hello, I’m nakey here! But I suppose it is all normal and acceptable in their culture, so I must simply resign myself to a little discomfort. As she folded the towel to work on the other leg, she would tuck it into my bottom crevice, which was a fun and interesting sensation that I wasn’t prepared for. It was a very good massage and she even put clay on my face, having asked me at a weak moment whether I would like a face mask for ten lira. 

I emerged feeling a new woman, having scraped off three layers of skin and the remainder of any summer tan, and I think she may have removed my dignity as well. I glowed, and minced down the street in my poncho, waving to passers by and remarking on the fine weather and handsome buildings.

It’s an intimate experience, and one that I will not forget in a hurry.

 There are some images ingrained into my mind that I could not forget if I tried….

   

 

Turkish Delight (That’s Me)

I think I’m flying over Bulgaria. All I can say is that the paddocks are quite square and the towns are quite small, but then I suppose everything looks quite small from up here.  

 Having never been to this side of Europe (aside from a drunken haze of a week on Prague), I’m pretty excited to explore the bounties of Istanbul, haggle awkwardly for a pair of homeless person pants in the markets, drink some raki, and dress modestly yet eccentrically because nobody knows me there. 

 It was a minor moment of stress when my travel companion Asti and I arrived at the airport and made our way swiftly to the North Terminal, as advised on our booking details, only to find there was no such flight to Istanbul at 12.35 on this fine Tuesday. We exchanged dark and foreboding glances and fumbled with our documents, looking up and down and up and down at the departures board, before concluding that we had been jipped ( a word?) by a third party booking service, and we were almost certainly hitchhiking to Istanbul with very large backpacks and one very crippled ankle (see previous tale of stupidity). 

But it’s okay. You can breath a sigh of relief in knowing that we actually were just in the wrong terminal, and we merrily rode the interterminal shuttle back to the South terminal with beads of perspiration and relief on our foreheads. Amateurs. 

 Now I sit, having enjoyed an uninspiring yet somehow delicious ‘Gluten Intolerant Meal’ and a very strong gin and tonic. In most cases, the best thing about having a special meal is that you receive it before every one else, and then can smile a superior smile and relax with the knowledge that you’re pretty much business class. The food itself is generally rank, as if it had been smushed into meat grinder and heated three times before it reaches your mouth. But in this occasion, Turkish airlines has done very well indeed. My opinion is perhaps influenced by the very strong gin and tonic, and the tiny pretty paper cup of pistachio Turkish delight we received at take off. 

 Airplanes are just quite gross when you think about it – sitting in very close quarters to strangers who are breathing in the air that you recently expelled, the old dry skin dilemma, humans with smelly feet, fat people who take up not only 100% of their own bum space but also 45% of yours, being trapped in the middle seat with a full bladder and a sudden urge to sneeze… It combine all the discomforts of life into a compact package. Yet I do enjoy air travel, in all its grossness,  because it’s a little bit magic and everything comes in neat little packaging and you have endless hours to gaze out the window and imagine tiny people down below. I’m easily pleased. 

 Coming soon – pictures of myself dressed eccentrically, doing a headstand in front of the Blue Mosque, Turkish delight smeared around my gleeful face, surrounded by hairy Turks who wish to marry me.  

 
Soon we land! Excuse me, I must go and request many tiny bottles of liquor to line my pockets!