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. 

Christmas Holidays, New Zealand Style

Its all been a bit quiet here for a while… Yours truly has been busy flying home from Europe, catching up with friends, and adjusting back into having a normal job in peaceful, sunny Nelson.

Having been away for 18 months, coming back to Nelson was a bit of a shock to the system initially – everything seemed to be in high definition, without the grey skies and smog of a lot of European cities. Even when the sun shines in Ireland, it never seems to be quite as bright as here. I spent my first couple of weeks soaking up the long daylight hours, doing quite a lot of sleeping and working most days to boost the ol’ bank account. My mum, my brother and I also did a hike in the Nelson Lakes which was a nice wee family bonding time.

Christmas was at home in Nelson, where we all wore matching elephant pants and santa hats (christmas present from my brother, recently returned from work in South-East Asia), and I was lucky enough to receive a camera from him aswell, obviously to document the spectacle. We ate outside in the sun and went for a swim in the river to work off the excess consumption.

There’s been a healthy dose of holiday time over Christmas and New Years, which we spent in Wanaka at a lovely bach, with adventure on our door step. (I did quite a lot of time lolling about in the pool, trying to SUP on a boogie board and playing amateur water volleyball with the others.. there were a few bikini malfunctions).

On the drive down we stopped overnight at Birdsong Backpackers in Hokitika, on the wild West Coast. I can definitely recommend it if you’re passing through, and its quite different to some of the hostels I stayed at in Europe – probably because it’s family run and a bit more personal. We had a little unit to ourselves with a kitchen, bathroom and outdoor area, and upstairs in the communal area there is another big kitchen and dining room, overlooking the sea. Jeananne and I felt we should maintain some attempt at health and wellbeing on our holiday, so we went for an evening jog into the town and down to the beach, with a detour to the Glow Worm Dell (sadly it was too light to see any wormies).

The next day we continued on to Wanaka to our delightful house in town, with a pool, spa, big front lawn and spacious living area. I slept on the floor in a swag, (we ended up having more people than beds), which I was a bit apprehensive about but actually I think it was the best deal. I could sleep with the door open on hot nights, and I basically had a double bed to sprawl about in. I just feel sorry for the early risers in the house who had to wake me from my slumber.

We went cycling, walking, hiking, swimming, yoga-ing, drinking, eating, luging (on our day trip to Wanaka and Arrowtown) and wine and cheese tasting, so I feel it was a healthy balance of indulgence and exertion. Very different from the holidays in the UK, where the weather is usually too cold and miserable to leave the house for very long.

On the way home we stopped in Kumara, a tiny gold mining town, and spent the night at The Theatre Royal Hotel which was furnished with antiques (and very comfy beds). We had a delightful meal of locally sourced goods and consumed several beverages, before retiring to our grand rooms, just like the good old days…

On our last day we stopped in Punakaiki to check out the pancake rocks and the blowholes (teehee).

It’s nice to be a tourist in my own country – I’m sure a lot of tourists have seen more of New Zealand than I have!

Happy New Year! I hope your 2015 is filled with adventure.

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2013: Things I did and things I learned

I am a bad blogger… I like to take long interludes between blogs just to make sure I have enough things to write about, and even now, I wonder whether what I am writing is of any interest. We will soon find out.

Since my last post on my trip to Edinburgh, I’ve done some stuff.

1. Christmas. 

My mum and cousin arrived just before Christmas and I think they were slightly shocked at just how terrible the weather is, coming from NZ and Australia. I think I am still a little shocked – you can see why people are always talking about the weather, because it really does impact on your ability to do ANYTHING. Mum arrived Christmas Eve, and we were lucky to be able to get her home, then get to our grandparents the next day, what with all the flooding and crazy winds.

Christmas was a family affair at my grandparents. It was  strange to be spending Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere, I am used to sunshine and swimming and exciting salads, but over here its all about wrapping up warm, cooking the heartiest meal you could possibly imagine, and then perhaps a brisk walk all rugged up before it gets dark. It was different, but it was lovely. And I have to say, all the Christmas lights, mince pies and Santa himself make a bit more sense over here, in the cold. Lets face it, Kiwi Santa is a bit creepy, all half naked and stuff.

2. We went on holiday.

After a few days to recover from general excitement and excess consumption, we drove to Kent where we stayed for a week at a Holiday Property Bond place, called Sibton Park . There were spreadsheets for who was cooking what and when, because my family has awkward food intolerances and difficulties. Gluten free, allergic to fish, dairy free, sugar free, everything free.. which would make things difficult if we didn’t have some culinary queens and microsoft excel.

Despite the weather we had a fab time – we hired bikes, we did a day trip on the Channel Tunnel to Calais where we got absolutely bucketed on and ate omelettes the size of our heads, we went to Dover Castle and got involved in some English history, we did synchronised swimming in the pool, we played musical chairs, and obviously we ate and drank a vast amount of between the 16 of us. I think there were 16 of us, strangers probably could have joined in and we might not have noticed.

3. 2014 started.

Ahhhhh, how did this happen without me preparing for it? I had not made a New Years Resolution, I had not quite achieved all the things I said I was going to do last year. But I do know I did a lot of things that I haven’t done before, and learnt some useful and un-useful(?) things.

  • I got on a big ol’ aeroplane and went somewhere far far away all on my lonesome. I learnt that once you get on the plane, you will probably stop weeping about missing your mummy and your dog and just get really freakin’ excited.
  • I went to Ireland, did a work exchange and met some pretty groovy people. In fact, I probably wouldn’t be using the word ‘groovy’ if it weren’t for one of those people. *cough*ABBY*cough*. I also learnt how to make real good scones and how to understand a very strong, slurred Irish accent, that you don’t necessarily have to shower every day and that its ok to need some Rosie time.
  • I trooped around Europe with some of my gal pals, visiting a whole lot of cities that I wasn’t sure I would ever get to, and some I have been to before… Dublin, Nice, Marseille, Paris, Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels,  Prague, Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, and of course, London. I learnt that there are many more types of beer in the world than you could possibly imagine, that people like it when you try and speak their language, no matter how poorly, that Oktoberfest doesn’t do gluten free, that Amsterdam prioritises cycling over any other form of transport and god help you if you are a pedestrian in the cycle footpath. I also learnt that people can be really gross and you should always take earplugs.
  • I spent lots of moneys. I learned that there are different ways to travel- you can eat out, take the nice train, drink in bars and stay in the more expensive hostel. OR, you can buy cheap french wine and brie in the supermarket, eat dinner on the beach, hitchhike or take 8 hour bus trips for 8 euro and sleep in weird apartment hostels run by boys who look like your younger brother but who will go out of their way to make sure you have a good time, and might even take you to a weird underground jazz bar and introduce you to all his friends. That was a long sentence. But trust me, sometimes its all you want to stay in a hotel (which we did in Prague for 5 days, trying to recover from the flu and the partytime) or go to a bar and meet a table full of Danish policemen, sampling all of the local beers as you go. Thats not a bad thing at all. You’ve just got to pace yourself, otherwise you get halfway through and think, shit, how am I getting home? That totes didn’t happen to me though, we were super sensible. ..
  • I spent quality time with my family. I learned that they are all awesome in their own little way, and that’s one of the main reasons I came over here.

So all in all I would say 2013 was a pretty successful year, and all I can hope for 2014 is that its just as interesting! Two places I would love to visit this year are Greece and Italy, I want to cycle the Camino de Santiago, I want to do yoga somewhere awesome, and I would quite like to get a little bit closer to figuring out my general life purpose. I don’t want much, really….

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Winter Woollies and Mulled Wine

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So I had a very exciting weekend in Edinburgh, visiting that Farrell girl who has taken the courageous leap and moved to Scotland by herself. And I can see why; it’s so lovely up there and far more spacious than London.

We arrived late Friday night, and rose early on Saturday for a fun-filled day of activities! Christmas markets, sausages, several glasses of mulled wine, a wee hill climb and the token visit to Primark.

Then we went home and napped for a while. Too much excitement! Saturday night we had several beverages then went to the Hot Dub Time Machine, which is a DJ night where he plays a song from every year since the 1950s. I was quite upset because they played Britney Spears while I was in the bathroom. Me and Britney go way back.

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Needless to say Sunday wasn’t all that productive, but it was just nice to chill and drink lots of tea. Weekends always go too quickly, but at least I have things to look forward to…

In a week and a half my mummy will be here, all the way from NZ, and my cousin will be here from Australia, just in time for Christmas!

In February, after lots of family time, I am heading down to the south coast of England to do another HelpX at this lovely place, helping them with running their B&B, yoga retreats and walking retreats. The plan is to spend a month there, after which I currently have no plan….

Asti and I have made a plan to go to Spain at the end of August, go to La Tomatina, then cycle the Camino de Santiago (a pilgrim’s way ) over a few weeks, then finish up in Morocco, learning to surf and doing yoga on the beach….

Sounds pretty good ja?

I just need to figure out the in between bits. There may be a return trip to Ireland over summer to help with their German Language Camp as a camp counsellor. This is where I did a HelpX this summer, a beautiful place that places a lot of value on Guinness, the beach and traditional Irish music. I think I’m going to have to give Achill a post of it’s own!

If anyone has any exciting ideas or suggestions for places I should visit this year, leave a comment below!

Tonight we are decorating the Christmas tree and drinking mulled wine in our Christmas jumpers. This is going to be a very different Christmas to what I’m used to in New Zealand!

Happy weekend, y’all.