PALESTINE

Hands up who out there has heard about Palestine or even considered travel to Palestine. In the past I had heard Palestine mentioned in the mainstream media, fleetingly, and usually with a connotation that the Palestinians were an evil bunch of angry, pillaging, Jew-haters. (Something similar to what we are currently seeing in Melbourne, Australia, due to being the longest locked down city in the world, and the people are starting to revolt under what appears to be a communist regime / dictatorship.)

Palestine beautifully confirmed to me that one should never trust mainstream media.

PART 1.

This blog about my solo travel to Palestine has taken me quite some time to edit and publish (about 2 years). Why is that, Al? Well, I have been incredibly torn about how to portray this wonderful State of Palestine. Do I talk about the political unrest and ethnic cleansing? (sounds familiar to Melbournians, yes?) Do I talk more about how fantastic a place this is to travel as a tourist? Do I do both?

Here’s what I came up with…

PRECONCEIVED IDEAS

I’ve rarely been interested in reading or watching news, however, I was only slightly aware of what was going on in Palestine/Israel prior to my visit. This didn’t instil any type of fear about travelling to Palestine to catch up with my happy Yogini friends, Noora and Mohammed (whom I met in India) – yet, my Mum was VERY nervous about my pending travel plans. My response to Ma “My friend Noora wouldn’t put me in a life threatening situation, so don’t worry.” (There was no need to mention that Noora told me that she almost called to advise me not to come.)

Due to being under the extremely watchful eye of the Israeli government (also sounding familiar to Melbournites, right?) I had typed, then had to rewrite all these notes by hand, then re-type once I was in the safety of another country. I was advised to hide my notes in places where they couldn’t be found. Thoughts of a mule enter my mind.

I’ll admit to not being politically minded, nor am I news watcher so my preconceived ideas about Palestine were only what were given to me by others that haven’t experienced this part of the world.

Leaving Amsterdam I anticipated to be the easy part – mainly because I’m not a threatening looking blondie and I didn’t pack any Space Cookies as snacks… but I was interrogated, then escorted by two staff and another two army officers with machine guns into a room to have everything in my bags removed, checked, weighed and scrutinised. Thanks for the authentic experience El Al Air. Luckily I was warned about what NOT to say about my visit – imagine if I had mentioned my plan to visit Palestine?! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKK!

ENTERING PALESTINE

Finding a way to meet my pre-organised driver in Yaffa is not an easy task on Shabbatz. More on that in the part 2 of this blog.

My ever thoughtful friend keeps in contact with me and my driver to ensure my safety and, I’m sure, keeping me calm.

About half an hour into the drive I start to notice the difference in road quality, run-down housing and see an influx of dilapidated, dumped car shells as we near the Palestinian border control. Admittedly it was dark, but the difference between Palestine and Israel must be drastically different if I’m able to notice it at night, right?!

I was originally given instructions on how to deal with Border Control prior to the drive in. I could feel my heart rate increase substantially as we drove closer to the border.. All these thoughts about what I am allowed to say and what I’m not allowed to say, so that I am not detained by BC, are running through my head so fast I can’t recall which is right and wrong. My heart rate continues to climb… Everything from here on in is completely out of my control. (Why didn’t I wear an adult diaper?)

Thankfully Border Control was unmanned and we quietly drove straight through. Nobody around, no one stopping us, no people wondering what this gal was doing a long way from home.

We drive through winding and heavily speed bumped streets for about 10 minutes until we stop beside a little maroon Hyundai with the best, wide, white toothy grin… Ahhh, Noora, that smile is the best reminder as to why I am doing this part of my trip.

A big squeezy hug and looks of “I can’t believe you’re here” makes me feel at home instantly.

Our conversations are immediately comfortable – just like the conversations in Lisboa with Simone; Mallorca with Prab; and Bali with Nick – we were trying to cover EVERYTHING in our first few hours. The conversations with all 4 of these inspirational humans are some of the most educational I’ve ever had and wish I could do more of it.

View from Noora’s balcony

SOME HISTORY

Noora fills me in on the tumultuous history of Palestine and I’m left permanently gobsmacked. Ethnic Cleansing is still very real and terribly disheartening – considering what the Jewish Community endured with Hitler I’m dumbfounded that they’re doing exactly the same thing to a minority – being powerless Palestinians.

Due to my memory being fogged in, I’m going to direct you to another website for the reasons as to why Israel keep bullying Palestine. Link here.

Ramallah street art

RAMALLAH

After a brief visit to meet Noora’s work colleagues the next day – with a surprise appearance by Mohammed (also a fellow yogini at Vinyasa Yoga School) – I meander the city streets of Ramallah. Again I’m receiving loads of attention and all of it incredibly positive – lots of “Hello’s” and gorgeous smiles as I tried to blend in. Even when I went to the supermarket the kind man that served me my fresh BBQ mixed nuts gave me a little gift in the form of the most deliciously creamy pistachio nougat.  

I wandered through the old city of Ramallah as well, just because it’s super close to Noora’s place.

I arrive back the apartment around 5pm and within 15 minutes all the receptors in my body entered a high alert phase, then all hell broke loose outside. I was out watching the world pass by on Noora’s balcony, when all of a sudden there appeared to be tension in the air, a feeling I will not forget. I witnessed a group of young men running fast up the street – seemingly aggravated and causing trouble with cars trying to drive the road they were on. I watched as the man in his liquor store across the road pulled down his roller shutter… It is about this time that I figured something serious was afoot.

A few minutes after going back inside I heard many large and loud bangs and yelling very nearby. I just turned the lights off, shut the windows and sat in my room working at my laptop. After a while I receive a call from Noora – whom is still at work until 9:30pm this night – asking whether I heard anything going on. Yup, I sure did. Turns out the Israeli army were raiding the CCTV cameras from a government building a small block away – where I had been happily meandering solo not long before dark.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENS

What I witnessed first hand; The Israeli Army comes into Palestine/Ramallah to assert their authority by kicking up an absolute shitstorm. Tear gas, machine guns, rubber bullets and the overtly loud, threatening bangs caused by bombs.

After a few hours I can’t help but sneak back out to the balcony when the turmoil seemed much closer. Below the balcony are loads of people and cars in Noora’s usually quiet street. The bombs are more frequent and I can even see the bright orange flashes of tear gas bombs reflecting off the local apartment blocks. Sirens and horns tooting fill the thick, gas filled air. Prior to this uproar I was able to see the stars in the sky – now, through the gas tears is a chemical fog and no stars. This tear gas is a new chemical trial apparently, and boy is it violent.

How do these kind Palestinians protect themselves against such blatant bullying by the teenage, armed forces of Israel? Stones. Throwing stones is all they have because they’re not allowed to bare arms to protect the land that’s rightfully theirs. Everything that could be turned into weaponry has been confiscated by the Israeli’s.

HOW IS THIS ALLOWED????????

At this stage I’m more dumbfounded than fearful.

9pm I walk back out onto the balcony and immediately my nostrils, eyes and throat start to burn. I’m not in the centre of the action, but the air is thick with tear gas. The bombs have subsided a little – but so far that’s a solid 4 hours.

(I wasn’t aware of these bombs being purely noise to scare Palestinian people at the time).

Restricted breathing, inability to see through tears.. Noora bursts through her front door, unable to breathe because she’s had to drive a very long way home, avoiding the Israeli Army, listening for the location of the turmoil with her head out the window of her car, driving through the chemical haze.

I receive a text from Ma asking how I was. There’s NO FKN WAY I’m telling her about the extent of this chaos until I’m on safe turf. I mentioned that there was some unrest and Mum’s initial response was “Are they rioting?”.  Mum’s query proves that news only offers a biased opinion and it seems to favour the Israelis –  of course I mean absolutely no disrespect to Ma, but it’s proof of what we are being fed via our news channels. Although the Palestinians have every right to defend their land and selves, it’s actually the Israeli Army that causes all the chaos. All the stuff the news doesn’t report on, I just witnessed on only my second night.      

And everything you DO see on the heavily censored news… the firetrucks, the gunfire, the bombs, the chemical gas – that’s all the Israeli Army. When do you ever see the Palestinians protecting themselves with any of the above? NEVER. But MSM portray Palestine as the bad guys.

(Does any of this sound familiar to you during our current pandemic?)

Part 2 to be continued….

Diary from a Vispassana retreat reject

What is a Vipassana retreat?

For those that haven’t heard what a Vipassana retreat / silent retreat / noble silence is all about, I’ll give you a brief explanation:

Vipassana = to see things as they really are.

 To self transform.

Firstly, please note that not all Vipassana retreats are created equal, nor is everyone’s Vipassana experience identical.

vipassana

Brahma Vihara Arama entrance

 

Rules of Vipassana retreat / Silent retreat / Noble silence

The plan is; to be silent, reflective and completely present and mindful for 10 days straight. Without distraction.

A few days before this silent retreat started we were all sent a very extensive list of conditions to abide by.

 

NO…

Communication what-so-ever.

Phone

Music… No Music?… NO MUSIIIC!?

Reading

Writing (oops)

Talking (to self or others)

Eye contact (again, with others or self – insert cross-eyed emoji here)

Alcohol

Yoga or any exercise

Smoking (Incl. internal combustion?)

Murdering of any living being

Food after 12pm

Shorts, singlets (or anything that allows heat to be released from our bodies, basically)

 

There are more rules, but I’m sure you get the idea. There is to be nothingness.

Sounds like a walk in the park, right?! I believe this to be the most extreme version of Vipassana retreat / Noble Silence / Silent retreat.

 

 

silent retreat

Buddha & Bodhi tree

 

 

 

 

Silent retreat diary entries verbatim

This Vipassana retreat was from 16th -25th November 2019.

You know me, always rebellious from the start….These are my (retyped) hand written notes below.

 

Day 1: 16th Nov 2019

Arrived for the silent retreat registration at Brahma Vihara Arama in Lovina, Bali at 4pm. Scootered there by my very kind friend, Surya. I really want to call him Namaskar. (Yoga joke) I left my arrival as late as possible because I was actually nervous and questioning “Why The Fk?” someone would willingly do this Noble silence / Silent retreat / Vipassana retreat.

Why was I so nervous about coming here?

Is my concern about not coming out of this Vipassana retreat the same person I went in as? If that’s all it is, then why did you come here Dufus?!

Vipassana retreats should be about an inner, mindful journey – that I believe I have already been embarking on for a few years now.

The weather is, surprisingly, pretty darn hot up here in the hills. Maybe only a touch cooler – possibly because it’s nearing dusk and there’s a breeze. (Clearly gave me a false sense of security)

Katja and I are roommates and we have made the most of the time we have left to use our voices. We covered all the important details – literally talking at each other – where we are from, do we snore/fart, why the hell we are doing this.. etc. How grateful I am having met this wonderfully mindful German lady – who also is a solo female traveller.

We are offered some food at registration – as we all reluctantly hand over any communication devices to the temple staff. Then we are treated to an opening ceremony with the Burmese Buddhist Monk – Pembling Sayadaw U Oshada – we shall call him U-O from now on. At this stage we are given more rules and how to’s. 

Then….. Silence.

Will Katja and I not talk at all?

Include no airconditioning or fan in our tiny box room with 2 single beds and it’s better than a gym steam room.

It feels odd knowing that I’ll not be talking to any friends and family back home or abroad.

 

 

Noble silence

Brahma Vihara Arama gates overlooking Lovina – Also where I was told not to sit during walking meditation

 

 

Day 2: 17th November 2019

Morning:

It’s 3:50am – we are up, Katja and I, but we haven’t heard the wake up bell yet. Maybe, when we were told that a bell will sound 5 times at 3:45am to wake us ready for first meditation, was all a big in-joke made by the buddhist monks.

Fingers crossed that these weary legs will get used to sitting for so long each day.

Last night was a severe case of Monkey Brain (termed by U-O as erratic thoughts) as I attempted to drift off to sleep – unaided by reading, music or meditation sounds. Got there eventually.

First up we walk around in silence, the slower the better. Already I’m giggling internally at how we all look like a bunch of brown (sarong) and white (shirt) zombies – quietly, aimlessly, meandering the temple.

Yes, it’s a 4am start. At least the Balinese roosters that never sleep are making us feel as though we should actually be awake at this hour – without alcohol and party music.

 

 

Afternoon:

It’s the first full day of our Vipassana retreat and I couldn’t complete it. I hobbled away at 7:30pm.

Why?

Ok, here’s how our days are supposed to go;

Wake at 3:45am

Walking meditation at 4am for 1 hour (walking really REALLY slow – focussing on our foot movements only)

Sitting meditation in the stupa for one hour (no movements unless absolutely necessary)

Breakfast from 6-7am

Walking meditation

Sitting meditation

Blah blah blah

Lunch at 11am – 12pm… No eating AT ALL from midday until the following day’s breakfast.

Walking

Sitting etc etc

4pm Dhamma talks (or listening rather) with U-O – plus more rules to abide by

Walking

Sitting

Finish at 9:30pm

In other words, we are awake 19 out of 24 hours each day. 2 of those hours taken up with food.. the rest is sitting and walking in silence. Do you want me to do the math for you?

8 hours sitting cross legged – because anything aside from that is considered impolite.

8 hours walking like a bunch of Thunderbirds.

That other hour is for laundry, bathing, teeth brushing, bug extraction and trying to still the mind without any help and getting to sleep ASAP.

EVERY. DAY.

We are allotted time to talk to the monk to discuss our progress every second day. Can you imagine all the verbal diarrhoea that we’ve all pent up in our silence?

Not feeling the love from my achilles and knee right now.

Nicotine patches start on the shoulder, seem to be locating them in my underwear around midday due to excessive heat (mainly) and menopausal sweat.

There’s a Justin Bieber look alike as one of the fellow zombies here. Hey Biebs! 

 

 

Noble Silence

Wise words

 

 

Day 3: 18th November 2019

Morning:

Is today classified as the evil “day 2” blues day I’ve read about in other blogs about silent retreats / noble silences? Or was that yesterday?

My mindset is really happy and positive, but my friggen knee and achilles have something else in mind.

I can feel my heart rate has gone crazy high. Actually hit my target 2000 calories burnt before 7am according to my Fitbit Versa. (upon further research, it appears that my Fitbit conniption caused my heart increase, so don’t panic Ma.)

Couldn’t eat breakfast this morning, lacking appetite – even though my belly was rumbling like a mini earth tremor.

Mutant cockroach extracted by broom from bathroom. Poor Katja looked horrified or terrified – too hard to tell without words.

 

What am I doing here?

I’m still not getting the whole “Focus on the pain” – “Pain will lead us to Nibbana” (which I assume means Nirvana)

WTAF?! I don’t understand.

Oh! I was mildly lectured for two things yesterday… 

  1. Resting during walking meditation. Nun: “this is walking meditation, not sitting.” Ali to self: it’s at least 40 degrees plus I’m fully clothed, hot-flashing, without a beach and piña colada in sight, luv.”
  2. Walking outside the (unmarked) female only territory. 

C’monnnn! I’m just trying to escape…. V e r y   S  L  O  W  L  Y.  

Walking meditation

I’ve decided that walking meditation during noble silence now looks like a bunch of Cadbury’s Top Deck (chocolate) brides that are rehearsing walking dramatically slow down the aisle towards her future husband… while someone messes with the slow motion function on the TV remote.

Focus on the foot, not the hilarity of chocolate brides, Al.

Why is it we have to do so many hours of mindfulness?

Is this as simple as just being in the NOW? If so, I think I’m ok on that one, thanks – well, most of the time.

First interview with U-O today. I just know he’s going to tell me to focus on the pain without moving. FUCK THAT!! I was in tears last night because I’m not allowed to move this knee. (I’m laughing as I type this btw, so don’t feel sorry for me)

Today I’m walking like an 80 year old.

Did I mention the heat yesterday? Add to this some impromptu menopausal hot flushes at inconvenient sitting meditation times. Lost about 5kgs in sweat alone today. Geez I’d hate to be underwear for a middle aged woman.

OK! OK!

5 Things I’m grateful for:

Learning meditation from a buddhist monk from Myanmar

My rebellious nature creating funnies

Filtered water

Katja

Getting through this 10 days

 

silent retreat

Brahma Vihara Arama shrine

Afternoon:

Vipassana interview with Guru was at 9am. I wanted to unleash verbal chaos, but found I had little to say or ask. 

I have to focus on the pain. (Laugh and insert eye roll here)

Now, I know he’s said that numerous times already, however, I really tried it – it actually seems to work. My concentration… hey butterfly. Hey frog. Shhhhh. Did Beibs just look over here?…. Maybe needs some more work.

During one of the sitting meditations I had full comedic movies and funny cartoons playing in my mind. How did I not laugh out loud? Must go back to primary focus – observing the belly rise and fall with the breath… or the pain.

Fitbit having another conniption – complete loss of time knowledge and whether my heart is still beating.

 

 

 

 

Silent retreat

Oh! You’re quiet now, aren’t you! 😉

Day something… 19th November 2019

 

Morning:

I have no concept of time right now…

“And on the third day” they brought in the dogs and flies at breakfast to test our slow, mindful eating practices for our Vipassana retreat. Add the whining, needy cats and I think that gives you a clear understanding about how we’re feeling this morning.

I’m still internally chuckling at the slow walks, especially with the post-apocalyptic sunrises whilst watching the poo-brown-sarongs and white shirted zombies silently searching for brains. Perhaps it’s our own brain we are in search of? Have we lost them already? Here’s hoping.

So far this Vipassana isn’t at all what I anticipated. I know, I know – no expectation, Dufus.

Even though I am mildly amused and understand the required practice of being in the moment – I’m feeling that this Noble silence may be a tad primitive and very strict.

All previous thoughts I had about becoming a Buddhist Nun – GONE!

I can’t be fucked being mindful today. (Bahahahahaha)

Do I opt for a post breakfast nap – or save that for the heat of the day… or ditch the farken hot daylight completely today?

Currently sitting outside our room, mindfully snacking on my contraband sunflower seeds and cashews whilst breaking the rules of writing.

Ok, so maybe the mind is clearer? I feel like bursting with laughter at nothing. Maybe this is deliriousness or is it hysteria? Wasn’t the remedy for hysteria a vibrator centuries ago? You’re right, monkey brain hasn’t quite left me… yet.

Seriously, the slightest thing could trigger an outburst of uncontrollable laughter right now.

Tried to feed a grasshopper my breakfast prawn cracker. He’s not a fan either.

Mutant, tropical (human hand-sized) spidey in the bathroom is, so far, the only creepy that we haven’t extracted from our room. I think I’ll name him Wazza.

It’s so hard getting the flies to mindfully fuck off. Must. Not. Murder. Beasties.

I think my elbow bites have subsided a bit today. Unfortunately no escape via hospital visit today.

I wish I didn’t have hair.

 

Vipassana retreat

The detail at these temples ❤

5 Things I’m grateful for:

I’m still alive

Having rebellious whisper chats with Katja (I think our meeting was the reason we are both here – of which I couldn’t be more grateful) – we even got those “must-be-quiet-uncontrollable-giggles.”

Contraband snacks

Exceptional sunrises at the temple (that I shouldn’t be watching because I’m supposed to be indoors pretending I’m a pretzel, meditating)

3 or 4 days done already

FRESH MANGOES!

Afternoon:

I humbly apologise to anyone I may have spiritually distracted during noble silence meditation today. Seems the creative juices are flowing and I don’t want to stem that flow.

 

 

Vipassana retreat

Buddha & Pineapple

 

 

Questions about Silent retreats:

So what is the point of all this mindfulness?

Is it to open up our intuitive receptors?

Am I a silent pineapple?

Is it to have that control over everything in our sub & conscious minds?

To slow down everything?

To become completely present?

Observation and not reacting to our feelings? 

Learning loving kindness?

Is that silent guy really Justin Bieber?

Am I prettier when I don’t talk?

 

YES.

 

Diary Cont..

Katja and I are obviously trail blazers because I caught a few others not going to class and opting for sneaky whisper chats across beds.

As for this fasting bizzo to enhance our mindful eating… pffft! Don’t they realise they’re trying to stop a cow from what it does naturally?

Food definitely tastes better. Or is it that I appreciate it more due to lack of availability?

OH! Last night I dreamt I was a fighter pilot!!!! Not just your average flying dream. You may call me Maverick.

Before the retreat we also received a list of items that were recommended to be brought to the silent retreat.. One of the critically notable items to mention is toilet paper. This poses the question:

How much toilet paper does one person need over 10 days? Answer will be confirmed at the end of 10 days.

Can people hear me munching on my choc chip cookies right now?

Is the Nun going to send another of her creepy crawly army into our room to punish me? (as I sit here editing whilst indulging after midday, there’s just one fly testing my mindful eating – nearly 2 weeks later)

What do Monks and Nuns wear under their robes? Personally, I hope they are like the Scots with their kilts. And is this how all the bowing started – trying to get a sneak peak of what’s underneath?

“Initiate. Peel. Lift. Forward. Drop” (this is the mental mantra for each step as we gaze mindlessly 6ft in front of us) Every. Single. Step. Eight+. Hours. Per. Day.

Groundhog Day/hour/minute/second

 

Noble Silence

Brahma Vihara Arama

Another day begins… 20th November 2019

Morning:

My earworms upon waking are back. “I wanna walk with you on a cloudy day. In fields where the yellow grass grows knee high” Nora Jones. (Hello my Grangamite – that is my beloved Grandmother’s song)

Dream: In a resort/car fix place. I jumped into the tiny pool and was blamed by a very cranky female owner that I emptied the pool of too much water from my bomb. She used a folded towel to show me how much the water level had dropped. 

I’m guessing this has something to do with being in a delirious dehydration. 

New earworm: “Would I try a little tobacco, would I keep on hiking up my skirt?” “EVERYTHING’S FIIIINE!” – Tracey Bonham

I’m completely convinced that I’m done here. Perhaps I’ll talk to U-O to find out the full purpose of this Vipassana retreat / silent retreat.

Last night the large red ants crawling all over my bed was the last straw. I actually feel great mentally – physically not so much, but I’m ok with that.

I’ve realised a few things:

Hinduism is officially my favourite now.

There’s no chance I’ll be a buddhist nun.

I enjoy not talking/no phone/fasting.

Super rapt I met Katja – she’s hilarious, quietly – of course.

Nobody looks or “feels” happy here.

I’m better equipped to deal with pain now. Maybe this was my lesson.

Will they allow me to quietly escape?

I’m a non-conformist. I’ll continue my path of research to come to my own conclusions about living mindfully (and spiritually & mentally happy) instead of following a particular crowd.

I spoke with U-O and impressed him with my limited Burmese lingo. He tried to convince me to focus on the heat… DUDE! That’s all I am doing. Not helpful in this instance. Just ask my saturated clothing.

Just realised why there’s underwire in bras… fluid collection during crazy inner and external heat.

 

Afternoon:

I escaped…. SLOWLY.

I didn’t get the answer to the most important query – being how much toilet paper does one human need over 10 days of noble silence… but after 4 days I was well on my way to finishing the first roll.

Maybe Katja can provide the answer? I left her what was remaining of my poo tickets..

Answer: A vague recollection, a few weeks post-retreat has us thinking that 3 rolls of toilet paper between two of us over 10 days was just about right.. possibly only because I left early though. 

 

 

In addition, I wasn’t the only one that attempted or succeeded in escaping.

 

 

silent retreat

Looking out from the sitting temple.. just longing for aircon

 

 

How a Vipassana retreat should work

Do I need to mention that I meditate 2-3 hours every day? It’s not like this quietness and solitude is new to me.

If it takes 21 days to make or break a habit… so, why is it 10 days of noble silence?

According to Dhamma.org; “the prescribed code of discipline is to learn the basics of meditation and to practice sufficiently to experience its beneficial results.”

To learn abstination from:

  • killing
  • Stealing
  • Sexual activity
  • Speaking falsely
  • Intoxicants

 

The cost of Noble Silence / Vipassana retreat

We weren’t charged to do this silent retreat / Vipassana retreat, however we were encouraged to leave a donation.

  1. For the temple for accom & food
  2. For U-O and his mean nun

 

What now?

Above all else, (and post further research), it seems as though I feel most of the above practices are my every day life. I know I could do more, but I’m actually happy where I’m currently at – for now.

I will do another silent retreat, just maybe not as strict or hot or full of creepies.

Perhaps a visit back to Incredible India is on the cards.

 

It’s all about being zen as fuck, living in the present and being skinny… or something like that. 

 

Please talk with me about your experiences with Vipassana

Are there any other mid-life women out there that have tried this version of Vipassana retreat? Please tell me your thoughts.

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7 days in Lisbon, Portugal

Loaded Lisboa

Free and cheap things to do in Lisbon.

Is this still classified as solo female travel if I’m visiting friends whilst I spend a week in Lisbon?

I’ve left my usual tropically warm Asiatic confines to hit winter in Europe. This trip to Mallorca via Lisbon is my first ever European city and what a spectacular start.  

For this solo female traveller, a 14 hour – sleep deprived – British Airways flight from Kuala Lumpur via Heathrow, lands me early in the AM. Therefore has me trying to locate my brain.  However, my thoughtful friend, Simone, takes me out exploring Lisbon city, eating nearly all day, in an attempt to get me onto local time ASAP. 46 hours awake and I’m seeing unicorns with butterfly wings before me.

I swore I’d never own a puffy jacket, but knowing I was going to Europe in winter purchasing this clothing item on the way to Melbourne airport was a necessity. My Kathmandu aqua (of course!), wearable, super lightweight ‘duvet’, that packs into it’s own tiny sleeve, is one of the best purchases for my time meandering this hilly, coastal capitol. 

There is a plethora of free things to do in Lisbon travel, so I’ve listed a few below.

 

What & where to eat/drink ..

During your 7 days in Lisbon

1. An absolute MUST when you travel Lisbon:  Pasteis at Pasteis de Belem (Portuguese egg tarts) – with their crispy and incredibly flakey pastry encasing the tastiest, creamy and light egg custard you could ever imagine. Literally melts in the mouth. People line up for hours waiting for a seat in the most popular eateries. It was a tad early to try these incredible tarts with Port (another Portuguese staple), which is the norm for visitors. 

 

Pasteis Belem

Pasteis Belem – a MUST in Lisbon

2. Sardines in any form – Portugal specialise in these stinky little fish. As you know, I’m not a seafood feaster, so I skipped that.

3. Cherry liquor – comes with intoxicated cherries and served in a scrumptious dark chocolate shot cup.  Uurrgggllll 🤤

 

cheap things to do in Lisbon

Intoxicating cherry liquor served in dark choc cups

 

4. Vino verde – a local specialty, very light and crispy white wine. Snacks of crunchy fava beans a splendid accompaniment.

 

Lisbon Travel

Viño Verdè

5. Lx Factory – an excellent place to hide from the rain downpour. Wander, shop, eat and drink your way around this artistically vibrant area. 

6. Port – from Porto is the preferred choice (other than coffee) to have with Pasteis.

7. Clube de Fado – I felt like we ate everything on the menu here. Excellent local vino buzz followed by Fado singing lulling us into a food coma. Check my video link here.

8. Time out Market – sounds like the corner where naughty people go.. but it’s a large tin shed where you can eat your weight in every cuisine possible.

 

 

free things to do in Lisbon

Lisbon city’s vibrant laneways

What to see..

During your week in Lisbon

This city has it all..

1. Ancient buildings – most are older than white-man settlement in my home country, Australia.

2. When you travel Lisbon it’s hard to miss the UNESCO listed, 16th century, “Cultural Heritage of Humanity” – Torre del Belem. She sits beside the Tagus Estuary as part of Portugal’s historical defence system. More information here.

 

Lisbon travel

Torre del Belem

 

3. Colourful, individually hand painted, tiled facades that are centuries old and still appear new. If you haven’t had enough of viewing the blue hand painted azulejos, you can visit the National Tile Museum.

 

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4. Cobble stoned streets lined with ancient 2-4 storey houses showcasing laundry from the washing-lines outside their multi-coloured façades. Include a plethora of climbing plants and you have the most ludicrously picturesque backdrop.

 

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..And most of these are free things to do in Lisbon!

5. Of course, you can’t miss the Arco da Rua Augusta (stone arch) located pride of place in Praca do Comercio (Waterfront Square) looking out at the estuary. This Arch and her surrounding building were created to commemorate the Great Earthquake of 1755. (I’ll not complain about my age or earthquakes again.)

 

Solo travel Lisbon

Arco du Rua and Praco do Comercio

 

6. The beach! Obviously my puffy jacket and I weren’t going to swim here, but the beaches sure are purdy.

7. In true form of visiting countries that have famous, man-made landmarks, I avoided Castelo de Sao Jorge (St George Castle). Apparently it’s a good place to visit especially when you have a full week in Lisbon. But I’m sticking to my guns. No Royal Palace in my 20+ visits to Bangkok, no Taj Mahal in India – you get the idea. I guess I’m not the best solo female traveller if I’m dodging the crowds, right?

8. The city shrouded in Christmas decorations. There’s no hiding from tinsel, colourful lights and nativity scenes around this time of year.

 

off the beaten path

Simone & Roberto under Chrissy decos

 

What to do..

During your 7 days in Lisbon travel

No man-flu is going to stop me from exploring this city – at the time of my 7 days in Lisbon – in my usual fashion. That is; attempting to get really lost just so I gain a better understanding of the locale and humans.

1. Street art everywhere, which is reminiscent of Melbourne’s creatively vibrant laneways.

 

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2. Lively neighbourhoods with local traditional food, fado singing and music. One night out with my wonderful hosts, Simone & Roberto, I was taken to Clube de Fado for exceptional vittles and where a woman’s passionate Fado singing nearly brought me to tears. Check that video out here.

3. Sit in one of the many rooftop bars overlooking the terracotta tiled roofs and taste test the local cuisine then wash it down with a cold beer or vino verde. A cocktail while watching our warming sky-ball dip below the horizon at the high Portas do Sol is a must.

And for those not as driven by food and wine, yet still free things to do in Lisbon..

4. Easily explore the city either on foot, by tram or by train. The Central Train Station (Estacio de Rossio) is beautifully lit at night.

 

Explore Lisbon

Estacio de Rossio

 

5. Wander aimlessly and get caught up in the lanes’ little, traditional food and wine, family run, eateries. The best people watching and solving life’s mysteries happens outside these restaurants on frail and ancient looking wrought iron chairs and tables.

6. Gawk in awe at the World Heritage listed Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jeronimos Monastery). This 16th century mammoth monastery built in honour of Vasco de Gamo because he (and his crew) stayed in Lisbon before they set off to become the first Europeans to reach India. (or something like that).

7. Watch the sunset from up high at one of the many Praca’s (Portuguese squares) that overlook the city and all those terracotta tiles plus those infamous hand painted tiled buildings.

 

Lisbon solo travel

Surrounded by terracotta and hand painted tiles ❤

 

8. Just walk everywhere. There are incredibly lanes to explore. Even more important when one eats as much as I did during my 7 days in Lisbon.

 

I’m just going to bombard you with photos instead of talking about this perfect city..

 

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Lisbon travel / solo female travel

My local friends tell me how much Lisbon has changed since they arrived 7 years prior. It appears that the Portuguese Government are setting up incentives for non-nationals to live there. I’m super keen because there’s nothing Lisbon can’t do.

 

It’s all about education of the mind, body and spirit (as I solo travel)…. and making myself snottier by inhaling too many Pasteis.

 

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MALAYSIAN BORNEO – Nature lovers paradise

Finally, another destination bucket list tick! There’s only one thing on my mind… ORANGUTANS (and more recently, thanks to my buddy, Molly… the sun bears)

Left scary Lombok for chilli crab in Singapore for 3 days.. now I’m here.

Started in Kota Kinabalu.. thankfully it rained lots so I finally edited some of my 21 folders full of images.

 

KOTA KINABALU

City is named after the local mountain.. which is a beautiful sight when it’s not covered in cloud. Surprisingly much bigger than any other mountain I’ve come across here in Borneo.

Meh, KK – it’s a small city… more like Geelong but with skinny, tanned people and less visible butt tattoos.

The waterfront could use a revamp, but there are some cool restaurants and bars over looking the water and islands. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset.

I was “stuck” in bar because the rain came in horizontally, so being undercover outdoors wasn’t going to keep me dry.. inside I go and I think the rain stopped around midnight.. well, let’s stick with that guess. Chatted to another Aussie who had just come back from Uncle Tan’s Wildlife trek – (Bee (my bro) had only just mentioned this very same trek earlier that day) so after that chat I was sold and booked my tickets the following day.

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Breakfast of champions – substantial weight gain in Malaysia, the food is spectacular!

 

Uncle Tans Wildlife trek

Being covered in sticky, smelly and pointless bug repellant – the fuckers even attack through clothing and two layers of repellant.

The catfish jumping in the water around the huts sounded bigger than they actually were.

The tree roots that look like they’re shrouded in a greenish sheet and pretending to be ghosts at Halloween.

The birds! So many exotic, chatty, colourful birds.

Evil macacques, lots of evil monkeys.

ORANGUTAN in the wild.. not a rehab centre behind glass.

Probiscus monkeys – they look like someone stuck a penis on their faces

Squirrels – black ones and brown ones. Saw one in the camp’s resident cat, Putut’s, mouth and taken into someone else’s hut.

Mutant bugs that sound like airborne chainsaws.

The night noises so much louder than during the day – mainly teeny tiny frogs.

Being the only person in my tour ‘group’ – this place can hold up to 80 people.. I’m currently the only one here during the 5 hour transition of new and old groups.. so I get undivided attention and extra long safaris

Iddy biddy Bats dive-bombing you at night as you and your low battery torch find your way back to the hut or bathroom along the rickety, wooden, large gapped footbridge/track over water.

Being impressed by the guides that can spot an inch long frog in the dark (with torch) from 50mts away in a moving boat.

Bugs. So. Many. Bugs.

Learning which tropical plants are edible and which are topically medicinal.

Butterflies that float and actually glide in the breeze-less, thick tropical air as though they were eagles searching their prey whilst using the thermals to use less energy and keep their high vantage point.

No shower for 3 days – all weight gain from here was purely sweat, mosquito bites and repellant.

Bright starry skies at night without light pollution and no moon.

No rain starting from the day I arrived – finally Mother Nature’s weather isn’t trying to scare me off – just her mutant tropical bugs tested me.

Singing karaoke whilst the staff play drums – drums being the loose floorboard in a certain spot at the table along with the table top and tambourine – acoustic guitars and more tambourines.

I SAW A SLOW LORIS! Big hi-fives and even a hug in excitement from Otto for finding this little beasty.

Everything is damp. I mean clothes, but those parts of the body that don’t see much daylight didn’t see dryness the whole time as well.

Mosquitoes absolutely smashed my calves on my morning trek.. and I was wearing full length pants with one layer of repellant underneath and one on top. I’ve recently found out that it’s the female mozzies that bite and that blood extraction is purely to produce children. I can officially say I’m an egg donor and have children all over the world. On top of this new knowledge, these blood suckers have a thirst for beer swilling blood providers. Basically, I’m screwed.

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Fireflies. Little dancing fairy lights in the darkness.

Bioluminescent fungi! These little mushrooms, unassuming by day, lit the pitch black forest at night like Christmas trees

Honestly, I’m unsure if there’s anything that makes my soul happier than being in nature.

Is there anything Peppermint can’t do? This little oil has stopped itchies from mozzies in every country, and it is immediate relief.

The palm oil plantations… everywhere! Something like 80% of Borneo (Indo and Malay) was logged and turned into palm oil plantations. Now there are only 3 primary forests – but currently 10 secondary forests that were rebuilt starting in 1987 and hopefully more to come.

My hero, Otto, used to work in conservation and with the WWF, so he’s helped a lot in Malay Borneo to rebuild the forest and save the animals from extinction. A very knowledgeable man.

 

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Simple accommodation – usually shared, but I had this to myself. 🙂

 

THE ROAD TO SEMPORNA

An hour boat ride out of the jungle to the port we saw a few crocs along the river banks. The Spanish couple with me were so excited about 1-2mt crocs.. 😏 As we Aussies know, they’re just little ‘uns!

The Spanish couple had organised a car pick up so it’s just me to travel in the 22 seater bus alone (again) with the driver.

It’s an hour and a half trip to do the 100+kms into Lahad Dahtu. Pretty uneventful trip so I spent a lot of time frowning at all the palm oil plantations that have successfully ruined 80% of this island’s forestry.

I arrive at a petrol station to meet with my next bus. My driver, I’ve named Uncle Noddy, has been waiting just for me. There are only 5 of us making the journey to Semporna.. a measly 150kms away.

I’m given more royal treatment by being allowed to sit up front with Uncle Noddy and there’s a young Malay man who sits in the first row of the back of the bus and chats non-stop most of the way. Thankfully his English was pretty good so he acted as a translator at times with Uncle Noddy – whom spoke very broken English.

The chats turned to me being a solo traveller and not having a husband or children on so many occasions along with offers from him (36yo) and Uncle (60yo) to be my boyfriend. Uncle Noddy made sure I was aware of his.. umm.. stamina and power by using hand/arm actions!

After about 70kms, which has taken about 2hrs thus far due to the old bus’s ability to travel at approx 40-50kms p/h – any faster she’d overheat – the conversation has dropped off and I’m grateful for not being in the spotlight. That is until I see Uncle Noddy drifting off to sleep at the wheel.

There are only so many fake coughs one can do to help keep him awake and the rest of us alive. I offer lollies in the hope a sugar hit will liven him up.. nope. So I employ the help of youngin in the back to keep Uncle awake. A few slaps on the arm and more talking were starting to fail. Next option?

“Hey Uncle! Let me drive and you sleep.” Using charades and simple words to get my point across. He seemed keen on the idea so I waited patiently for him to stop and let me drive. After some time I kept pestering him and my translator to pull over and let me drive but the damn translator wanted to be dropped off before he’d allow a woman to drive.

Finally, we’re 60kms from destination and translator gets off. I take my chance – after the selfie request by translator – and jump into the bus’s drivers seat.

It seems Uncle Noddy has changed his mind and is nervous so we discuss for about 5 mins whilst I reassure him I can drive a manual (didn’t tell him that I’ve never driven a bus before).

Uncle gets into passenger seat after much reassurance from me and we’re off!

The remaining people on the bus (we had collected a few more along the way by this stage) were all wide eyed and staring at me in a nervous panic. The smoothest gear changes (I’ve possibly ever done) convinces the passengers and Uncle that I know what I’m doing.. all is well with the world.

Uncle kindly shares his snacks with me on our road trip – which I’m grateful for due to tight schedule and missing lunch. He’s much better as a passenger.

I do all the pick ups and drop offs, including into Uncle’s narrow laned village to drop nappies and snacks off to his family.

As I dropped one of the original passengers off I asked for his $35 ringgit – he found that extremely amusing.

Many people in cars, buses and on the side of the road clearly know Uncle and his van as he does this trip every day (and at that pace) so when they saw me driving there would be huge smiles or clapping.

Each time new passengers got on board their eyes popped when they saw who was driving.. until I take off.. then Uncle ever so proudly turns to the new passengers and gives them the nod. I think he’s proud of me and showing off a little!

After my 60kms we arrive at the bus terminal around 4:30pm and receive lots of smiles and hi-fives. Even an older female, original passenger, shakes my hand and says thanks.

I ask if I’m to catch a taxi to my homestay from here but uncle wouldn’t hear of it. He personally drove me in the bus to my accommodation.

Win! Although, I was still charged full price $35 ringgit.

And damn funny. I am now the latest of Marvel’s superheroes after the lives I saved.. they call me Blonde Bus-lady. Wonder Woman is envious I’m sure.

 

 

 

SEMPORNA

Even though this a tourist location I still seemed to be the only blonde wandering the streets. I finally understand what Tom Waits meant when he sang “I’m big in Japan”.. I’m so tall here!

Not much to the town. It’s dilapidated with many homes and shops scantily covered in rusty corrugated iron sheets and plastic.. and boasts a substantial amount of seafood eateries by the water. Makeshift markets taking up narrow laneways making the walk to certain areas longer than necessary due to the bottleneck of people shopping or trying to pass through.

Homestays seem to be the go.. maybe because most of Semporna is booked out with Chinese tourists – surprisingly something the locals don’t like. They prefer western tourists from what several of the locals have told me.

Hosanna Homestay was quite simple yet pricey for just a room with a bed with aircon.. bathroom was shared with 3 other rooms. The hosts very helpful and were in the process of prettying up the place.

$70 AUD p/n. Dependant on the type of solo traveller you are, there’s a room to suit your needs and budget with these homestays.

Kampung massage – Bayu Spa & Beauty – yesssssss!! More perfect SE Asian Massage. They tried to turn me away, but upon seeing my sad face they decided to look after me. On top of the awesome massage the very kind therapist gave me a small Aura Seri Spray to help with my stress. (May have something to do with Mother Nature trying to kill me… or the bus drive). More selfie requests from the staff made me feel special.

 

Officially THE worst “toilet” in SE Asia so far.

 

THE WATER

Went out for a day snorkelling trip with Borneo Speedy Dive tours and once again, this lucky solo traveller was assigned a guide all for myself. The lovely Victor was so sweet, kind, helpful and just as excited about finding the biggest turtles I’ve ever seen. If he had front teeth I’d consider being his wife #2. (Never mind the fact about becoming a Muslim)

I swear the more I snorkel the better the reefs and diversity of marine life… We swam with huge turtles that would have been close to my height – that’s if they were actually ninja turtles and could stand.

Saw a multitude of fish – tuna, crocodile fish, all the usual tropicals, angel fish as big as my head, a moray eel and the really punk (spikey) lion fish.

My super guide, Victor, took control of my new GoPro Hero5 – it’s friggen AWESOME! – and gained a lot of exceptional footage because he’s a free diver that can hold his breath much longer than my piddly 30 seconds.

What a day! They had to force me out of the water (Total of about 3 hours swimming over two locations) because all my Chinese counterparts wanted to go home. I suggested just leaving me there – this water is home to me.

The reefs are in great condition around these islands. Brilliant and bright colours showcased against the aqua expanse. These Malay people are wise enough to not allow people to wear sunscreen (other than a natural one), no standing on or touching any coral – even though I’m told it’s hard to control “so many stupid Chinese”! Not my words.

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I really wanted to visit Indonesian Borneo, but, due to my hasty exit from Lombok and not having time to research, it was too hard to get from Semporna – which is stupidly close to the Indo border – into Indonesia without going all the way to KL first. Madness I tells ya.

Overall I found Sabah kinda pricey for a SE Asian country that didn’t have the usual perks – like decent accommodation. But as usual all the locals are super friendly, kind and the guides I had went above and beyond to make sure my solo butt was well cared for.

A big shout out to Otto and Eim at Uncle Tan’s and for Victor at Borneo Speedy Dive tours. These guys all made me feel well looked after.

It’s funny how one day out in the ocean can make you change your mind about a place. Maybe, because I’m a water lover, my want to never leave the pristine coral and marine life made this place special.

 

 

What are your thoughts on Malaysia? I have a ticket to fly back there, but into Kuala Lumpur, and would love more feedback on where to and what to do… off the beaten path of course.

 

Its all about education of the mind body and spirit…. and being a water baby.