Travelling through Muslim countries as a solo female

In Bali it’s not uncommon to see Western girls freely strutting around with bronzed arse cheeks hanging out of the bottom of ripped denim shorts. However, there’s a strong likelihood they’re there for the vortex of clubs, beaming with hot surfers tanked up on $1 shots of Arak, looking for a good time. But I know that’s not your mission. Seeking waves in less than chartered territory as a female, means paying a bit more respect to local culture. Indonesia contains some of the best waves in the world, but the transit to those waves equals less than desirable destinations. You’re going to have to pay attention to what’s going on around you, if you want to reach many of those palm-tree lined, white sandy beaches with the perfect peeling left hander you spotted in your favourite edition of Tracks magazine.

So what exactly does it mean to travel alone as a female, especially in Muslim territory? Generally, it means you’ll gain a lot of attention from the opposite sex, even if unintentional. You’re exotic to anyone you pass by. But if adventure is alive in your heart, these culture shocks are the eye-opening experiences are exactly what you’re chasing.  The ones that make you appreciate the laidback lifestyle you likely left behind photo 1in your home country.

I’ll never forget my first adventure to Mentawais travelling solo. Through the last minute nature of organizing my time out there, I have to say I didn’t have much time to plan and research. I had read that a rather conservative culture existed on the mainland of Sumatra, and I already knew that the transit through Malaysia was the same.

I was appropriately covered head to toe in light cotton pants, the type you see tacky tourists wearing in Thailand. Yes, they may have even had elephants printed all over them.  It was pretty obvious to cover my torso and arms in a light cotton shirt. I also did my best to cover up my beach blonde hair under a Roxy cap. Before departure, I had actually trialled a head scarf, but while looking at my reflection in the mirror, concluded it was a bit OTT.

But even through this effort, I couldn’t help but notice all the looks from local men. I also surfing girlhad twenty local kids spot my blonde hair sticking out of my hat, while waiting for a boat to depart. I watched them clamber across planks of timber around the outskirts of their fishing village to be in my company for a long two hours. When they realised I was reading an Indonesian language book, I apparently became the centre point for all their jokes. Anyway, turns out I had made a few mistakes along the way and take these lessons to my next Indonesian destination.

Deflecting attention in Muslim culture

In Muslim culture, women who travel solo are generally seen as frisky and adventurous, perhaps even looking for trouble. If like me (at my time of travel to Mentawai) you haven’t yet found your knight in shining armour, head to your local jewellery shop and pick up a cheap sterling silver, cupic zirconia fake wedding ring. This will at least divert some attention. And yes, feel free to use every possible opportunity to fend off looks by running your left fingers along your chin in order to show your gem off.

When transiting through public places such as my boat crossing to Mentawai, you may or may not notice that men will sit together, with women generally staying in their bunk rooms or gathering in completely separate area. My first boat crossing I actually thought it was predominately men on board. The heat was absolutely blanketing that night, so I chose to sit out the back on the deck for much of the sleepless 12-hour night crossing.

I did think it was strange to not see many women sitting out the back of the boat, but muslim cultureagain didn’t put too much thought into it. If you can, avoid sitting in areas where there are mostly men frequenting the area.  If you’re on your own, try to sit with groups of women. If you’re travelling by bus or plane, take the window seat. In a taxi? Definitely take the back seat and make minimal conversation with the driver. Instead put your music in and be anti-social. Don’t share any of your travel details with any locals. You also want to share meal time with women rather than men.

Customs officers of the male variety will likely pull you over to ask you further questions. I found this to be a common trick of those using the power of the uniform to probe into the life of a Western girl. At one small airport I had to endure thirty minutes of questions mostly unrelated to travel. I had the customs guy turning over the contents of my bag, not even looking at the items, instead carefully watching me as he fired questions. Where’s your boyfriend? You travel alone? Where you come from? Why you surf triphere? Where you going? Surfing? Surfing? Expect these questions but give short, polite answers. Then make up an excuse that you need to be someone because your boyfriend is picking you up outside. Keep your cool and never say you’re alone. Corruption is alive and well in smaller regions of Indonesia.

Where possible avoid eye contact with men. Your non-verbal communication is important. While in Western cultures eye-contact during conversation is praised, in Muslim culture it is the opposite. Especially with the elderly, avoid making eye contact in conversation so as to offer your respect (if you so happen to stumble upon an English speaking person). Become an expert at people watching and pick up hints along the way. You may notice that Muslim women actually gaze downward in conversations with other men. Never shake a Muslim man’s hand.

As you can see, it’s simply not worth the risk of showing any kind of sexuality in a foreign Muslim country. Yes, I’ve been, and still am, the vain girl caring too much about makeup and looking good in a nice (skimpy) outfit. But here, it’s simply not worth it. Nine times out of ten you can wear a bikini at your surfing destination, but save showing any skin until that point. While in Sumbawa, a Western girl decided to take her yoga mat to the far end of the main surfing beach, in front of a village to practice yoga in just her bikinis. This was considered suggestive to a 13-year-old boy, who little to her knowledge wielded a machete behind his back upon approach. When she showed that she was not interested, she got attacked. So drop the Instagram illusions of perfect island paradises and keep your head on your shoulders.

 

 

 

 

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Thinking about surfing French Polynesia? Think again.

Being in a tumultuous relationship is not one way I would recommend spending time in paradise. Especially a two month trip. I would have loved to have done this adventure solo however, without my involvement in a particular surf project, my dreams to travel to this part of the world, would continue to remain unfulfilled.map_ga-tahiti

Traveling for a surf project

I quit my job rather suddenly (and not the 1st time) to pack up and head to the islands for what was a surf project I worked very tirelessly on.

To cut a long story short, I had applied for a role working with a ‘company’ teaching local surfers in remote islands how to shape timber surfboards in their own back yard.

Given lack of money, access to fibreglass boards and ding repair, it seemed like a perfect scenario and one that was relatively unchartered by Westerners at the time. The discovery of surfing by troubled youths living in remote islands would be a life-changer.

Somewhere along the way, I fell for the guy behind the movement. Things quickly progressed into a relationship. By quickly I mean by rocket-ship type proportions. 

We discussed project launches in PNG where he originated from. Solomon Islands was also a heavy polynesiacontender. But in the end, my ultimate dream destination won hands down.

There were many red flags along the way, but I was committed to the project and to French Polynesia come hell or high water.

This would be my first planned trip away with another man, rather than flying solo.

Little did I know, I would be leaving him on a remote island somewhere in the archipelago.  

The beautyFrench Polynesia

The trip was nearly two years ago, yet I still find it quite hard to put into words just how spectacular French Polynesia is.

Ribs of jagged coral reef in rainbow spectrums meet turquoise blue waters, contrasted by deep channels of dark purple waters. Unexplored lush green islands appear sporadically with unmissable volcanic mountaintops rising from the ocean.

Tahiti Nui

Flying into the capital Papeete is an experience rich in culture, big smiles, seafood, cruise ships and lively markets. Not to mention spectacular island backdrops. I only had one thing in mind, and that was to touch down at Teahupoʻo, a dream I’ve wanted to fulfilltahiti since I first learnt to surf.

My ex however had other ideas, with zero interest in helping me reach that very spot by rental car. Instead he erupted into an endless tangent about how commercialism is killing the soul of surfing. Red flag number 248.

The village of Teahupoʻo was a lot further from the capital than I expected, around an hour’s drive to the south-west coast. Oh, yes I had won the uphill battle to make it there. The drive is littered with fruit stalls, care-free kids, lush mountains, valleys and creeks and no shortage of black sand beach breaks.

The swell was small but I was so stoked to arrive at the dead-end street and stand at the foot of the infamous Teahupoʻo sign, that I’d seen in some of the best surf movies  growing up. The energy of the village is pretty special. It’s just raw.

I could only imagine what it would be like when the swell is 20ft with guys towing in. I’d still love to return to sit in a boat in the channel, watching fearless locals drop down the faces of monsters.

Island hopping

While I’d love to tell you where we next flew to for the two months that followed, I simply can’t. But I can fill you in on what one might experience if they choose to visit.

My ex had explored this particular island for a couple of tahitimonths prior, which allowed him to get to know the locals, the waves and ideas of where our shack could be based for the project.

And of course to skip out on some expensive nightly rates. I’m sure our experience would have been vastly different had he not worked to carve the path ahead.

I’d never before witnessed the type of waves that we would soon discover. The shack was set up in a small bay, caressed by the most perfect grinding right hander I’d ever seen. On the other side, an equally as perfect left hander. I’d heard that professional guys had died on the right before.

Luckily it wasn’t the season for it and I was quite happy I had missed it. The wave however continued to run relentlessly perfect spitting barrels. It was just too shallow.

The locals

I’d done my research. It wasn’t pretty. But I was confident in the captain that was leading me into the project and didn’t feel I had anything to worry about.

The lineup

The level of respect in the lineup here is next level. The waves are an epitometahiti of perfection, depending of course on your level of surfing.

Whichever way you look at it, the locals make sure to strongly protect their ground.

I noticed there was no such thing as crowds.

Taking your camera

If you think you’re going in with a camera to shoot the waves, from land or from sea, you’ll quickly end up on the wrong side of any local. I heard many stories of cameras being carelessly ripped from visiting surfer’s hands and tossed into the ocean.

Along with violence.

The Red Bull team visited a nearby island on a big swell and it wasn’t a good ending.

Surfing in groups

You’re not going to just paddle out and start taking waves without first approaching and acknowledging each local in the water. There’s barely any lineup in the world left with this level of respect. Enough to leave you speechless. Tattoos. Bisects. Some big humans.

You just do it. But paddle out with more than two of your mates (especially two males) and you’ll be sent in. I know of one local who brags about the amount of blow-ins he’s knocked out in a day.

Each lineup is continually patrolled by locals with binoculars on hillside shacks, ready to call out boats if any trouble is spotted.  Be prepared to paddle. Some breaks sit 1KM offshore and include some brutal currents and bone crushing sections over dry reef to leave you out of breath

Other efforts to fit in

Refuse to take up an offer to drink tequila shots at the bar when it’s one of the guy’s polynesiabirthdays, well you’ll probably lose some respect too.

And they know how to drink.

Try too hard to fit in without invites, you’re likely to be sniffed out pretty quick and asked to leave the island.

Nine out of ten locals you have nothing to worry about, but there certainly are some that will take it to the extremes. 

The level of surfing

Some of the waves had me on the edge of crying with fear. I wrote about one particular session here.

Would I recommend solo travel for a female surfer?

The island is full of 360 degree views of every colour spectrum of flowers and tropical fruit you can imagine. It is a rich ground for deep sea pearls and sacred blue-eyed eels. It truly is something you could imagine out of a dream.

My experience however, was not without being woken from an afternoon nap, with death threats dished out to my ex, simply for making one silly mistake. The relationship turned into a brutal mess and in the end, I decided it was not a place for me to stay and once again departed solo. Narrowly missing out on a wedding proposal but perhaps that’s a story for another time.

Would I recommend another girl to travel here solo? Papeete and Tahiti waves yes. Outer islands I would suggest bringing a guy that has experience with locals of smaller islands, unless you have contacts in the area. Oh, and your surfing needs to be at a pretty high level.

Wild & Free

Exotic solo travel. Surfing heavy waves breaking over shallow reef shelves. Nipple piercings. Tattoos. Serious injuries in remote islands. Broken relationships. Quitting jobs. Suns and moons rising over inverted oceans. These are just some of the things that come to mind, when I think of my past few years on this spinning globe called earth. Most of which mould and solidify my identity through the many lessons learnt throughout. It’s been fast paced and wild, but more and more I’ve noticed my foot easing off the accelerator and edging closer to the brakes. I’ve heard in life never to look in the rear vision mirror.

I actually forgot how old I was. I spent two birthdays in a row escaping remote islands from the clutch of shattered relationships. In a whirlwind of adrenaline to simply survive, I paid little attention to the spinning cogwheels as my numbers flipped.

On one shoulder jumps a devil screaming my name with a wicked laugh, telling me to keep running at the same pace. Embrace the adventure and keep dodging bullets. But why am I finding myself turning down opportunities to surf big waves. To risk all again and again. Risking all for perfect waves. A quote I lived and breathed with every cell of my body.

I look back on photos taken from the islands. Christ some of those waves. And that’s the cropped-10606336_10152531576460168_8204708269631415799_n.jpgthing with surfing. That ability to push through the fear and just go. Everyone that’s out there knows the possible consequences. I’ve experienced them and came so close to not remembering every day I knew before.  Cracking my head on the reef, to a degree that saw me lose consciousness the following day. My article spread pages of women’s surfing magazines because I wanted to highlight the dangers of solo travel and make it real and personal.

I spent two months at the northern tip of Thailand building this site. Bursting with

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 12.22.58 pm (2)

excitement to share my surfing experiences. And I still am. But life is a journey and I want to embrace a post-travel mindset and the challenges that come with letting go of a chapter so incredibly vibrant in my heart.

I know my mum would love to read this. She was always telling me to take out life insurance as I shared stories of big waves. Near drownings, with a smirk on my face as if I just used up one more of my nine lives.  In the equally as grinning words of Gerry Lopez “I’m sure you die just a little”.

Why you should know about the psoas muscle

It’s amazing to realise the level in which stress affects not only your emotional, but your physical body. Particularly the amount of tension your muscles hold as a result of that built up stress.  I’ve been practicing yoga for the past ten years and couldn’t imagine a life without it. I’d say there’s nothing better matched to a life as a surfer.

I first heard about a strange muscle called the psoas muscle, pronounced [soh-ahys] from my wise yoga teacher many years ago. Much of his practice had a big focus on this particular muscle, that literally holds your torso to your lower legs and controls everything from how you move to how you flex. It affects your strength, mobility and also provides stability for your vital organs contained above its shelf-like structure.

Do you spend much of the day seated?

I view hip opening exercises, and yoga in general, to be absolutely vital if you lead a largely sedentary lifestyle, such as an office job or even driving for long periods of time. The biggest focus for you, should be stretching the psoas muscle given how significant its role is within Where-the-Psoas-Muscle-is-located.jpgyour body.

I always ask myself, “how is my posture and flexibility going to be when I’m 80 years old?” A lady in my yoga class is well into her 70’s and is more flexible than those a third of her age. Including myself.

I’m also sure to start with small daily habits, knowing that these are the building blocks for long term habits (which I wrote about here). You already know how quickly time can pass by. Don’t you?

Understanding fight or flight

The monkey or reptilian brain is our inbuilt response mechanism, linked to fight or flight, and controls the release of adrenaline and cortisol. It also slows down blood flow to larger muscles when needed.

You may already know about stress related illnesses such as adrenal fatigue, which is an overloading of the sympathetic nervous system. This condition can result from leading a fast-paced life, where you’re continually trying to keep up with holding a full time job, looking after the family, fitting in exercise routines but seemingly never finding enough hours in the day to get everything done.

In stressful situations major muscle groups, including the psoas, are on alert and ready to fight yoga for healthor help you flee out of danger. To be continually placing pressure on the psoas is where the trouble begins.

Lower back pain

Holding onto stress in particular leads to muscle tightening and shortening. When this happens in the psoas, it can lead to many other issues particularly within the lower back.

You may complain of lower back pain and therefore book a massage. The massage may feel great at the time but doesn’t really get to the core of the issue.

Much like a doctor prescribing medication but not examining the root cause.

The shortening of the psoas muscle can cause radiating pain in the surrounding muscles. The psoas will contract if you spend a lot of time seated or engage in high cardio activities such as running.

Of course I’m not ruling out other medical conditions related to lower back pain, but it’s certainly a topic that may arouse your curiosity and make you think twice about signing up for that yoga class!

image courtesy of: http://www.enhancephysiotherapy.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Where-the-Psoas-Muscle-is-located.jpg

Understanding Carbs

Are you looking at improving your overall energy and vitality? Do you want to surf for carbohydrates for healthlonger periods especially when you have back to back consistent swell? Whichever your needs and goals are, it’s important to understand the pivotal role that carbohydrates play within the body as carbs are your primary source of energy throughout the day.

Carbohydrates assist in the proper function of your nervous system, metabolism, brain function & clarity and muscle repair & growth.  When you consume  carbohydrates, the body then breaks it down into simple sugars and is absorbed through your bloodstream. The pancreas in turn releases insulin which is needed to transport the sugars from the bloodstream into your cells. It’s important to understand the difference between the two main types of digestible carbohydrates:

Simple Carbohydrates

  • Only contain one or two sugar molecules strung together.
  • Fuel the body for a short period of time, much like a sugar high. This can lead to subsequent consumption of takeaway foods or packaged foods as you are left unfulfilled.
  • Are often heavily processed such as candy, soft drink and cereals but are also naturally occurring in many fruits (the obvious healthier option!).

Complex carbohydrates

  • Contain complex and multiple chains of sugar molecules strung together.
  • Fuel the body for a longer period of time and are therefore the preferable type of carbohydrate to consume as you will be less likely to overindulge in other unhealthy foods.
  • Examples of foods which contain complex carbs are whole grain breads, nuts, legumes, nutritious vegetables, yoghurts and dairy products.

Why carbs are vital for high performance surfingwomens surfing

If you engage in high energy workouts or surf a lot, you probably are more habitual than most in monitoring your intake of carbs as you understand this to be a vital aspect of your training regime. This is particularly true if you wish to gain muscle or lose excess fat.

A diet which is moderate to high in complex carbs provides the energy to get through a workout. A bodybuilder’s diet in particular might combine a high intake of protein to assist in optimal muscle growth and recovery post workout. The higher your energy output, the more fuel (carbs) required.

Carbs and their link to weight loss

As a culture we are slowly beginning to understand that there is no “one size fits all diet” as our bodies are all unique, with different fitness goals and energy outputs, not to mention incredibly vast genetic structures. In saying that, it’s widely know that a diet high in carbohydrates combined with a lifestyle that is largely sedentary is closely linked to weight gain. This is also due to a high intake of fats, sugars and far too many refined foods

stripped of any trace of nutrient. Believe it or not, the Japanese have one of the highest intake of carbs globally, however still remain slender due to their low intake of saturated fats, sugars and refined products and a particular focus on complex carbs rather than simple carbs.

Often those that follow fad low carb diets for weight loss, find themselves low on energy. With careful observation of specific energy needs, it’s possible to reach a fine balance of just the right amount of carbs. We can all learn from the eating habits of Japanese as they have been touted to be one of the healthiest cultures in the world.

Is there an ideal time of the day to consume carbs?

Carbs are either used for energy or stored in the body, therefore you want to ensure everywomens surfing gram of carb you put into your body is going to be used. Consuming carbs late at night is often linked to weight gain for this very reason. The ideal time to consume carbs is at breakfast or lunch time in order for your body to burn through the carbs. However if you engage in high energy sports like surfing, you know to replenish your energy needs pre and post surf, regardless of the time of the day.

The main thing to remember is you don’t need to avoid carbs completely but rather to select nutrient dense, complex carbohydrates and to use them according to your energy output.

The transits to reach Philippines

Somehow I managed to survive two months in Northern Thailand, completely extracted from any sniff of a surf scene. It was a pretty beautiful place. I had initially planned on a six month stay to work on my online business. But for the first time since learning to surf, I completely lost my muscle tone in my paddle arms which was a very bizarre feeling. I so badly needed that extraction. To see the world through different eyes. But it was long enough. Tracking somewhat close islands for a chance of a wave, began to take over the time I should have been working on my online stuff. And then I did it. I booked four flights en route to Philippines. In particular Cloud Nine surf break. Boardless.  I like to talk about going on a surf trip prepared. Well this was going to be different.

Kuala Lumpur (KL)

Heading through KL is a pretty common route for surfers wishing to get a slice of Cloud9. I like KL as it’s been a transit point for multiple Indo, Mentawai and Malaysian trips. It’s familiar and I know where things are.

KL offers many options accommodation wise (affordable backpacker dorms to luxury hotels) and public transport is reliable and regular. Services are available by way of taxi,how to get to cloud9 train and bus direct from the airport. There’s two airports so make sure you get the right one. All Air Asia flights leave from KLIA2.

The city of KL itself is pretty bad and pollution
rules. It’s  rare to see blue sky through the thick smog that permanently coats the city.

Poverty is real, as it’s a common stop for refugees that have fled Myanmar (Burma) who stay illegally in slum-like conditions, waiting for the next option to flee the city. Usually by road and then sea.

Most with falsehoods on reaching the shores of Australia. The land of milk and honey.

As I found out, the Australian Government funds search and rescue operations in Malaysia by helicopter. They also carry out Police raids and water patrol units to hunt out refugees and send them back to where they came.

I spent three weeks throughout Malaysia in 2014 and the general vibe of the locals wasKuala Lumpur not great. They came across as quite unwelcoming. Perhaps the Australian Government’s influence is part of the reason why.

If you have an overnight in KL it’s worth checking out China Town in the city. Scores of markets line the streets, similar to the markets in Bali (Kuta).

As usual, be prepared to bargain for prices. You can get cheap clothes, sunnies, watches and bags. There is also an array of amazing food and fresh tropical fruit at low cost.

Transit through Cebu

OK so I must admit I didn’t quite do my research about Cebu. I just pictured a little island in the middle of a turquoise blue ocean, palm trees and beachside markets. Some of the atolls, reefs and islands we flew over were incredibly beautiful but by the time the plane flew over the island of Cebu, I realised it wasn’t anything how I had imagined. I had a one night layover here.

Grabbing the nearest taxi outside the small airport, I was in for a bit of a ride. From the driver, I had the usual “where you from, where’s your boyfriend, you had no one pick you up at airport?” type questions which you get used to when travelling alone as a female!

I was then quick to notice he was off-chops (drug induced) through his mannerisms and erratic energy.

At one Cebu travel point crossing a large bridge, where it was clearly sign posted that there was roadworks up ahead and the lane ended, he went straight through the signs, which smashed the rear of the taxi.

He burst out laughing and I said “taxi’s too big to fit through!” and his reply while throwing his hands in the air was “oh nah miss you’re just so beautiful it make me swerve all over the road!”.

The remaining trip involved him texting at every chance while swerving all over the road, running red lights and making up random and lengthy arrival times when I would get to my hotel.

I was pretty worried that he was actually taking me back to his house but so relieved when I recognised the sign for my hotel.

Stray goats roamed the city streets on miscellaneous missions, oblivious to the poverty that surrounded them. Kids barely old enough to walk, equally as oblivious as they clung tightly to their brother’s shirts, while mounting the back of rusted bicycles.

It wasn’t until I was safely in my hotel room, that I looked up “Cebu local news” on my laptop, that I realised just how bad it was. Bold text splashed the page, showing the past three days of events:

College student raped, killed in Cebu home. Man faces murder charges for daughter’s death. Lovers found dead in Cebu hotel. Boxing champ stabbed multiple times in domestic dispute.

Many were targeted Western attacks.

Luckily, downstairs from my hotel room was a small convenience store. I stocked up on asurfing cloud9 healthy array of white bread rolls, peanut butter, canned tuna and instant milo. Pretty much anything I could grab quick enough to then spend the duration of my time safely locked away in my hotel room.

I felt a million miles from Cloud Nine surf. Through tired eyes, I was surprisingly able to get a restful night’s sleep.

That morning I returned to the store to buy a local sim card.  While at the counter, I heard a kid whistling past the open shop door and glanced up to see a cheerful smile, dead chicken casually dangling from his clutching hand. I couldn’t help but smile back at him as our two worlds’ collided.

Past his small ripped t-shirt shoulder, something caught my eye on the other side of the busy street. A heavy looking, long and limp object in a white bag was being loaded onto the back of a pickup truck. Others that passed by, did not so much as blink an eye as they went about their day. I doubt I did either, as I struggled to hide my dinner-plate eyes. begging-1683496_1280

I honestly couldn’t be more happy to pack my bags and get the hell out of there.

It seemed my newly built hotel ($5.75 a night) was in a rough part of town. Their website did a great job at selling it to me.

I had to stand on the side of the road for a very long fifteen minutes praying for a cab to  pass by. Every passing car slowed to stare at my lonesome presence.

When a cab finally arrived, my bracelet got stuck on my lace shirt and I couldn’t lift my hand out to flag him down. It was like a nightmare unfolding before my eyes. Thank goodness a local guy came just in time to hail the cab for me. This ride was not as bumpy as the last.

Finally to Siargao

In the safety of the airport I could relax a little. I had two families come up to me and ask for photos in broken English. The kids giggled as their eyes curiously glanced over my hair, face and clothes as if they had never seen a Westerner before. Philippines kids

Once the plane passed over rusted tin roofs, visions opened to a vast ocean, full of every shade of blue imaginable.

Coming into Siargao is absolutely stunning, with a lush island rich in palm trees and jungles, peculiar shaped mountains and wide canyons. I could not wait to explore.

It was everything I hoped and more. Perhaps my excitement was exacerbated because my two months in Thailand without an ocean felt like an eternity.

Basic bamboo shelters lined the paved road, underneath thick canopies of palm trees dancing in the ocean breeze. The locals come equipped with that naturally laid-back island energy and are stoked living their simple lifestyles.

I was lucky to arrive when the swell was 6ft and barrelling at cloud nine surf spot. However I had to wait for the swell to back off as I could see just how challenging the takeoff was.

Top Tips for this Journey

Avoid the overnight in Cebu if possible!

-It really isn’t a safe place to be hanging out. The more I spoke to expats in Siargao, the worse the stories became.

It is possible to link your flights and get from KL to Siargao in one day with Air Asia from Cloud 9 boardwalkKL to Cebu. Then choose Cebu Pacific for the Cebu to Siargao leg.

Bring cash as there’s only one ATM 

-Best to get cash out before heading over as there’s only one ATM on the island and it’s regularly out of order. Never been happier with my purchase of my money bag that was strapped firmly around my waist under my t-shirt!

Watch your valuables in your hotel or shack

-I heard theft is very common here. Be sensible where you stash your cash, laptops, phones etc.

Take your own boards

-On the off chance you’re on a surf trip without boards (laughs). You already know tosurfing Philippines bring your own boards in your specific dimensions. Board hire is around 200 peso per hour ($6AUD) or 500 peso per day ($15AUD). Expensive. To buy a board here will set you back 12,000 peso ($370AUD). Cloud nine surf also has a high potential for breaking those boards in half.

Sunscreen and zinc

-Also very expensive here, about 520 peso (over $15AUD) for a small tube. Again experienced surfers know to bring their own.

Always be on alert

-Philippines is a dangerous country there’s no doubt about it. The use of meth is very common in many regions. The longer I stay here the more stories I hear of attacks on locals (mostly in transit to Siargao). Many attacks are in a bid to get money to fund their meth habits.

The threat of typhoon is very real

The slightest drop of rain will see your flight from Siargao back out to Cebu cancelled. The authorities simply don’t take the risk. If you can afford the luxury I would not booksurfing Cloud9 your international trip home until you are out of Siargao. Or better still make it a coupleI saw many surfers missing their next leg

Other than the general warnings, it truly is a stunning part of the world and one that blew my expectations right out of the water. I spent four weeks living in a very basic bamboo shack around the corner from Cloud Nine surf.

More in-depth rundown coming soon!

Mentawai Islands

If you’re a princess kind of surfer who must wear delicate designer bikinis and only paddles out to be “seen” by the men,  I highly recommend staying home as this place is not for the faint-hearted. If I could associate one word with Mentawai my first pick would be “wild”. Think jungle meet waterfall, meet crystal clear lagoon and waves that will absolutely blow your mind type perfection. If you’re a surfer, this is the one part of the world you definitely should not leave untouched.

Stay at home princesses

Just getting to the outer islands can become a treacherous and very tedious adventure, depending on your style of travel. For me I opted heading over to work at a surf camp, which turned into an accidental-lets fall in love at first sight with owner of camp- have craziest period of my life to date type of travel.

Totally unplanned. Totally let’s drop everything I thought I knew about life. Totally and utterly unforgettable.

Doing it rough

Over the period of two months in these islands, my mock itineraries included being the 10361064_10152102063020168_2727645846378015545_nonly Westerner sleeping top to tail amidst hundreds of local Indonesians on the floor of a rusted out boat.

The very same port to port journey in which a boat of similar description capsized in rough seas killing seven locals that same evening.

I sat for 12 hours in a tiny fishing village wondering if a boat home was ever going to arrive. I found myself being transported in dug-out canoes built to strictly transport supplies to the camp.

The scariest of all was stepping foot onto the same supply boat racing out through a narrow reef passage into the biggest, roughest stretch of ocean I have ever seen before, drenched to the bone and terrified if I would make it out alive.

vs doing it in luxury

Now, enough of the crazy stories.  The majority of surfers that visit the Mentawais opt for a more comfortable experience for their short period of time in paradise. There’s thirty or so charter boats from budget to luxury that buzz around the chain of islands.

You’ll also find a select number of land camps to choose from- most in which offer a safe and enjoyable ride from the mainland (to avoid the crazy alternatives that I found myself taking). The Mentawaisocean house feature the “no rules, anything goes” type lifestyle where you can truly live with no restrictions that you find back home.

Some surfers take this too far and end up living out there too long and completely losing their minds or going “troppo” as they say.

An amazing experience

Being a chick in the Mentawai rocks. Guys give you massive credit and respect in the lineup as they’re stoked to have a female join them in some heavy waves. Your surfing ability will improve faster than you can imagine, with mechanical barrels galore and long green walls that seem to peel forever.

When you’re not surfing  you can go brave the dense jungle, practice your Indo on locals in the small villages, pick fresh tropical fruit from the trees, explore outer islands and reefs,  snorkel & spearfish, gaze at picture perfect sunsets or pretty much anything your heart desires. But remember- no barbie dolls in these neck of the woods.

exploration

Every bite counts

This past week I’ve had an almost endless supply of energy where I’ve been able to wake at 5am every morning ready for a surf, a run, yoga or workout session before work. That energy just keeps coming as the day goes on and I’m able to commit another couple of hours after work to another session of any of the above.

Prolonged energy through food 

It didn’t take me long to figure out why I’ve felt so overly energetic. I’ve literally gone the whole week without eating anything “bad” as in heavily processed, high in fat or sugar or anything that you might consider to be junk food. I can’t remember the last time I was so health well behaved for an entire week as I usually follow an 80/20 rule when it comes to eating healthy vs eating average. By average I mean most of the products sold in the supermarket in packages. This week every time I thought to buy a pizza or something greasy I just thought why would I have that when I can extend my energy even further.

I’m not avoiding junk food because I’ll put on weight, my metabolism is lightning fast but rather I’m eating healthy food because I know the difference in the way my body and mind react to eating great food which is predominately raw and from nature rather than from a packet.

Foods attributable to this week’s energy

Fruits

I forgot how many amazing tropical fruits come out in summer in Australia. I’ve made a dramatic increase in my fruit intake including mango, pineapple, watermelon, apple and banana. Through eating more fresh fruit I’ve found my sugar cravings are a lot lower than
normal. Lately I’ve been inspired by FullyRawKristina who has eaten nothing but raw foods for over a decade. While I could never be fully raw it’s great to take small parts of her diet and integrate it into mine. I’ve also been inspired to make lots of fresh fruit smoothies and take a lot of recipes from GreenBlender. organic gardening

Fresh Salads

My salads are becoming a lot more of a mix of fruit and greens with watermelon and apple as the base fruits and shaved fresh broccoli, carrot, feta, tomato, roast veges and fresh corn as the bulk. I then add leafy greens like spinach, baby pak choi or Chinese kale fresh from my vege garden (organic) along with a selection of herbs, radish and cucumber (soon
to be tomatoes!).

In my Daily Habits article I talk about the importance of establishing what your golden meal is. This is the meal that you know makes you feel good inside and out and that yousalad can rely on for an energy hit. Mine is salad as I’ve used it in a mini detox as my main meals (lunch and dinner) for three days straight. I recognised a massive spike in energy, clear mind and overall wellbeing even after the first day. Most of my main meals this week have been salad on its own or with smoked salmon on the side.

Adding carbs

Morning

My breakfast is usually the meal with the most carbs as I know I can easily burn that healthy breakfast
energy during the day. Rolled oats are a great way to start the day as they are rich in fibre, carbohydrates and protein and contain a large array of minerals including manganese, zinc and selenium. On warmer days I’ve been enjoying them uncooked with a couple of tablespoons of greek yoghurt, a dash of honey and a sprinkle of muesli clusters or frozen berries. Eggs prepared in any way are also a great option as they are such a complete protein (contain all 9 essential amino acids needed for proper function) and contain many beneficial vitamins and nutrients.

Because my main meals (lunch and dinner) are low in carbs and protein I try to find other ways to fit them into my day and eat every few hours rather than three massive meals a day. There’s a great dried cracker/nut mix by Bhuja which is free of nasty flavouring & MSG as they use classic spices such as paprika, fennel seeds, cumin and chilli to flavour their mixes. They’re very addictive and I’m regularly snacking on them throughout the day. I love them because they’re high in protein-around 48g per 200g bag and carbs are around 88g per 200g bag. Occasionally I will use protein powders or bars if I’m on-the-go or the surfs pumping and I can’t wait to get out there, however I prefer to find more complete protein sources.

Evening 

My eating backs right off in the evening as I generally have a very early bedtime in order to organic saladrise early. It’s always good to listen to your body and if you’re not feeling overly hungry then there’s no need to prepare a main meal just because it’s ‘dinner time’. I know my body doesn’t like to have a high carb meal at night as I’m not burning any of those carbs and find I wake up feeling sluggish the next morning. If you don’t have the quickest metabolism then you need to watch your carb intake at night otherwise you can very easily put on weight as your body stores those carbs for future use.

Food as medicine

These past few years I have been drawn to the idea more and more so that food absolutely is medicine. I struggle to watch people suffer with many chronic diseases which are so painstakingly linked to diet but just aren’t being taught that by their GP’s. That’s not surprising given doctors are practitioners of medicine not nutrition. Of course they are great at what they do in so many aspects of their role, but there certainly is a huge gap healthy women when they simply write a prescription to blanket symptoms of a disease rather than look at the reasons why the patient is in that state in the first place. Sure they are successful in curing the symptoms, until the patient returns four weeks later asking for a further script.

One of my clients was a qualified pharmacist who suffered greatly from an auto-immune disease which doctors explained was “incurable” and that he had to live with for the rest of his life. He was prescribed medication that only induced more pain by way of crippling side effects. It wasn’t until he carried out his own research into a more natural approach where he began to experiment with adding and subtracting different types of foods and supplements in his diet that he saw astonishing results whereby he eventually cured his own disease.

He took what he had learnt back to his clinic and started sharing his wealth of knowledge healthy livingwith his patients and instead of writing a prescription for medication, wrote a shopping list for the patient to take to their local supermarket. The outcome was remarkable and patients would present weeks later totally cured of their disease that they had suffered from for years. Guess what happened to the pharmacist? He was made redundant as that particular pharmacy saw a huge loss of profits as he was sending all the patients to the fresh produce section of the supermarket! You can find more of his story here- www.therenegadepharmacist.com.

It’s not about a ‘perfect’ diet

It’s great to be on top of your diet and know what it takes to feel full of energy through the foods that you eat, but I also think you need to give some leniency for being misbehaved. When you do have a high focus on what you’re putting in your body then it’s a great thing to have a guilt free pig out on pizza and chocolate. It’s all about balance and moderation. I do however challenge you to go a whole day without putting any junk food in your body and feel the difference in your energy levels.

So are you a good surfer?

I don’t know. Well I mean, I’m just not quite sure how to answer your question, it’s so damn broad, can you narrow it down a little? Can I do it for you? It’s kind of like asking an artist if they are a good artist, by whose standards are we talking? Surfing is an art, no wait, it’s like dancing. How about, dancing meets art meets nature. It’s a personal thing in that sensegirls surfing and a form of unique self-expression. To call yourself good, to me, is how well do you know what you’re playing with? How much attention do you really, truly pay to the ocean and her creations. Do you feel as comfortable or as content surfing 2ft as you do 12? Do you draw on every ounce of your experience to pull yourself out of life threatening moments at sea? Do you understand just how very small and insignificant you are against her power? What’s more important, getting air and hacking every section of a wave apart, or style? To me it’s style, because without that you’re not really anything out there.

Let’s put all the corporate crap aside. The surf labels, the clothing, the comps, the crowds, the image, the display home with decoy plastic surfboards resting on the verandah, every brand new car ad with surfboards on rooftops but no ocean in sight. This corporate image, just take it all away out of my sight. I want to get right into the soul, the essence, the spirit, the freedom, the disconnection from land and all it possesses, the nitty gritty, the core, the heart, the crux. Now, you’ve got an ocean to yourself, it’s by no means perfect but it doesn’t matter. Actually it is perfect because you find so much magic in the fact this ocean stretch is all yours and anything can come your way. The waves are sending you into a trace-like state, a deep meditation, something not many can experience in a lifetime.

The sounds of society and all the action on land is drowned out by crashing waves, blue meets blue upon the horizon line, there’s so much peace all around you, just for you, this gift from god or whoever it is up there, I onlysoul surfing girls know him as Huey. So what are you going to do here with all this magic? There’s no one to impress, no worry about self-image, judgements, what brand your wetsuit is, who your shaper is, how much you spent on your haircut, no need to battle for waves, it’s just pure, you and the ocean. It’s time to dance, it’s time to slow things right down, so much so that when you take off on that wave it’s almost like you can see every droplet of water, every section of that wave as a perfect creation, every part of that lip as it strikes a chord with the wind, the shape, the colour, the patterns- this is the dance floor, the canvas. Draw some lines, gouge that tail into the green wall, watch the spray as it’s sent skywards only to be pulled back by gravity and back to where it came from. The energy is just so mind boggling when you find yourself in these moments of solitude. I still struggle to answer that question you asked me. Never mind, it’s not important anyway.

More Shark Tales

With recent occurrences of shark attacks on the rise on the East Coast of Australia, I guarantee there are many surfers out there who are reminded of any close calls they have had in the past. See my close encounter here. Aside from this pretty close call, I have had an even more terrifying experience where I was almost knocked off my board by some creature (seal or shark) which still remains unknown to me.

I was still within my first year of surfing and I had a trip back home to the South Island of New Zealand. I had been out surfing a couple of sessions during the day up the coast (shorter than usual thanks to the freezing water temp of 13 degrees) and I had just pulled up at my local spot. It was heading towards dusk in the middle of summer so it was around 9.30pm at night. A girl Laura who I had met only a few times was suiting up in a thick 5/4 and we noticed one another from across the carpark. “What are you doing it’s pumping let’s get out there!” She yelled out enthusiastically. “Are you serious it’s going to be dark soon?!” I replied. “Yeah, and? C’mon they’ve got spotlights off the pier we can surf all night if we want to!”. She did have a point and I hadn’t surfed at night before. “Alright you got me, let’s get out there!” I yelled to her as I jumped out of my car.

After uncomfortably putting on my wet wetsuit in a freezing cold offshore wind we headed down to the water’s edge together. We could see there were already two other body boarders out there and figured they probably had the same idea as us. The bank was really shallow and stretched further out to sea than normal. By the time we made it out the back, darkness was well and truly upon us, although we could see so much brightness on the bottom of the ocean from the spotlights hitting the sand bank.

The waves were only two foot but were peeling perfectly along the shallow bank and Laura and I had fun switching between our longboard and shortboard. I had just jumped on her longboard when I noticed a shadow not too far from us. “Guys I thinkaustralia shark attack it’s a shark”. Everyone laughed it off, not believing me and made jokes about no sharks being around in these waters. Suddenly something struck hard in the centre of my board from below and nearly knocked me off into the water. “Holy shit, shaaaaark, shaaaark, paddle in, go, go,go!” I yelled in absolute fear. Everyone started to panic as they could see what had happened and paddled as fast as they could towards the shore. BANG. I’m struck again in the centre of my board but this time I manage to cling on for life and continue paddling in. Luckily the sand was shallow and we were able to get in pretty fast on the whitewash. I was full of adrenaline and fear and by the time we made it to shore my body felt numb all over. When I caught my breath I was able to tell everyone exactly what had happened.

I still don’t know to this day what it was that struck me but I’ll never forget that feeling of being struck by something wild from nature.