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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Slaying dragons- The toxic characters of our lives

It can naturally be very easy for us to hold grudges about past relationships that have turned sour. The realisation that the person you loved so dearly, was capable of unforgivable acts can be a painful pill to swallow. And one that I’m sure we all have the joy of experiencing. At least once in this lifetime. However, with forgiveness and time, comes a much deeper understanding as to why they crossed your path, even if they left an initial trail of destruction.

Recently I wrote about a two month trip in French Polynesia (here). It was a time where I shrewdly ignored many red flags, which ultimately exposed me to some much bigger dangers. A time where my heart wasn’t ready to be handed over, but I did so anyway.

I found myself encountering some unsavoury characters, while based on a very remote island somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  Unfortunately, one of those characters had hijacked a piece of my heart, which bit by bit I took back rightful possession of. Right before abandoning him somewhere in the archipelago.

I learnt a lot about the law of attraction. Where bad guys attract, well, even badder guys. I also learnt that while paradises can exist before your eyes, living nightmares can french polynesiaco-exist in that very same space.

When these people come into your life, it can be a mind numbing experience attempting to find any feasible explanation of a reason why. Why you deserved the treatment. When you know you’re a good person that innocently just wants to find love.

It can’t be that hard can it?’ and ‘why me?’ can be the beginning of a series of very dangerous thought patterns that invoke victimhood. A pattern that needs to be avoided at all costs.

Why did I meet them? I learnt the hard way not to look for answers immediately, but rather to trust that an eventual realisation will come my way. Perhaps months, if not years down the track. In the meantime, you need to take advantage of an important period where you can give yourself the love that others cannot.

My big realisation came about after a certain area of my mind was tickled, while writing65169_10151137360180168_400812489_n the above article about my time in French Polynesia.

without my involvement in a particular surf project, my dreams to travel to this part of the world, would continue to remain unfulfilled.”

It was the first time I ever really appreciated that crossing of paths. Any negative emotions that had been lying dormant, towards that particular person, was replaced with a feeling of gratitude. And it seemed to fit much more nicely with my spirit. While the dormant emotions did not pass my thoughts for a very long time, it was still a part of my heart that needed to be cleared.

And then today another realisation washed over me.

If I never had met him, I never would be spilling these words onto this page for you to read”.

Because I would never experience what it’s like to work on my writing business from anywhere in the world. That business idea wasn’t even a possibility in my mind until he mentioned it while we were together.

My experience would be dubbed a ‘light bulb moment’ but I think we need to extract every element of cliché about it, for these thoughts hold a lot of power. I couldn’t shake my spine-tingly moment even if I tried. And the timeline for that realisation I had today? Almost two years in the making.

These are the realisations that have the potential to shape the most vibrant futures, where dreams can be fulfilled in their entirety. These moments are not mediocre events. In the end it is the destroyer of hearts that must face their own darkness.

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”.

The Wild Things

I feel my fiercely independent nature weaving into my daily life most profoundly when I sit still. I’m a wanderer, a drifter, a gypsy who’s never really found a home other than in the hearts of those whose souls call to converse with mine. But more often than not, I find my home in the ocean because its lines seem to run deeper than the thread of another. Floating above the earth’s surface encapsulated by sparkling blue waters, I feel it’s all the comfort and reassurance I need to get by.

The last full moon rose in my sign of Cancer and I hadn’t felt the need to crawl in my hardspiritual shell and tuck my claws away as strongly as I had in this moon’s pull. It wasn’t until after I felt waves of sensitivity, to everything, and an almost overwhelm, that I placed my eyes on an astrology report that spoke just to what I was feeling.

I’ve read that the stars and planets are a reflection of the current happenings on earth and that they are deeply in sync. Those that can whisper those reflections back to us have a gift of communicating with the universe.

I am a believer in astrology, not that I know too much about it, but I want more of its grounding explanations read to me to put everything in its place. I like things neatly in their place.

The moon brought out in me a feeling of panic, an overwhelm that I’ve been overseas for so long that my communities have spread so wide that they feel almost out of touch. Sometimes I forget that many can still reside in my heart, if not in my presence. I’ve thrived for so long in the vastness of the ocean on my own.

Watching the sun lazily rise above the misty horizon. Schools of bait fish passing through to disturb the ocean surface. The tide changing to create strong currents sweeping out to sea. Lone dolphins happily exploring the curves of the ocean floor.

I desperately wanted to scamper to find groups of friends, feeling I could easily distractlost island myself with resolution by external source. As the moon seemed to pull I pushed harder in return. I needed quiet. I needed to explore a corner of my soul that hadn’t been touched for so long.

Today as the moon wanes to barely visible, I feel the cooling offshore breeze from the furthest mountains on my face.

I feel it so deeply that I nearly trip over my own feet after I close my eyes and breathe it in. I was reminded of seasons that we’ve all left behind, cycles that come and go and the need to slow down and observe. To stay out of the chaos.

Authentic connections are what I most crave. If it’s anything less then I’m OK to get lost in my vege garden, talk to my dog, read about mythology and theories on our existence. I just want what’s real. Why don’t you go out and socialize…maybe another day. I want to learn a little more about myself.

Travel Hacks

Keep currency from your departing country when a layover is involved

Travel hack guinea pig at your service! I actually came up with this one just as the flight attendants came down the aisle with the food cart, on my AirAsia flight from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, on my three flight journey to Cloud9, Philippines. I was pretty excited to trial this travel hack and it was a success, so here it is!

Instead of desperately trying to spend your last penny at the overpriced souvenir shops at the airport prior to leaving the country, because the foreign currency will be of no use back home, pocket it! Why? Because it’s the perfect solution if you have a short layover or overnight layover in another country before your final destination.

I kept the highest note available from Thailand which was 1000 Thai Baht (about $40AUD) to pay for my onboard snacks, knowing that the change I would get back from the breakmoney exchange Thai Baht to Malaysian Ringgit would be in my country of destination’s currency! A simple “sorry it’s all I have left” will serve as an apology to the attendant as you pay for one snack, while she robs the last of the change in the cash box. Most airlines will accept payment for on-board services from both the departing and arriving countries you are traveling between, but the change usually always comes back in the destination’s currency.

No need to visit the currency exchange at your layover stop, where they will charge sky high commission fees, nor a trip to the ATM and pay the big withdrawal fees when you arrive at the layover country. Even if you do need to get cash out later at the ATM at least you’ll have enough money to cover transport to and from the airport to your accommodation (if spending a night there) and food on the go. You could even get really cheeky and break a second big note towards the end of the flight, as by this stage they would have plenty of cash in the kitty!


Music on the Go

With so many different types of music apps and programs out there it’s hard to know which one to choose. I have an old surf girl music  school mp3 player as I can play it 24 hours straight without having to recharge. Music truly is a saviour when embarking in tedious travels. As I recently purchased a new laptop I didn’t want to risk downloading free mp3 files nor pay for a program. I stumbled across a brilliant program called “Youtube to mp3“, which allows you to drag and drop any Youtube clip into the program window and it then converts the file to mp3. Totally free and safe! So stoked I can download endless songs!

www.mediahuman.com/youtube-to-mp3-converter/ 

media human for surf travel

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

 The Importance of BYO skincare products when travelling remotely

I think it’s amazing these days seeing the prevalence of cancer amongst seemingly “healthy individuals”. How many times have you heard someone say “yeah he passed away from cancer but it makes no sense, he was the healthiest guy, always eating the best foods and exercising regularly”. It is my belief it all comes down to the products we are applying externally and surrounding ourselves in daily that are endocrine disruptors (or hormone disruptors). See Wikipedias definition here.

A few years ago I never used to care for what I was putting on my skin, in my hair or brushing my teeth coconut oil with until I dated a highly passionate vegan. I hadn’t even heard of the concept of chemical beauty products, all that mattered was that it smelt pretty, moisturised, left a minty taste, smoothed or untangled. A simple internet search of unpronounceable chemicals contained in my favourite deodorant or moisturiser revealed some pretty disturbing results.

I started exploring alternative options and visiting speciality health food stores and paying more money for natural products. This was certainly trial and error as I found many products were not effective and I had to go through many brands until I found one that suited. For example finding a natural deodorant that actually worked took quite a few months and quite a few dollars, but I was so happy when I finally found a reliable brand and have to this day stuck with it.

Common Misbeliefs 

The biggest misbelief people follow regarding everyday skin care products you find at your supermarket is “if it’s so bad how can it end up in the supermarket and why would these companies want to harm your health?”. The sad truth is many companies want to find the most cost-effective option for manufacturing their products, with very little care for your health but total focus on how much profit they can make.

The use of animal products 

This involves using multiple animal by-products which include ground up intestines, meat industry beauty productshormones from adrenal glands and proteins obtained by boiling ligaments, bones and skin. For a full list see peta.org’s animal ingredients’ list here . The reason companies decide to use animal products is because they are cheap and usually by-products from the meat industry. Also animal skin oils etc are most closely related to our skin, therefore giving a smooth texture upon application, especially in moisturisers and makeup.

The use of chemical products

Again the main reason companies (including big names) use chemical products which are harmful to your health is because of the low cost involved. Have a look at the top chemicals to look out for in your personal skin care products here. You will see listed many chemicals which can affect internal organs, lead to skin allergies, cause chest pain, nausea, affect your immune system and the worst- cancer.

So the issue is not if you use these products once or twice or even for a few months at a time. Rather it is the long term exposure to these carcinogenic chemicals that will do the damage. Of course your skincare routine is engrained to your daily habits- my main tip is don’t change your entire beauty product range overnight- it’s just too overwhelming, trust me I tried! Once you start looking at the ingredients of every bathroom product you will find toothpaste, shampoos, moisturisers and all hair products contain some kind of toxic chemical or ground up animal part. Start with just one and go from there. It took me almost a year to almost fully change my beauty products to natural options. It is also a process of simplification- for example my everyday hair wash I just use diluted apple cider vinegar and for moisturiser face and body I use coconut oil.

The problem with remote regions

Luckily in countries like Australia there are regulations and bodies in place to measure what makes a product “organic” or “vegan-friendly”. Many remote spots just haven’t been educated on the dangers, therefore I’ve found products are much worse off than Australia because of a largely unregulated industry. In Thailand there are entire sections in supermarkets that claim to be organic but a simple scroll of the ingredients will reveal anything but. Small villages in Indonesia, Polynesia and Philippines that I have lived in all rely on toxic products as there is no other option.

Herein lies the importance of bringing your own beauty products on your surf trips. You could say you’re only living in these spots for less than a few months but once you are aware of just how bad most supermarket products are, it’s hard to go back. Again simplification wins. You don’t want to pay for excess baggage because of all the products you’re going to bring to last a few months.

The lesson learnt is not to only evaluate what you put inside your body but equally as important, be aware of what you’re exposing your body to and the long-term effects on your health.

On-The-Go Natural Hand Sanitiser

It seems in recent years the market has been flooded with pocket-size hand sanitisers. Big sanitiser pump bottles can also be found in businesses such as banks and retail outlets at the front counter.

I remember growing up I only ever saw this in places that made sense to have them, such as pet stores, hospitals and kindergartens. As with most things in life, it’s all about balance and we most certainly need some bacteria and germs to support and protect our immune systems.

If we live in an environment where there is no kind of bacteria, then we step outside and come into contact with the smallest hint of bacteria then we are going to react radically to that exposure. Sure we want to kill harmful bacteria but we don’t want to wipe out bacteria all together. Overuse of “convenient” hand hand sanitisersanitisers can see both good and bad bacteria being stripped from the skin and it dramatically upsets our skin’s antimicrobial defenses.

We need some bad bacteria residing on the skin in order to make the transmission of disease harder to break through! The fact of the matter is we can’t always be “sterile”. With the use of hand sanitisers, we are not improving our immune systems but rather weakening it, by living in neurotically clean environments where any trace of bacteria that “could lead to a cold” needs to be exterminated.

Harmful chemicals found within hand sanitisers

The problem is we have no idea what chemicals are used to make up the sanitiser formulas as manufacturers aren’t required to list them. However, one chemical that is often listed on the ingredient panel and most commonly found in the majority of hand sanitisers is “triclosan”.

It is a known hormone disruptor as found in studies carried out on lab rats. It further interrupts proper muscle function and in one experiment in particular where rats were exposed to triclosan, it was found that their heart muscle function was reduced by 25% and their gripping strength reduced by 18%.

In fact triclosan was first used as a pesticide and still is widely used in agriculture- so how on earth did it end up in the majority of our every day skin care products?  As with most harmful chemicals that you should avoid, it’s simply a matter of large scale companies producing low cost, yet popular products that they know will sell, with zero care for our health and well being.

The stripping of natural oils from the skin

Hand sanitisers contain large quantities of alcohol in order to be effective and therefore very easily dry out your skin and strip away natural oils by dehydrating the skin cells. The protective layer of oil coated on our skin exists as a natural barrier for protection against bacteria. The process of smothering hand sanitiser on our skin is then removing that barrier completely! Therefore we are actually increasing the risk of germs and bacteria making their way into our bodies!

Try my safe alternative 

I use tea-tree oil for anything bacteria related and always have a small 100% pure tea tree oil bottle sitting in my bag or bathroom cabinet. When travelling I carry a small spray antibacterial soapsbottle of water with about 20 drops of tea tree oil and this is what I use as a hand sanitiser. I know that it’s 100% natural and don’t have to worry about exposing myself to nasty chemicals. The spray bottle is also great to use as a deodorant if you forgot to put any on before your long trip!

Depending on how often you feel you need to “sanitise” yourself, it may seem like small exposure to chemicals via hand sanitisers-in particular triclosan.

However, you might want to pay attention to just how many other every day bathroom products contain this chemical. You also want to take into consideration the exposure of chemicals in your every day life whether through the foods you consume, cleaning products you exposure yourself to or use of skincare products. It all adds up and increases the risk of nasty side effects and especially the many variations of cancers more commonly being diagnosed.

Resources:

FDA proposing rule to determine safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm378542.htm

Triclosan: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/08/29/triclosan-in-personal-care-products.aspx