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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One food additive you need to avoid

One aspect of our modern day lives that I’m incredibly passionate about is learning exactly what’s contained in our everyday foods. We’re simply not eating the way that our grandparents or even parents were eating. Food giants are answering to our ever increasing demand for foods with a greater shelf life, and that are ultra-convenient to our busy lives.  Sure they deserve a pat on the back for their loyalty to our requests, but the downside is that your health is suffering much more than you realise. I’ve learnt an incredible amount of knowledge on additives and preservatives through my health writing, and here’s one additive you certainty want to avoid.

So many supermarkets are recognizing our concern for products that contain unknown chemical ingredients, that many food companies will now splash “additive and preservative free” all over their front packets. Unfortunately, that’s often very far from the truth.

Annatto, or 160B is used to create smooth texture in food products like ice cream, additives and preservativesmargarine and salad dressings. Sure, it comes from natural sources, which allows those food companies to use the slogan additive and preservative free. That’s because annatto is sourced from the achiote shrub seed, however it’s anything but good for your health.

Various health complications

You’ve got to wonder just how many modern day diseases are linked to additives and preservatives in our food? Sure one Magnum ice cream won’t kill you. And that’s not what I’m getting at. Rather, you have to consider how many sources of the foods that you consume in one day, contribute to your overall intake of particular additives and preservatives.

Each country has their own regulatory body to say just how much of an additive oradditives in food preservative is considered to be safe for consumption in each food item. The problem is that that’s only for one food product, yet those same additives or preservatives are scattered across multiple food sources. Consume five food products throughout the day, with that same safe level of an additive and you’re looking at some big repercussions to your health.  Just Google “annatto and IBS” to reveal how many adults suffer from irritable bowel syndrome thanks to this nasty chemical.

Run to your same staple foods for years, or even a lifetime, add into the mix toxic pesticides, cleaning products, pollution and chemical body products, and you can see why cancer and other diseases are rampant as the chemical burden is just too overwhelming to your body. Your body simply does not recognize many of the foreign chemicals.

Behavioural disturbances in children

Luckily the Food Intolerance Network has been set up in Australia, to allow parents to share their experience with annatto, and how it affects their children’s behaviour. Timefood additives and time again, reports have been made on disturbing behaviour such as head banging and absolute rages in young children. Unfortunately, links would be very rarely made between that behaviour, and the food they are given each day. Instead, they are likely to be sent to a child psychologist and prescribed some heavy medication.

Annatto is just one of the many additives to be avoided in food products. Unfortunately, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. To me it’s about going back to the basics, without making food boring of course. Setting small goals is a great way to reach your target of clean eating. Start to flip the packet over and read what’s actually in your food, and even challenge yourself to go additive and preservative free for a week or two. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your pre-existing medical conditions started to dissipate.

 

 

 

Eastern v Western Medicine

The human body forever captivates me in all of its beauty to carry out its millions of functions, each and every day that you venture around this earth. It baffles me the commitment that the body has to keep someone ticking over, even when they completely abandon their health, poisoning themselves with cigarettes, alcohol and food that doesn’t deserve to even be called food. But the body can also hold a lot of darkness when it comes to disease.  When the body has had enough, it clearly lets you know. I felt this in what some might consider to be subtle, but nonetheless has opened my eyes more to my commitment to health and nutrition.  

One CT of my esophagus, a handful of blood tests, more radiation by way of a procedure in hospital, called a barium swallow, and a whole lot of worry, drew doctors to the diagnosis of acid reflux. Here I was thinking I was dying a slow death, when a sensation of something being stuck in my throat, sporadically occurred over the course of this year.throat.JPG While it ended up being a minor diagnosis, that’s very easily treatable with lifestyle changes, it still woke me up to take more care of my health. I imagine that other diseases on people have the same effect, although I know of many that still choose to ignore the warning signs.

East v West treatment

I very rarely go to visit a GP, perhaps once a year, at least when I’m not head butting reefs in the Philippines. I’ve been very fortunate to find a doctor that practices a blend of Eastern and Western Medicine. His name is Dr Ali and he loves Ayurvedic approaches, one of the most ancient medical systems in the world. It pre-dates Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine combined.

Dr Ali is happy to print me a script of antibiotics, but he’ll forewarn me that it’s a last resort approach, running through the various side effects, such as the destruction of good bacteria in my gut and increase in free-radicals. He will even go so far as handwriting traditional Chinese remedies, or supplements to take if I choose to be prescribed with the antibiotics, in a bid to counteract their damaging effects. The Eastern and Western divide can be described in the following extract from National Institutes of Health:

“Western medicine, while excelling at acute care and surgery, puts great emphasis on the chronic use of drugs to suppress the symptoms of illnesses. What is forgotten is that our bodies have a natural wisdom and intelligence; they have an intrinsic knowledge of how to grow, heal, maintain balance, restore homeostasis, and regenerate. Our bodies have evolved over aeons with these capabilities, but when they are suppressed, for example, when nutrition, exercise, and diet are not given adequate attention, or people ingest toxins, then “lifestyle-related” diseases including obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are much more likely to arise”.

Unfortunately, the divide between East and West has become all too much for Dr Ali and as he was helping me in my plan to tackle reflux, he told me he was taking off to Colorado in two weeks to study genetics as he’d had enough of the practice.

The Western Approach

I had requested blood tests of my own will, to rule out any issue with my thyroid and of course I was itching for the results. On the day of my appointment with Dr Ali, he had called in sick last minute, so I had to re-book with another unknown doctor.

Let me tell you, he was one of the coldest humans I had ever met. Even his white skinwestern medicine looked cold, as he pressed the dispenser of the antibacterial gel, that sat atop of his desk, lathering his hands in eliminate-all-bacteria, while his eyes glanced over my breasts and legs.

He remained expressionless, as he asked me why I had requested blood results for an issue with my throat. Before I could even answer, he found ways to talk over top of me. Scrolling through the results, he uninterestedly told me all my vitamin levels were fine and he couldn’t see anything worth concern. With a CT of my esophagus and blood tests showing nothing, I knew I had to book into the procedure in hospital.

The Eastern approach

After my results came back from hospital and I returned to the welcoming rooms of Dr Ali, the diagnosis of reflux was noted, but he also told me my blood tests were not great. My vitamin B and folic acid levels in particular, he described in his words as “ratsh*t”! On a running scale of worst to best, I had just made over the worst rating, which apparently was enough for the cold doctor to clear me of any concern. Something he had been taught in medical school Dr Ali mentioned.

The thing that shocked me most, was that the doctor had a discussion with Dr Ali asking chinese medicineif he had followed some particular code of practice, that again. had been taught in medical school in Australia. Dr Ali carrying over 30 years’ experience, in his unique blended approach and  practicing all over the world, mocked his colleague in his chest-puffing capabilities.

Dr Ali went back in the system and read the clinical notes of that doctor, from my visit to receive the blood test results. They were utterly appalling.  Any of the words that I managed to get out that day, throughout being cut, were recorded in the notes in quotation marks as if I was mad, and his final recommendation was to prescribe me psychotropics! Dr Ali laughed and said “well I won’t be doing that anytime soon”. My only guess is that as reflux can be triggered by stress and anxiety, this doctor’s approach was to prescribe me some anti-depressants! That shall fix the problem! I think I’ll stick to my yoga and meditation.

Holistic treatment

Of course a giant wave of relief washed over me as I found out that I was in fact, not dying. Relief turned into excitement in finding ways to better improve my already pretty good diet. The most uncanny aspect about the whole event, is that I’ve been writing health articles for a client on acid reflux for the past three months. I also had a gut instinct long before diagnosis to increase my vitamin B’s (being vegetarian) and had ordered PH test stripsnatural medicin for saliva months before.

Dr Ali handwrote his prescription of various supplements and Chinese Medicine that I could order to best treat my reflux. He also wittingly drew a map to the nearest fresh food market with the best raw treats in town.

It’s only been one week since I got my results, but I feel so full of life and energy, from mindfully increasing my intake of fresh fruit, vegetables from my garden, and Chinese teas containing a mixture of various healing plants and flowers. I’m yet to receive my supplements from an online order, but I think life will become even richer when I do.  I’m so proud of everything that I’ve learnt on holistic approaches to health over the years and everyone that has influenced that. Even though Dr Ali will be off overseas, on another journey and no longer there to guide me, I’m forever inspired to seek out alternative practitioners for any future health issues, and avoid prescription medications at all cost.

Nature’s own rhythm

And I could sit on the shore and say that the tide’s all wrong, the wind is up, it’s about to pour with rain and the waves have no form to even consider riding. All was true. But my desire to be out there with an ocean to myself was too much to resist. Then I remembered I could still feel the warmth of a summer just passed, the water wrapping around my body as I sit alone being rocked in an ocean so vast and empty. White puffy clouds taller than any man-made tower soar on the horizon, igniting the purple tints reflecting from a sun soon to set.

I remembered it all but at the same time forgot so much.

I forgot what it was like to sit alone as the weather started to turn.

Beating to its own unmistakeable rhythm.

Black clouds arrived seemingly out of nowhere, as though they were ready to perform at a circus. The calm air quickly turned into a ferocious wind, as if to introduce the storm-front lashing the ocean to the north. Any colour from the horizon drained and transformed to229327_10151038233085168_1203521898_n shades of grey, like an artist knocking his brush water over his fine watercolour canvas.

Rain whips my soft skin and beats so heavy I lose sight of the shore I once was sitting on. I shield my hands over my eyes as my vision is pierced by the dagger-like drops of rain. Why am I worried that a wave will come that I simply can’t see? I felt it a hundred times before but how could I forget.

Amidst the chaos, I couldn’t help but begin to laugh out loud as a shiver of joy ran from head to toe.

A wave suddenly peaks as I laugh at my own joke and I have to paddle hard to make it safe to the other side. As I dive deep into the warm green water, I briefly escape the piercing rain drops. Returning to surface, the entire water is encapsulated by a blanket-like cover of soft mist, revealing the perfect curves of the ocean. Misguided lines of swell roll in, regardless of what the heavens had planned.

And as quick as the ocean was torn apart, the air calms as the little pocket of storm moves further south, as if to follow the second storm front moving in sync along the mountainside in the distance. You could never tell me that you used to surf, for you were never a surfer in the first place.

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.