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Remembering Poppy Day in King's Park

Dedicated to Zbigniew Tadeuscz Sixtus Grabiecz Kwiecinski AO June 2, 1922 - July 16, 1999 My Dad didn't talk much about the war. Constant hunger, 'secret missions' in Lvov, his mother dying from a brain haemorrhage just days after witnessing the shooting of Jewish neighbours on the street below her window in Crakow ... these few images have expanded in my imagination to fill the many gaps that will probably always remain about Dad's last years in Poland during the Second World War. There were few photographs. A U.S. Army fork - regulation issue to those liberated from prison camps in 1945 - rattled around in our cutlery drawer, his army beret in a cabinet, and, stuffed like a guilty secret into the back of his wardrobe, an enormously heavy leather greatcoat liberated from its owner on 'the other side'. These were the only three objects of 'Dad's past'. A background of which nothing remained, not even relatives. Always grateful that he was the father of two daughters, rather than sons, "because you girls will never have to go to war", he was, nevertheless, an old-world disciplinarian where "children and fish have no voices". Marched down the hall to bed - "hup two, three, four" - my sister and I were often lulled to sleep by Dad deeply crooning Polish guerilla songs, or that wartime classic Lili Marleen in German, which he spoke perfectly. If Mum slept in too late on school mornings, I was usually directed to rouse her into action with a hand-trumpeted version of Reverie, and slothful behavior was denounced with "wakey wakey, your country needs you!" So it's little wonder that my enrolment into the Girl Guides couldn't happen early enough. "I look at it now and realise what a tiny little thing you were", says Mum, as she holds up the pleated cotton frock that was my first Brownie uniform. "You seemed like such a big girl". There was usually a bit of scuffle to get to Brownie's on time every Saturday afternoon. Having gone to speech and piano lessons in the morning with Mum, I'd sometimes then accompany Dad to the 'European butcher' to buy Polski ogorki, smelly cheeses, wizened sausages and dark, dense bread. Weekend brunches were olfactory treats cut short by my 2pm pack meeting. Mum, once again taxi'd me to and fro, but not before Dad checked my uniform. Tie badge polished, shiny belt, he'd invariably, however, re-arrange my beret. With the spic and span deftness of a sergeant major, the part I least liked about my uniform was pulled from its precarious placement on the back of my head to a regulation inch above my eyes, with a precise tug to the right for good measure. Little soldier prepared for action. Captain Harms discharged her duties as Brown Owl with a broad brogue. While it's true that I was often more fascinated by the dark hairs squashed beneath her stockings than mastering a repertoire of knots, I took to the challenges of collecting badges with zeal. The Girl Guides Handbook was a wealth of information. Along with comportment and thrillingly grown-up advice about personal hygiene, lay a catalogue of endeavours, the mastery of which resulted in badges to sew on our sleeves. Over my last three years at primary school Captain Harms handed out these cloth awards for everything from 'camp tenderfoot' to 'singing', and we celebrated with cordial and cake baked by her snowy haired mother who came to every meeting. Meanwhile, Dad spent many Saturday afternoons at home, listening to the football whilst repainting the metal plaques whose words in silvered relief commemorate Western Australian soldiers killed or missing in action during the First World War. Each plaque was staked at the foot of a towering eucalyptus tree lining the miles of 'Honour Avenues' in the magnificent King's Park on Mount Eliza in Perth. Although Dad would eventually preside over the RSL (Returned Services League) Committee in the Highgate Sub-Branch managing these Honour Avenues, this story happens well before that. For him, maintaining these poignant records bearing witness to the thousands of men who set sail to fight for a far-away King, was, I know, his way of offering gratitude to the country which welcomed him in 1949. However, the plaques needed repainting with a frequency that, even as a labour of love galvanised by civic duty, became a burden on ageing men. Dad's helpers were not getting any younger and nor were their knees. His busy-bees were harder to fill and more and more plaques were brought home to fix alone. When I joined in to paint the letters silver after he'd finished cleaning them with a wire brush and coating them in glossy black enamel, it was quickly apparent that small, nimbler fingers could do this job easily. And so it was, after considerable consultation, that the Girl Guides Association in Western Australia joined with the RSL to permit the services of Brownies in the maintenance of this public icon, with our time acknowledged in the awarding of the coveted 'Service Badge'. I'm not sure when this unique symbiosis ceased, but eventually Captain Harms retired and I left the Guides. Dad remained incredibly active in the RSL throughout his 50 years of membership, whilst around this time also starting Mensa in Western Australia - but that's another story! Today, the leafy verges of the Honour Avenues are often parking areas and joggers crunch past. Occasionally I notice a flower stuck behind a plaque, but on Remembrance Day, late Spring sunshine brings a flutter of colour to the temporary flags at each tree, an invitation to stop, read and reflect. On those Sunday afternoons my young imagination barely understood the implication of the words Ypres, Somme, Poizieres ... some plaques bearing the names of three or even four brothers, or a father and sons. But today, imagining the dreaded telegram arriving home, I wonder who was left behind to wonder where my father was when peace was declared for a second time, just 27 years after Armistice Day. oOo In Flanders Fields In Flanders Fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place. While in the Sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly
Unheard, amid the guns below.
We are the dead, Short days ago
We lived, felt dawns, saw sunsets glow;
Loved and were loved – but now we lie
      In Flanders Field Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch, Be yours to bear it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep tho’ poppies blow
       In Flanders Field. by Lt. Col John McCrae Composed in Ypres on May 3, 1915 and recited by Leonard Cohen in 2015 A detailed account of Dad's life is chronicled in his obituary by Ken Bladen, the State President of the RSL, on pg 15 of "The Listening Post' Marlene Dietrich singing the original version of Lili Marleen. the next international Girl Guides jamboree is in Poland 2021 The Returned Services League of Western Australia Highgate Sub branch of the RSL in Western Australia King's Park Botanic Garden

Sri Lanka in Lockdown - a tale of serendipity

Serendipity : a word coined by Horace Walpole in 1754, describing the heroes of a Persian tale who were 'always making discoveries, by accident or sagacity, of things they were not in quest of'. Hundreds of year earlier, Arab traders, plying the island we know as 'Sri Lanka' for rubies and cinnamon, called it 'Serendib'. At the time of writing, May 3, it’s now 44 days since Sri Lanka imposed a strictly-enforced COVID curfew, and I’m worried that when it eventually comes to an end I’ll have, in a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome, fallen in love with my captor. Just to be clear, though, I haven’t found myself taken prisoner by the Sri Lankan constabulary or been body snatched by fisher folk. above: It's the First Full Moon in May today (7th May), and my street is decorated for Vesak Poya - 3 days celebrating the Birth, Enlightenment and final passing of the Buddha Arriving in late February after working in India since December, I’d timed my week’s break to renew my Indian visa with an invitation from friends for a long weekend by the beach. I’d be back in Jaipur before the end of the month. Easy Deviation from Plan #1: The Road to Colombo Now let me just say that I adore India. As a peak travel experience, the Sub-Continent set my benchmark years ago. It is the definition of exotic. A land of everything. And everything to excess. In India, more is more. But put me in a swift AC taxi as I exit from Sri Lankas’ friendly little airport, whizz me along the smoothest road I’ve experienced for months, and suddenly, I’m on holiday, and somewhere between lowering the window to feel that moist night air brush my skin and alighting into Colombo’s cultural heart, I’ve decided that I deserve a fortnight here. At the invitation of Sri Lanka’s luxury hotel company, Jetwing, I spend the weekend discovering the East Coast. Decimated during the 2004 tsunami, the region has languished in the island's tourism stakes, although surfers well know Arugam Bay’s famous right-hand break and its cruisey bamboo beach shacks, but our journey reveals unexpected riches... Buddhist ruins, more than 2000 years old, sprawling amidst jungle enclosures along quiet, barely sign-posted roads; a colonial homestead in low-lying tea hills offering rustic fare transformed into haute cuisine, and the rarely-visited Kumana National Park, which I found so much more interesting that its nearby, and more famous rival, Yala. above: ornate ablutions within a queen's bathing precinct. Despite Sri Lanka's 2500 hundred years of written history, the details of this ruin remains obscure and conjectural. The pearl in our oyster of weekend indulgence is ‘Jetwing Surf’, a lazy haven of sea-side living, its pavilions and bungalows inspired by conch-shells and shaped in natural materials. Just being amongst this architecture is an adventure, the dazzling cuisine a bonus. Often inspired, and sometimes designed by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa - who gave the world 'Tropical Modernism' - Jetwing’s hotels are a collection of 40 unique properties. As the founding family who still manage the business are dedicated art lovers - it’s how we met 3 years ago - I’m thrilled to next be accompanying them ‘up station’ as they review their recently-opened 'Kandy Gallery', a boutique haven by the riverside, just 20 minutes from Kandy's bustling centre.. Home to Sri Lanka’s last kingdom before it succumbed to British rule in 1815, Kandy’s gilded pre-eminence as the jewel in the island’s cultural crown remains undisputed. For Victorian tea planters and the generations of colonialists who followed them, the neat green hills are one of many elevated respites from impossible coastal heat, but for Sri Lankans, Kandy is the very heart of the nation’s identity, for here resides the nation’s most venerated religious relic: the Buddha’s tooth. In kingly times it was said that whosoever held this tooth, held power. Cool tea slopes and musty temples prove irresistible, and for my second week I head to a high altitude guesthouse in the pukka Richmond Hills, all Corinthian columns and sweeping staircases - a colonial setting just begging for a Barbara Cartland novel throbbing with tropical ardour. Above: Not recommended for luggers of heavy luggage … Richmond House In Kandy - the only way is up Deviation from Plan #2 : India Locks Down Meanwhile, India’s first corona cases emerge in Shekawati, just 5 hours north of Jaipur, and friends there advise me to postpone my return - the spectre of a pandemic running rife in the Pink City too horrifying to imagine. So I engage a 3-wheeler tuk tuk driver for the week ahead (far more economical than day-by-day, and so much less argey bargey), and we contentedly trundle up and down the Kandyan hills, from one sacred site to another, slipping rupees to well-fed monks whose hands slyly extend from saffron robes before they’ll produce a key to open ancient cave temples painted in lolly colours and smelling of candle wax. By mid-March, Sri Lanka’s first COVID patient is successfully returned to China. My 30-day visa will soon expire so I take the glorious Blue Train to Colombo, only to find everything closed, as ad hoc ‘public holidays’ are declared in an effort to keep the population off the streets while the government considers its next move. above: Confusion plus on the platform of Kandy railway station … could I be forgiven for thinking that the famous Blue Train with its AC observation saloon would actually be... blue ? March in Colombo is enervating. Stepping from my cool bedroom into the hallway of a lovely home designed by Geoffrey Bawa acolytes, the morning heat reaches out and wraps itself around my bare arms and legs like a panting animal breathing on my skin. Moist and threatening, the heat has a presence. It feels very alive. It takes real determination to not merely slump after breakfast and await the possibility of an afternoon sea breeze. However, relieved to have my visa extended by a month, I begin to get my bearings in C5, Colombo’s gentrified suburb of large homes behind high walls. Now looking forward to the weeks ahead, dawn walks beneath the beautiful spreading foliage of Independence Square, coffee here, juice there … I’m secretly pleased for this opportunity to feel at home in another place in the world. Deviation from Plan #3: Sri Lanka Locks Down Now, just sometimes in life, synchronicity takes on a dimension so astounding, that truly, there ought to be another name for it. My phone lights up with a message “Are you ok? I can be there in 2 hours” Which part of this story is missing? Ah yes, the part where I return from my morning walk to discover my host in a state of panic, alarmed that the government of Sri Lanka has just announced a nation-wide curfew from 4 pm today … until further notice. In hindsight, I realise that whilst the implications were only dawning on me, my host, who had stalwartly remained in Colombo throughout the years of civil war, knew well that having another mouth to feed through prolonged curfew was a serious liability. I had to leave. And sure enough, by the time my bags are packed, the garage door rises on a tall, lean bloke in wrap-around sunglasses getting out of a ute. A Vision Splendid! Instantaneously cossetted by a blanket of safety I didn’t realise I missed, I silently thank Facebook for the one-in-whatever chance that a lovely woman who had several years ago joined one of my Bali art and yoga retreats, happened to notice that I was in Sri Lanka and notified her husband there that I might need a hand. Deviation from Plan #4 : Curfew in Kalutara Exactly 43 km south of Colombo is North Kalutara. The bookends of my life have started, perhaps, to assemble with my arrival here. A lifetime ago I arrived on the train, which I now hear rush past every other day – the track is just 50 meters from the house where I stay. In the other direction, then, as now, groves of beachfront coconut palms strung with hammocks lean seawards, but the beach shacks are replaced by resorts nervously pampering pale Russians and sunburnt Brits in the last few days before Sri Lanka’s only airport closes. Back then I’d arrived with a copy of John Irving’s The World According to Garp. Now I’m grateful for a collection of random paperbacks well-thumbed by the Aussie miners who’ve set up a base here for an operation they’re anxious to get underway. The manager departed not long after bringing me here, leaving their three houses in my care for the last 6 weeks. The curfew is mooted to end next week, after Vesak Poya, normally a huge celebration heralded by the May full moon to mark the birthday, enlightenment and final passing of the Buddha, but this year, a quiet suburban affair - like so many birthdays at home during COVID. ‘Adventures’ are not something one usually associates with being confined to home, but I have to confess that I’m already wondering if I really have to step outside the gate so soon. Something very special has evolved here since March 20. I’m incredibly grateful not only for a home, but a gently, distant sense of community which is still evolving here and marks for me, a very personal experience of Serendipity, that "chance occurance and development of events in a happy or beneficial way''. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story - do please share, and you can leave me a comment - just keep scrolling down a bit - and I'll be sure to get back to you, Cheerio for now, Anna more Sri Lanka stories - The Galle Literary Festival - My Ayurvedic Retreat in Sri Lanka

Highlights: Morocco 2019 September 'Sea to Sahara' small group tour

Morocco is one of my favourite countries to spend extended time in - when I first came here in 1986 I recall thinking that it seemed to incorporate 'everything' within its compact borders, tucked up into the north-western-most tip of Africa. This year I led two 18-day tours around the country on programs I designed after living here for extended periods over the last 4 years, (including eight months living in Fez, and studying Arabic language, 2017/18). This photo essay captures some of the highlights from the September Tour with eleven awesome women from Australia. What does Morocco conjure up for you? Carole in Marrakech surprised herself! Mediterranean shores with ancient Phoenician and Roman cities scattered along an awesome Atlantic coastline. Three mountain ranges whose inhabitants speak, dress and create beautiful artefacts distinctly different from one another. Wind-rippled golden dunes at the edge of the Sahara desert where Berber tribesmen have mingled with Sub-Saharan Africans to form a culture whose music reflects an exotic Sufi tradition. And legendary cities whose very names - Fez, Marrakech, Casablanca and Tangier - provoke a tumbling of images, imaginings and, for those fortunate enough to have experienced them, memories which, like a favourite scent, are impossible to forget the feeling of - long after the details have slipped from memory. Morocco has it all Casablanca is our starting point. When the present King's father, King Hassan II, built the eponymous mosque on the Atlantic shores in the late C.20th, he created not only the 3rd largest mosque in the world (after Mecca and Medina), but majestically articulated the dreams of a country released by his father, Mohammed V, from the yoke of colonisation. In 2019 our Sea to Sahara tours headed towards Tangier, a city often neglected on tours because it requires a 5 hour drive north. For me, it's 'a must' not only because you'll meet the most exceptional Tangerine to share his city with us for a whole day, but our luxurious and historic hotel, two nights of exceptionally cultivated dining, the fresh Mediterranean air, light glistening off the white kasbah and the diversity of cultural life here makes it a city to savour long after you've left. In Tangier we visit a synagogue as we continue our exploration of Morocco's vast history. After 1967, Morocco's significant Jewish population were largely resettled in Israel, abandoning homes and shops in the areas which came to be known in each city as the 'Mellah' - interestingly, despite its formidable Jewish population, Tangier did not actually have a mellah - unlike all other areas of Jewish population in Morocco. Surprising the Tangerines with a dawn dip in the Mediterranean before heading over the Rif Mountains (L to R : Anna, Kathy, Fiona, Evi and Amanda). The Bay of Tangier Driving from Tangier to Chefchaouen we pass the turn-off to Tetouan, and if time permits, we can, as we did on the second tour in October, stop for a brief guided walk through the ancient medina in the town from which that great traveller of the medieval world, Ibn Battuta set forth in the 14th century. On a more leisurely tour we head straight towards the blue town of Chefchaouen, famed for its indigo streets and, so they say, world's best hashish (did you know that the local street code for this is 'coriander' ?) Two ladies, two cultures. (above) Living side-by-side, the woman on the left dressed in traditional garb of her Berber people of the Rif mountains, and a lady of Arabic descent wearing a gelaba, a traditional robe with a pointed hood (unique to Morocco), still used as an overgarment for street wear by men and women, young and old, city and rural.Chefchaouen Morocco has four imperial cities. Its capital, Rabat reclaimed its C.11th glory and today is an elegant and surprisingly quiet city with a 1000 years of history surrounding it. So too, Meknes (below) the C.17th imperial home of the Berbers whose lineage hailed from Rissani in the Saharan south. Together with the nearby ruins of Volubilis, the largest Roman site in Morocco which reached its zenith in the C.2nd, we get to take in an incredible expanse of history in one day Being silly in Meknes! (above) Built by the C.17th sultan whose stated aim it was to outshine the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, you have to imagine magnificent stallions stabled here whilst just across the way in a subterranean mirror image of this vast enclosure were prisoners destined for the slave markets, snatched from the shores of Europe by Barbary corsairs. When we arrived in Fes after a long day of travel there were sighs of awe and admiration all round as we were welcomed by the Gallic charm of the well-stocked Dominique. Rooftop Riad Dining in Fes. After a warm day of driving and fossicking over ruins, cool beetroot soup followed by the delicate flavours of Atlantic seafood were a welcome repast as the lights of Fes' 9400 streets twinkled below. All of our hotels are chosen for ambience, authenticity, beauty and hospitality, as we usually dine at least once in our accommodation, especially after a busy day. Photo: Fiona delighted at the prospect of French bubbles! Evi, above, gingerly avoids the lamb skins whose scoured and cured hides have been brought from the tannery and dried on nearby hillsides before being brought by donkey to artisanal dyers who hand-colour each skin in Fes, famed for its fine leather since the 10th century when the first tanneries were built - one of the main reasons for Fes' location on the river of the same name. Fes is the perfect place to indulge in a little shopping - especially if you're thinking of having a jacket made to measure, as most of us did on this tour. We left Fes early morning, after 3 nights in the medina, ascending the Middle Atlas mountains where we stop for a wild and wonderful lunch of grilled lamb chops sliced straight from the sides of meat hanging outside the grill restaurants. Voted by many as one of the best meals on the tour, we tried to repeat this repast at a later location, only to learn that the Middle Atlas really excel in their barbeque skills. We definitely had better luck with dates. Amanda (above) deciding which of Morocco's 40 varieties of dates she'll indulge in as we drive into date capital of Morocco - Erfoud Just practicing (above) We spent our first day in the south leisurely exploring Rissani, having made sure that our tour aligns with one the only two market days in this great Saharan centre. It was the perfect opportunity to buy our headscarves (below) Rissani I think this gorgeous photo of Helen, below, needs a caption competition ! Today, day 8, we enjoyed lunch with a French ex-pat resident of Merzouga who shared her love of this country with insights into culture, cuisine and fashion - yes! another shopping opportunity. Mint tea, sweet pastries soaked in honey ... it's time for some serious poolside lounging before we set out for our sunset saunter on our camels. Saharan views (above) - Evi and Maria poolside in Merzouga Yes! that's our Rose (above) setting out on our sunset camel trek to our tented camp Is this everything you dreamed of in a luxury desert camp? A night under canvas with A/C and hot and cold running water, Gnaoua musicians (gnaoua is the word used to describe the Africans from Mali and Sudan, who having adopted Islam, eventually combined it with their own tribal religions to create a sufi-like practice with mesmerising music that plays all night long, sending adherants into a trance-like state), linen on the table at dinner and a sky full of stars. Sunrise in the Sahar. Not everyone could be roused from their giant beds in their luxury tents - but for those who made it, with cold sand between our toes and the distant call to prayer, the solitude was perfect for a little meditation and Fiona's Daily Downward Dog Worth it ... Gill, Maria, Fiona, Kathy and Amanda with our camp in the distance and cameleer keeping an eye on us. Always a little sad to leave the dunes behind, but so much still awaits us - we're still only 9 days into our 18 day journey. Today we head for the magnificent Todra Gorge. Unlike most tours which nudge into the gorge for a quick walk about before hopping back on the bus to get between Merzouga and Quazzazate in one day, we take an extra night to spend deep inside the gorge at a unique accommodation with excellent food and wine, and spontaneous outbursts of song by the staff! The Subiaco Post Newspaper makes its Moroccan Debut in the Todra Gorge It's time for a Big Break - what better place than the only permanent oasis in Morocco, a beautiful area called Skoura, located strategically at the confluence of two rivers whose waters feed the palmeries which have enriched these dwellers over generations. Dates, roses and vegetables make for a rich culture of kasbahs and riads and relaxing gardens Gaye's relaxing by the pool after her rose-scented hammam (or 'Turkish bath') Refreshed by two sublime nights in Skoura we're ready to take on Marrakech. There are two ways to reach this legendary city, founded 1000 years ago. We opt for the High Road, via the UNESCO World Heritage Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou, so as to enjoy the spectacle of the High Atlas mountains with the constantly-changing geology and dramatic gorge views. All this driving makes one hungry! We lunched royally on lamb and chicken tagines full of toasted almonds, dried apricots and pineapple, prunes, sultanas and figs stuffed with walnuts, a scattering of sesame seeds and fresh thyme. The High Atlas, like every other region in Morocco, has evolved its own distinctive textiles, and none more so than rugs which are woven or tufted by village women in almost every home. Using sheep, goat and camel fibres, and often, just, the natural dyes of saffron, mint, rose, and mineral salts, each woman weaves patterns which reflect both her personal and tribal history Sonja drives a hard bargain with Mohammed - his ultimate compliment being 'you are half Berber'! (with a pretty gorgeous kilim in the background). Most of us took the opportunity here to avoid the souks of the cities and enjoy the performance by a true High Atlas man where the rituals of mint tea and the too-ing and fro-ing of bargaining resulted in many beautiful rugs being loaded into the back of our bus! No one can pretend that it's an easy days' drive into Marrakech from the south. So the sense of relief at arrival is certainly heightened by the smoothness with which we arrive into town, are met by men rolling carousas (luggage trolleys), and leading us towards the riads which will be home for the next three nights ( we were a group of mainly single occupancy rooms, so as most traditional riads have between 5 and 8 rooms we needed to occupy two close-by riads in a couple of city locations) One of our Marrakech Riads - both had pools which was a delicious respite here as we struck a couple of days of unseasonally hot weather. If it looks as if we just move from one delicious meal to another - well ... here we are enjoying lunch in a slightly out-of-the-way part of Marrakech medina - house specialty? Saffron -infused tagliatelle with gremolata and a sprig of thyme followed by an equally fragrant experience at the Museum of Perfume (below) - where, yes it must be said, we really did linger too long amidst the clouds of scent being prepared for our individual orders of argan oil infused with rose and lemon. With two full days to explore this 'edge' city we spent the first in a leisurely way, with a guided walk to the Bahia Palace, Saadien Tombs and Koutoubia Mosque in the morning, followed by food and perfume and then a dash to the rug souk before making our way back to the riad to rest and relax. On our second day in Marrakech, after a morning spent exploring the labyrinthine souks, and taking advantage of our riad pools in the afternoon, tonight a special concert in a wonderfully-restored riad of great historical importance in the heart of the medina, at Mouassine, where the oud player and his lustily throated partner treated us to songs from the bygone age of Arabic rule in Andalusia. The Jardin Majorelle, and since 2018, the Yves St Laurent Museum are, I feel, two destinations which are so complete and engrossing in themselves that one doesnt want to overlay their experience with anything much else in the same day, so we leave it 'til the third moring to spend time here before a restful drive towards Essaouira, our last destination, on the Atlantic Coast Moroccan mint tea should be served with as much frothy bubbles as possible, and here in the Jardin Majorelle it is indeed a performance art! Our last two days of touring are spent in Essaouira, another UNESCO World Heritage medina, where we were able to stroll leisurely and unhassled in the fresh Atlantic breeze. last-minute shopping, fabulous silver jewellery artisans and exotic food offerings amongst many highlights as huge Atlantic sea gulls swirl past. Ready to dine out in Essaouira And here are Rose and Gaye at El Jadida, another Portuguese sea post on the Atlantic coast as we nudge closer to our final night on the tour, back to Casablanca. Sea to Sahara and back to Sea. An epic journey, with few stones left unturned. 'Thank you' to all the ladies who joined this Sea to Sahara tou, for your humour, strength, forbearance through unseasonal heat, sore rumps from 2 hours of camel riding (sorry!), and the wisdom and stories you all brought to make this journey so memorable. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story - do please share! and now you can leave me a comment below - I'd love to hear from you - and I'll be sure to get back to you, Cheerio for now, Anna If you're interested to know more about two new tours to Morocco in 2021, please contact Anna

East Bali's Spiritual Landscape

Known as 'The island of the Gods', Balinese harness the power of Mother Earth to appease the Gods. I journey to the volcanic heights to take a purification ceremony in sacred springs. Early morning meditation from my favourite panoramic viewpoint high above the village of Manggis, with the port of Padang Bai to the right and the rice fields of my village of Mendira directly below on the coast (photo: Glen Bosman) Buying a 'fridge isn't often a moment of existential reverie, but after all the fun of negotiating a price in Bali's downtown commercial district of Denpasar, the can-do alacrity of sealing the sale with free delivery came to a sudden halt last week when I gave my address: "Villa Nilaya, Mendira Village, near Candi Dasa, thank you" . "Where's that ?" "Karanagsem", meaning the region that marks the border of East and West Bali. "Ohhhh", slow intake of breath and widening of eyes, "Karanga-a-a-sem. Please wait Ibu, I must ask the boss". This inevitably results in another negotiation, and the peeling off of more red ones (those hundred rupiah notes, where ten make a million, and might buy you half a manicure). For all its costs (and yes a fridge, along with many other commodities needs replacing with annoying regularity, the kitchen being only 40 metres away from the seafront), it's an expense I bear with equanimity. Why? Because for now at least, it's still a small world away from sports bars, braids and Bintang T-shirts of the west coast tourist centres, and affords one an increasingly rare chance of experiencing at close range the serene and stunning beauty of one of the worlds most famous islands. Now only 90 minutes' drive from the airport (it used to be a 3 hour journey and meant one really had to want to be here), your approach into East Bali is marked by the auspicious buildings of Goa Lawah - the bat temple - marking the place where the mountains come closest to the sea. In a culture where topography defines a spiritual compass, the conjunction of mountains (represented by the Hindu god Brahma) and sea (represented by Vishnu), is a potent location and your journey will often be enlivened (and perhaps delayed), by Bali's famously beautiful cremation ceremonies as snaking processions of mourners, who, quite rightly, will not be hurried by any form of emergency , carry the ashes aloft before consigning them to the sea amidst clouds of fragrant incense. Life visibly slows down here as untidy shacks and jungley parts replace the urban development which is rapidly encroaching upon the food-producing fields closer to the cities and tourists hotspots, where villa complexes are rising like mews in the middle of watery padi fields. Life in the slow lane and time to watch rice grow (photo: Glen Bosman) You're already in a part of Bali that many city dwellers and the majority of tourists don't bother to visit, but keep going - it gets better. I've been exploring this region of Bali for twenty years, and it's taken all that time to discover, with help of my most trusted guide, a region and practice that has truly taken my breath away… the lava fields of Mt Agung and the holy springs of Lake Batur. Driving west from Villa Nilaya on the coast and taking a hard turn right just before the Amankila resort to ascend the tightly wound and darkly-forested road towards the ridge above Manggis, on enters another Bali. The early morning market of Selak village is worth timing your journey to visit - with everything from plastic bucket traders to tight-lipped weighers of gold behind high glass counters, this is a bustling microcosm of Bali village life in a moderately prosperous area where rice farming and cow rearing are augmented by a vast array of vegetables agriculture. It's also a great opportunity to sample freshly-made street food or pick up nibbles for the 40-minute drive to the volcano where you'll stop for breakfast. Mt Agung peaks behind the crater which is Lake Batur, with its tilapia fish farms and across the water at the far end of the lake, is the remote and rarely-visited - and hard-to-get-to Bali Aga village of Trugnan (photo: Anna Kwiecinska) My specially-arranged 'Purification and Meditation' experience is with the man whom the Balinese authorities call when trekkers get stranded in the island's wilderness. 'A 'mountain man' whose grandmothers were both traditional healers, he is growing towards his responsibilities as a village elder, a wise man from whom others can seek advice on many matters, including spiritual ones, for although he is not a priest, he is permitted to conduct certain spiritual ceremonies. He's brought with him his special priestly-clothing, white sarong and shirt, yellow hip sash, and of course the distinctive headwear which all men must wear to be properly dressed in Bali. Wrapped in a traditional sarong, I make my way along a series of water spouts representing the 11 holy springs issuing forth their Earth-warmed water into Lake Batur at the foot of Mt Agung, Bali's largest volcano.(photo:Glen Bosman) For me, he's brought a fresh sarong which I change into for the purification ceremony, whilst he sets up all of the ritual's necessary elements: flowers of 5 colours to represent the cardinal directions occupied by triumvirate of Hindu gods - Brahma Vishnu and Shiva - plus the celestial and earthly coordinates above and below where we sit. For my purification ceremony we have fresh petals in woven palm leaf baskets - 'cana' (pronounced 'chana' , incense, a receptacle for the holy spring water and the bundled palm leaf sticks with which it is sprinkled and white rice, all laid out on fresh white cloth. The ceremony begins as we sit cross-legged opposite one another outside of the Holy Springs enclosure by Lake Batur. It's a quiet weekday morning, there's no traffic noise, only the quiet chug of an outboard motor taking its boat owner to check on the floating enclosures where tilapia are bred. The lake is silent, barely a lapping sound, and a small boy distractedly flings a fishing line in from the reedy shores. We begin as the pleasantly monotonous chanting of Sanskrit fills the air and in between verses I'm instructed to pick certain petals, hold them between my fingers above my head in a position of prayer and then place them sequentially behind both ears and then the crown of my head. Each placement is followed by a sprinkling of now-blessed holy spring water and the final blessing, one of abundance and prosperity, is the placement of soaked rice grains pressed upon my forehead. The blessing has taken 15 minutes or so and although not a word is understood, I've given myself over to the experience with an open mind and heart, and love the reverential quality that now hangs in the air around us. 11 water spouts, 11 holy springs - I move through the warm water with a sprig of incense, placing it to the left of each spring's deity before making my own prayers - the entire process takes me 30 minutes (Photo:Glen Bosman) Thus sanctified, we now move into the Holy Springs enclosure for the purification ceremony. It is here that the local villages of Kintamani region will come to make their major blessing festivals, and this space will resound with gamelan orchestras, gongs, drums, chanting and gaiety, but today, within the high stone walls, we are alone on a perfect day and I'm glad … the spring waters gushing forth are so deliciously warm that I want to spend as long in here as possible, just floating and soaking up these non-sulphurous, sweet-tasting waters. Beginning at the far end, the luxuriance of this water is distracting - this might be the ultimate spa experience in Bali! I place a stick of burning incense to the left of the first water spout representing a natural deity, and whilst my priestly guide intones his verses in Sanskrit, I raise my arms to catch the water and then, in an age-old gesture of reverence, raise my hand above my head, as if to bring upon myself the blessings which are being bestowed by the gods through Nature via the holy verses. Beneath the sun, immersed in soft, warm water with a towering volcano behind me and ancient stone carvings before me, I've become a willing participant in this ceremony and don't want to lose one single opportunity to call to mind … well, never you mind … suffice to say that the repetition of this blessing 11 times as I moved through the waters to stand before each spout - a different spring and deity - was gently galvanising, the words I spoke to myself that morning remaining with me. I'm neither religious or especially spiritual, but I'm stronglydrawn to ritual, and on Bali, the Island of the Gods, where trees and rocks are as revered as statues and temples, the elemental power beneath the very ground that we walk on seems an appropriate place to direct one's attention as any. Ever been inside a lava tube? Here we set up for the mediation practice withing the stoney-quiet space of a a pitch black lave tube on the western side of Mt AGung. (Photo: Anna Kwiecinska) Reluctantly I had to eventually to leave this glorious pond of pleasure, dry and set forth to the next destination … a lave tube that runs deep into the western flank of Mt Agung (yes, the one that rumbles and upsets airports). Not surprisingly, a small temple sits inside the entrance, and after a Jules Verne moment of walking with flashlight into the utter darkness and stillness of the tunnel, I opted to do our meditation by the temple, rather than as was offered, inside the tube with the lights off. (if you do it, please tell me how it was!). The temple was already adorned with ceremonial umbrellas of white and yellow satin, and wrapped in the distinctive black and white chequered cloth that signifies the good and the bad, the full moon and the dark moon, the yin and yang of life, and strewn about were the remains of recent offerings - which somehow made me feel better. Sitting for 30 minutes cross-legged on pointy lava outcroppings will not be to everyone's taste, and I guess there's an opportunity to make this part a little briefer, but unlikely to return, I'm here to give it my all … after all, it was to this culmination that the purification ceremonies were leading .... and I love the chanting. The last time I came here, some 5 years ago, I travelled with my same guide to the Bali Aga village of Trugnyan, a famously remote, if not fiercely unwelcoming community who live on the far side of the lake, practicing their own versions of Bali's pre-Hindu culture, including, uniquely, that of not burning their dead, leaving them instead, wrapped in cloth beneath a special tree which is said to purify the air (and indeed that seemed to be the case when I witnessed such a ceremony). Today, visiting is not advised as frequent rockfalls make the place extremely unsafe - and one can't help feeling that the Trugnyans probably prefer it that way. Bali Aga refers to three villages who are distinct from not only one another, but from the rest of Bali, in their spiritual practices. So as you make your way back downhill, it's worth making time to visit Tengenan, which lies snuggled into a secret valley just behind Villa Nilaya. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story - do please share! and now you can leave me a comment below - I'd love to hear from you - and I'll be sure to get back to you, Cheerio for now, Anna Beautiful East Bali. You can read about Tengenan in my recent Textiles Adventures in Bali Here's the 2020 calendar of Art and Textile Retreats at Villa Nilaya, Bali Read my story about The Creative Living Y Read my story about The Creative Living Art and Yoga retreat in Bali with CATE EDWARDS Read my Story about The Creative Living art and Yoga retreat with JENNI DOHERTY #Bali #BaliAga #Trugnyanvillage #Kintamani #spiritualbali #EastBali #VillaNilayabali #VillaNilayaCandidasa #SpiceVoyages #AnnaMoniqueKwiecinska #travellingforspiritualadventures

Painting Retreat with Jenni Doherty in Bali

Jenni Doherty, one of Western Australia's most sought-after artists recently taught a 6-day Art and Yoga Retreat with Anna Kwiecinska at Villa Nilaya in beautiful east Bali, Here's how it happened: Try to picture four ladies walking through the door fresh from a detox retreat in the mountains - brimming with health and energy ? Um, not really … exhausted, funny tummies and a bit listless, the rigours of Paradise barely concealed. So, together with two returning retreatants, we were off to a leisurely start on Day1 with a group painting project which brought us into the garden, collecting shapes, and thinking about design from the first moment as we worked with a limited palette of indigo, raw sienna and beige Our first yoga session is another important moment in bringing a group into focus. Angelina has joined us this year for all 3 retreats (and those who have experienced her yoga will be glad to know she's returning next year), and brings a calming quality to our twice-daily time 'on the mat' (30 minutes warm up and a short shavasana - deep rest - at 9 am to set us up for the day, and then a full 90-minute practice at 5 pm, leading us into dinner and an early, restful night. Depending on our energy at the end of each day, this practice can be more or less dynamic, and you wont be surprised to learn that many of our afternoon sessions consisted of what's called ' restorative postures' .. that is blankets, blocks and bolsters supporting our limbs in 5-10 minute poses, where gravity does the rest, and one just sinks into deep rest. The message here is - whatever suits the day is what happens - there's no pre-determined yoga program or driven teacher to push you beyond limits. if deep rest is what's called for, then deep rest is what we do. Slowly but surely, everyone returned to full energy by the middle of the week. Jenni lead us on a focussed journey to create a many-layered 80 x 80 cm canvas, where each layer involved design and problem-solving. As a learning process it's been invaluable for me to see the difference that a session spent just on creating a palette from 3 chosen colours and two neutrals has on the finished painting. For all of us a revelation to realise that an endless array of colours can be made and that there's often more than one way to create the same tone - valuable lessons. Jenni's own paintings, incredibly beautiful works of art that often stand taller than the artist herself, often involve more than 20 layers of paint, often beginning with a mixed media base, as we did using moulding paste to create decorative textures into which we later worked with colour. Every artist has a way of attacking the glaring white void of a fresh canvas, and we've tried many here over the years with artists including Nadine Bastow, Becky Blair and of course, Cate Edwards, but this technique was a new weapon in the artist arsenal and we look forward to expanding on this theme next year when Jenni presents a mixed media on canvas retreat and a 2-day mixed media on paper works Sparkling sunshine beckoned us on a boating trip with a glorious morning basking on a white sandy beach with gentle surf for gorgeous swimming. Doesn't boating always give one an appetite? … Ketut's pandanus palm pancakes filled with gingered palm syrup and freshly grated coconut and hot Bali coffee to the rescue … time for kite-flying and clothes shopping in tiny beach side boutiques before the 30 minute boat trip home to lunch and an afternoon of painting. Our week included a hands-on cooking lesson with executive chef Pak Dewa Ardika, and a night on the town for some live jazz and divine cuisine to celebrate an entrancing exhibition night. Energised, rested and revived, the art said it all - glowing canvases full of vibrant colour, dynamic design and tantalising texture, and 6 amazing women who'd arrived exhausted, worked hard and departed for home in all their creative glory! Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story - do please share! and now you can leave me a comment below - I'd love to hear from you - and I'll be sure to get back to you, Cheerio for now, Anna read the blog for the Gorgeous GadaboutsTextile Retreat with ROBERTA LEARY read the blog for Taking Time, Making Space painting retreat with CATE EDWARDS read my latest blog about East Bali's Spiritual Landscapes #jennidoherty #annamoniquekwiecinska #balipaintingholiday #baliyogaholiday #paintinginbali #villanilayabalibeach #vilanilayacandidasa

Painting with Cate Edwards in Bali

8 years on and still going strong - my dream to create a nurturing space by the sea, where everything one needs is taken care of whilst you drift from one lovely thing to another has been a reality since 2012, when I held my first art and yoga retreat here at Villa Nilaya in beautiful East Bali. The artist in residence was Cate Edwards, and her presence as a teacher of extraordinary ingenuity has become synonymous with Creative Living Retreats. Cate embodies the very precept of the retreats - that life is a creative journey and Taking Time to Make Space (the name of her retreats), is as important as anything else we consider essential in life. Art becomes meditation, and every year the results are astounding! Many participants come as 'complete beginners' and leave , not only with two completed paintings, but the certain knowledge that they can paint - and that it's fun! This year we welcomed participants from Western Australia and the UK to Mendira Village for a 6-night retreat which includes not only their choice of seaside accommodation, but deliciously healthy Balinese 'heritage' meals prepared by our dedicated staff, a hands-on cooking lesson with our executive Chef Pak Dewa Ardika, and some time out to tour the less touristed parts of this beautiful island, as well as a night out on the town and some surprises along the way. Daily yoga with Angelina is always something to look forward to even if one is a little weary after a day's painting. In this case, Angelina, who joined us for the first time this year, creates a nurturing ambience of deeply restorative postures to soothe body and Much loved by the retreatants in all three retreats this year, she'll be back for 2020. Each participant chose two canvas sizes (50 x 50 cm , or 50x 60 cm), and each day, together with plenty of drawing, the design process evolved. These retreats are designed to help you learn to solve design problems, so sometimes the going gets a little tough! There's often a day when you're not really happy with your results - but that's where the learning happens, and the ultimate satisfaction in having created a problem and then solved it makes the work not only a joy, but an important record of the journey. Many of our retreatants return annually or bi-annually, and each year Cate's program sets a new direction - this year she worked with shape and colour blocks as the starting point. Our week is enlivened by daily yoga - 30 minutes in the morning, after arriving at Villa Nilaya for 9 am, and then, around 5pm, for a full 90-minute practice where Angelina takes us through a dynamic sequence before some beautifully restorative postures into which our bodies fall with ease, and then, a lovely shavasana … that perfect end to a yoga session when you get to just lie on the mat and deeply relax. As evening falls, and the candles are lit, we rise and walk down the stairs to find dinner ready - a buffet of East Balinese flavours with lots of seafood and coconut and vegetables. Every alternate night is a free evening to try the local warungs (restaurants in our village), and then before one knows it … its' the last day! I love hanging the paintings to create an exhibition and this collection was especially interesting, as so many paintings wanted to 'talk' to one another. We celebrated with a gala dinner at the villa, entertained by dancers and our very own Kadek who couldn't resist the opportunity to dance with a room full of ladies! In 2021 we celebrate with Cate Edwards' 10th Taking Time, Making Space retreat , if you think you might like to join us please get in touch with me to ensure that you get the accommodation of your choice during this busy high season in Bali. I'd love to hear from you, if you enjoyed this story, please share it using the links below, and you can also now leave me a comment in the box below - I'll definitely respond! Read about our recent 'Gorgeous Gadabouts' Textile Retreat with Roberta Leary Read about the Painting and Yoga Retreat with JENNI DOHERTY Read my latest blog about East Bali's beautiful Spiritual landscapes #bali #artretreats #artholidays #paintingholidays #yogaholidays #villanilaya #villanilayacandidasa #annamoniquekwiecinska #spicevoyages #paintinginbali

Textile Retreat in Bali with Roberta Leary

Creative Living Retreats evolved from my 20 years as a gallery director in Perth, alongside my love of yoga and making art. Now, after 8 years, and 19 painting retreats later, here is the first textile retreat, working with Perth-based designer Roberta Leary. Indonesia's textile traditions are rich and varied, and here on Bali, tucked into the mountains close to where I call 'home', is the Bali Aga village ('traditional Balinese') of Tengenan, famed for its double ikat hand-weaves. Tengenan is an important destination for discerning collectors who appreciate the mind-boggling complexity of these fabrics where the pattern is pre-dyed into the weft threads (for 'double ikat') and / or the warp threads (for single ikat) to produce the uniquely recognisable motifs which have enjoyed a 'fashion moment' in recent years. Visiting Tengenan for a detailed encounter with its villagers and their traditions has been just one of the activities this week, as a group of twelve textile enthusiasts joined fashion designer Roberta Leary and me for a week-long retreat to create our own textiles whilst learning about local traditions, meeting artisans and sinking into the languid pace of life in the secluded seaside village I call 'home'. Mendira village is a pleasant 90-minute along the south coast from Bai's airport, but for those who knew the island in the 70's, it's a step back in time. A gateway to the less-visited eastern part of the island, the nearby town of Candi Dasa retains the charm of 'the old Bali' : streets not choked by traffic, (no-one wearing face masks against the pollution experienced in Kuta or Seminyak these days ), no high rise development, and just enough smart restaurants and bars to keep it interesting. It's Slow-Living, and it's why we love it. A perfect place to retreat, and just one of the reasons I've called my Creative Living Retreats retreats, and not workshops … the other reason is the yoga. Yoga has been a 'refuge' for me throughout my adult life … a place, a feeling, a practice to drop into with more-or-less regularity … often, when life is busy, it's' less', so to offer twice-daily yoga sessions as part of the art retreats seems like one of life's ultimate luxuries. Our participants turn up at 9am for a 30-minute stretch, and lay down tools at 5 pm to start the 90-minute practice which varies each afternoon, according to the energy of the group This year we've all been completely charmed by Angelina (above, at Villa Nilaya). Her guided practices gently coaxed limbs and ligaments into alignment, surprising us with small challenges along the week's yoga journey - "just give it a go", she'd say, and indeed we did ! - and when the day's activities had been intense, our time 'on the mat' became restorative, with supported poses of deep rest and rejuvenation, her poetry bringing peaceful imagery to our mind's eye as the endless ebb and flow of the sea below lulled us towards the close of the day. Even those who didn't participate in the yoga found it recuperative to simply lie on the mat and listen. Yoga's like that. What bliss to arise in the dimming evening light from a 25-minute shavasana (a restful pose lying on the mat), and tread downstairs to find candles flickering on dark teak, and delicious Balinese cuisine prepared by Ketut and Nengah awaiting our hungry arrival. My vision of yoga being the 'vessel' holding each retreat has been beautifully realised by Angelina, and I'm delighted that she will be joining us here for all 5 retreats in 2020. And Roberta Leary is returning too! Roberta is something of a textile guru in Western Australia, and to enjoy her undivided attention and sheer love of teaching for a whole six days was a dream come true - I've been cooking up textile retreat ideas ever since I visited the island of Flores 6 years ago, and this year it became a joyful reality. Our retreat began at 9 am on Day 1 with a traditional Balinese Welcome Blessing of each participant at Villa Nilaya, the home I built by the sea here 8 years ago. It's the 'retreat hub' - the place where all the art and yoga happens for the next 6 days, punctuated at regular intervals by breaks for fragrant Bali coffee, gingered tea, healthy buffet lunches and every alternate night, dinners drawing on the zesty flavours of east Bali, where life remains more authentically traditional than most other parts of the island. Retreatants walk the 4-8 minutes from their choice of various beachside bungalows and hotels in the village which I've booked for them many months in advance (it's high season here during Southern hemisphere winter), along a quiet village track, arriving just in time to head upstairs to the yoga room overlooking the sea, for some breathing practice, dynamic movement and a 5-minute shavasana before heading downstairs to the outdoor workspace. This happens each day - yoga sets the scene. Our first day was spent learning the first seven of many complex techniques developed in Japan, to create both subtle and dramatic patterns on fabric by pleating the fabric and binding it in different ways to create a 'resist' in the dye bath. Roberta is a patient teacher. Everyone gets to try everything on a silk scarf or a rayon sarong before deciding what they want to do for their garment - a silky kaftan or a linen shrug - and the dyeing itself is an afternoon of 'bucket chemistry' with local sea salt mordanting the dyes and soda ash to fix them. Once the rinsing water runs clear it's time to untie the binds and see what happened! Shibori dyeing is an elegant 'resist' technique, the predictability of the outcome imperfect, so unwrapping the dyed fabric is always an exciting surprise. Some chose jewel colours as bright as tropical blooms, but perhaps it was no surprise that sapphire blue, indigo and sea green were most popular, given that we were working beneath towering coconut palms and jungle-y foliage just 20 metres away from the shoreline of the beach at the bottom of the garden. After our staff have ironed the fabrics, each garment is cut by Roberta and sent to our local tailors to make up... Meanwhile, there's more to do, and the next technique to master is that of stencilling fabric. We've chosen elegant arabesques this year, with a hint of Morocco in the background, and learning to align or register the stencil on the fabric, to repeat the design is a good grounding for creating one's own designs, which we'll offer on the Advanced Textiles Retreat in 2020. Roberta has thoughtfully chosen designs to include shapes which can be embroidered into, and lines which can be stitched along, so the possibilities for embellishment are myriad, and the likelihood of pleasing outcomes high … and so they were: European cushion covers or long-eastern style bolsters in dyed or natural linen, printed all over by hand in a contrasting or tonal shades providing the base for the following days when Roberta introduced a repertoire of easy-to-learn stitches to make a swift start. At every turn, colour and design are considered and discussed. what makes something 'exciting' , and 'pop' ? How could one take a chance and make the safe choice 'sing' ? Here Karen Sabitay came to the fore with her artists's eye turning to a palette of silken threads rather than paint. Throughout the week surprises abound, one of our most popular events is a hands-on cooking lesson with our executive chef, Dewa Ardika. We cook a Balinese heritage menu before enjoying our efforts over dinner and cocktails. June and July are temperate times in Bali, with only occasional rain, so it was on such a day that we decided to head for the hills to visit a batik studio specialising in the use of natural indigo and pomegranate skin dyes, whose use was explained in some detail before our textile passions were unleashed in the boutique over morning tea. With shopping desires quenched, a visit to an ancient temple site preceded a leisurely lunch overlooking verdant rice paddies, before the meandering drive home, via Sideman's famously picturesque terraces. Yoga at 5pm, as usual, and dinner at home brought to a close a perfect penultimate day. Our final day, day 6, was dedicated to concentrated completion of various works, or at least enough headway made to be able to continue, most participants taking away skeins of thread and tiny tassels brought by Anna from Morocco, to complete their works at home. There will be a finishing day with Roberta at her studio in Perth for sewing up the cushion covers and making sure that everyone has achieved their goal of completing 3 pieces during this 6-day retreat. And the final night ? Instead of hanging works of art on the wall, each garment was worn to dinner at a jazz club in town, after a fashion parade and drinks at Villa Nilaya - who could have imagined that those bolts of white cloth 6 days ago could have become the jewels of wafty silk modelled by each artist? AMAZING results !! Who came to this retreat ? This first textile retreat has been a revelation, attracting professional women who love the meditative peace that decorative stitching brings, a mother and her three 20-something daughters, all of whom have become 'sewing converts', textile collectors, and others who having experienced the painting retreats here decided to turn their hand to other creative endeavours. As diverse as the group was, the love of fabulous textiles and the urge to make things was the common ground from which we began, and by the end of the retreat, friendships have been forged which will last long after the retreat finishes - this lovely outcome so often the result of spending dedicated time together. Whilst many had practiced yoga before to some extent, others who were less able never the less found the yoga environment conducive to wellbeing, and our yoga teacher is more than capable of creating alternative sequences and poses for those at different levels, and a wide array of dietary preferences were catered for. The aim of this retreat, as it is for all of my Creative Living Retreats, is to provide a supported environment where participants can float from one activity to another without wondering how it's all going to happen. Activities, meals, materials, trips and transport … it's all taken care of for 6 splendid days by the sea. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story - do please share! and now you can leave me a comment below - I'd love to hear from you - and I'll be sure to get back to you, Cheerio for now, Anna If you 'd like to know more please contact me at Read about our Painting Retreat with Cate Edwards Read my story about Bali's Spiritual Landcsape #textiles #indigo #shibori #embroidery #learningtodoshiboridyeing #baliartretreat #artholidays #baliworkshops #textileworkshop #annamoniquekwiecinska #spicevoyages

FERIA Seville's Sensational Spring Fair

To visit Seville at any time other than during feria is both a blessing and a loss. What was originally a livestock fair in 1846, became, by the 1920s, a festive period beginning two weeks after Easter Sunday, gathering the entire city up with its irrepressible joie de vivre. Although called Feria de Abril, April Fair, it's date depends on Easter (I wonder if Pope Francis had this in mind when he recently mentioned he's willing to entertain the thought of Easter having a fixed date...) So while it's true that you'll have to jostle with half a million revellers for 6 days, pay twice as much for your accommodation as usual, and perhaps not find a seat at your favourite tapas restaurant just when you want it, you will be treated to endless days and nights of music-filled spectacle, conducted with the customary elan for which Sevillians are famed. In short … it's worth it. Fireworks at midnight last night were followed by the first major daytime event this morning, just after church, the Carriage Show at the bullring. Plaza de Toros Walking past the Cathedral from Santa Cruz, the pretty white-walled area of winding alleys where you'll probably stay if you only have a few days here, it's clear that most tourists are unaware of what's happening just a 15-minute walk away. Glide past the guides spinning the same spiels about the Alcazar that were repeating this time yesterday and follow the energy - you can feel it .. it's there, a slight quickening of step and even if you don't really now the direction of the placa, you'll get the sense if it just by being alert to the locals, it's all, and only heading in one direction - Plaza de Toros, just across the road from the Guadalquivir River whose C.16th waterway brought home all that silver which helped make Seville the grandest city in Europe. Spanish fashion Summer 2019 Suddenly you're in the happily milling midst of it all. Self-conscious women ruffling along in swaying flamenco dresses, roses pinned high into black hair, sharply dressed senoritos, 'sauntering and sprucely dressed' young men, as Cervantes called them in the Sixteenth century, 500 years later sporting ankle-tight trousers, whilst immaculately suited older ones with gleaming brogues, silk ties and signet rings gather for a quick jerez at the zinc-topped bar to the left side of the ring - its walls adorned with crookedly hanging black-and-white photographs of toreodors and the Madonna - equally beloved. Images of beloved toreadors sit side by side with Images of the Madonna Quick breakfast : Coffee, olive oil, serrano jambon and tomato puree for the toast Arrive early and order a tostada con jamon y café con leche and be swept into the festive atmosphere, but make sure you have your ticket first, a 5-euro seat in the top tier, mercifully under roof if its' very hot, and providing an expansive view, albeit through the colonnade, will cost you up to 4 times that if you have to resort to a scalper's ticket at the door on the day. Even if you don't have a ticket, you can freely wander amongst the carriages and their traditionally attired drivers and companions queued patiently - not to mention their extremely well-behaved horses - in the streets leading into the entrance of the ring. Lady riders made up about 10% of the total field A sense of Old World nobility pervades relationships here as the steward greets each carriage driver with a slight bow, and both remove and doff their hats in a customary display of gentlemanly behaviour. They don't quite click their heels, but there is a sense of choreographed posturing, a dramatic elegance that suggests why no less than five operas may have been set here ... Old World, old money, Seville's landed gentry are infamous for their preference for the good life over, well, anything else, really. The president and steward doff their hats to each carriage There's always the first time, isn't there? Savour this one. To enter the arena at the last-minute when seats are jam-packed and the music trumpets the first participants through the gates more usually reserved for bull is to draw in one's breath. It's exciting. Really exciting. Today is overcast, but I can only imagine the added intensity of a hot sun directly overhead turning the yellow sand of the arena to a golden glare. Have I been reading too much Fiesta? Perhaps, but for anyone who'll never see the inside of a bullring with its sand soaking up blood, this is, if I may put it one way, the next best thing. In the second round of precession the two-horse carriages enter. This driver holds her whip upright to demonstrate her expertise and control Over the next hour-and-half carriages enter from the door 90 degrees to the right of the collonaded exit. Seasoned followers will have their preferred seating area depending on whether they want to see the entry or the exit; Gate 17, where I sat, is directly opposite the exit gate from the arena and affords a wonderful perspective with the entries to the right, but top money is paid for a seat near the exit as the carriages trot towards you. All eyes are on the participants, unless you catch that of the broad bean seller who'll scoop up a paper cone of pre-skinned fried beans. You can buy a beer, but no one is arriving with a picnic basket or bottles … save your appetite for a leisurely lunch at 2. Even the snack seller can't take his eyes of the field The spectacle consist of several rounds, each for carriages with a certain number of horses - starting with one and moving onto five - entering the arena and doing their best to put on a stylishly disciplined display whilst not getting in the way of anyone else trying to do the same thing. It reminds me of a tango dance floor. Limited space. Complicated manoeuvres, special costumes. Horsemanship and style are applauded as drivers make their way around the arena cutting across here, bringing their horses into tight turns there, synchronised standing on the spot (I'm sure there are horsey names for all of these exercises), and generally stylish behaviour. The commentator announces each participant and gives them an allotted time before thanking them and requesting their exit. Seville's Plaza de Toros comes alive for the penultimate carriage procession with 4-horse carriages . as the first daylight event for Feria de Abril It is all very well behaved. It is not a race. There is no winner. The purpose is to delight the audience and bring fame to their origin - for entrants travel from Madrid and Barcelona, and when the 5-horse carriages have had their turn, the trumpets sound again and it's time to leave. I'd have felt a lot better if clouds of cigar smoke hadn't wafted by almost incessantly (is that why Spanish ladies flap their fans even when it's not hot ?), and I wish I'd paid the extra euro for a padded cushion to put on the cement steps, but it would take more than a squeamish tummy and a cold seat to take the edge off a brilliantly unique spectacle that goes to the very heart of Sevillian life and culture. Pour out with crowds and enjoy the nonchalant posing, head across the river to the old ceramics district of Triana for lunch, and revel in a delicious siesta before an aperitif and light tapas this evening … for feria is only just beginning. You really can't go wrong with Polka Dots during Feria Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story - do please share! and now you can leave me a comment below - I'd love to hear from you - and I'll be sure to get back to you, Cheerio for now, Anna #Spain #Feria #CarriageProcession #Seville #Sevilla #horsecarriageprocessionSeville

Volunteering in India

Accepting an invitation to volunteer at a remote desert school without knowing exactly what would be expected of me was an act of faith, but India is like that - surrender yourself, and be surprised at where this selflessness can take you. Starting a trend : a complete novelty was travelling to the C.11th Keradu temples for a drawing workshop with my class of spirited 14-year-olds 60 km from a nervous border with Pakistan, I have discovered such a deep feeling of satisfaction that I’m pretty sure this won’t be the last time that I return to Barmer, to volunteer at the remarkable Modern School. One of several privately owned educational institutions in an important district centre, The Modern School had its genesis in its headmistress’ distress at hearing her own young child return from his classes 9 years ago, terrified by his teacher’s threat to hang him upside down before a beating. Discovering that this institutional violence wasn’t isolated it took Navneet and her husband Mukesh Pachauri almost no time to decide that they would offer an alternative - and to as many children as possible. Today 1300 boys and girls from pre-school to Year 12 benefit from their inexhaustible energy, vision and determination to make a difference. Located on the outskirts of Barmer, nestled against the ancient Aravalli Hills, The Modern School greets more than 1200 children daily. Invited by mutual friends, as their first-ever foreign teacher, this week-long experience was something of an experiment for us all. Sure, I’d taught English in Portugal and Nepal when travelling funds ran low, and more recently at the Mas School in Bali, but formal teaching qualifications I don’t have, so I began by presenting art workshops - specifically along the lines of a portraiture class I attended at the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka last month. Working with simple media, brown paper, black crayons and monochrome images, our 2-hour workshop passed so effortlessly that couldn’t wait to work with these 14-year-olds again. Refiguring their heritage, Jashanpreet and Divya animatedly discuss the ancient symbols adorning this astonishingly beautiful and very rarely visited temple Previous experience teaching children whose language I didn’t speak had pitiful consequences all those years ago in Kathmandu, when the headmaster walked into my class to see why it was so quiet - only to find almost all the children facing towards the wall as if in solitary confinement - a punishment for noisiness I well-remembered from personal experience (as well as being banished to sit under the teacher’s desk as a 12-year old for talking … can you imagine that happening these days ??). Thankfully, these children are all being taught the ‘English Medium’and will eventually sit a higher level of exams than those demanded by the Government, hopefully ensuring them access to superior colleges, universities and the highly desirable Indian Civil Service jobs their parents crave for them. So discipline wasn’t a problem at all. I couldn’t believe how quiet the entire school was, when, on any one day with 1200 students in some 40 class rooms, there wasn’t much more than the quiet hum of concentration emanating from tidy, bright rooms. For some families, the INR 500 per month (about AuD$10), will be a stretch, and one can imagine the sense of expectation that even this meagre investment demands. Here, education is the difference between a future and an existence, and it’s not uncommon for teachers to be offered serious money for special consideration. Nanveet Pachauri, founder and headmistress of The Modern School, Barmer, Rajasthan Navneet began her school with her inheritance, and continues to run it entirely though enrolments, with no government assistance whatsoever. She demands total commitment and teachers are supported and motivated. Interestingly, one of the most enjoyable sessions I presented was a 2-hour session with all the teachers (mainly women), discussing and practicing mindfulness meditation as a way of focussing attention - it was fascinating to them that this is being taught in Western schools as a general part of curricula, as well as my perspectives on learning through life and, and the enduring value of curiosity for a satisfying, interesting and meaningful life. I found myself warming to my subject, and over the following two days, and some local media coverage, was booked to deliver variations on this theme to 18-year-olds at the prestigious Government Barmer Girls’ and Boys’ Colleges. Before my lecture began at the Barmer District Boys' College it was my duty to light the candles, incense and present a marigold garland to honour Saraswati, Goddess of Wisdom and Learning. Sharing with young people in packed halls, that I was not married and had "forgotten to have children” brought riotous applause from the girls (with a squirming shifting in seats from the male staff seated at the front), and a spate of cheeky questions from the boys, prompting their headmaster to warn that “only general questions” can be asked! The Barmer Sun, at the Barmer District Girls' College Once again I was reminded that what I take for granted is here, of such a rare quality as to be almost perverse. Travelling alone, man-less and without the support of my family in tow for months on end is simply a concept that is impossible here, and perhaps one reserved only for those pushed to the very edges of society : what would make me an out-caste in their own society made me an object of fascination here, and dare I say it, something of an inspiration - I can only judge that from the parents who arrived by the end of the week bringing gifts for Navneet and me. who'd have guessed that going off to draw at the temples was an innovative idea ? To Navneet I owe a great deal of gratitude for her preparedness to stretch beyond her boundaries, and entertain my suggestion for an art class trip to the gorgeously figurative C.11th temples of Keradu with “my’ 14-year-olds. With the Aravali Hills in the distance, the temples known as the 'Khajuraho of Rajasthan' were our destination this week - an opportunity to look carefully into the symbolism and study the extraordinary artistic legacy of the Chandela dynasty. subjected to centuries of invasion and destruction, only 5 remain from more than 100 standing here a millennium ago. What a spectacular success, and if I haven’t met the future prime minister of India in young Ganesh, then it only means he’s gone onto become a legendary poet or rapper. Ganesh (he's the boy on the far right of the picture above), had shown me a poem he'd written in his art book the night before, so I made sure he had a moment to shine on the sacred louts platform of the main temple, performing for his peers. Such personalities and talent I have witnessed and loved here. More than 35 yeas after volunteering as a Australian Volunteer Abroad, and being offered Western Samoa as a destination (which I declined), this brief week has been one of the most emotionally rewarding experiences of my many years of travelling in India, and one which, should you find or make the opportunity to share, will reward you surely as much as any benefits you might leave behind. Should you wish to be part of a group teaching/ interactive experience at The Modern School please contact me for further information. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story - do please share! and now you can leave me a comment below - I'd love to hear from you - and I'll be sure to get back to you, Cheerio for now, Anna #Rajasthan #volunteeringinIndia #volunteerteaching #Barmer #VolunteerinIndia

Sri Lanka's Literary Festival, Galle 2019

, January is a big month for literary festivals on the Indian Ocean rim - Perth, Western Australia, Galle in Sri Lanka and Jaipur in Rajasthan, India, all celebrate the art of writing by hosting festivals over 4 or 5 days of pure bliss for readers. Having attended all three, most recently The Fairway Galle Literary festival (FGLF) for the first time, it’s easy to know which one I’m heading back to next year. Perth is my home city. I’m a little one-eyed about the beauty of the grounds of the University of Western Australia as a perfect high-summer location for languid loafing beneath spreading Moreton bay fig trees in-between well-organised speaking events in comfortable theatres, spacious tents and garden venues. With the grand Winthrop Hall tuned into an easy-access book shop and fresh food vendors gathered near umbrella’d grounds, the Perth Writers’ Festival under the directorship of author and journalist William Yeoman has grown into an important event in the Perth International Arts Festival’s annual calendar, and is a must if you’re in town. With more than a million attendees over its previous 11 years, the Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF), is the largest Writers’ Festival in Asia, and an incredibly successful export product with its 6 international sister events from Adelaide to Houston. With stellar speakers, 6 simultaneous speaking activities in tents erected around the grounds of a delightfully rambling heritage hotel, and all the trappings one associates with a corporate event of this size - VIP passes and fancy dining areas, well-organised food vendors and boutiques, it also offers stupendous after-hours entertainment amongst the picturesque settings of the legendary Pink City’s palaces and Moghul gardens. Stretching over 5 heavily-programmed days, one needs stamina, determination and patience to make the most of the pricey access-all-areas ‘delegate passes’, and a thorough orientation of the tent city in which it is held as well as a strategy to ensure that you can exit one event and make a dash for the next one with a reasonable chance of snagging a seat, and you have to hope that the event you’ve chosen will be conducted in English (most are, and those that are not often draw a very informed and vociferous audience whose participation is usually as fearless and entertaining as it is argumentative). The Front Lawn tent of the JLF 2 years ago : The JLF recorded over 1 million footfalls in its first 11 years. Once you’ve got all that together, the JLF is an extraordinary event that never fails to leave me in any doubt as to why so many of those tables at the front of bookstores are piled high with authors of the Subcontinent. The programmers aren’t scared of pitting famously opposing writers on religion and politics and poetry and I’m always enlivened by the relevance and passion with which the personalities of India’ s creation stories are discussed as if the latest research on Shiva was breaking news. It is an event as fabulous as its location. nothing by halves in Jaipur - its your Rajasthan fairytale come to life at the evening events of the JLF If the JLF is the jewel in the crown of Sub-Continental literary events, perhaps Galle is its consort’s diadem. Smaller and a tad less sparkly, it is unquestionably a more comfortable fit.... more of a tuk tuk, than a truck, to mix my metaphors. This year the FGLF celebrated its 10th anniversary, and although William Dalrymple, director of the JLF and a headline act for this year’s GLF failed to materialise, Jill Macdonald’s curatorial skills brought together an impressive collection of writers around themes as diverse as of James Bond, theatre, travel and fashion. Sporting head-to-toe Chanel, with a T-shirt decorated by none other than Karl Lagerfeld himself, (R.I.P. ... Karl passed away today)., Justine Picardie, Editor-in-Chief of Harper's Bazaar magazine chatted for hours about Coco Chanel in the cool lounge of the divine Amangalla Hotel Uniquely situated in the incredibly pretty UNESCO Wold Heritage Galle Fort, this festival also offers one an entrée into a variety of boutique villas and hotels via small ticketed events of a rather elite nature, allowing you to chat over intimate drinks or dinner with authors in charming villas overlooking the sea or sequestered within the private courtyards of the beautiful Amangalla hotel. This is a rarefied environment, where Colombo ladies in pearls will tell you, two evenings in a row, that their “mother was British”, their neat husbands gallantly offering to hold one’s glass whilst one hogs into the hors d’oeuvres. It is a world away from the JLF’s boisterous democracy. Getting things right at the Amangalla Hotel, one of the more lovely venues for the GLF speakers I enjoyed lots of conversations about family histories in tea planting, eventually got the hang of a bit of Colombo gossip, and came away thinking that a version of Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family could be told by any of the delightfully genteel couples I met. Over 4 days I had a comfortably packed timetable during the day, interspersed by uncrowded boutique events including lunch in a colonial villa with Dinah Jefferies, whose The Tea Planter’s Wife is the perfect holiday escape into 1930s Ceylon; cocktails with Justine Picardie, editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, who returned after much acclaim last year to continue her account of Coco Chanel. Sir Don McCullin, right, chatting over cocktails on the lawn against a softly lapping Indian Ocean just beyond Unexpected highlights for me was sea-side snacks with world-acclaimed war photographer Sir Don McCullin and dinner-with-readings by celebrated Sri Lankan author Romesh Gunesekera, who was celebrating 25 years since his beautiful story, Reef was a finalist in the Man Booker prize. Lucy Fleming, Ian Fleming's niece, talks all things 007 to the breathlessly interesting Anthony Horowitz, author of one of the latest reincarnations of James Bond The last evening was an enchanting evening with actors Simon Williams (that handsome chap of Upstairs, Downstairs fame), and his wife Lucy Fleming, niece of James Bond’s creator, Ian, and daughter of his adventuring brother, Peter. Under the stars on a warm Sri Lankan night, they recreated the long-distance and well-mannered war-time romance between Peter and Lucy’s mother, Celia Johnston, the heavy-lidded beauty of Brief Encounter as told in their love letters, with Lucy brilliantly emulating her mother’s ever-so-prim voice. What I splurged on soirees I made up for by staying in a comfortable guest house within the fort, just 5 minutes’ walk from most events (I like it because it’s owned by an old Galle family descended from Moroccan muslims …. but that’s another story), and Galle’s many splendid restaurants offer brilliant seafood, some for as little as $5 for a traditional curry and rice. There’s so much to come back for, so don’t be deterred by the fact that writers festivals are notoriously last-minute in publishing their programmes, and often dates, so an assiduous eye need be kept on deadlines for when on-line bookings open. The Galle Literary Festival traditionally precedes the JLF, and with the JLF just announcing its dates (23-27 January ), I’m plumping for the GLF to start on the 15th January 2020, but they're likely to make a late call, as usual, and in the light of Sri Lanka's 2019 terrorist tragedy, it wouldn't be surprising if 2020's GLF was postponed, sadly. I'll keep you posted. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story - do please share! and now you can leave me a comment below - I'd love to hear from you - and I'll be sure to get back to you, Cheerio for now, Anna #aGalleLiteraryFestival #JaipurLiteraryFestival #writersfestivals #perthwritersfestival #Galle #SriLanka

My Ayurvedic Retreat in Sri Lanka

In this age of FOMO*, my greatest fear is missing out on the best version of me, so a secluded forest retreat offering traditional Ayurvedic therapies is a very appealing prospect after months of travelling and two frenetic weeks here in Sri Lanka researching hotels. My mind is clogged with details, my smiling muscles are stuck, I really need a rest and 8 days of dedicated, unapologetic me-time seem necessary rather than indulgent. Reached by a bumpy track used only by villagers who subsist by the nearby lake, the retreat reveals itself slowly amongst fields of ripening corn, high grasses. Spacious and airy, its grass-thatched pavilions blend with the earth from which they are made. Warm breeze is a backdrop to the shriekings, warbles, and twitterings of innumerable birdlife It is an idyll, and my expectations are high. On my wish list: eradicate all skeletal twinges, rediscover restful sleep, stave off impending disease with a strict vegan diet, and reaffirm at least a decade of abandoned new years’ resolutions. I’ve arrived late (it’s 7pm, and tonight I’m the only guest), and being led along the lantern lit pathway to my pretty bungalow I’m relishing a big lie-in tomorrow after the last week of pre-dawn risings for safari drives in Sri Lanka’s many wildlife reserves. I’ve literally been fantasising about how much sleep I’ll get here ever since I discovered this place last week. “Yoga at 6 am madam”. More like a command than an invitation, and anxious not to miss out on anything, my first night was fitful, and like the next, interrupted by anxiety-filled dreams that woke me from a sweat. I was, however, on time for yoga in the candlelit pavilion by the swimming pool, which I was already making a mental note to head towards after breakfast. Kingsley, finely-made and supple like a willow reed, assured me that the most effective pranic energy (the universal, life-giving energythat underpins all yoga), was to be gained “between 4.30 and 6 am”. I sensed a week of very early nights, and indeed, dinners are very low-key, so that turning in early feels like the natural order of things. His yoga is oriented around traditional sun salutations in an unusually measured way, one which I’d not encountered in 35 years of yoga, and certainly a style which I believe I can readily incorporate into daily life. His teachings of mudras (hand-held postures for breathing and meditation), usefully repetitive, so now I think I can do those on my own too. For 2 hours he created a peaceful balance between restfulness and action, time went quickly and I walked to breakfast feeling flexed, but very tired. Each morning there is a new adventure on the breakfast table created by Sunil, slow cooked in hand-made clay pots over wood-fired stoves. It always begins with ‘herbal forridge’, a pale green coconut and rice soup flavoured with forest leaves and tasting like cream of grass, followed by a selection of deliciously spiced vegetables and pulses, mainly steamed, boiled or braised, and fresh juice from an incredible array of fruits I’ve never seen before - the pillowy softness of the anti-diabetic ambarella fruit, ‘cancer-killing’ soursap’s fibrous white nodules pulped to a tarty sweetness, the comforting taste of the wood apple. I’ve not had anything twice in a week and I love this start to the day, even if it wasn’t good for me. Breakfast porridge, above, a coconut broth with softened rice and flavoured with a variety of wild herbs, below, and rather a lot of garlic. Like all of the public buildings here, the dining room and kitchen are welcoming, shaded spaces, with minimal walls and mud floors. The steeply pitched rooves covered in untrimmed grass which dances in the breeze along the eaves create an un-selfconscious environment at one with the forest beyond, and a pleasantly surprising contrast to the discreet 5-star service and amenities. There is absolutely nothing one wants for here. Fresh linen napery each day on a perfectly set table, jugs of hot and cold water, crystal clean glassware, abundant fluffy towels, plenty of power points and lights just where you need them. This disarmingly exclusive forest retreat isn’t a bit like any of those institutions I’ve experienced in India, where an awkwardly clinical environment and the feeling of things being ‘not quite clean’ leave one with the impression that the experience is to be endured rather than enjoyed. On entering an ayurvedic retreat centre, one becomes a patient. Aryuveda, which means ‘Knowledge of Life and Longevity’, is an ancient and complex system of medical knowledge that has been extolling the virtues of balance, since the time of the Buddha, some 2500 years ago. With its roots in even older classical Hindu mythology, and its very own god, Dhanvantari, its methods can seem at once practical and arcane. Food and medicine are one and the same, so every aspect of what one eats here is part of the therapy - as is what one doesn't. Diagnosis is approached, and treatment assessed, though a comprehensive understanding of the five senses and during my initial consultation with the resident doctor I answer many specific questions concerning my physical and mental state. Pronouncing me a ‘Pitta’ type, verified by a blood pressure reading which she diagnosed as “a bit low”, my daily prescription is written on a piece of recycled brown paper, which I hand to Manil, the woman charged with my recovery in the treatment centre where I spend the next 4 hours after breakfast of every day. Hotel spas throughout the subcontinent routinely offer Aryuvedic therapies - perhaps the most picturesquely iconic being the Shirodhara oil treatment, where a stream of herb-infused warm oil is run continuously onto one’s forehead for 40 minutes or so, in an effort to calm the nerves, balance the mind. My last experience at a place in the Nicobar Andaman islands saw me jumping off the table in impatient irritation, unable to cope with such an excess of calm, but during the similar treatments which were prescribed for the first two days here, I fell into a drifty, wafty twilight space, no doubt lulled by the secure warmth and safety of Manil’s firm head and body massage and divine, repeat divine, foot reflexology massage which lasted for 2 and half hours. All of my massages concluded with a herbal steam bath in a wooden cabin whose wood-fired steam puffed up through fresh-cut leafy branches strewn across the floor. I had the cabin to myself, and was extremely relieved that the awful alternative experience of being encased in a steaming horizontal casket with my head sticking out one end was not to be repeated. This is often the format in Indian clinics and some more homely places I’d seen elsewhere in Sri Lanka, (they have been designed after the ancient stone baths found in the Sivikasotthi-Sala, or 'lying-in hospitals' created here by King Panakabhaya (reigned 437 BCE to 367 BCE), in various parts of the country, see below). INTERESTING FACT: Sri Lanka is the first place known to have hospitals! Thankfully the steam cabin can’t be locked from the inside, so falling asleep here, not necessarily advised, but an unstoppable force on nature on these first two days, isn’t as dangerous as it might be. Lunch, another herbal feast, beautifully served by the dedicated staff who are so happy to show you the leaves and barks and berries garnered from the property’s organic gardens to create the meals, slips one effortlessly into the afternoon where naps are encouraged, and surprisingly necessary after such an enervating morning of treatment. When you tire of snoozing by the pool there are gentle activities to wrest you from delicious boredom. Each day, a small and gentle adventure beckons. The lotus filled lake is a heavenly destination in the late afternoon when waterbirds return to fish and small groups of men or women gather to bathe discreetly amongst the reedy shallows, and as my energy returned over the ensuing days, I’d set off in a rattling tuk tuk to explore nearby ancient ruins, being sure to return before 4.30 pm when it was not unusual for wild elephant to stalk through the forests and surprise one by the side of the road. My first day, however, left me feeling lifeless, wilting, utterly exhausted and entirely lacking appetite, so I retired early to ensure I wouldn’t miss yoga. By Day 2 I had a raging, nauseating migraine. It really could only be one of two things - either an excess of garlic, which made its presence felt in everything from morning porridge to supper’s soup, or, a lack of caffeine, which I’d given up along with dairy, wheat, white rice, refined sugar, eggs and meat 2 days ago. Fortunately the doctor didn’t object to my self-diagnosis, telephoning for a pot of coffee to be brought immediately. It’s effect was deliciously immediate, and henceforth became a part of my daily therapy - a cup of steaming hot coffee brought in on the hour, every hour, throughout my morning treatments - even whilst soaking in my bathtub. As strange as this might seem to the purist in me, within the ayurvedic scheme of things, balance was being restored, my humours humoured, an urge balanced by moderation, could this be the very essence of Ayurveda’s ancient wisdom? Sceptics scoff and point to recent data that says there’s no scientific evidence that any ayurvedic medicines are effective as currently practiced, politely calling it out as pseudo-, trans- or proto- science. However, there are more than 20,000 registered practitioners in Sri Lanka, following the establishment in 1980 of a ministry of Indigenous Medicine to revive and regulate Ayurveda, with under- and postgraduate courses as well as an MD course at The Institute of Indigenous Medicine (affiliated to the University of Colombo). Sri Lankans routinely consult the 67 ayurvedic hospitals across the country, and from my many conversations it is clear that it doesn’t just appeal to those who couldn’t afford Western healthcare. My treatments didn’t include any oral medicine, and I opted not to undergo the famous panchkarma or ‘5 actions’ purging treatments. Knowing that within 4 hours of swallowing the innocuous-looking herbal pastilles after dinner I’d spend the rest of the night in the bathroom and the next day exhausted again, I opted to continue along my regime of massages which varied subtly from day to day as my system strengthened. The reflexology intensified, pressure points were more strongly activated with precision and by Day 4, I was feeling energised enough to tackle a bicycle ride in the afternoon. And my skin ! Wow! I now really know the meaning of ‘satiny skin’. Over the final 4 days, my beauty treatments which are also said to strengthen the skin (after all our largest organ), began with an aromatic and antiseptic scrub of fresh tumeric, sandalwood and ghee (clarified butter), followed of course by a steam bath, and a refreshing soak in a herb-infused tub from where I could languidly watch birds twitter amongst the dark leaves of the huge mango tree shading the tucked-away bathing area. The following day after the usual herbal massages, I was vigorously pounced with a fist-sized muslin bag oozing with a medicated hot rice pudding mixture, which was subsequently smeared all over me and left to dry. Thoroughly starched, the next 20 minutes in the steam bath turned my crunchy carapace to glue, but the after-effects were truly gorgeous - glistening, taut, smooth skin … all over. By the final day I couldn’t imagine what else might be brought from the kitchen to enhance my mind, body and beauty - I was feeling fabulous. Sleeping well, eating lightly, feeling limber and finally, joyously, back to yoga with Kinglsey, who wasn’t a bit put out that I’d taken a few days out to sleep in. In the chronicles of Sri Lankan kings are written the beauty secrets of their queens. How fitting then, on my last day, the queen of treatments - a hot milk massage by Manil who excelled herself with lavish care and gravitas. If at any stage in my existence I could say that “my body is my temple’’, this was it. There is something utterly extravagant about using food to anoint one’s body in the pursuit of beauty and there is only one thing to do - give into it with abandon! My entire week was crowned by a long soak in a pink lotus flower-filled bathtub as the long rays of the setting sun reached through the forest surrounds. My ayurvedic experience was complete. If I judge my own results against the entirely empirical parameters of pain and fatigue, I can only say the outcome was a real success. My specific pain points were addressed with elaborate treatments that including pouncing with hot oil pressed through heated pouches filled with steamed leaves and building a ‘dam’ over the persistent tendonitis behind my knee, into which this same medicated oil was poured and left to cool. While it could be that my own doctor’s assessment of its cause as ‘age’ was correct - the fact is, one doesn’t have to live with it, and that along with my long-standing hip flexor issue which no physiotherapist has been able to alleviate for years, was, by the end of 8 days, just a memory. Today, 3 weeks later, my body remains pain free, my appetite has normalised, and the 3 kilos which I effortlessly (and unintentionally), shed haven’t piled back on. I’m noticing a greater sense of selectivity in what I want to eat, an intolerance to oily and processed food and I’m drinking lots more water. Apparently it takes ten days for one’s body to eradicate all traces of adrenalin created through the stresses of living, and patients who check in for long periods will be able to undertake more challenging therapies, and I would definitely persevere with the caffeine withdrawal, but I spoke to several guests who came and went during my stay, and all agreed that even 2 days of treatment created a beneficial feeling. I've still some work to do on all those missed New Years' Resolutions, but certainly this year's is still hanging in there by a thread... With wellness becoming an increasingly important reason for travel its places like these which will fill that unique niche between resort, retreat and clinic. I’ll definitely be back. *FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story - do please share! and now you can leave me a comment below - I'd love to hear from you - and I'll be sure to get back to you, Cheerio for now, Anna Want to know more? please contact me #ayurveda #SriLanka #heathresorts #wellnessresorts #wellness #travel

Sahara Dreaming - a private camel trek

" It'll be the highlight of the journey"… how many times have I heard that said about a night in the desert on a trip to Morocco? For many travellers lucky enough to have found themselves standing on the windswept dunes of Merzouga, a long day's drive from either Fes or Marrakech, the fleeting glimpse of a setting sun casting an impossibly golden hue across the horizon can indeed make the entire trip worthwhile. So iconic is this quintessential desert experience, that airlines now deliver tourists to within a hour's drive of the dunes, testing the limits of imagination for a one-night package to try and create the magic that the very name Sahara conjures. Luxury camps with sparkling glassware and delicious bathroom toiletries are definitely part of the dream package - and this traveller, at least, readily forgives the trickle of warm water which constitutes the 'private bathroom' of even the best of $500-a-night desert splurges … it's a desert! above, and below: $500-a-night rustic luxe, Sahara style Divine! exotic, playful and Instagram-worthy (with 1000s of Japanese and Korean day-trippers to prove it). But despite the sparkling sequins, my yearning for a different experience of the desert set me on a course that's taken two years, the devil of an amount of planning and a surprising amount of dirham. It's an evolving project - I'm sure there's more to come - for this life seeps into one's psyche. The Sahara has historically been entered from the area that Moroccans call 'Sudan' (it means 'black', and refers to anything south of Sahara), and the East, by three portes, to use the French term, or doorways - Tiznit near the Atlantic coast, Zagora, leading towards Marrakech, and Merzouga close to today's Algerian border. These places were strategically positioned such that caravans traversing the desert would find refuge, take rest and pay the taxes on the wares they were carrying at these entrepôt, generating the great wealth which helped facilitate powerful families into ruling dynasties - the current king, Mohammed VI, is indeed heir to the Alaouite dynasty who hail from this south eastern corner of Morocco, the modern town of Rissani. My ambition was to make a journey from one of these frontier towns to another, by camel. I specifically didn't want to take a picturesque circuit, a 'highlight tour'. No matter what the terrain, I intended to make a journey that real travellers made for real reasons … nothing to do with pleasure, but very much reflective of their work and trade requirements.. and I already had the shoes from the Rissani markets (soled with car tyre rubber and thick enough to resist the thorniest of desert vegetation). Tracing out 'Zagora to Merzouga' on a small map, it seemed that the 250 km or so would be interspersed with oases intersecting rivers, with drifts of dunes interspersed with the black stony desert that so much of Moroccan Sahara consists of. Camels can comfortably walk 25 km a day carrying up to 250 kg, so this fitted into my time and budget, and I'd established that camel riding for hours did not leave me in staggering discomfort... That this 2018 journey was planned for last Spring (2017), says more about my lack of knowledge than absence of resolve! Arriving in Merzouga last April after studying Darija (Moroccan Arabic), in Fes for the previous month, and announcing that I had three weeks to complete my intended journey drew avuncular hmmms from my Berber host, who pointed out that late April was already too late, that the not only would the camels be unable to walk for so long in the heat, but the lack of adequate shade would be dangerous for everyone. Crestfallen. "All I want to do is walk in the dunes!" "Well, there are no dunes there " said Moha. Revelation number 1. no dunes ??? "This is all stony desert. If you want dunes, you can walk here ?", his finger meeting mine on the map. And so it was that Hassan, Hamid and I set off with two heavily laden camels through the magnificent mega dune known as 'Erg Chebbi', between Erfoud and the Algerian border (often less than 3 km away). As a first encounter with the Sahara, this would have been a gentle introduction - easy campsites, lots of dunes - but late April is indeed already too hot for long journeys, and three hours riding in the morning, even beneath a parasol, is a long time. Between 11am and 4 pm, the camels were unpacked, their heavy saddles removed and they were left free to wander, albeit hobbled, while we spent the hottest hours of the day in the shadow of a date palm or slim, thorny tree, escaping sun and sandy winds. Languid hours spent snoozing beneath a tamerisk tree, however, cannot be undervalued. There is something surprisingly intoxicating about having slightly too much to eat (Hassan's culinary ingenuity was a daily surprise), reclining on a cotton-wadded mattress and curling up beneath a cover to keep the sun and the flies at bay. Awaking after a couple of hours of deep rest to reload our camels and continuing on 'til late sunset and camp - perhaps 5 hours riding each day - quickly became a quotidian ritual I readily fell into. The journey was fascinating. There was no detail I didn't greedily devour - from the medicinal and magical properties of the scant plant life, the tracks of darting wildlife, to a juicy sandfish caught before slippery sands swallowed him into safety (no, Hassan didn't eat it !) Until, quite suddenly, pitting, headlong winds brought our progress to a halt, and a long-abandoned village (short video below), provided welcome respite for 48 hours. With our food stocks low, the desert adage of 'survival on milk and dates' was almost tested. Making do, tomatoes long past their prime were given a zesty touch with finely chopped wild ruccola I collected amongst the dunes (really!), to make a delicious pasta sauce, and we shared the remaining olives as if it were a last supper. Breakfast was a little grimmer. In reality, we were not more than a day's walk from the comforts of the small frontier town of Merzouga, but the illusion of desolation, abandonment and danger were oddly alluring. On the horizon a nomad family's tent cut a sharp shadow against the dipping sun, and two little boys milled around the long, dark tent where their mothers squatted against upright looms to weave the intricate rugs we collect with such enthusiasm for polished floor boards far away. I took a handful of lump sugar (always a welcome gift in a culture where tea is served as syrupy as possible), as a calling gift for the ladies, and went to visit - I'd heard that the father of this family had three wives and all co-habited in an amicable arrangement. We exchanged almost coquettish glances - they from behind dark veils wound over head, face and mouth - and we pointed at various things and repeated the odd words we knew of one anothers' langauges, giggling shyly and contenting ourselves that we knew what the other was saying. As we sat together, they chattily weaving over mint tea and lots of noisy children, it seemed that being a solo wife here would be a lonely and utterly exhausting business indeed. Sharing a husband did not seem such a bad solution. Lonlier still, were the little boys, desperately wanting me to produce a ball. (note to self for next time.) below: vertical looms for weaving symbol-laden Berber rugs & a skin water tank tripod Back at the abandoned village before nightfall - and how quickly darkness falls here - already the last night was happening, and despite the sensation that these days had been endless, the end was all too soon. The 5-day 'trainee' trip to see if I loved it all as much as I'd anticipated had already extended due to 'weather'... and I wasn't ready to leave. Treading our our way wordlessly back to Merzouga the following day, tears welled heavily behind my headscarf. A spell was breaking. A strangely enchanted time, a space I can recall in minute detail, rendered even more fantastical by the wildly windswept cemetery through which we passed as we neared the town's limits. Little did I know that as this sandy idyll drew to a close, the sadness I felt at departing was to be quickly assuaged by another Saharan adventure just over the horizon … there was not long to wait... Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story - do please share! and now you can leave me a comment below - I'd love to hear from you - and I'll be sure to get back to you, Cheerio for now, Anna Please don't hesitate to contact me for further details about my 2021 tour in Morocco #sahara #saharadesert #trekking #deserttrekking #saharatrekking #solowomentraveller #Morocco

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