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YALA! That's 'Let's go' in Arabic - Sahara Dreaming: Part 2

I have a personal motto ... " I want to do everything once - and if possible, twice". Dipping my toes into Saharan sands on my Very Personal Camel Trek gave me a week of Saharan Dreaming at a time when it was already too hot to safely contemplate a longer trek. So now I'm doing this 2nd trip as a reconnaissance in preparation for my next longer walking trek with camels. Inshahallah - 'if God wills it'. That's what Moslems say anytime you mention something that takes place in the future - be it tomorrow, or the next life. This story will be here on 24 February, 2021. If you'd like to receive it straight into your inbox, please consider subscribing to my newsletters. Thanks again for reading, and here is PART 1 0f my Saharan Trilogy A Very Private Camel Trek - Sahara Dreaming: Part 1 revised edition 2021 Anna Thank you for reading. If you would like to receive my travel stories and postcards straight into your inbox, please consider subscribing to my occasional newsletters Read another Sea to Sahara Tour blog story from September 2019 If you're interested to know more about my next small group tour to Morocco in 2022 contact Anna

First, Catch Your Crab!

With so many of Sri Lanka's premium mud crabs exported, I'm up early to find some choice specimens for my Negombo Coconut Crab Curry. Despite the hefty cost, one of the most sought-after dining experiences in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, is 'The Ministry of Crab', located in the humming dining hub that is the Old Dutch Hospital. Sri Lankan crab curry is a real delicacy, and along with 'hoppers', a signature dish of the Teardrop Isle. In pre-Covid times, optimistic diners lined up every night hoping for a cancellation to join the those draped with huge linen napkins tucking into enormous crustacea drawn just hours before from the island's lagoons and seas. I've been wanting to prepare crab dishes since I arrived to stay in Negombo 5 months ago, but the local fish markets aren't the best place to go. Sri Lanka's crabs now account for over 10% of their seafood exports, with the very best despatched to Europe and South East Asia - in Singapore it's even called 'Sri Lankan Chilli Crab' - so today I'm trying a different tack. After several months of living on edge of the lagoon, watching fishermen quietly casting nets into powder-grey waters - and at night, rather eerily, those without a boat wading through mangrove shallows with a torch seeking smaller prey - the cooling easterly breeze known in Catholic Negombo as 'the Christmas Wind', finally picks up, heralding a prime time for me to go in search of premium lagoon crabs. Above: I'm staying on the narrow strip of land, on the Western side of the Negombo Lagoon Dawn and dusk are the best times to collect crabs, but, so they say, not at full moon. Wisdom or anecdote? Many believe that crabs moult during the full moon, but this belief probably arises from the fact that the moulting cycle of a market-sized crab is about 30 days and can seem to coincide with lunar cycles, but for younger crabs, where the cycle is 12-15 days, it obviously doesn't hold true. Still, I'm looking forward to the next full moon to test out this age-old anecdote and I'll let you know. Meanwhile, standing astern on his narrow-hulled katamaran, Kumar, my boatman, as thin as his oar, silently punts into my watery garden, his angular form like a stencil against the dawn sky. An imperative chorus cuts the stillness. Thousands of crows are flocking southwards to spend the daylight hours - from, and to where, exactly, I can't discover - but their presence means it's just after 6 am ... I awoke a half hour earlier to the daily mass, broadcast from the nearby church of Santa Barbara. Such are the daily punctuation marks of life on this lagoon. Carl, a retired airport sniffer dog whom I look after, and I perch on boards - I'm happy that this is a two-hulled boat, many have just a single skinny hull). Silence hangs easily between us as mangroved shores recede. Dawn-silvered water ripples rhythmically behind us as we pass the jealously-guarded fishing territories of those lucky enough to have secured the rights to set up small crab hotels, fish cages about a metre square, resting on the lagoon floor. It's languid and lovely, water and air the same colour, misting from view the built-up side of the lagoon where one arrives at Bandaranaike International Airport. Contentedly surrounded by nature - I could happily be punted to the mouth of the lagoon and back - a poignant film moment from 'Siddhartha', Hermann Hesse's allegory of the Buddha, flickers into memory (so I'm paraphrasing ) ... " What can you do Siddhartha?" asks a boat owner of the young man seeking work on the shores of a river in India. "Can you catch fish ?" "No, Sir" "Can you paddle a boat?" "No, Sir" " ... well, what can you do ?" " I can wait". Reality meets reverie as the crab farmer I've arranged to meet punts into view. Following, we eventually meet at his territory, and he greets me, palms together. "Ayubowan". Long life. Heaving up the heavy cages, there's a clattering scramble inside to reveal 10 large black mangrove crabs or Scylla serratas. Although they seem to have plenty of room, this is maximum occupancy, as they'll cannibalise one another if they're not kept well fed. These fellows have been fattened over the last three months on a twice-daily diet of bivalves and fish, with an extra-big meal in the evening to keep them satisfied overnight. Now at about 500 gm each they're soon ready for his main buyer in Singapore. Choosing two frisky (that means they're healthy) specimens, darkly mottled greenish black creatures with healthily marbled legs, he deftly tucks in their claws - called chelipeds (love that word!) - ties them up with strips of cotton cloth, and hands them across to Kumar, while I pass over 2400 Sri Lankan rupees (about AuD$18) to his little boy. We'd already agreed the price, and it's a fair one. Bidding farewell, I call back to ask how often he eats crab. "Too much cholesterol" he says, laughing. But at more than the cost of a housekeeper's daily wage, a crab in the cage is certainly worth more than one on the plate. If you would like to receive my stories and postcards striaght into your mailbox, please consider subscribing to my monthly newsetter. Meanwhile Let's Cook! Just click the image to go to the recipe .... NB: Crabs and Cholestrol : healthy adults are advised to limit their daily cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg. (one large egg contains about 213 mg of cholesterol). Crabs are a dietary source of protein and potassium, and unlike most meats, they don’t contain any saturated fat, but crabs, like all sources of meat, contain cholesterol. However, as long as you don’t overindulge, they can be a healthy option. The American Heart Association even recommends crab as one of the healthiest choices in terms of meat, but always consider your own health concerns.

Negombo Coconut Crab Curry - Spice Voyager Recipe #3

Sri Lankan Crab Curry, a signature seafood dish from the shores of the Negombo Lagoon cooked at home with Sri Lanka's premium cinnamon - Cinnamon Alba A delicately-spiced, lightly-textured curry with an exceptional aroma - preparing this with fresh spices is a joy in itself! ANNA'S TIP I'm not using curry powder in this recipe. Home cooking often uses pure spices ground freshly so that the the flavour can be controlled to really highlight the flavours of the meat. The delicately-flavoured crab meat is complemented here with fresh curry leaves and cinnamon, The Spice That Put Sri Lanka On The Map For this recipe I am using the very highest grade of cinnamon available in the cinnamon market anywhere. It’s called ‘Cinnamon Alba’ for the pale colour of the thin quills whose immediate sweetness is followed by a bright tang without any bitterness, the delicate texture and the gorgeous aroma. It’s such a cleansing flavour hit that a small piece is a very pleasant mouth freshener – remember Cinnamon Tic Tacs? … a piece of Cinnamon Alba is more tasty and no sugar, and True Ceylon Cinnamon has health benefits too, which Cassia cinnamons from Vietnam, China and Indonesia do not. True Ceylon Cinnamon is graded into qualities. 'Cinnamon Alba' shows densely-packed quills, yielding a sweet, pure flavour with outstanding aroma (top upper quill) Medium and poor qualities are coarser, darker and more fibrous, with less aroma and flavours that can be bitter. Below: cinnamon alba on the left shows its pedigree. ANNA'S TIP Buy your cinnamon as quills, reassuring yourself that when you grind or grate it for powder, your spice is the quality you paid for, and not a mix of who-knows-what. Where to get Cinnamon Alba NOW FOR THE CRAB CURRY Cooking time 37 minutes Here's what you’ll need for each person Prepare all the Ingredients before you start cooking, as this all happens very quickly! 1x 500 - 600 gm (in shell) crab per person - this will yield about 150 km of white meat (in the claws and the cavities of the 'purse' on the underside ), and about 50-60 gm of brown meat. I'm cooking a freshly caught lagoon mud crab. The Aromatic Spices : the 3 C’s Sri Lankan Cinnamon 3 cm broken into pieces. Use the best quality you can find Cloves - 5 whole Cardamom - 2 whole pods crushed All the curry flavourings Fresh ginger - 2 cm, peeled, sliced and finely chopped Garlic cloves - 4 large, finely chopped Pandanus leaf - 12 cm (optional – it enhances the aroma, barely affecting the flavour – although pandanus leaves that I use in Bali add a distinctive colour and flavour … so this is very regionally dependent) Red onion - ½ large onion, sliced into slivers Tomato - 1 large, chopped Curry Leaves - 35 fresh or dried, whole Red chilli powder - 1 very heaped teaspoon Turmeric powder - 1 level teaspoon Black pepper - 1 rounded teaspoon of freshly ground pepper Salt - half a level teaspoon Green chillies - 2 sliced diagonally, seeds left in Lime - 1quartered and de-seeded for garnish Vegetable oil of frying – 1 tablespoon Wok and stirring spoon, and a warmed serving dish Prepare Your Crab with Kindness Crabs are best cooked immediately after killing, and once a crab dies if it’s not immediately cleaned then the crab is unfit for human consumption. So trying to do this as humanely as possible, the RSPCA recommends putting the crab in the freezer for 45 - 60 minutes so that it becomes slow and lethargic - and possibly desensitized. Don't freeze it completely. This is preferable to dropping it into boiling water, which apart from all the other considerations, causes the animal to contract with stress and toughens the the meat. You can prepare the crab pieces in various ways, but for this recipe : Lay the crab on its back and with a tea towel beneath it or the board, for traction, and twist off the front black-tipped claws - this is where most of the best meat is. Now put the crab on its back with the eyes towards you and, using both hands, push up the six legs. Press your two thumbs either side of the eyes and push away the triangular ‘purse’ or 'apron' (that is the central body part). Male or female crab? On a female crab (which may have roe beneath this plate), the apron is oval shaped, and on a male it is triangular. Don't wash all the flavour out! You will now need to clean the crab by peeling off the back shell and discarding it. Use your fingers to pull off the feathery gills - called 'old man's fingers' - at either side which are just attached at the shell's edge (it is essential to remove these - they should not be eaten - very bitter). Clean out the remaining guts - or not - depending on your taste. The brown organs are strongly flavoured and may be to your taste. In any case, don't wash this shell too vigorously, or you'll loose all the tasty bits. You can cut the crab in half or quarters - for this recipe it's quartered. So, now using a heavy knife, cut the round purse into four with the legs attached. This exposes the white meat, which can be picked out. At this point you could freeze your crab prior to cooking it or cook it, but remember that cooking times are a little faster when you have an already cleaned crab Here's a very helpful video showing crab cleaning from the Sydney Fish Market - YouTube DON'T FORGET to crack the big claws with a mallet or crackers to allow all the cooking flavours to penetrate the meat, just before you start cooking. How to Cook Choose a wok which will allow you to give the crabs plenty of room to be tossed around Heat the oil in the wok on high heat. Fry the garlic and ginger 1 minute, stirring Add cloves, cinnamon and cardamom and cook for 2 minutes, stirring Add the pandanus leaf (optional) Add the curry leaves and fry for 2 minutes, stirring Add onions, stir for 30 seconds Add turmeric powder, stir for 30 seconds Add salt and chilli powder, stir for 30 seconds Add tomatoes, stir for 30 seconds Add the green chillies, stir for 30 seconds Add all of the crab and stir to cover the crab in all of the other ingredients Add 1 tablespoon water, place lid on wok and cook on ‘high’ for 15 minutes Remove from heat, stir thoroughly, reduce heat by ¼ Add 1 tablespoon water, stir and re-cover. Cook for a further 5 minutes, or until water starts to collect on the inside of the lid. Now reduce heat by another ¼, to half , re-cover and cook for a further 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk, stir, and cook without lid until desired gravy consistency. Turn entire contents into heated dish and serve immediately. How to serve ? This dish is traditionally served in Sri Lanka with a vegetable called ‘drumsticks’, or murunga, but sliced okra stir fried with a little garlic, is a delicious alternative. Some serve it with coriander or parsley leaves for a pop of colour, although I find neither flavour a pleasing addition. A squeeze of little lime is my choice, but really, the curry is good just the way it is. A bowl of rice? – I prefer the ‘heritage’ varieties of red rice, with their coarser, nutty flavour and very low GI (so you won’t feel hungry quickly, and much healthier and nutritious in many ways), and a salad. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoy this one! If you would like to receive my stories and postcards striaght into your mailbox, please consider subscribing to my monthly newsetter. Other Spice Voyager Recipes and spice stories First, Catch Your Crab! - a story of dawn fishing on the neautiful Negombo Lagoon Rajasthani Biryani Sri Lankan Spiced Fruit Cake Where to get True Sri Lankan Cinnamon The Spice That Put Sri Lanka On The Map - the truly fascinating story of Cinnamon Please let me know if you enjoyed this recipe, and leave your comments below, thank you!

The Spice That Put Sri Lanka on the Map

How did a small island between the Arabian sea and the Indian Ocean became the epicentre of a European battle for dominion of the costliest spice in the world? There's a spicy recipe at the end, so let me introduce its star ingredient ... WHO AM I? For three centuries the island of Ceylon was the epicentre of a global battle for domination of me, one of the most costly goods on the planet. Prized more highly than gold in the ancient world, I was one of the world's first-traded spices. I was first mentioned by the Greeks in a C.7th BC poem by Sappho; an Apollonian temple bears my name inscribed in a list of gifts, and the Roman emperor Nero, in an ostentatious display of contrition, spent several lifetimes of working men’s wages to scent the fires of his second wife’s funeral pyre with my revered perfume. My acquisition was an enterprise rivalling the labours of Hercules. Men were said to brave swamps ‘at the end of the world’, forge serpent-infested canyons and lure giant birds to gorge on chunks of oxen, only to have their massive nests tumble from insurmountable peaks when they returned to their mountaintop lairs, fat and heavy. What fell to ground was collected and brought to the Red Sea where Arab traders could demand what they wanted for me, a mythic substance essential to embalmers, anointers and preservers of meat. In the C.1st AD Pliny the Elder opined my source as Ethiopia, already a place of legendary mystery, and for another 1100 years Venetian traders, who owned the monopoly on my European trade from the port of Alexandria, did nothing to disavow these gilt-edged fictions ­- although interestingly, Marco Polo remained quiet on the subject, despite the fact that ‘kwai’, my oriental cousin, had been mentioned in Chinese medicinal texts since 2800 BC. When the Mamluk sultans assumed power in Cairo 1250, and the Ottomans only 49 years later in Constantinople, the Mediterranean seaways were disrupted, and the Arabs’ best-kept secret became even more exorbitant. Having controlled my trade for millennia, and being, at the time, the world’s best cartographers, it's not surprising that it was an Arab geographer, Zakariya al-Qazwini, who first mentioned that I grew on the island known as ‘Serendib’. The year was 1270 and 22 years later this was repeated in a letter by the Archbishop of Peking, Giovanni de Montecorvino, a Franciscan explorer statesman who founded the earliest Catholic missions in India and China. Modern cartographic conventions are reversed in the map above - it's 'upside down' - but the most comprehensive map of its day shows how prominently the island of Ceylon, featured in world knowledge - the tiny teardrop isle is almost half the size of India! But it would be another 200 years before Europeans, now really struggling to meet demand, felt compelled to seek me out for themselves. Disappointing Queen Isabella, sitting up there in Grenada’s Alhambra, both Christopher Columbus and Gonzalo Pizarro failed to find me in the New World, while her greatest rivals, Portugal, who'd been exploring the Arabian sea, finally discovered me in Ceylon around 1518. Wasting no time to control their fragrant quarry, the Portuguese conquered Ceylon's coastal kingdom of Kotto, enslaving the population who would enrich Portugal over the next century. Meanwhile, Ferdinand Magellan continued Spain's search, his efforts somewhat rewarded with a sturdy relative of mine in the Philippines. But it was the teardrop isle between the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean that commanded the great trading empires’ attention. "The shores of the island are full of it," a Dutch captain reported, "and it is the best in all the Orient. When one is downwind of the island, one can still smell it eight leagues out to sea." Only 20 years after establishing their own trading post in 1638 and quickly taking control of Portugal's ‘manufactories’ in 1640, the Dutch, allied with the central Ceylonese kingdom of Kandy, overthrew the Portuguese in 1658. However, if the Kandyans thought they’d just scored a victory, they were very mistaken. The Dutch defeated the Portuguese but held the kingdom in their debt for their military services, so once again Ceylon was occupied by European traders – this time for 150 years. The Kandyan kingdom, solitary and isolated in the mountainous centre of the island and surrounded by opportunistic colonists, cleverly held onto provincial power, and learning from bitter experience, used it to parry with the Dutch government for protection from foreign invasion in return for land rights. I became the jewel in the Dutch East India’s crown, their most lucrative export. They systematised the harvesting of these wild perennials of the laurel family that flourished between upcountry and coast, eventually beginning cultivation, including 289 acres in 1789, just 3 km south east of Colombo. But time was running out for my luxury status; by the early 1800s despite my unique qualities, other species were being exported from China and SE Asia, and when Britain wrested control of Ceylon - Kandyan kingdom and all - in 1796, they already had massive plantations in Kerala on India’s SW coast, and besides, tea and rubber were the now the world’s products du jour. … and those 289 hectares near to Colombo? They became the city’s elite residential precinct, a by-word for privilege and cosmopolitan style. Cinnamon Gardens. More likely than not, that sprinkle of aromatic powder on your cappuccino is the grounds of the thick curls of bark peeled from the felled trees of Cinnamomom cassia, native to China, now widely cultivated in Vietnam and Indonesia where it's known as ‘Kayu manis’, sweet wood. Much cheaper and more widely available, its stronger aroma is matched by a coarser texture when ground, darker colour and a spicier flavour– it bears only passing resemblance to Cinnamomum verum, ‘true Cinnamon’, or ‘Ceylon Cinnamon' which originated in Sri Lanka, and today's world production is still produced mainly on the island, with the other 10% from Seychelles and Madagascar. Cinnamomum verum and Cinnamomum cassia are totally different spices. The major difference is the coumarin content of each spice. C. verum contains ultra-low coumarin content compared to cassia and its varieties: True Cinnamon (~0.004% coumarin) and Cassia (~ 5% of coumarin). Why is this important ? In 2006, Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment warned against regular usage of cassia, due to its higher coumarin content, which is linked to kidney and liver health, whereas Ceylon Cinnamon has many purported health benefits, and a surprising amount of nutrition So as you shop for the ingredients for this Sri Lankan Christmas cake, it's an opportunity to watch out for the distinctive quills of Sri Lankan Cinnamon, and very much worth the effort to find the real thing. Chinese Cinnamon is a single, thick, curled layer of reddish bark, but notice how in cross-section Ceylon cinnamon quills are made of many layers of crumbly, paper-thin bark in about 8 cm lengths, rolled into cylinders about 1 cm in diameter Sometimes quills up to 1m in length can be found here in Sri Lanka - seen in this early 1800s photo. The colour of true cinnamon is a uniform light brown to pale tan. The fragrance is sweet, perfumed, warm and pleasantly woody with no trace of bitterness or dominating pungency. It's best to buy the quills and grind as you require rather than powder, as what's inside can be less than the quality stated on the packet. The three spices above - cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon - are the warming spice ingredients for my Sri Lankan Christmas Cake. Happy Cooking - and do let me know how your cake turns out! And a safe and Happy Christmas from lakeside Negombo, Sri Lanka Anna PS : Wondering where to get True Sri Lankan Cinnamon? Here in Sri Lanka I've discovered a small family company who grow their own spices and will send them all over the world in small, vacuum-packed quantities. Ask for Mr Chandana - a lovely fellow, easy to communicate with and passionate about spices. In my next Spice Voyager recipe I'll be using Cinnamon Alba - the best cinnamon available anywhere ... it's just arrived and I can't wait to try it. This blog also appeared in the December edition of elanka news If you would like to receive my stories and postcards striaght into your mailbox, please consider subscribing to my monthly newsetter.

Sri Lankan Christmas Cake - Spice Voyager Recipe #2

This richly flavoured fruit cake is flourless and made in two easy parts. On Day One you steep the fruit in spices and brandy and five days later you mix in the other ingredients and bake it for an hour and half. Here's what you need to start: 100 grams each of: whole currants whole sultanas 100 grams each of roughly chopped: red glace cherries - try to use real cherries glace ginger - the more syrupy the better raisins cashew nuts, unsalted and unroasted mixed peel - the Sri Lankan version is thickly syrupy candied pumpkin - again a local ingredient, substitute with candied pineapple The fruit will expand by almost 50% during steeping, so choose a large bowl to add all the ingredients together with: 6 tablespoons of brandy the juice of an orange 1 generous tablespoon of mixed spice The Spice Mix 1 large nutmeg without the covering (which can be ground separately for 'mace' but not used in this recipe) 1 8cm length of (Sri Lankan) cinnamon. Where to get true Ceylon Cinnamon? 17 cloves Grind to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder (There should be a little more than required for the recipe, keep this allspice mix airtight for another recipe. By the way, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon weighs 2.6 g). TIP I made this cake again using Cinnamon Alba, the highest grade of cinnamon available anywhere in the cinnamon market, and the difference in aroma was dramatic. The flavour was richer - more 'cinnamony' - without actually being stronger. I'd recommend using this if possible, but don't put off trying this cake whilst you look for cinnamon alba - it's so delicious it will be gone in no time! Mix all ingredients well, seal tightly with plastic wrap, wrap in a tea towel and leave to steep at room temperature for 5 days. 5 DAYS LATER Here's what you'll need Before you start: pre-heat oven to 150 C butter a 20 cm square cake tin, followed by 5 layers of butcher's paper and finally a layer of buttered greaseproof paper Ingredrients: 100 gms of softened butter 50 gms of castor sugar (the Sri Lankan version calls for 100 gms, but I found this teeth numbingly sweet. Next time I'd even reduce the 50gm to 40 gm) 100 gms of semolina 6 eggs separated 1 teaspoon of bee honey 1 teaspoon of almond essence 1 teaspoon of rose essence 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence grated rind of 3 limes Beat the sugar and butter to a creamy consistency and add egg yolks one by one, then add the lime and essences. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks Mix the semolina into the steeped fruit Pour the butter/egg/sugar mix into the fruit and fold through well. Fold in the egg whites at the last moment, being careful not to mix more than necessary Pour into the cake tin, bake in the middle of the oven for 1hr 30 minutes and test with a skewer. Note: I added in a good extra slurp of brandy at this stage, and found that the extra moisture required another 20 minutes in the oven ... the butcher's paper lining ensured that the cake wasn't a bit overcooked. Cool completely before turning onto a rack. I've decorated mine with mangrove flower sepals from the lagoon here, studded with Sri Lankan cloves, and I store in the refrigerator for easier slicing. Well, finally feeling festive, and celebrating with a nip of 'Rosetto', a spiced wine also full of cloves and cinnamon, made by the Rosarian Sisters from the little convent I visited a few weeks ago in Jaffna, at the northern most tip of the island ... but that's another story. Happy baking, Anna WHERE TO GET TRUE CEYLON CINNAMON? I've discovered a company here in Sri Lanka who grows their own spices and exports vacuum-packed products around the world to individuals - lovely people to talk to, easy to communicate with and very responsive - ask for Mr Chandana who started the company and is passionate about spices. There are 4 grades of Sri Lankan Cinnamon - Cinnamon Alba is the costliest and most refined of all, and I've used it in this crab curry. Negombo Coconut Crab Curry - Spice Voyager Recipe #3. Learn more about the fascinating history of Cinnamon The spice that put Sri Lanka on the map And if you love a good Biryani try out this recipe from Jaipur Spice Voyage Recipe #1 for Biryani Lovers You can also find this recipe featured on : eLanka UK | eLanka | Sri Lankan Christmas Cake - eLanka UK If you would like to receive my stories and postcards striaght into your mailbox, please consider subscribing to my monthly newsetter. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the results of your cooking. Let me know how you go in the comments below!

Remembering Poppy Day in King's Park

Dedicated to Zbigniew Tadeuscz Sixtus Jerzy 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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKoJvHcMLfc 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' https://www.rslwa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Vol22-No3-Spring-1999.pdf Marlene Dietrich singing the original version of Lili Marleen. the next international Girl Guides jamboree is in Poland 2021 https://www.girlguideswa.org.au/ The Returned Services League of Western Australia Highgate Sub branch of the RSL in Western Australia King's Park Botanic Garden Thank you for reading. If you wold like to receive my travel storis and postcards staright into your inbox, please consider subscribing to my occasional newsletters.

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''. I hope you enjoyed the story - and you can leave me a comment - just keep scrolling down a bit - and I'll be sure to get back to you. If you wold like to receive my travel storis and postcards staright into your inbox, please consider subscribing to my occasional newsletters. More Sri Lanka stories - The Galle Literary Festival https://www.annakwiecinska.com/post/2019/02/19/the-galle-literary-festival-2019 - My Ayurvedic Retreat in Sri Lanka https://www.annakwiecinska.com/post/2019/02/08/a-week-of-wellness-in-sri-lanka

Looking back to 'Sea to Sahara', Morocco 2019

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 tour, 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. If you would like to receive my travel stories and postcards straight into your inbox, please consider subscribing to my occasional newsletters Read another Sea to Sahara Tour blog story from September 2019 If you're interested to know more about my next small group tour to Morocco in 2022 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) Shortcut : find out about taking this tour yourself 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. You can leave me a comment below - I'd love to hear from you - and I'll be sure to get back to you. If you wold like to receive my travel storis and postcards staright into your inbox, please consider subscribing to my occasional newsletters. 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 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 anna@annakwiecinka.com 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

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