SLEEPING IN A BIRD’S NEST IN THE JUNGLE OF THAILAND

Who said Phuket can't be relaxing? Those well-designed tree houses or wooden villas of Keemala Resort are worth the trip.
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En Esperando: The Search for Ayahuasca

I’m not going to tell you what I saw when I took Ayahuasca.

You may have heard tell of alien spirits, impossible geometry and a giant snake slithering towards you. Sure, with proper context, such tales can be illuminating. Usually, though, they’re just distractions. Psychedelic fodder to fuel the desire for a “crazy trip” on a jaunt through South America.

But plant medicine has been used in the Americas for thousands of years in deeply spiritual contexts. It’s only in the last half-century that Western tourists have triggered its growth as a commercial industry. There are posters advertising ceremonies on every corner of Peruvian cities like Cusco and Iquitos. Tourists discuss their experiences in the same breath as cocaine-fuelled nights out. Initially, it all felt a little… off.

Posters advertising medicine ceremonies are plastered all over Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

It was only after I took the time to research and discuss more widely that I began to consider partaking. Traditional ceremonies are still practiced in local communities. They are far cheaper – sometimes even free – but can also be more difficult to find, requiring local connections and less planning in advance.

Then there is the tourist’s way – expensive and easy to find. Such offerings can range from well-intentioned, approachable experiences to over-priced, money-making operations and outright scams. It is important to understand this and to be fully satisfied with the individuals in whom you are placing your trust for what can be an incredibly difficult, intimate or ecstatic experience.

Such ceremonies are not simply thrill-rides. They are deep and delicate operations of the mind, not to be entered into on a whim. As such, they are starkly incompatible with the trends of fast tourism.

Of course, the appeal of convenience is understandable. Weeks of searching for the right option was at times confusing and frustrating. I was already observing a strict diet in preparation. No salt, sugar, oil or spices. No processed food or animal products of any kind. No alcohol, drugs, or sex. No coffee. Even avocado was said to have too much fat – almost a deal-breaker for an inner-city Melburnian. For 10 days, I was fasting and otherwise living off broccoli, chickpeas, nuts and grains.

The retreat I eventually discovered came at the recommendation of a local friend, and was located in a riverside eco-lodge nestled in a tranquil, forested valley. Our guide was a Dutchman named Hilvert, a former economist who had settled in the area 10 years earlier after marrying a local and starting a family. For me, he represented a good bridge between the authentic traditions and a more familiar perspective.

The view from the eco-lodge retreat.

We had the rest of the afternoon to wander the valley and reflect on our reasons for being there.  As night fell, we began the ceremony. Rapé – a type of tobacco powder that is blown through a small pipe into the nostrils – was applied. It sears through the lungs, bringing the mind and body into a dizzy, eye-watering state of alertness.

Then, in our own time, we arrived in a small room with three cushioned places for sitting and a mattress if we needed to lie down. Idols of the Buddha and other masters lined a shelf, alongside the skull of a puma. The medicine was prepared by candlelight, alongside buckets and rolls of toilet paper.

We stated our intentions and prayed to the spirits of the plant for guidance. Then, we drank one cup of the bitter medicine.

It’s hard to know how long we waited. Our guide sung icaros – healing songs – and played musical instruments. He applied incense and oil, brushed us with leaves, blew smoke and clicked in circles around our heads.

Eventually, the other participant keeled over and vomited into his bucket. Soon after, I became aware of a dark sphere floating above my head, always at the uppermost periphery of my vision. It began to descend before me with all the massive negativity of a black hole, drawing me down with it until I was completely hunched over my rapidly deteriorating stomach. Profound sadness came over me. Flames of anger licked at my guts and pity washed through my heart.

All of this I merely observed. I shirked from nothing, rejected nothing, physical or emotional. Finally, the black sphere came to rest in my belly. I was doubled over it completely, like a child cuddling a pet in his lap, examining it intimately. I don’t know if it spoke, but somehow, a message of words echoed through my mind. I listened as faithfully as I could while nausea flooded my body.

When the purge came, it came as a relief. The heaviness of the void was ejected from my body in the form of black bile. For a while, all I could do was lean over the bucket and contemplate the vomit. Always an insightful moment, no matter the context. Satisfied with the work, I lay back and closed my eyes. Suddenly, I was in another world.

Behind the dark of my eyelids, I soared through fractal spires and kaleidoscope skies. Bison skulls wearing feathered head-dresses sat in council and observed me from a place just above my sight. Though they spoke no words, I felt distinctly the sensation of being communicated with. It occurred to me that I might ask them questions, but I was content simply to observe, to experience whatever might come. My mouth gaped. It as though they were pouring something down my throat, like a golden, milky nectar.

I must have sat like that for hours, head lolling, jaw hanging. Receiving this jungle ambrosia and giggling like an idiot. The sadness, the heaviness, all had evaporated, leaving only gratitude and love.

Eventually, the visions began to fade. I lay down and drifted into contemplation. My life floated into a wide, clear perspective. A nexus of hopes and memories, desires and pain. Clear light pierced into many of the issues I had been contemplating in the weeks before the ceremony.

The ceremony had lasted almost eight hours. It was said that the medicine would continue to work for several days more, as all that we had experienced solidified into place.

Everything changes

Okay, so I ended up telling you about the crazy spirit aliens I met and the hexagonal labyrinths I flew through on my jungle trip. Hopefully, though, you can see them in their proper context. I came away from the ceremony light on a fountain of energy and filled with ideas and resolutions. But I also came away from it with a greater appreciation for the significance of the ritual setting in which it is practiced, as well as the sensitivity, skill and wisdom of the one who administers it.

Disciplined preparation, appropriate execution and committed integration are all just as important as the application of the medicine itself. If you really want to experience just how profound an ayahuasca ceremony can be, you owe it to yourself to undertake it seriously.

And do me a favour: don’t be like the Aussie tourist I met in the Sacred Valley, who told me, “The only things to do around here are look at ruins and take ayahuasca.”

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Heritage, Porn and Islam

“Where are you from?”

This is a typical way of breaking the ice among solo travellers. I get asked the question up to 10 times a day.

“From Norway.”

“From Norway? No way.”

Norwegians do ask too, but not nearly as often. Although everyone sees in colour, asking a stranger about their heritage is considered disrespectful. The modern Scandinavian doesn’t place everyone they see in boxes according to skin tone.

“Yes way.”

And so follow-up questions ensue, such as: “Where are your parents from?”, “Where are you really from?” or, “But you don’t look like you’re from Norway”. Their bewilderment might even find way in this statement: “But your skin looks different.”

“My parents are Indonesian.”

“Cool. So you returned to your roots…”

*

Palm trees, the buzzling village and its residents flashed before my eyes. I would moped-hop among hostels, cafes and beaches, preferably within Canggu – a coastal town on the island of Bali. Norway had been my money-oriented bubble since birth. On Bali, though, I was bound to partying and promiscuity, ignoring the fact that I had a boyfriend back home. After an adolescence of feeling indisposed in my skin, Indonesia was a cool experience.

Hati-hati,” a bald, middle-aged man said. Be careful! He grinned and maneuvered his bigger moped alongside me in the hectic bulk of traffic, something Bali is known for. While I repressed my speculations about his browser history, I overtook the cars ahead.

The Hindu island of Bali, which friends like to call ‘the horny island’, has waves, crowds and desire. For me, nightly outings and shenanigans became tiresome. I heard tell of a peaceful Muslim fishing and surfing village, tucked somewhere on the southwest coast of Java. So I settled there temporarily.

I befriended a local man. He had married his wife after having gone through bureaucratic crap with her wish of converting to Islam, in support of her Muslim partner’s morals. All because they had conceived their son. He was the alpha to some of the youngsters I taught English to at a community centre for environmentally conscious volunteers.

“Women are like gold and men are like iron,” he said, to explain why women should veil themselves. And the saying clinged beautifully. I was intrigued.

Prior to this, I had conversed with other Muslim men in the village. I got responses that shared their principle with the alpha’s: “So that men don’t experience sexual desire in public,” though they sounded more like this: “So that the penis doesn’t stand up in public.”

“What are some other things I should know about Islam?” I asked.

“You should speak to the village’s English teacher. Don’t ask a bad Muslim like me,” the alpha said, his way of blaming himself for not praying five times a day and having had sex before marriage. I told him not to worry.

The following day, I paid the teacher a visit. I had briefly seen him at a beach cleanup. Cleaning beaches free from plastic is one of the community centre’s focus points.

“Nice to see you again,” I said. He just smiled.

“Can I come in?” My Indonesian skills were rusty. I speak Norwegian among my (Christian) parents, so I was better off communicating with the teacher in English.

“Why do you want to become Muslim?” the teacher asked.

His voice was clear and soothing, and he had a beer belly, but as a good Muslim (in principle), he never consumes alcohol. He uses his skills as a retired English teacher to offer private English lessons, which supports his homestay. A big portion of his customers are beach boys, who are taught zero-to-two hours of English per week in school. Those who can’t afford his lessons seek knowledge at the community centre, where I worked.

“I just want to know more about the religion, if you could help me out,” I said.

He was willing. I got free Arabic lessons and discounted nights at his homestay. He had a vision that, one day, I’d be able to read Arabic well enough to recite verses from the Quran through the Mosque’s speakers. We didn’t reach this far.

The man is a role model for those who wish they were as faithful to Allah as he. He has lived a suppressed life, having grown up in a conservative religious village somewhere. And here, the most rambunctious beach boys aren’t faithful to Allah, nor their wives. But some of their ladies cook amazing kwetiau, their expertise. I was one of the food vendor’s regular customers.

“Green, purple or light blue. It doesn’t matter. We’re all human beings,” an Australian man in his late twenties said. He had shown a wild fascination for Asian women. This was excused, where we sat and changed between talking and munching on cheap kwetiau after a long surf. And he surfed good. His visa was about to expire. He’s the type to work back home for as long as he can take it, then surf the Indonesian waves for as long as his wallet allows him to.

Another day, I stepped into my temporary home. The sun cast its heat over us. Palm leaves paused their swaying. I could hear soft moanings on my left. My teacher was glued to his LG (or something like it) screen. A little phone speaker blasted religious chanting. But they weren’t chantings. They came from a female politician with a cold. But colds are seldom in the tropics, I thought. He smiled. I didn’t. He didn’t lower the volume. I looked down at my bikini attire and headed to my room.

Porn is not an encyclopedia. It’s an industry that categorises women, not only into lesbian and straight, but also Latin, Ebony and Asian. By my exes, I’ve been viewed upon as a trophy for being a woman. And by strangers, I’ve been viewed upon as a delicacy for being an Asian woman. My ex watched a lot of porn. I was accustomed to this. But something about my teacher watching porn made me think twice about where I went to sleep every night. My friend convinced me that the teacher was decent, so I stayed.

The village is mapped out according to its three surf points: The First Point, Second Point and Third Point. The First Point works more consistently than the others. The Second Point works only if the First Point delivers its greatest hits. The Third Point often works under the right season during which it’d be pumping, but there’s reef.

Weeks flew by and I started to wear a headscarf. I was extremely drawn to the poetic language of Arabic. Islam could replace my complex inner universe with a life of minimalism, quality and meaning. Parts of the Quran matched my spiritual belief system. I could be free from addiction. Moped hopping from point to point, I was less looked at. Conversion stayed in the back of my mind.

In the meantime, I allowed myself to be curious about men. So I messed around with someone I met at the beach.

“Are you Muslim?” he asked.

He was lying next to me in the sheets. Beside us, his laptop showed Naruto, a Japanese manga series. He had showered. I had waited. Afterwards, he had looked at me with concentration during our session, because his penis and balls were going to fit in my mouth. This is called teabagging. His eyes had drilled mine with intrusion and I had invited him in. It was as difficult to stop as it was to say stop. The word loses its power the greater the pleasure or jerk. If I say stop but they keep going, it’s rape.

“No. Why?” I asked.

“I didn’t think you were. Surf with me again at four.”

Either I’m psycho, or it’s difficult to disentangle from this type of Stockholm Syndrome after having experienced abuse in earlier relationships. I had told my ex to stop. Stop. It required a third stop for him to pull out, granted the universal signal doesn’t mean keep going. He had been so deep into a doggystyle procedure that he couldn’t give up pleasure. I never want to experience abuse again, but a longing after the abuser stays in the body. He was part of my adolescence.

The teabagging episode didn’t make me less attracted to the man. He looked as though he’d jumped out of the year 1966. It’s not easy to get to this village, but he had meditated on the step during the eight-hour-long bus journey from Bandung, while his longboard had blocked the aisle.

I rode to the First Point. The afternoon looked gloomy from a beach view. My fling surfed choppy waves from the right side of the bay leftwards. He strode to the nose. Hang five. Hang ten. He strode back to the tail, swung his board where it was necessary in order to ride for long and jumped out of the water. With the board under his arm, the tail marked his presence until he jumped back into the lineup among the other dedicated surfers in the storm. His style is classic with a modern twist to every movement. Straight out of ’66.

How I foresaw that he wouldn’t recognise me in my headscarf, I don’t know. Perhaps because men are predictable. He walked straight past me twice, half a dozen metres away from me, in his wave-riding ritual. I hopped on my moped, aimed for the homestay.

People want to discuss modern dilemmas that come along with the religion. The veil acts as the control factor for men’s arousal. But they can control their own kontol (dick). I didn’t see Islam for what men have made it to be. The hijab symbolises how small we are in the world. I was going to let go of my ego. I was told that I look more beautiful in my headscarf. Fasting was going to dwindle desire, even though I didn’t reach as far as Ramadan. The Muslim way was the true way.

As I moved on, this belief started to fade. And I travel funnily, merely going from one bubble to another. The bubble pops when finding that peace stems from within. Nowadays, I rarely move my bum and my feet rarely itch.

Cover by Hugo Matilla 

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The ‘Circle Game’ Sign: Harmless Prank or Symbol of White Supremacy?

What do you think this symbol means?

A thumb and forefinger arranged into a circle shape, with the middle, ring and pinky fingers sticking straight downwards, into an upside-down okay sign.

Once completely innocent, it’s become in recent years a hand signal that one can project all sorts of cultural meanings onto, and they range from the benign to the queasy to the downright sickening.

The gesture started its life generations ago in the form that is probably most familiar to the majority of readers: as the catalyst in the ‘circle game’. The rules are pretty simple. You make the sign surreptitiously, and if a clued-in second party looks at it, then you get to punch them in the arm. Classic good times.

In 2017, the signal was co-opted by cesspool-of-the-internet 4chan — an online forum mostly inhabited by viciously angry misogynists, racists and sociopaths — as a way to ‘troll’ lefties.

The idea was to convince the mainstream media and the Twitterati that the symbol was a secret white supremacist sign. The origin of the joke began in the possibility that the three fingers pointing down could be a W for white, and the circle plus the first finger looks like a P, for power.   

The sign had been particularly popular among fans of Donald Trump, especially when its meaning could not be clearly identified. It caused controversy through its appearance in Milo Yiannopoulos’ social media output, and in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Then, predictably, it became an actual symbol of white supremacy. In the United States, workers including Alabama police officers and members of the Coast Guard have faced significant repercussions for publicly showing it.

Most recently, it was proudly displayed by the Christchurch terrorist while he stood handcuffed in a New Zealand court on March 16 — and its use by a mass murderer has deeply associated the sign with true hatred.

Then, two weeks after the attack, it was made again.

It was displayed the front page of an Australian capital city newspaper, by the teenage son of a prominent politician, in a story about the boy’s elite private school.

We’re not going to name the boy who made the gesture here, due to his status as a minor.

And we don’t know what his intentions were: whether he was referencing the circle game, playing a prank on a media organisation, or intentionally displaying a white supremacist symbol.

But the question of whether it was intentional or not is more or less irrelevant. As is whether or not the newspaper in question intended to print a gesture they recognised as being offensive, which they almost certainly didn’t.

This is not about the boy, his father’s status, or the media.

This is about Australia’s Muslim community.  

Because the fact is that they woke up on a quiet weekday morning to discover the son of a long-time and respected political figure in their state — an entrenched member of the power establishment if there ever was one — making the same hand-sign as a gunman who had massacred 50 of their brothers and sisters not two weeks ago, printed on the front page of a newspaper belonging to one of the biggest media organisations in the country.  

That hurts.   

It is heart-breaking to think of how it would feel in a grieving community; that it had even appeared that representatives of Australia’s power structure were making light of a devastating Islamophobic attack.

If the boy did make the sign in full innocence of its new darker meaning, an online pile-on is a hard way to learn these lessons as a teenager — which is, of course, what happened, after an eagle-eyed Tweeter saw the front page and shared it.

He will almost certainly be more cautious, after the highly public scolding he received last month.

It is infuriating that a small group of rabid extremists could take a symbol that was part of a harmless game and twist it into a sign of something reprehensible; and it is exhausting to try and keep up with the news when hate is evolving at digital hyperspeed.

But we all have a responsibility to think about how what we say and do could be construed by somebody in a different community to us; who has had a completely different life to us.

The ‘circle game’ symbol is now a part of the library of alt-right shitfuckery that can be construed as hurtful in some communities — especially, now, the Muslim community.

And we all have a responsibility to prioritise supporting the healing and strength of our Muslim communities in this terrifying, divisive, post-Christchurch world.  

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The ‘Circle Game’ Sign: Harmless Prank or Symbol of White Supremacy?

What do you think this symbol means?

A thumb and forefinger arranged into a circle shape, with the middle, ring and pinky fingers sticking straight downwards, into an upside-down okay sign.

Once completely innocent, it’s become in recent years a hand signal that one can project all sorts of cultural meanings onto, and they range from the benign to the queasy to the downright sickening.

The gesture started its life generations ago in the form that is probably most familiar to the majority of readers: as the catalyst in the ‘circle game’. The rules are pretty simple. You make the sign surreptitiously, and if a clued-in second party looks at it, then you get to punch them in the arm. Classic good times.

In 2017, the signal was co-opted by cesspool-of-the-internet 4chan — an online forum mostly inhabited by viciously angry misogynists, racists and sociopaths — as a way to ‘troll’ lefties.

The idea was to convince the mainstream media and the Twitterati that the symbol was a secret white supremacist sign. The origin of the joke began in the possibility that the three fingers pointing down could be a W for white, and the circle plus the first finger looks like a P, for power.   

The sign had been particularly popular among fans of Donald Trump, especially when its meaning could not be clearly identified. It caused controversy through its appearance in Milo Yiannopoulos’ social media output, and in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Then, predictably, it became an actual symbol of white supremacy. In the United States, workers including Alabama police officers and members of the Coast Guard have faced significant repercussions for publicly showing it.

Most recently, it was proudly displayed by the Christchurch terrorist while he stood handcuffed in a New Zealand court on March 16 — and its use by a mass murderer has deeply associated the sign with true hatred.

Then, two weeks after the attack, it was made again.

It was displayed the front page of an Australian capital city newspaper, by the teenage son of a prominent politician, in a story about the boy’s elite private school.

We’re not going to name the boy who made the gesture here, due to his status as a minor.

And we don’t know what his intentions were: whether he was referencing the circle game, playing a prank on a media organisation, or intentionally displaying a white supremacist symbol.

But the question of whether it was intentional or not is more or less irrelevant. As is whether or not the newspaper in question intended to print a gesture they recognised as being offensive, which they almost certainly didn’t.

This is not about the boy, his father’s status, or the media.

This is about Australia’s Muslim community.  

Because the fact is that they woke up on a quiet weekday morning to discover the son of a long-time and respected political figure in their state — an entrenched member of the power establishment if there ever was one — making the same hand-sign as a gunman who had massacred 50 of their brothers and sisters not two weeks ago, printed on the front page of a newspaper belonging to one of the biggest media organisations in the country.  

That hurts.   

It is heart-breaking to think of how it would feel in a grieving community; that it had even appeared that representatives of Australia’s power structure were making light of a devastating Islamophobic attack.

If the boy did make the sign in full innocence of its new darker meaning, an online pile-on is a hard way to learn these lessons as a teenager — which is, of course, what happened, after an eagle-eyed Tweeter saw the front page and shared it.

He will almost certainly be more cautious, after the highly public scolding he received last month.

It is infuriating that a small group of rabid extremists could take a symbol that was part of a harmless game and twist it into a sign of something reprehensible; and it is exhausting to try and keep up with the news when hate is evolving at digital hyperspeed.

But we all have a responsibility to think about how what we say and do could be construed by somebody in a different community to us; who has had a completely different life to us.

The ‘circle game’ symbol is now a part of the library of alt-right shitfuckery that can be construed as hurtful in some communities — especially, now, the Muslim community.

And we all have a responsibility to prioritise supporting the healing and strength of our Muslim communities in this terrifying, divisive, post-Christchurch world.  

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70 years of the VW campervan

In 1947, a Dutch car dealer called Ben Pon famously sketched out a simple, box-shaped delivery vehicle that was based on the Beetle’s chassis.  He persuaded the VW factory in Wolfsburg to put the van into production and the first VW Transporter was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in November 1949.

It was an innovative design that maximised the load-carrying capacity of the vehicle, with the cab positioned over the front wheels and the engine mounted over the rear wheels.  The  Plattenwagen soon became popular as a low-cost, adaptable and flexible utility vehicle.  But the addition of removable bench seats, windows,  a sliding canvas roof, skylights and higher level trim during the early 1950s meant that the basic panel van was transformed into a multipurpose vehicle.  The campervan was born.

This great infographic from WessexVans charts the evolution of the VW campervan over the last 70 years.  From a humble panel van equipped with a weekend camping box through to today’s high-spec dedicated camper, the VW campervan has reflected changing cultures across the world.  Whether you’re an ageing hippy, a weekend tinkerer, an adventure sports enthusiast, a roadtripper or the proud owner of a gleaming, show-quality van I’m sure you’ll relate to this.

To read more about the history of the VW campervan, including TV adverts from years gone by, visit some of my previous posts:

Part 1 – The birth of an icon

Part 2 – Coming of age

Part 3 – Into the 21st century

Full list of my campervan posts

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What Does a Writing Workshop in Spain With Global Hobo Entail?

Oh! The things that we’ll see and do and learn while we’re traversing this great kingdom, writing our way around Spanish Iberia, immersing ourselves in a summer spent both off the beaten track and in the middle of all the action.

Yes, we’re spending time in cultural, political and hedonistic hotspots like Barcelona, San Sebastian, Madrid and Valencia, but we’ll also find ourselves partaking in plenty of wholesome pursuits in between.

Here’s a little taste.

(Note: we still have one spot in June/July, and a couple of slots left on our August trip, so if you know anybody who’d love to get down with this, you’d best let them know ASAP)

Hike

There’ll be plenty of opportunities to lace up the boots and give the booty a good old firmin’. One of the tragic oversights in a typical imagining of Spain is that it’s flat (where the rain mainly falls on plains, etc.) and beachy and hot and sunny – and it is! But there are a whole bunch of mountain ranges, and we’ll be visiting some of them too.

Like…

Pagoeta National Park
It’s not far from San Sebastian (Stoke Travel’s surf camp is actually inside the park), but all of your intrepid friends who visit the Basque culinary playground and rave about how much they love it have probably never been anywhere near here. Mountains and little short-legged horses and prehistoric dolmens and all the fairies and giants of Basque mythology.

And…

Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park

A part of the Pyrenees mountain chain that separates the Iberian Peninsula from Europe proper, the Ordesa and Monte National Park looks a bit like Shangri La, or something, and I wouldn’t be surprised if intrepid hobos hike their way into The Land Before Time and return with funky fungus tales of flying lizards. Home to mountain goats, wolves and bears (the latter two we’d be lucky to see tracks from), natural swimming pools, waterfalls, high peaks and Aragonese cheese.

Visit Beautiful Stuff

Guaranteed that everywhere we go will have some beautiful stuff, because every tiny decaying village and bustling urban sprawl is laden with beauty in Spain. Here are some standouts that we’ll be cruising past, sleeping in, and maybe stopping at for some ‘gramming.

This Monastery

We found this one in the middle of nowhere and reckon it’s a pretty solid place to stop and maybe meditate or do something holy/pagan. It’s in La Rioja, too, so it’s likely the monks are fermenting their own grapes up there.

The Alhambra

The final stronghold of Islamic Spain (711-1492), the Alhambra is one of the world’s most spectacular buildings, made doubly so by the local custom of giving you free food when you buy a (very cheap) drink in a bar.

Cuenca

Back in the day, you built castles on mountain ridges because they acted as natural fortifications against invaders, but now this once-practical setup serves the sole purpose of making us think, The town could be in Game of Thrones! That’s the new default exclamation when faced with something impressive in it medieval-ness.

Try Really Nice Wine At The Source

Um, hello sweaty. Heard of La Rioja’s reds? Some of the world’s best reds, cultivated in a landscape so sexy it’ll make your throbbing head bearable.

What about the vino tinto they make under the cliffs in Priorat? Not many people have heard of this wine region, but we’ll take you there and you’ll weep delicious red tears.

*To be fair, everywhere we visit will have its own winemaking culture. It would be a real shame not to show our appreciation at every stop with a little indulging.

Party

If you want to party, there will be plenty of opportunity to hit up bars, clubs, concerts, etc. We’ll also be able to indulge in my personal passion for traditional fiestas. Here are some of the best we’ll stumble across.

La Batalla de Vino de Haro

In the aforementioned La Rioja, and is literally a fight with wine. Keep your mouth closed (or don’t).

San Fermin

The only people who participate in the bullrun are arseholes and tourists (the overlap is uncanny), but San Fermin is a whole week of concerts, food, Basque culture and activism. Find out why young Spaniards shuffle home for bed when the tourists are getting ready to run.

Semana Grande
San Sebastian’s Big Week, think traditional dances, boat rowing regattas, food everywhere, and the grandmammy of fireworks displays to round the whole thing out every evening.

La Tomatina

It’s a really big tomato fight (and it’s really, really enjoyable/therapeutic).

Bird Watch

We probably won’t actually go bird watching, but in our adventures, we’ll incidentally come across some of these aviarian hotspots.

Flamingoes in the Delta del Ebro

And these eagles in the part of Spain where all the spaghetti westerns were filmed

Isn’t that wholesome!

Plus we’ll hit up innumerable beaches, local bars, beauty spots, lookouts, hang out with locals, do super fun stuff, have siestas every day, go to museums laden with famous Picassos and Dalis and Goyas and Mirós, and just generally roll around the country having an absolute churro of a time.

If you’re joining us, get excited, and if you’re not, you really should be. For more information, check out our workshops page, fill in an application or email us at hello@globalhobo.com.au. 

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The Wild World of Weed Trimming

Amongst the backpacking community, there’s always plenty of buzz surrounding the highly fantasised life that is weed trimming. And the first rule of Trim Club is that you do not talk about Trim Club. Rumours abound that you’ll make bulk cash in a short amount of time, which gives every traveller a semi-chub as they think about the bifters they’ll smoke all day long while stacking enough cash to send them on that Central American swirl they’ve been dreaming of.

Sadly, the market for backpackers to come to the US and get work easily is drying up. Due to an oversaturated market and changing legal states, the ‘Greenrush’ is over, making existing crews more impenetrable than ever. I’m here to tell my personal story about the misconstrued glory that is weed trimming.

*

After landing in the States after a long and mentally straining European summer, a mate and I shook the cobwebs by taking a week to roadtrip from Southern California up to Oregon. A friend of ours had met a trim crew while hitchhiking the year prior, and vouched that we would be good workers for this year’s harvest.

Finding the property was a journey in itself: it was deep bush with no cell service for about 10 miles in either direction. The first thing we noticed was a broken-down cop car. Though it was collecting dust, it had the spirit that someone once had some great fun in this novelty vehicle. It was followed by another 20 cars, boats, RVs and auto parts, all broken down. I felt like I’d just entered the land of the lost.

The boss, Thad, was living in a trailer with a back wall that had been held together with a wedged-in broomstick for 30 years. Nonetheless, it had a sense of comfort.

Soon after we arrived, Thad deep fried us something he’d caught out of the sea and told us about his countless fishing competition victories and hunting tales. The stories continued as the moon rose, and I was feeling ready to sleep. It must have been about 10 o’clock when his phone rang.

After hanging up, Thad continued his tale and casually went to the door, waving at us to follow. He walked over to his car and locked in as the driver, so I jumped in the front seat with my buddy in the back. Then Thad reached behind him and grabbed his pistol, making sure it was loaded properly before placing it back where it was.

Oh fuck, I thought to myself.

Already, Thad was the craziest driver I’d ever sat beside. In future, I would intentionally try and avoid ever having to ride in his car, because my palms would get blistered holding on for dear life. But this night was extra wild.

Thad’s mother-in-law had called and said there was a car of people who had pulled up to her garden to try and steal her marijuana plants. The crowns of some of these plants can be worth up to $1000 each, and can be swiftly taken with one swing of a machete, so it’s often you have to keep watch on your crops.

After Thad explained the situation, and with us having no knowledge of the dirt roads we were swerving on, I thought we would surely crash and die on the way. Tokyo Drift meets the backwoods.

We pulled up in a cloud of dust, screeching alongside the house. Thad’s mother-in-law told us she had scared the trespassers off with a Taser, but had caught the plates. They were driving a California-registered vehicle and towing a trailer, and Thad was certain we could find them.

Now, I was coming fresh off a European summer filled with nothing but parties and friendship. The thought of sniffing out these bad guys with loaded guns had me feeling funky. But I was already too deep – where the hell was I gonna go, into the woods? I just wished I had chosen the back seat…

Thad explained there was a bar where all the local scum hang, so we would go check the plates in the parking lot. Though nothing fit the description, it didn’t stop Thad from doing a slow roll past everyone smoking ciggies in the carpark, giving them a full maddog. I didn’t know if I should maddog them too, or pretend to awkwardly look for something on the floor.

When we started to head back to the ranch, I thought the night was over. Just as I let out a sigh of relief, Thad spotted a truck with a trailer in a run-down self-service car wash. Fear washed over me as I imagined this wild shoot out.

While the truck had Oregon plates unfitting of his mother-in-law’s description, the driver did look suspicious, and Thad wanted to see what he was up to. This time, he pulled up with the passenger side first, so I was forced to maddog this guy. I sort of squinted my eyes and tried to act stern, but not too tough in case of confrontation. I saw my life flash.

We finally returned home, and since we didn’t have anything set up yet, we laid some blankets on Thad’s trailer floor. I was fast into the dream world when the sliding glass door burst open. This crazy looking hillbilly rushed in, gun in hand. He had matted hair, hadn’t showered for months and, with missing teeth, was yelling about how he had just caught some tweakers on the property. He urged that we go out there and tend to them, but the craze in his eye and gun in his hand told me I had better sit this one out.

The next morning, we were told that this gummy bloke was Thad’s garden security. Because coffee isn’t strong enough to keep him up all night anymore, he takes magic mushrooms to burn the midnight oils during his shifts.

Besides that quick description, nothing more was ever spoken about that first night. We were shown around the ranch the next morning, and Thad explained what type of work we would be doing. I wondered if the previous evening’s escapades would be a daily occurrence, but didn’t want to ask and show apprehensiveness to a new employer who was going to make my Central American travel dreams come true.

That’s kind of how the rest of the eight weeks went. Some mundane work with below average chat, then all of a sudden, a big shake-up of weird and wild hillbilly things: from shooting mortars at pedestrians on the street to hunting bears throughout the night. We ate bear sausages for 60 days straight.

All in all, I would describe it as the best experience you never want to do again. Every farm is different and every crew is different, but if you can, get in before the market evaporates just to see how whacky times while weed trimming can get. The rumours about fast cash are true as well, if you can endure the mental battle in the woods.

Photos provided by the author

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Solider Boy

It is 2pm on my last day in Portugal and I am still in bed, revelling in the hilarity of the 24 hours prior. I try to motivate myself out of bed with the mantra, “You have the same number of hours in a day as Michelle Obama. You have the same number of hours in a day as Michelle Obama.”

But Michelle did not have 10 drinks last night and stay up till 6 am hooking up with an Israeli soldier.

Or maybe she did.

Solider Boy and I meet on a bar crawl, when I notice him amongst the crowd of a hundred: piercing eyes, second day beard and a buzz cut. He stands alone, legs apart and arms folded like an undercover agent ready to pound drinks and criminals. I am extremely attracted, because the pursuit of wildly unavailable men seems to be my life’s mission.

At the second bar on our stop, I watch as Soldier Boy makes his way through the crowd and feel him squeezing past me. Before I can think about what I am doing, I turn, grab him by the shoulder and whisper into his ear, “I think you’re really hot.”

He looks stunned, like he is hearing this for the first time in his life, and replies humbly, “…Thank you.”

I smile. He smiles.

“Hey, can I buy you a shot?”

Solider Boy and I make out on every surface of the bar like promoters for a sex club, advertising the sticky walls and the grimy floors. Come to Casa Loca and snag yourself a sexy solider. Buy one tequila shot, get one dick free!

Soldier Boy is the first Israeli I have met on my trip, and my drunk mouth does not censor itself.

“Did you kill anyone?” I ask bluntly.

“I will tell you the truth… no,” he replies with solemnity.

“So, what did you have to do?” I probe on.

“I had to raid people’s homes, threaten them, arrest them,” he says with complete indifference.

“Oh, okay,” I nod quietly and end the conversation.

I do not know much about the Israel-Palestine conflict at this stage and I am in no position to begin a lecture on human rights in my inebriated state. Plus, Solider Boy did not choose to threaten and arrest Palestinians. His government makes two years army service mandatory for all young people.

We leave the club at 3am and stumble towards my hostel. The conversation of Australia comes up.

“I spent one year on a working holiday in Australia,” he tells me, “and it is so unfair how Aboriginal people just get free money from the government without working! I can’t believe how lazy they are!”

Oh hell no, boy.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is attempt to explain the systemic oppression faced by Aboriginal Australians completely drunk in Portugal to an Israeli military commander.

“Noooo, they aren’t lazy… they’ve suffered for many years because of white people, you know? It’s… so many things… it’s complicated.”

In front of me is a man with a face sculpted by the Gods and abs I would lick glass off spewing opinions that are ringing alarm bells in my ethical core. I desperately want him to shut up. I desperately want to fuck him. Instead he falls asleep on my chest, shirtless, as soon as we reach my hostel.

Soldier Boy murmurs, “I don’t usually drink. I haven’t partied in a year. Oh God, I am so drunk. You are taking advantage of me.”

I am alarmed by his words yet again, having had countless men ignore my consent when I have been drunk, I would never do that to someone else.

When I express this, he replies sweetly, “No, I want you to take advantage of me.”

Of course he does. Having been in the fucking Israeli army for three years, being brainwashed by propaganda, trained to intimidate innocent people, and living a life of rigorous control; his drunk self wants to completely abandon control to me.

It is very wrong and it really turns me on.

But we both fall asleep on the floor of the movie lounge of my fancy hostel and I suddenly wake to music blaring from the surround-sound speakers. I check my phone, which reads 6:15 am. The strange thing is that there is no one in the room except us. Are the hostel ghosts punishing me for letting an unethical man into the sacred space?

The music is deafeningly loud, but Soldier Boy keeps snoring away softly. I want to get to my own bed and I do not want to share the tiny bunk with him. So I quietly leave, feeling a twinge of guilt as I imagine Soldier Boy waking up alone, in a place he does not know, without his shirt.

Karma.

Cover by Romuald

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A Beer in Bruges

On a cold, not-so-stormy night in the small town of Bruges, Belgium, my companion and I gallivanted on the rugged, cobbled streets, adamantly attempting to avoid any Christmas markets.

Now, I feel obliged to provide context for the situational abhorrence of these festive, fleeting spaces – Vinayak and I were travelling around Western Europe during the latter half of December. Having spent the first week of our trip in Amsterdam and Brussels, a fair share of our evenings was devoted to Christmas markets, making generous donations to the Purchase a glass of mulled wine at every festive establishment and keep the frigid winters from numbing your bones charitable organisation.

Fortunately, these spaces weren’t difficult to avoid. It was 5pm, natural light had bid us farewell, and as a result, any atypically lit-up space implied a stunning trap of local, overpriced yet delicious food and handicraft consumerism – both of which I had definitely indulged in enough.

The only seemingly sensible way to keep our warmth and wallets intact in this visually mesmerising tundra was, naturally, a bar. As seriously indecisive travellers – not a very favourable combination – we situated ourselves in the first watering hole we laid eyes upon. And as a seriously indecisive traveler with an unusual liking for bartenders and baristas, my seating decisions were made for me.

We situated ourselves on the bar stools, not-so-coincidentally across a rather handsome bartender, Joe. He was dressed in a well-ironed black button-down; his glasses were bordered with a minimalistic, crisp frame; his hair was gelled so intentionally it seemed as though he manually dedicated a position to each strand of luscious blonde.

Although neither of us are enthusiastic beer drinkers, Vinayak and I felt obligated to do so in Belgium. I was preoccupied contemplating the most appealing ways to stir up conversation with Joe, and as a notoriously horrible multitasker, it was a relief to have obligation select my toxin for the night. Rather unfamiliar with the beer world, I had Joe serve me his favourite of the classic Belgian golden toxins.

I think we spent over an hour on those uncomfortable stools; my behind was not nearly as pleased as my brain. However, the quality of the group’s conversation more than justified the quality of the bar’s seating arrangements.

Born and raised in this cozy town of Bruges, Joe gave us a lesson on some of the best and worst aspects of his hometown. Vinayak and I, born and raised in the neighbouring continent of Asia, then shared anecdotes of our lives in the not-so-cosy city of Mumbai, India. Such completely serendipitous moments of genuine connection and cultural exchange deemed airport lines, layovers, airplane food such trivial inconveniences.

Twenty minutes in, and the three of us hadn’t shared even a moment of silence. Amidst the sound of glasses, running water, neighbouring conversations and celebratory clinks, Joe continued to give us lessons, this time, about Belgian Beer. He snuck away for a minute. “This is his job, he probably has others to attend to,” I figured. But he returned within a jiffy, effortlessly carrying a tray of five glasses – all filled with carbonated liquids, all different shades of golden-brown. It was time for the practical applicative portion of our lesson.

Vinayak and I weren’t beer drinkers, but we also knew well enough not to turn down free alcohol – so as to not disrespect the country’s traditions, of course. Fortunately, these golden potions were strong enough to temporarily numb the sting of earning in rupees and spending in one of the strongest currencies in the world.

As adventurers, we shared our mutual appreciation for culture, adventure and spontaneity. Dichotomously, as home-bodies who value family, we shared the little pleasures of living in one’s birthplace, in and around dear, loved ones.

Ninety minutes in, and I felt ravenous, yet extremely satiated, both at the same time. Physiologically ravenous, emotionally satiated. Once again, Joe came to the rescue and recommended some fabulous restaurants in the area that wouldn’t drill holes in our wallets. Compelled by non-negotiable hunger and paid-for train tickets, I reluctantly left this cosy haven, but not without Joe’s Instagram handle.

We were in this tiny dreamland of Bruges for half a day. I was as hungry as I was reluctant to leave. I struggle with short-term friendships as much as I struggle with making expeditious decisions. And I consistently crave spontaneous, deep connections as much as I crave the smell of a handwoven, nascently opened notebook made by a local craftsman whom I could probably make conversation with for hours, and sold at a Christmas market in a quaint European town.

Cover by Diogo Palhais

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