Hola dear amigas and amigos and acquaintances and anonymous readers,
as our trip up the Western Australian coast, from Perth to Kalbarri, and Kalbarri to Shark Bay so far, has been rather eventful, I thought it might be wise to take some time out in creative artist-magnet-haven Fremantle this week. Here, you´ll be able to take in some cool Street Art and soak up the atmosphere of a fantastic Australian coastal town and one of my favorite places on the planet.
To join me in fun and vivacious Fremantle – no need to RSVP, just head to this virtual meet-up-place, ahem post.
Relax, stretch your legs, and enjoy a nice Freo-brewed coffee or a yummy smoothie with me, before we head back on the road in our next post (in one or two weeks) to finish our adventurous journey through the Australian Wild Wild West in an incredible up north paradise. Which includes immersing yourself in shark-inhabited waters, exploring pristine beaches, and having several pretty out there once-in-a-lifetime experiences…
Gypsy News: “How to feel at home while traveling” is born
Also, I wanted to let you lovely people know that I have just finished my first travel-related e-book! It´s called “How to feel at home while traveling”. It´s a practical little thing compiling lots of my handy and personally tried-out tips and tricks to make traveling more comfortable and relaxing – and it´s currently completely free/ on the Gypsy-house🙂
As you guys might know, I´ve been been a quite avid traveler and, to be honest, I did travel in pretty intense and partly frantic ways in the past. You could say Speedy Gonzalez was my idol as I wanted to visit every country in the world and be like everywhere at once. Truth be told, that approach to traveling resulted in lots of fantastic experiences, but also a few pretty intense ones, and it was certainly not the most relaxing way to enjoy my deeply embedded love for travel and foreign cultures. So, I tried and tested new ways of traveling and practices and tools to feel more relaxed and at ease while on the road – that´s how “How to feel at home while traveling” came to life!
Do you wanna feel empowered while traveling? Do you long to feel more relaxed while out and about? Do you want to cultivate a sensual approach to your travel experiences? Then this book will help.
To access your very own copy, just head to this page to download your ebook. I would love to hear your feedback on it or any further wishes/ ideas/ thoughts you might have on the content, as I am planning on creating a more in-depth package centered around empowering oneself to feel relaxed and at ease while out and about in the near future. Thank you so much for your interest and support! It´s so much appreciated🙂
That´s all for today- I´ll see you in Freo, as Fremantle is dubbed by the locals! Until next time,
Your Gypsy mate
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“What are we gonna do about tonight?”, I ask my travel companion as I´m heading back to the van after a long day out at Kalbarri National Park. The cold is starting to creep up on me as the last rays of daylight are fading. Practical matters are suddenly taking center stage after a full day in non-stop-marveling-mood. “No idea“, he answers in a nonchalant way while scratching his beard. “What about checking into a hostel in town?”, I suggest. “Let´s give it a crack. She´ll be right“, he agrees wearily. Ah well, the German part of me will never get used to the Aussie spontaneity and utterly carefree attitude – but the Spanish part within just freaking loves it!
Kalbarri: Meeting persistent lovers of the law
A point in favor of German conscientiousness and over-planning: That spur-of-the-moment idea really did not work out. Like at all! All hotels, and hostels, and even camping spots, are booked out. On to the next idea! My travel-companion still doesn´t seem fazed one bit, as I suggest to just park our van in a quiet street and snooze right there.
Barely thirty minutes in, and an overeager Kalbarrian (Is that how you call an inhabitant of Kalbarri?) zestfully knocks on the driver side´s window. We get politely, yet very diligently told to f…venture off. It´s about 1 AM in the morning, so we decide to wing it and drive back to Kalbarri National Park, where theoretically, any kind of camping is kinda forbidden. And probably, practically as well.
“She´ll be right“, I mumble wearily to myself. After over a year of living in Australia I know this idiom by heart now – whatever is wrong will right itself with time. After a short deliberation, I head to the back of the van and bundle myself up in my jacket and a rather scratchy blanket. Two hours later, and I wake up pretty bloody almost-frozen. A diligent ranger proves that even at 3 AM on a weekday, you shouldn´t mess with the Australian love for safety, rules, and regulations – and off we go again.
Kalbarri to Shark Bay: Dramatic sunsets and darn old Stromatolites
In the end, there´s not much sleep to be had that night – but on the upside, a pretty perfect sunset greets us while we make our way up towards the infamous Shark Bay World Heritage Area. My mates, in case you didn´t know: Western Australian sunsets are basically the VIP´s of sunset phenomena – they warrant an extra dosage of attention for their drama and the multilayered explosions of color they bring to the table.
After driving for around 4,5 hours along the North West Coastal Highway, humming along to some relaxed tunes, we reach Shark Bay World Heritage Area. Our first stop is Hamelin Pool, a protected Marine Nature Reserve. It feels amazing to say cheerio to the van, and take in some new, thought-provoking sights and sensations. If you`ve ever felt as if you are getting old – which in our warped culture can probably already happen when you are like 12 – , there is no better place to hang out than Hamelin Pool. Why?
Well, you´ll be able to visit the insanely old Stromatolites aka the oldest life forms on earth – living representatives of life over 3500 million years ago, when there was no other complex life on Earth. That´s right, even if you are currently 105 years of age, you´ll still be like a toddler compared to these so-called living fossils! How´s that for a win-win?
If you feel overwhelmed by today´s round-the-clock-availability, stop by at the Old Hamelin Pool Telegraph Station. Built in 1884 as part of the communication line between Perth and Roebourne, it will make you feel as if you just beamed yourself back to a time where communicating through the distance was quite a feat. Also, the original building is now a museum housing many curious artifacts which definitely do not overwhelm the senses.
Shark Bay World Heritage Area: Shell beach, a pristine piece of paradise all to yourself
Our next stop isn´t far away at all – 44 km away from Denham and just a short drive from Hamelin Pool, Shell Beach awaits us with millions of tiny automobiles. No, of course not, just checking you´re still with us 😛 Located within Francois Peron National Park, Shell Beach is a true gem of a beach made up off trillions of tiny cockle shells. There are even shell deposits around that are 10 meters deep in places!
Stepping out of the van, I am immediately engulfed with a sense of deep peace – it´s almost eerily quiet, and as is so often the case in Western Australia, we have the beach all to ourselves. A glorious and enlivening feeling! Playing around with the shells, admiring the deep, still, shallow waters and breathing the incredibly pure air is more than enough to get me feeling vibrant and alive after the long car ride from Kalbarri.
Shell Beach´s second characteristic besides its abundance of shells is the water´s hypersalinity, which means that the water here is twice as salty as the sea. Better not drink that stuff! Not that I usually go to the ocean to drink. Anyways, moving on. Despite feeling pretty damn alive after our visit to Shell beach, my travel mate and I decide that it´s time to head to Denham and check into our hostel for the next two nights. There are some pretty special beings to be met early the next morning, after all! And we definitely do not feel up for another frozen van night.
Monkey Mia: A different kind of beach date
Early the next morning, we get ready for a very special date. This date is a tiny bit different to other ones, though- we are about to meet a very wild, extraordinarily enchanting, highly intelligent, always optimistic, eternally kind and helpful fella after all! It´s basically the kind of rendezvous with the kind of being you get once every ten years – if you´re lucky. And boy, are we lucky indeed. Once we arrive on the agreed-upon location, the pristine and picture-perfect beach at Monkey Mia Reserve, we get to hang out around other admirers from all over the world, until our date´s PR-entourage announces his imminent arrival.
We are extremely fortunate – not only because meeting beings like him in their natural habitat and in a pre-agreed manner is a rare occurrence. But also because this being, voted the cutest mammal alive by Animal magazine for 100 years straight, does have the decency to bring all his extremely adorable friends along! As we learn through their well-briefed PR-peeps, their stunning home, the waters of Shark Bay Marine Park, host a gorgeously diverse population of animal species, from mellow dugongs to cheeky loggerhead turtles.
Keep your cool: Meeting dolphin-royalty
But it’s -obviously- the irresistibly playful Indo-Pacific bottlenose-dolphins that visit Monkey Mia nearly every morning which bring home the bacon: they draw more than 100,000 admirers to the beach each year. Some wild dolphins have been known to visit Monkey Mia since well before 1982 to be hand-fed by friendly humans – which led to a big scientific investigation of all things dolphin. Find out more about this fascinating story here.
Back to our very own dolphin-date, though: The volunteers pick a few especially hysterical, sorry, especially enthusiastic admirers each morning to feed some members of the dolphin royalty clan their favorite brand of tasty caviar, no, sorry, fish it was. Maybe my forceful, dare I say fan-girl-inspired attempt to hypnotize the dolphin-volunteer into picking me worked somehow (I swear, there was no bribery involved – they have bodyguards for that stuff) – because in the end, I have the honor of feeding a gorgeous wild dolphin. And I am positive – he winked at me! At least he smiled the whole two minutes through. And I get a tad emotional as I sense the expansive joy and profound gentleness that this exceptional wild creature irradiates through his sweet eyes, smile, and whole being.
Stay tuned for our next post, when we´ll learn more about the incredible wonders of Shark Bay, including a meeting with a highly charismatic Indigenous Australian leader and tour guide, who shares some of his ancestors secrets with us (sorry guys, just the parts that are allowed obviously!). We will also head to a far-off paradise. I swear, I am not exaggerating here! You´ll see…
Back to you, dear reader: What´s your cheekiest travel-adventure? And: Have you ever been on a road trip, and if so, where did you explore?Thanks for reading, and as always, would love to hear from you!
If you enjoyed this content, you can support A gypsy at heart here – thank you, danke, gracias, merci, grazie, arrigato, dhanywaad, xièxiè, shukraan... in advance!:)
Copyright: You can feel that one in your bones probably. Yes. Again, the rights to written words and pictures belong to meee/ A gypsy at heart. Because: You did not endure that bloody cold night in the van.
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How does wide open space feel? Like floating. Like being brought to your knees. Like tasting humility, the limitations of being human, and the might of something much vaster than yourself. It does not feel like Europe one bit, I can tell you that much. At least not the Europe I know, the Europe of the mind, of questioning everything a thousand times before putting it into reality, of letting mind and reason reign over the impulses of your heart, your gut, your most essential self.
This is Western Australia, the land of wild untouched dirt, of colors so intense they make you gasp for air and beg for mercy, as such natural beauty is rarely to be found in places where civilization and man-made card houses of self-importance hold the dice on the playing field of life.
Driving through the Wild Wild West: Aboriginal Dreams-time in Geraldton
The red dirt to my right, the stark bluest blue you´ll ever see a sky painted in above, the many shades of blue/ turquoise/ greens/ dark emeralds of the mighty Indian Ocean to my left… that is the colorful ground tenor to the symphony of this road trip-adventure. It´s my first going the whole way from Western Australia´s laid-back capital Perth up to Coral Bay aka my latest definition of paradise.
Our first bigger stop is Geraldton, 424 kilometres north of the state capital, Perth. With its around 38.000 inhabitants, it´s a big town in Western Australia – a small one by European standards, though, where people can often be found anywhere you look/walk/sit/breathe. Once our van arrives safely in Geraldton, we do the things we as humans need to do – eat, move, again, breathe. And we do things humans have the privilege of doing, like marveling at art.
Geraldton Art Gallery: Journeying back in Aboriginal time
As I spot the advertisement for an Aboriginal art exhibition at the local art gallery, I suddenly feel as if I´m thrown back in time. I had always felt deeply drawn to Indigenous Australian´s spirituality, wisdom, and art – so much so that back in 2002 I had basically copied every word of a book on the topic into my diary. And that was long before I even knew that I would end up living Down Under for quite a while…
The book had whispered some of the secrets of true magic to me – not the magic that is used nowadays at every turn to market and sell, no, the magic that is as or more real than the lines you are reading right now. The magic of living in unison with all of creation, and of dancing, singing, and sensing your way through the many circles of life. The magic of things unspoken, of veils unbroken, and bonds forged in the forgotten realms of an ethereal home.
Ancient art in modern spaces
Following the longings of my heart, I step into the Geraldton Regional Art Gallery and bathe myself in the imagery. The Aboriginal paintings invite me to travel back in time, more specifically around 75.000 years in time, when the first Aboriginal Australians, descendants of the first people ever to leave Africa (here´s to bravery!) arrived in Australia. Granted, the paintings were not THAT bloody old, of course!
For artistic evidence dating back tens of thousands of years, there´s no better way than to check out some original Rock art like the one I had been able to admire on a trip to the Pilbara region of Western Australia. But that´s a story for another time and post, my mates.
The paintings which were on display in Geraldton, meanwhile, did open a window into the Indigenous Australian culture for me through their brilliant storytelling clothed in symbols/ icons, a chronical used to transmit knowledge of the land, events, and beliefs of the Aboriginal people.
The first painting posted above might look deceivingly simple to the uninformed onlooker – who most likely won´t know about a very intriguing and kinda secret characteristic of Indigenous Australian Art. According to the Artlandish Aboriginal Art Gallery in Kununurra, Aboriginal artists will denote the “outside” story which they prepare for their non-indigenous audience whilst the full “inside” story can be understood only to those with the appropriate level of knowledge. Pretty fascinating, right?
The second artwork showcases a common motive in Aboriginal art. Many Indigenous Aussie paintings consist of thousands of meticulously created “dots”. More specifically, it´s Western Desert art which is given its unique character through the use of dots. Executed the traditional way, it takes the artist hundreds of hours of precision and committed attentiveness just to create the background.
So, what do those dots actually stand for, you might ask? Well, they symbolize stars, sparks, burnt ground and the likes as the base of an Aboriginal painting is the organisation of the earth and the ancestral connection with it. Country, respect for country/ earth as well as Dreamtime are important pillars of Aboriginal culture and identity, after all.
The world´s oldest living culture definitely has a lot to teach us “young ones”, and I hope to learn much more about their wisdom and powerful ways of relating to all that is in the future. But ahem, losing track of time here…let´s get back to our roadtrip-adventure!
Kalbarri explorations: From bloody old to bloody impressive
After a healthy lunch (or was it? Mmh…) overlooking the gorgeous myriad of shades of blue tainted waves of the imposing Indian Ocean, it was time to continue the journey to Kalbarri, more specifically the Kalbarri National Park, boasting impressive inland river gorges with really bloody old rock formations that are definitely older than your grandma. Or your great-grandma. Or your motherland, maybe. Depends where you live.
The relatively secluded National Park, 485 km north of Perth in the Midwest region of WA, entices adventurous visitors with its 400 million-year-old gorges as well as towering ocean cliffs. The Murchison river gorge runs for almost 80 km on the lower reaches of the Murchison River, but before you zone out because Murchison River who – take a look at the colorful power-presence that is Western Australia´s natural forces. You might have never seen a blue that deeply blue and a red that passionately alive red anywhere before!
The circle of life: The treasures of Kalbarri National Park
When out and about exploring the wonders of Kalbarri National Park, I couldn´t help myself and did a little Yoga and mindfulness practice on the incredible ancient lands, feeling her more deeply, letting her overtake my mind and being and dissolving into her magnificence.
Witnessing her entirely meant bowing to her powerful presence while taking in the sensations of warm rays of sunshine on my skin, a rush of chilly wind messing with my hair and cooling down my neck, and the panoramic views of seemingly endless wild nature all around me.
This might be a bit random, but bare with me – did you ever watch the movie “The Lion King” and remember the scene where little Simba was being held up to the sky and introduced to its fellow animal-friends? Not that I felt like a lion-cub (even though I might have let out a tiny roar when gazing upon those views), but the similarities between the scenery were pretty damn striking…:P
We ended up spending a good day exploring Kalbarri National Park – and ended up passing the night in a rather unexpected place while disturbing more than a few orderly citizens in the process. Read all about that cheeky adventure as well as my explorations of the incredible Shark Bay World Heritage Area next time!
Today´s healing action: Seeing that this post is all about stunning Australia, a place that is seriously hurting at the moment, I wanted to share a few links where you can donate to help:
If you believe in the power of prayer, that´s another way to help .
Last but not least, it´s a wonderful act of care forour planet to reduce our impact by reducing or eliminating meat consumption, offsetting emissions, and more. Also, check out this helpful article on ways to travel in a more eco-conscious way.
Back to you, dear reader: What´s your favorite National Park, and what do you love most about spending time there? As always, would love to hear from you!
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Hola y buenasdear friends, readers, fellow bloggers, people of the Internet!
What a year, what a ride around the sun hey? I remember starting this year of 2019 with the desire and intent to come more out of my shell and let my light shine, or to put into practice what much beloved teacher and writer Dr. Wayne Dyer used to say “Don´t die with your music still in you”.
Let´s reframe this into “Live and share your own songs, your own truth, your own way of perceiving the world” – I am always amazed as to the realization that no other being ever was, or ever will be, like another! Or, in the words of Dr. Suess “ Today, you are you. That is true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you.”
Every human being is so incredibly unique, irreplaceable, and valuable. You, my dear fellow blogger-mates, friends, and readers, are certainly special to me as I consider it a unique gift to be blessed with your time and connections. As a little thank you, I have come up with a melange of songs, and photos to gift you with a pinch of Christmas- joy (for those of you who celebrate) or just joy in general (there can never be enough of that).
The songs are connected to some of my background/ lifestory- cultures, cultures I´ll always feel deeply bonded to, and I would love to transmit some of their unique beauty to you, momentarily bridging the distance between us with music.
Spain- The Spanish song is a surprise – as I am singing it for ya. That´s pretty out there for me but I sure hope you´ll like it! The song is called “Jueves” (Thursday) from Spanish Band “La oreja de Van Gogh” (yep, that would be “Van Gogh´s ear” in English haha). It´s a sweet song about a love that could be, or a love that´s just starting to blossom.
You can listen to it here:
Germany – The German song I picked for you is called “Wunder geschehen” (Miracles happen) and is performed by a fabulous legend of a singer called Nena. The lyrics are especially uplifting and the whole song is just a treat!
Australia – The song I chose to represent the Aussie connection is a beautiful ode to those of our loved ones who aren´t physically present in our lives anymore – we surely do remember and miss them lots around these dates! The song is called “Choir” and is brought to life by epic Australian singer Guy Sebastian. It´s a hopeful tune, celebrating our loved ones lives´ and how fortunate we are to have spent time with them.
A gypsy at heart will be back with weekly travel posts and audio stories (and something else….but that´s still in the creation-phase:)) in the first week of January 2020. I wish you a peaceful Christmas celebration – with lots of kindness (and if there is no one else, or no one kind enough, around – just choose to be kind to yourself:)), joy (in whichever way you can connect to it easiest) , hope, and Wunder/ miracles! Because they sure do happen:)
Back do you dear reader: How do you let your own light shine? What could you do to let your beautiful light shine more in the upcoming year of 2020? And: Would you feel up for sharing one of your favorite, uplifting songs from your culture in the comment section? Thanks so much and as always, would love to hear from you!
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Bloody oath, did we just take an elevator up to heaven or what? Perth and its surrounding areas boast so much soul-kissing beauty that it can truly bring a tear or two to your eyes at times… I am not crying, you are!
Anyways, there are truly a lot of spots here that come close to what heaven might resemble, especially if that heaven was envisioned for Condé-Nast-travel-editors, National Geographic- wildlife-photographers or just intrepid travel lovers. Ok, now that the stage is set and your curiosity is sparked, let me introduce you to Rotto. Say what?
Western Australian wildlife at its best: The prettiest rats you´ll ever see
Rotto is local speak for Rottnest Island, an absolute chocolate-praline of an island located about a 25-minute ferry ride off Fremantle in Western Australia. Rotto is everything you think the Carribean might look like, plus quokkas. Say what again?
Well, imagine stepping off the ferry in Thomson Bay, being blinded by white sand beaches, greeted by incredibly clear blue waters sparkling invitingly in the sun and a sky the color of azure-blue confetti. Your gaze wanders around, your mood lifts from taking in all the picture-perfect impressions around you and then, something VERY unusual stops you in your tracks.
Is it an Instagrammed aka beautified rat? Is it a small kangaroo gone wrong? No! The small animals that like to wander around Rotto as if they own the place (which they kinda do) are called quokkas. If a zoologist would explain to you what they are, he would probably say that they are wallaby-like marsupials about the size of a cat.
Quokkas are a truly Western Australian wildlife phenomenon and make for an exceptional animal encounter, as they can only be found on some islands off the Western Australian coast and in the forest and coastal heath in the South-Western part of this vast state.
The quokka is a true trendsetter by the way, as he/she prefers vegan food, and is furthermore also very photogenic. It´s no wonder, then, that quokkas do fancy the occasional photo-shoot. Ah well, they might be slightly addicted. But who isn´t, in these times of social media mayhem? Sorry, I am wandering off. Back to your new found animal friend.
No matter whether you choose to explore the Rottnest Island nature reserve by foot or on a bike, you´ll see quokkas all around. They will approach you if you stick around for a bit, so get that selfie-stick ready and put a smile on your dial. The quokka usually already has one, that´s why it´s often called “the happiest animal ever” by its admirers. I would be happy, too, if a whole island was named after me!
The rat´s nest real deal: How to effortlessly make a quokka selfie happen
Yep, the name ´Rottnest´is actually a weird sort of love declaration to the fun-loving furry marsupials, because, just like you, 17th century Dutch explorers didn´t know what hit them when they saw these cuties for the first time. They accordingly named the island after their perception of the quokkas as cat-sized rats – Rottnest Island literally means rat´s nest.
Alright, let´s assume you are waiting for your quokka-friends on this car-free island playground, ideally around the main settlement area in the late afternoon. Your new photo-co-stars love green spaces and grass (ahem, no comment), so they often hang out around the green space where the bakery is, according to insider sources on the island.
You could also choose to interact around Thomson Bay or see if a quokka wants to keep you company at the Oceanside Pub. Anyways, quokka approaches you, next up, get low to the ground and close to the quokka’s level, and do not put your arm around it – you can do that with your uncle Bill, but not with this wild and free Selfie queen/ king. Do not touch it all, actually. Think of it as a Julia Roberts/ Jane Fonda or a Sam Heughan/George Clooney in animal form. You wouldn´t touch them, either, if you crossed their path, right? Being starstruck and all.
To top off your quokka-interaction- experience, continue on to the final step: Click that freaking shutter! Yeah, you´ve done it! And the best part: No need to Whatsapp the quokka-mate the new picture. They have plenty already.
Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever heard of Rottnest Island and its happy-go-lucky quokkas before? What´s the most unusual animal you´ve ever been around? Also: What is something that always makes you smile without fail? As always, would love to hear from you.
As you might know by now, we´ll head to incredibly mesmerizing, ancient, powerful, bloody stunning Australia this week! More specifically, we´ll pay Rottnest Island a visit and meet its ueber-friendly celebrity-inhabitants – the always charming quokkas. Ready to find out more? Then please embark here:
My skin registers dry and warm sensations, telling me that, once again, I have landed in a new world begging to be explored. Inhaling the dry desert air is unusual for me, though, even after having lived in Western Australia for quite a while. The desert-dust-infused air seems more intense here, more demanding, more fierce. My throat feels a little scratchy from it and I pull my water bottle out of my hand luggage, which is packed to the brim as usual, and take a longing sip of the lukewarm, life-giving water.
What is travel, if not the conscious decision to throw yourself in the deep end, to taste the waters of change, may they be spicy, bitter, sweet, pungent or, ahem, warm? My mind wanders off, which comes especially easy after a long overnight flight from Singapore with too many snoring guests aboard. Juggling a myriad of unknown sights, scents, and sweet nothings, I wearily step out of the bus and smack out into a crowd of industrious businessman, ladies in traditional Burka attire and a colorful melange of tourists.
“Instead of resisting to changes, surrender. Let life be with you, not against you.” – Shams Tabrizi, Persian spiritual teacher
Truly, it does take surrender to travel, I continue my train of thought, because you never know what´s around the corner – but that´s also what makes it so pretty damn exciting, right? The thrill of not knowing what to expect, who you´ll encounter, and which challenge you´ll have to (or have the blessing to) embrace next…. Talking of challenges: Here´s one – can you picture a mall with a gigantic ice-rink in it?
Give it a go while you walk with me into the Dubai mall, which showed itself very unimpressed by my (our?) silly little doubts as to its unfailing grandeur. Bare with me, friends, malls are normally not my favorite place to hang out either – but this one can really not be categorized as a mere mortal mall.
Just like the Middle East has a tradition of outstanding poets and philosophers that have gifted us with immortal poetry and wisdom, Dubai offers us its worldly counterpart and truly holds the title of global capital of superlatives. Want a little taste test of this?
Alright: Dubai, the city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates, home to 3,1 million people, is also proud presenter of the largest man-made island, worth a whopping US$12.3 billion. Excuse me, I think I just choked on my cinnabon! Also: It´s shaped in the form of a palm-tree and subsequently called the Palm Jumeirah. Dubai also cements its reputation as global city of superlatives through the existence of the world´s only “7-star-hotel”, the sail-like Burj Al Arab, an iconic world landmark.
People who are willing and able to cough up the US$1,200 plus per night can expect private butlers, 24k-gold iPads in two-story suits, the world’s largest chauffeur-driven fleet of Rolls Royce Phantom at their disposal, a helicopter-landing-place…and this pretty surreal list goes on!
If you currently can´t afford this, you can still enjoy the joys of the world´s longest automated metro system, when you hop on a Dubai Metro train. The theme song to this experience could be a rather futuristic one, as the Dubai Metro is fully automated, and no human drivers are present. At 46 miles/ 74 km long, it’s the longest automated metro system in the world.
And, of course, the Dubai Mall, which we are currently about to enter, is a big part of the Dubai superlative equation. Giving into our urge to explore the largest shopping mall in the world, we enter the 50 soccer fields big center of fun and decadence. Financial Centre Road; +971 4 362 7500; www.thedubaimall.com
At first, your eyes just gaze upon the spotless corridors with luxurious shops upon shops lined up next to each other, one expensive brand after the other inviting their prospective customers to a little spending-playtime. So far, so good (or bad, depending on which perspective you take on capitalism). Better remember that there is much more to the Arab peninsula than extravagant architecture and luxury-shopping-experiences:
“This wordly life is like a shadow. If you try to catch it, you will never be able to do so. If you turn your back towards it, it has no choice but to follow you.” – Ibn Quayyim Al-Jawziyya, medieval Islamic spiritual writer
Let´s turn a corner now, and turn slightly to our right -yep, you´ll probably need to look twice! Because you are witnessing people throwing themselves down a waterfall! What? Where is the security-personnel?! Ah wait…you didn´t have your glasses on. Phew! The “people” turn out to be artistic fiberglass sculptures of human divers, thank God/ Goddess/ fill in your higher-power-belief-system here for that.
Often featuring as a meeting point for the mall explorers, the so-called Human Waterfall (see, you weren´t so far off after all) turns out be a pretty impressive water feature that traverses the mall´s four levels and runs through the whole height of this Mecca for entertainment-aficionados. I´ll tell you one thing: I definitely stopped munching my cinnamon-infused doughnut when this fancy waterfall stopped me in my tracks! And that says something.
It even held my attention for so long that it was getting much too late to explore the 1200 shops including, and that one was a bummer, the world´s largest candy store Candylicious, and/ or the game center featuring a 3D bowling game. On the plus side, this time-induced Stop sign made me honor my conviction that its better to reuse and get creative than to support the endless story-of-stuff-cycle.
Anyways, we had to ask ourselves one major question at that time, when the clock showed that it was getting close to 22:30 PM. Were the 22 cinema screens and 160 plus restaurants calling us, was the amusement park seductively whispering our names, or was something completely different tickling our fancy?
I know, talk about too much-choice-induced- paralysis! You already know the answer to this one, my friend. Because, as opposed to me, you did your research before visiting – and are well informed that this Dubai shopping center of decadence also contains one of the largest aquariums in the world! Of course it did/ does.
Laying eyes on the aquarium as the clock strikes almost-midnight is a rather supercalifragilistic- expialidocious experience, to say it in the words of Mary Poppins. The 2.64 million-gallon-Dubai Aquarium itself is held in place by the world´s largest acrylic panel – and is home to more than 400 (hopefully not shopping-averse) sharks and rays and a total of over 33,000 marine animals on display.
After connecting with sexy sharks, pretty penguins, fancy fish and heftily-dressed-humans, it´s time for one last impression of Dubai´s glitz-and- glamour-world of superlatives – and it´s just around the corner!
As you might know, one of Dubai´s signature trademarks is its ultramodern architecture. The Burj Khalifa building is one of the icons of Dubai – and, yep, the world´s tallest building. 1 Emaar Blvd., Downtown Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; +971 4 888 8888; www.burjkhalifa.ae
At 2,716 feet/ 828 meters high (and worth US$1.49 billion) it can be easily accessed as soon as you step outside the mall. Come on, I am sure you will be impressed! You can snooze afterwards, I promise. The Burj Khalifa is that tall that its 164 floors make the rest of the city look like a miniature town!
If you fancy coming back here tomorrow and go to the top of the tower (with a fee), you can enjoy mind blowing panoramas of the city and Arabian Desert. If you aren´t a lover of hights, you can always catch a water fountain show, nightly at 7 PM, at the Burj Khalifa lake just outside the mall. Wow, talk about an evening of superlatives, hey? Well, I am off to the Burj Al Arab now. My butler just called. 😛
Healing tip: For inspiration on how to transform the way we make, use, and throw away stuff so that it is better for people and the planet, check out the fabulous Story of Stuff project.
Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever been to Dubai? What were your first impressions? If you haven´t been – which of the superlative-sights would you be most interested in checking out? As always, would love to hear from you:)
Copyright – All rights for photography and text reserved @A gypsy at heart. Because. I believe in your own talent to create.
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Ommm…melodious, tranquil and oh so inviting humming sounds move through the overwhelmingly beautiful temple entry and onto the street. They envelop you in a peaceful cloud, harmonizing every atom of your body and synchronizing your breath with your movement, your movement with your heartbeat, your heartbeat with your usually wandering and free-floating thoughts.
Chiang Mai: Regal capital of ever-present peace
This is the spirit of Chiang Mai, a place where over 300 Buddhist temples and a myriad of monks dictate the rhythm of the Northern Thai capital city, and where peace is much more than an abstract and removed concept – it becomes palpable as not just a theoretical idea, but as a tried-and-tested way of life.
Of course, there are the noises of countless motorbikes on the main roads of this city which has become a beloved expat haven and a thriving community for digital nomads. And there are the many visitors from all over the world who have come to explore Chiang Mai´s countless highlights. But notwithstanding, the lifeblood that pulses through Chiang Mai´s aesthetically pleasing veins is a deep and abiding peace, a peace that unceasingly cuts through the noise of daily life and to the heart of what the human mind is capable of – being completely at one with itself.
Maybe peace is the secret ingredient after all that connected all the dots and experiences of the 3-week- Chiang Mai stay I was blessed to experience a while ago.
Because there is peace even amidst the eclectic enthusiasm of a Muay Thay Boxing game, there is undeniable harmony in taking in the many vegetarian culinary delights the city has to offer. There is also peace´s cousin´s joy in experiencing the city´s vibrant and surprising night markets, and alas, there was even some peace to be discovered at the end of a 2 day Thai-massage-workshop led by a rather dominant She-Boss-Lady. And, of course, there was peace in communing with Leila, which is where we left off last time…
Walking with elephants: A dazzling day with Leila
Do you know/ remember that feeling when you´ve had a crush on someone for a while and then you finally get to go on a date with them? It´s exhilarating, intimidating, breathtaking, and inducing anxiety and euphoria in equal parts, I find. Palms are sweating, it gets a little harder to breathe, nervous butterflies have a tumultuous dance-party in your stomach… well, that pretty much captures all the feels I was feeling when meeting Leila! Plus a little concern she might, you know, stomp on me. Which she obviously didn´t – or is this a ghost, writing you this? Who knows 😛
Anyways, our mahout-trainers were about to teach us some command-communications which we were very keen to try out. Up until that day, I had not heard anything about mahouts – these elephant keepers have quite an important place in Thailand´s story! They are called “kwan chang” in Thai, which translates to the poetic phrase “one who walks with an elephant”.
I also found out that elephants are Thailand´s national symbol and are deeply entwined with the country´s history, culture and self-image. Leila´s ancestors have loyally served proud kings as well as humble commoners throughout Thailand´s history, be it in warfare, as a pretty up there means of transportation or for agricultural purposes. Elephants got therefore elevated to the rank of shining stars of Thailand´s magnificence. Good on them! They embody prosperity and power and, due to their stardom, also feature heavily in Buddhist art, architecture, and sculpture.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were a whopping 100.000 elephants in the former kingdom of Siam. Nowadays, Leila just has around 5000 mates left. Many of them are domesticated, around 1500, though, are free-roaming in the wild. (How cool is that! Imagine just randomly walking through the Thai jungle and casually jumping on a tree because you are suddenly catching two elephants making out!)
With Leila through the jungle: Down to the nitty gritty
After our group of about ten happy campers greeted Leila and her gorgeous elephant-mates, and after watching the mahouts demonstrate how to go about mounting a gigantic animal, it was time to test our courage and learn to steer the elephants through a piece of jungle ourselves.
So, how do you jump aboard an almost two meters twenty tall elephant, you might ask while scratching your head or devouring a handful of chips in front of your slightly too bright screen? It´s nothing like jumping aboard a train or a bike, my friends, I can tell you that much! There were basically two ways to mount Leila (ahem, you know what I mean!):
Option A – Get a running jump over her head onto her back (for real). Option B – Slightly more elegant version: ask Leila to kindly lift her leg in Elephant-speak, get on there and from there, continue onto her back.
Option A was only a feasible possibility for one of the XXL-tall German guys amongst our group. He actually fit in well into the general environment because he looked a bit like a tree himself – tall, nice to look at, and skinny. Watching him jump over Leila´s twin sister Lulu´s head and onto her broad shoulders woke associations of a new Olympic discipline in me. That pretty unusual image is still vividly etched into my memory!
I refrained from over-ambitious Option A – as it already felt like a massive achievement for me to gently step onto Leila´s massive leg (sorry Leila, honesty is just the best policy) and somehow manage to get myself up onto her bare back from there…
We had learned a few commands for straight, left, right, turn, stop, as well as a command called “Bon Soong”, which is Elephant-speak for something like “lift your trunk and open your mouth and I’ll feed you a delicious banana“. We gathered our bravery and employed those commands diligently, keenly attempting to steer Leila through the thicket. Leila being the exceptionally smart elephant-lady she was – she owns the largest brain of any land animal after all, and has three times as many neurons as a human (Take that, Mensa-members-who-are-people-with-very-high-IQs-including Sharon-Stone-who-has-an IQ of-154) obviously had her own viewpoint on things.
Which included following her impulse to scratch her enormous behind on a tree and almost squashing my leg in the process. Oopsie! Next up, our mahouts guided the elephants, with us holding on for dear life, to the river. Again, Leila had a mind of her own and veered off the planned path and straight into the river when she wasn´t supposed to yet. Ah well, you gotta love a little, ahem massive, rebel!
In the end, we all ended up in the middle of the river anyways- splashing each other with muddy water, and bathing Leila, who, let´s be honest, would be totally capable of doing that herself! Kudos to her for allowing us some playtime with her and the other members of this absolutely incredible species.
Tips for finding ethical elephant encounters
Elephant rides can often be a tricky one – do avoid all elephant rides where saddles are involved, as they can injure the elephant´s backs – their spine is not their strong suit (hey, I recommend Yoga for that). For a more compassionate way of elephant riding, stick to where the mahout usually goes – behind its ears, and for a limited amount of time of about 30 minutes max.
Stay clear of any ivory products or elephant paintings and choose elephant- interactions, not entertainment – like time spent bathing and feeding an elephant. Or, and this might be the best option, volunteer at an elephant camp to make friends with the immensely intelligent gentle giants.
In our next Chiang Mai article, published in a week or two, we will finally get to hang out at an exciting night market, get handsy at a Thai massage workshop, and take in some more of Chiang Mai´s best things to experience. The passion for Leila and her elephant mates swept me away this time, friends, what can I say!
Back to you, dear reader: What is your country´s national animal? Also – as Leila is kind of a celebrity now, and this is a fun question: Who are your celebrity crushes? You tell me yours, I´ll tell you mine 😛 As always, would love to hear from you!
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Om Swastiastu (hello in Balinese) cherished readers,
just announcing that this week´s travel journey will take us on a slight detour from Chiang Mai to Bali, before heading back to Leila and the Land of a million rice fields next week.
On this week´s adventure, we will encounter Rangda the daemon-queen, a Balinese prince with feverish dreams and the unusual and mighty sounds of Gamelan music. You will also join me for a kind of weird yet fun Balinese dance class!
I had written and published half of this post in January this year, but the powers of WordPress denied a new notification to you lovely ones. As a bonus, I´ve also added an audio-story. So here you go, you are all caught up – stoked to have you join me in Bali this week as we learn more about the immensely intriguing culture of the so-called Island of the Gods.
Sampai jumpa lagi (see you soon in Indonesian), your Gypsy friend
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Unusual melodies awaken you from your thoughts. Sounds that seem slightly disruptive, like speedy drivers on a silent road, suddenly envelop you. You might not know what to think of this music that´s at once exotic and bewitching.
Balinese performance art: Gamelan sounds and beauty abound
What you do know is that you simply can´t help but be intrigued by it all: the all-male Gamelan orchestra which elicits the traditional Indonesian sounds from xylophones, drums, gongs, and other percussive instruments. The stunning backdrop of the performance stage, with its intricately ornated angkul-angkul traditional gate and guardian statues. The gorgeous Balinese dancers, expressing the depth and versatility of their cultural stories and myths with such passion and precision.
There is grace in their movements, there is a pure embodiment of all that´s good, enticing and seductive about the Balinese culture. Theirs is the perfect blend of spirituality and sensuality, always offered up to the higher realms they so believe in.
The accompanying Gamelan-music roots´ lie in an even older past than the Hindu-Buddhist origins of Balinese faith. They are a mesmerizing remnant of indigenous art forms that dominated the cultural expressions of Indonesia during its earliest records.
Barong and Legong Dance at Ubud royal palace: An artistic battleground
To get a taste of this very particular cultural phenomenon, head to Ubud royal palace at about 6:45 Pm as each night starting at 7:30 PM there´ll be a variety of rich dances shown there. The royal palace, known as Puri Saren Palace to the locals, is one of Ubud´s cultural hot-spots located along the town´s bustling main road Jalan Raya Ubud. The performances being shown there include Barong Dance, Mahabharata and Legong Dance… take your pick and expect to be wowed. To help you figure out which dance performance you might be most drawn to, here a little insight into two typical types of Balinese dance:
The BarongDance is where Barong, a creature akin to a lion in the mythology of Bali, meets Rangda, badass-demon queen and mother of all spirit guarders. Sounds a bit like Game of Thrones, doesn´t it? Well, it´s not entirely the same, but there is an epic battle to behold, a war between good, mirrored in Barong, the king of the spirits, and evil, in the form of Rangda. I could go on a slightly feminist rant here due to “good” appearing in the form of a male figure and “bad” personified in a female. But fear not, I won´t. The dance is still an amazing sight to be enjoyed, after all!
The Legong Dance, traditionally performed by girls who have not reached puberty, enacts different traditional tales, one of them telling the story of the King of Lasem, a true heroic romance. Interestingly enough, according to legend, Legong dance came into being through a dream vision! The prince of Sukawati is said to have had a feverish dream in which two girls danced to Gamelan music. Subsequently, being the inspired guy he was, the prince arranged for such dream dances to be performed in real life.
Another story version of Legong´s possible origins states that it came into being through the sanghyang dedari, a ceremony involving voluntary possession of two little girls by beneficent spirits. Sounds kinda creepy, though, right? Again, fear not, the dance performances are absolutely mindblowing anyways, no matter where their origins really lie.
By the way, no matter which performance you choose to watch in the end, you can´t really go wrong: each one of them will be like a window into a very different world and enticing in its own right. And you might be more than just intrigued by its mesmerizing after- effects…
Musings on creativity: The inspiring after-effects of outstanding performance-art
I mean, do you know that feeling when you have just finished watching either a great stage performance or a fantastic movie and want nothing more than owning it like that performer just did? For some moments in time, the boundaries between you and the art in question seems to have dissolved, and its particular charm lingers in your consciousness, infusing you with the sense of new possibilities and alternative ways of being. The promise of a new you, waiting to be born into the world!
Because, let´s be honest, friends: who hasn´t aspired to be the Wolverine/ Rose from “Titanic”/ Rambo/ a Disney princess/ Mick Jagger, just moments after being utterly entranced and enchanted by their outstanding creation of art? Yes, I see you, singing into your hairbrush in front of the mirror or swaying your hips behind closed curtains …keep doing you!
Anyways, that after-performance-trance is exactly what happened to me after watching the aforementioned Balinese dance performance on the majestic playground of Ubud´s royal palace. Absolutely awe-struck by the dancer´s precise yet magical movements and with little hesitation, I booked myself into a Balinese dance class at the hotel I was staying at.
Balinese Dance lessons: Insights into a world of precision and faith
Funny thingthough: The dance class eventuated in the foyer of the hotel, right next to the check-in and in front of the buffet, where people were munching on their mango-papaya-dragonfruit-salads and other tropical breakfast delights. Yeah, that´s right: My first steps into Balinese dance would be accompanied by dozens of digestive systems operating at highest speed.
First, though, it would be time to meet Eka, a lovely Balinese woman who would help me transform into an aspiring Balinese dancer for the day. I was a little nervous: The femininity and beauty of Balinese women is the stuff legends are made off, after all!
From a young age, Balinese girls are trained in creating intricate flower offerings and presenting them in sequence at the family temple accompanied by rituals and prayer. Furthermore, they also learn about traditional Balinese food preparation and Balinese dance, as Eka told me while dipping her makeup brush into a vast array of colors and applying them generously to my face.
With the days of dramatic make-up mostly behind me and banished to my teenage years and early twenties, I was a little out of my comfort zone – listening to Eka´s fascinating insights into Balinese culture fortunately made the time go by rather quickly. To finish the transformation into a tiny dancer, I slipped into a fancy Balinese dance-attire that Eka had lovingly handed me, and off to the hotel-lobby-area aka classroom we went.
Alas, it was time to get over my pieces of shyness for a little while and delve into some typical Balinese dance movements as instructed by my gentle teacher, never minding the full-to-capacity breakfast area and countless people curiously eyeing off this foreigner-pretending-to-be-Balinese. And this is how it went down:
Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever seen a traditional Balinese dance performance before, or a traditional dance performance from a foreign culture in general? Also – did you ever sing into a hairbrush? Sorry, had to ask 😛 As always, would love to hear from you!
Practical information on catching a performance in Ubud:
The easiest way to get tickets: If you are around Jalan Raya Ubud in the afternoon, you´ll most likely run into street vendors offering tickets to the nightly spectacles. Otherwise, just head directly to Ubud Royal palace no later than 7 pm to buy your tickets at the door.
Performance time and duration: Nightly performances start at 7:30 PM every day of the week and last for an hour.
How much does it cost me? You´ll be 100.000 IDR poorer per person, yet a lot richer in spirit!
Where was it again? At Ubud Royal Palace, Jalan Raya Ubud No 8, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, World.
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Traveler, Writer, Journalist, Translator, Language and Yoga teacher, Cultural Scientist. The author of "Speak in Spanish- Fun and motivation on your learning journey" as well as the multicultural novel "Von Fischbrötchen, Sangrianächten und Chaoswelten". Love animals, the arts, laughter, traveling through inner and outer worlds, the healing arts.
Weltenbummlerin. Reisende in inneren wie in äusseren Welten – in Gedanken, Büchern, Filmen, Meditationen, im Schreiben – sowie in fremden Ländern und Kulturen.