Category Archives: australia

Leaving Australia

For my last week in the Land Down Under, I am taking it easy: staying on the East Coast to learn how to surf. A bit of a mission, as any sport, one must not only develop the correct technique, but also the right muscles to be strong enough to stay in the water for hours on end.

I settled on Port Macquarie after my first lessons in Byron Bay. Even though it is the legendary surf city, I did not like the atmosphere there. And I got started in a quiet family town instead. The instructors are very competent and patient, and have managed to get the basic concepts of surfing across to me. Now it is down to me to practise to get better.

So today I rented one of their boards, and paddled out beyong the break. I still struggle to choose the right wave, and then get enough speed whilst paddling to ride it. Once on the right wave, at the right speed, comes the right timing to “pop-up” on this small piece of foam. In one, swift movement, one moves from lying on their front to standing up and looking cool.

The best part is that it is really fun, and you rarely get hurt. Well actually, after my first surf lesson, one of the girls complained of shoulder pain and had stopped to rest after a few waves only. When I say her face, I offered to take a look at it, so I carefully removed the upper part of her wetsuit, to discover a shoulder that brought back many bad memories.
I quickly checked for dislocation, did not seem like it. Nothing wrong with the actually shoulder joint… The clavicle, however, looked terrible. It all came flooding back to me: the fall I had at football, my world turning upside down on seeing the Xray (and the three fracture line), having my Mum help me dress myself, not being to work and of course the incredible pain I endured for weeks. There it was, right in front of me. On her first wave, she fell badly on the tip of her shoulder onto the hard sand and broke it.

Anyway, I still got onto my board the following day, not afraid of injury for myself, and actually loving this fun “rehabilitation” of my left arm. It is still not as strong as the other one after it was fractured and badly healed two years ago.
I was feeling on top of the world as I was paddling out with both my arms in an elegant and cool manner. Got through the high surf, and sat on my board as surfers do. For company, a tiny blond Dutch girl and the Pacific Ocean.
When watching the waves, something caught my eye. A movement, just a few meters away from me. The water is very murky because of the floodings and excessive precipitation in the area. Perfect Shark Conditions. Many bullsharks (nasty ones) are spotted everyday arounf the beaches that I surf on.
So when I saw a massive fin get out of the water, I got very scared. I kept staring in that direction, to try and see what it was. I told the Dutch girl, and she started scrutinizing the water also.

There it was again: a massive fin, on a giant dark grey body. First rule when you’re on the water: don’t panic. Second Rule: get back to shore safely and securely. Don’t look like you are an injured seal, or a weak baby dolphin.
But I could not stop staring. Somehow my gut told me to keep looking. And there it was. Two other fins. And another. Dolphins. They must be dolphins. Sharks are loner, they never hang out together, and W-O-W they don’t jump out of the water to play in the ways.

Staring out, on my red board, blue sky and sun shining onto my black wetsuit, feeling on top of the world and laughing with the dolphins. I looked until they disappeared again. I paddled to catch the next good wave and went all the way to the beach, with a huge grin on my face. A quick sip of water and a chat with the lifeguard later, I had the confirmation that they were dolphins.

So I went back out, paddling hard to try and see them again. But there was nothing. Slightly disappointed, I focused on the waves, and paddled to get the next big one. As I looked over my shoulder, a huge grey beast with a large dorsal fin was on my wave! This beast was surfing my wave! The surprise actually knocked me off my board and I drank a few cups of sea water as the wave crushed me onto the bottom of the Ocean.
But it was worth it. It was just an arm length away, and it was beutiful. I rode back to the beach on the next wave. I could not stop laughing at the image of the dolphin enjoying the waves.

I laughed with the instructors and the lifeguards, who were disappointed it had not been them on the board. It was incredibly special, and I feel very lucky to have experienced this! As the Australians say it: Surfing is Awesome!



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Preparing to leave Australia

Today, Friday 13th 2009, has been a particularly productive day, starting around midnight, as I was giving Qantas a call (really badly managed call centre, basically impossible to get through during the day, but 24/7 service so I call them at night). I have decided to forget all the negatives from this call and retain only the most important: I now have a ticket from Sydney to Singapour, at the end of February, in exactly two weeks.
After a short week-end stopover, I will be heading to Guangzhou, China. This morning, I went to the Chinese consulate to get my visa!! It is so beautiful! It is as if I have passed some kind of exam, and I am now allowed to enter Chinese territory (thank you Mastercard, for paying for it!)

Landing in Guangzhou, formally known as Canton, on March 2nd. It is in the South East of China, a stone’s throw away from Hong-Kong. The sub-tropical climates are not dissimilar to Thailand, and the north of Australia.

Guangzhou, Province of Guangdong

Guangzhou, Province of Guangdong

From there, I will travel to Yang Shuo, in the Guangxi Province, to get to a school of Chinese martial arts. Google tells me it is just over 500 km North West, on what seems like a very windy road indeed. LongTouShan Martial Arts School was recommended to me by a fellow Thai massage therapist I met on a course in Chiang Mai. The school is set up in a small town (rare occurence in China, where any town is a super metropolis) in the middle of the countryside: lush forests, beautiful mountain ranges and lots of outdoor activities available. “Spring in Yangshuo is a good time of the year to visit. Spring last from March to May. In March the day temperature can be chilly but as soon as April comes, the temperature goes up to a pleasant 20°C (70°F). Typically it is dry and although there’s occasionally a shower, this is the time of the year when Yangshuo’s limestone mountains show some of it’s real beauty. Clear skies and sunshine, now the mountains look like paradise.” Yanghsuo travel guide.
There is unfortunately/fortunately a heavily developed expat community and many travelers come through here on the Li River. This is good, as it is easier to get around (the locals are used to the White Giants who can’t speak the language) and many courses (martial arts, massage, cooking…) and activities (hiking, rafting, rock climbing, kayaking…) are available, but not so good as it is not so authentic. (Check out this expat website for more local info)

All in all, it will be a great place to start my Chinese adventures. I will start with Tai Chi and Chinese massage, and see how I get on from there. Depending on how I like the place, the people I meet and the teachers, I will decide how long I stay. The great news is that at the end of April, my sister is coming over to visit and I am delighted to start planning our trip!

This should be my Tai Chi instructor!

I have been reading about Chinese Medicine, and Oriental philosophy; as well as current affairs on China. Another wordpress blogger says that most blogging websites are not available from China, so if I am to continue blogging, I will need to email my stories to someone outside of China, and they can publish them online.
The Chinese Government has put into place what has become known as “The Great Firewall of China” and stops the Chinese people from accessing certain websites. I understand that the Firewall is constantly changing, so during the campaigning for the Olympics for example, there was a certain laxity, but all websites concerning the Tienanmen massacre of 1989, democracy and freedom of speech in general, or anything relating to Tibet are completely banned(and now that I have mentioned these, my blog is definitely banned in China). Other websites are partially banned, as I read on someone’s blog: they could access the sports and entertainement pages on the BBC website, but not the news part.
Certain foreign companies, such as Google decided to create government friendly search engines and programmes, to avoid being completely banned. This has created major protests in the West, as it is seen as a form of encouragement and therefore collaboration. There was an interesting article published in the New-York Times a couple of years ago, for those who have time (it’s 10 pages long) and want more background information.

I am looking forward to China immensely, to see for myself the effect of such a violent, so-called communist dictatorship and the contrast with the peaceful, awe-inspiring four-thousand year-old medicine.

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Search for Bush Medicine: Living in Beagle Bay

Beagle Bay is a small community of about 400 people, about 100 km of Broome, in Western Australia. One of the teachers at the local Primary School gives me a lift, after sunset on a rainy Tuesday evening. The beams of the car are not particularly well designed, as they do not seem to light the potholes, mud parts, corrugations or boggy terrains that we encounter on our 2 and a half hour journey. I was in the passenger seat, and in a good position to see we had absolutely no visibility. Our driver seem to guess the way, making last minute decisions about swerving right or left, changing tracks and going through major puddles (small lakes).

The dirt track to Beagle Bay, with the very helpful sign about halfway. In case you had not noticed before.

The dirt track to Beagle Bay, with the very helpful sign about halfway. In case you had not noticed before.

 As we got out of the car, I was shaking, but relieved to have made it, finally! It had not rained since we last attempted the road, and it was much drier than a few days previous. Over the next weeks, my objectives are to find out about the medical care within the community, and study the books of Chinese medicine I brought along with me.Beagle Bay was first established by a French Catholic priest, who rocked up on the beach at the end of the 19th Century. The local aboriginals, the Nyul Nyul, who were sick of people trying to colonize them, would have killed or scared the ghosts away (white people were thought to be ghosts!) if one of the elders had not had a vision… The aboriginals are always seen as a pacific, gentle-natured culture, but that was not always the case. There were many wars between the locals, and when the whites started invading their homeland bringing diseases and death, they retaliated by being very violent indeed.This elder was a wiseman and medicineman. He had a vision that the spirits would visit: a man and a beautiful woman. When the priest arrived on the beach, knelt down and prayed to a small figurine of the Virgin Mary, the elder stopped the young soldiers from attacking the beach. Mary was the spirit he had seen in his vision. The priest and his followers were welcome to the community and a big feast was organized.Over the years, the settlers learnt the Nyul Nyul language, and taught French and Latin to the locals (very helpful). They founded a school and started brainwashing the children…During the Great War, a handful of German Priests were in Beagle Bay. When the ever so Christian non-German priests decided to give them in and throw them in prison, they started building a Church to prove their goodness… Using only local materials, they decorated the inside with shells from the sea.


Beagle Bay Church - Il ny a pas un chien... ou presque

Beagle Bay Church - Il n'y a pas un chien... ou presque

 The problem with Catholic missionaries, is that they generally beat culture references out of people, and therefore medicinal knowledge tends to disappear, slowly but surely replaced by Western style medicine. Beagle Bay is no exception. My first night out, I socialize with the locals and some of the white teachers. The beer is flowing, as we munch on sushi, dugong stew and deep fried spring rolls. Bugsy plays Country Western music late into the night. The mix of cultures is exceptional. All the white people live in houses around the Church and School, and only 3 of them socialize with the locals. I have a fantastic evening laughingaway, singing along even and getting to know the local ways.
The night after, I meet the white fellas. Different ambiance altogether: here, everyone is whinging about school, getting back to work, the weather, etc. Some people ignore me, as I have not been formally introduced, and I am staying at an unmarried man’s house… What a disgrace!

As I meet and greet people during my first week, I get people to chat to me about the community and its health issues. Most aboriginals don’t want to talk about it. Thankfully, my host Greg facilitates the process by talking directly to those who trust him.

One of the teachers at the school knows Bush Medicine – remedies found in the Bush. We go on a small walkabout, and he talks me through trees, flowers, leaves, barks. This is used for treating colds. This is a contraceptive plant. This tree sap soothes toothache. These leaves in a tea bring sugar levels down. He is very open and happy to talk about a variety of conditions and remedies.
He shows me “bush tucker”: comestible plants one can survive on when in the Bush. How to recognize plants that show water is close to the surface. We also talk about black magic, sorcery and the like.
When we move to manual therapy, he is a bit uneasy. He knows someone who uses his hands to treat, he has seen it happen, but he does not have the gift. He explains that his grand father was a medicine man and healer, who died as his mother was heavily pregnant. My new friend was said to be a “spirit baby”, a form of reincarnation. When he was born, he was praised and treated with much respect. But as he developed, he did not develop any of the faculties his grand father had. He learned about Bush Medicine nonetheless, but later moved away from his family. When I approached this subject, he shut down a little. He had been a disappointment. He was not the spirit baby that his piers were waiting for.

He suggests a medicineman who lives further North on the Peninsula. Unfortunately, all the roads are closed, as there has been a lot of rain recently. Moreover, it is currently “Law” so he is not available.

This is man’s business: it is boy’s initiation. The boys go out in the outback with the medicine man and a few elders, and are taught basic Bush skills. How to find the right trees for making boomerangs, how to hunt and fish, how to fight, how to find food and water, and the stories of Dreamtime: the songs, legends and dances. At the end of Law, a big ceremony is organized when the boys return to their family. The feasts are said to be exceptional.

My new friend, his son and the traditional shield and ingraved pearl shell
My new friend, his son and the traditional shield and ingraved pearl shell

We talk some more, about my research and my personal quest. He tells me that unfortunately, there are very few “medicine women”, and that a traditional male medicine man could not tell me much about Bush medicine and healing, as he must keep it secret from others, especially women. Like many traditional societies, Aboriginals keep men and women separate. Their culture is based on survival, where each member of the family as their own role. Some hunt, others gathers. Some stay with the children and elders, other gather water. Some treat and heal, other tells stories and dance. They believe that each person has their own talent, and it is a lifelong quest to look for one’s talents and use them for the use of one’s own benefit and the families survival. That is why everything is shared: all food, water, stories, and nowadays: money.

The locals who have integrated into Western society then face a big dilemna: keep ties with their family and therefore distribute their wage, share their house and car; or cut away and make the most of our consumer society?
Most of them cannot keep their motivation, when they see that their money is transformed into alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. When they witness the fruit of their work destroying their family, many stop working and return to the government minimal indigenous income.
Others volunteer, give their art for free, or give all their money to the Church, as they do not want to have to deal with the family politics involved with earning a decent wage.
At the weekend, I indulged in the local past time: driving 4-wheel drives and fishing! A very rudimental “reel” and a huge hook with a piece of squid did the trick. We drove around for hours in dirt tracks (and yes, I mean in, rather than on!), clearing them before we could progress: trees, branches, logs impaired our expedition.
Learning to fish the local way
Learning to fish the local way

 Over the course of my stay, I met the local clinic manager, nurses, and locum rural general practitioners. Most of them told me there were many forms of Bush Medicine used in everyday life, especially using local plants, but most of them know nothing on manual therapy.
I was told that elder women helped the young mums in prenatal care and during delivery, but it stayed very vague. As a foreigner to the community, the locals did not have much trust in me, and suddenly forgot everything they knew. I did feel a little like a police person doing an investigation on terrible crimes, especially when the “witnesses” kept contradicting themselves, covering eachother and telling outrageous lies.

But I continued my research, and when I was downhearted, I studied even harder my books on Chinese Medicine. Of course, there is still amazing medicine out there, in the oldest culture in the world, but to find it, I would need at least 6 to 12 months of integration in a rural, faraway community before I could get straight answers to my questions. This time of the year, because of the Wet and the initiation, it is simply not possible. And what would I do for 6 months? I would go stir crazy just sitting around, and with my visa, I cannot work or even volunteer anywhere…

Onwards and upwards. I packed my bag, but left my disappointment behind. I met so many wonderful people, I shared incredible evenings, and worked hard on my books. It was time for me to go, and return to town.

Helping to prepare for the final ceremony of law
Helping to prepare for the final ceremony of law

I wanted to leave my mark… so I helped one of my new friends to prepare the boomerangs for the end of initiation. He chose the tree, made the object into its shape, and I got to paint and decorate it. This boomerang will be given to the boy -now a man- and he will cherish them for his whole life, as the symbol of his manhood. Never will he know that it was painted by a white woman! Haha!


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The search for Bush Medicine continues… Beagle Bay

After a week of driving, we have made it to Broome, WA.
As planned, and only to make the drive up from Perth less boring, we fed the wild dolphins off Shark Bay, snorkeled on Ningaloo Reef, camped in an eco-retreat in a national park, discovered the best kept secret in the Southern hemisphere: the gorges of Karijini, faced the biggest spiders in the world, broke down in the desert and drove on dirt roads.

Today, we had planned to drive our trustworthy 4×4 campervan on the dirt road from town to Beagle Bay, some 100km North. It is wet season at the moment, and it rains a lot… but the locals assured us the road was practicable.
So we engaged ourselves on the track, the girls back on the road with music blaring out of the grunty vehicle’s sound system. We were confident and felt elated, and I was exceptionally happy to be heading towards the aboriginal community I have been looking forward to visiting for over a year now.

That is exactly the moment it started raining. Just a drizzle at first. Nonetheless, the atmosphere in the camper changed. The music was turned off after we skidded across the path the first time.
Lauren, who was driving, held her breath as the wheels lost grip on the dirt. We came to a gentle halt. And resumed our breathing.
After a short stop, I jumped out the car to lock the front wheels and engage the four wheel drive. As we started up again, we tried to convince ourselves that we were still just as confident.
The road became more boggy as rain poured from the dark clouds overhead.
After a hill and a couple of turns, the heavens opened. A tropical thunderstorm as I had witnessed in South Thailand was upon us. At this point, the vehicles wheels lost any grip they may have had and Lauren lost all control. We slid sideways gently at first, and then faster as the red mud softened under our weight. Lauren swore as she attempted to regain control. We swerved the other way, and violently resumed our skidding. I held on to Sophie’s arm as we slid dangerously close to the ditch. In the back, our carefully stored bags fell down, the cupboards opened and the mattress on the top bunk fell onto the sink and fridge.
Then, as suddenly as it had started, we came to a halt and the rain coincidently stopped also.
We revved the engine up to move forward and attempt to park in a drier area. As we did, we noticed a car coming in the opposite direction.
I got out to stop them, and asked how the road looked like ahead. “It is much worse than here” was the unfortunate answer we had not wanted to hear.
They confirmed our suspicions, and shook all remaining confidence out of us. My legs were shaking as I climbed back up to my seat.
We decided to turn around and get back to town. It promptly started pouring down again. My wise words of wisdom were: “let’s get the **** out of here”. My two terrified friends agreed.
I jumped out again, this time equipped with my amazing hiking boots (who have now walked/hiked/trekked on 4 continents) and walked in the red mud to find a decent place to do a three point turn on. A spot of hard sand did the trick. I was drenched the second I got out of the cabin.

We were turning back, defeated by the appalling road condition and the disastrous weather, and shaken up by the sliding incident. We drove slowly in second gear, avoiding the gigantic puddles that had formed since it had started raining, all the way back to the tarmac road.

As I was manually unlocking the front wheels again, I faced my own disappointment. It was just not safe for us to continue, but I deeply regretted not being to get there. “So close, yet so far” as they say.

As we got back to town to check in for accommodation, Lauren and Sophie told me the best piece of news I had heard in a few days.
One of the teachers working in the local school is driving from town to the community, and would gladly take me along for the ride this Tuesday!
I will be able to go after all. Not sure how or when I’ll get back, but that’s not important right now.

I am delighted to say that I am continuing my journey of learning and discovery on Tuesday, where a local will drive me safely to Beagle Bay in their sturdy four wheel drive.
Once there, I will not have access to modern forms of communication such as telephone or email, and I don’t yet know how long I will be gone for.
But for sure I will update my blog as soon as I return to town.

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The search for Bush Medicine… Port Keats

Visiting Australia was for me the highlight of my project, when I was designing it from France. The risk was that there was always a chance that once I got there, I would not find what I wanted or needed for my research. Of course, I used to reply to that I’d just surf and soak up the lifestyle instead.
So far, I have visited one Aboriginal community, called Wadeye in Port Keats, which is an hour’s flight South West of Darwin. I was warned that the place was run-down, poor and generally a third-world country in Australia.

And it was. The runway leads to the Airport terminal, which is a small shed. A sign on the gate warns that drugs are not welcome inside the community. We get on a 4×4 pick-up truck, to do a tour of the center of town. It’s a dirt road, with shed-like houses on each side. Most have broken windows, litter everywhere, broken-down cars, a take-away (only fried food available), a small shop (no fresh fruit or vegetable) and a church. This community was founded by a catholic priest, who landed on the beach and prayed for their salvation about half a century ago.
We are invited for lunch at the “white quarters”. All the expatriates who work in the community live bunched up together, and we share the food we have brought with us. It was just past noon, and they’re all busy drinking cans of beer and wine, whilst chain-smoking. All of them are over-weight, and seemed to be fundamentally depressed, money-driven and often racist.

As soon as we were done, we went to see the surroundings. It was beautiful: the lookout onto the old military base, the sacred waterfall and its pools of cool water, the beautiful long empty sandy beach, and the lush green tropical forest of the Wet season. This is Aboriginal land.
Or so it says. Actually is any of the owners of the land want to do anything on their land (including building their home, or refurbishing their existing house) they must get permission from the federal government. This can take months if you’re lucky, years most of the time. When permission comes, white workers are flown in to build and repair. The locals are not involved in this process.
When we get back to the community, we go to visit one of the teachers of the local school, who is also head of the primary school. She has actually moved into her new house, which she had been waiting for for over 10 years. Before, she shared a house with about 30 members of the family (the houses are designed for 5 to 8 people). The average age of the members of the community is under 18, and it is surprising to see so many children running around.

The children, of course, are very welcoming. They appreciate the attention, and I have to hide to get photos of them in their normal environment. They love posing, and they chat away in their language or in bits of English they have learnt at school.
We talk about what’s new in the community, the refurbishment of the school, and the latest gossip: who married whom, babies etc. It’s Sunday afternoon, and after church is Australian football time. There are only women and children left in the residential part of town, as all the men are on the pitch.

I walk down there and discover a great ambiance. There’s a big game happening. I’m told it’s a friendly, but the teams have brightly coloured kit, proper posts, and even a ref. The crowd is cheering them on, and I am shocked to see I am the only white person there. The others are too busy getting drunk or I guess would not even consider mixing.
I sit down and watch the men, as they kick and catch the ball.
Contrarily to popular belief, aboriginal men are generally tall (1m80), and can be very tall (giants over 2m). The young men on the pitch look very athletic, especially as they sprint up the pitch tightly grabbing the ball.
Suddenly, the ref blows his whistle. I don’t understand the local language, but it’s pretty obvious one of the guys is swearing, as he walks towards the ref making all sorts of hand gestures. The ref talks authorititavely to the boys, they talk some more, the angry player sulks off and play resumes. It is reassuring to see that  boys will be boys. Wherever you go, they shout at the ref and play ball on Sunday afternoon. I wish I could join them.

But time was up already! I was late to get back on the plane, we had to leave and land in Darwin before dark so I hurried back to the pilot, my head full of thoughts and questions. Unfortunately this time no one was around on that day to talk to me about medicine, and the health centre for women was closed. The Doctor was on holiday, and the guy who keeps the museum was on a walkabout.
Bad luck. I talked to other people, who said that in this particular community, Western medicine had taken over. Actually Bush medicine has no remedies against the modern diseases: obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Moreover, it has been discouraged by the Church and pushed out of mainstream ways.
Average age expectancy has fallen from around 90 years old (some say 110 to 120 was common 50 years ago) to about 40 years old in both men and women. Most of the old medicine men and women have died with their secrets. Some research has gone into the herbal part of the oldest surviving form of medicine in the world, as this knowledge would be directly applicable to our modern day medicine and be very lucrative, but the rest seems to have vanished (check out the “Australia” part of Background Research for more info on the different forms of traditional Aboriginal Medicine).

That’s the official story, i.e. to the eyes of the White Man. I am told that medicine as it has been practised over the last 40,000 years by the indigenous people of Australia is still alive in certain remote parts of the country. And even that some of these healers are happy to share some of their knowledge with those interested. And I happen to have some contacts along the Western Coast of Australia.

So this is the plan over the next few weeks: my friend Lauren (who was my Australian exchange student when I was at school) who lives in Perth, her sister and myself are renting a 4-wheel drive campervan, and we are going to road-trip from Perth to the Kimberley area (up North on the West Coast) to look for these places. On the way, we may go to stunning national parks, snorkel on the colourful reefs, and swim with dolphins; but it would only be to pass the time in between looking for traditional manual medicine of Aboriginal Australia.

For photos of my Australia trip so far, please check out this facebook page. You do not have to be a member of facebook to view it!!!

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Christmas Holiday in Australia

My parents arrived a couple of days before Christmas, and we have been insanely busy since. We flew to Brisbane to spend Christmas in hot and sweaty Queensland with some of my Australian friends. And we drove all the way to Brisbane, about 2000km in… 4 days. Insane.

En route, we were the witnesses to a giant endangered turtle laying its 58 eggs in a sand dune. I had tears in my eyes as we followed its slow, yet steady progress to the sea. The marine biologist on-site believes they will be extinct within the next 20 years.
We also visited a ‘desert island’ under tropical rains: white sand, luxuriant rainforest, and beautiful grey sky…
After passing the Tropic of Capricorn in our air-conditioned car, we soldiered on to Cairns, via many Seafood restaurants, petrol stations and the best burger in the world (complete with beetroot and pineapple)

Today I had a wonderful day: snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. Words cannot describe what I saw, and my SLR camera was not going under water, but the images of the reef shark, sting ray, and multicoloured fish I swam with are stored in my memory. I am in awe at nature and its beauty. And yes, I have offset my Carbon emissions due to flying to get to this fragile eco-system.

The next few weeks are set to be equally amazing: we are flying to Alice Springs, then traveling to Darwin to visit an Aboriginal community. This remote place is only accessible on a light aircraft, and we need a permit to enter the sacred Aboriginal land. I am really grateful to Lyne, who is escorting us there. Hopefully I will find out more about manual therapy in indegenous Australia on this occasion.

But my Australian adventures don’t stop there!!! I am then flying to Perth (oh dear, that’s a lot of Carbon) to do a road trip (yep, more Carbon emissions) with my buddy Lauren (student exchange when we were teenagers) on the West Coast. There, will do a lot more snorkelling, surfing and meeting Aboriginal locals.

I can hardly contain my excitement, so much to do, so little time.

I won’t wish you all a very merry Christmas, since I did not get much Internet connection as of late,  but I am more than happy to wish you a fantastic New Year.
Have a good party and enjoy 2009!

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Life at the beach

After a few days spent in the heart of Sydney, I met up with a massage therapist near Bondi beach, Sydney’s world famous Surf beach. We met up for a massage and osteopathy swap, and we finished with a beautiful big salad and a chat. We got on very well, and she was kind enough to arrange for one of her friends to host me! So I am now staying in Coogee, which is a wonderful small beach South East of Sydney.

I could think of worse places to be! So I am hanging out at the beach everyday, and walking between the beaches of Coogee, Bronte (pictured above), Tamarama, and Bondi. I have met and treated other massage therapists and their family, I am getting meals cooked for me in return for my treatments, or offers of accomodation for my oncoming travels, notably in Cairns and Byron Bay. It is a wonderful experience to meet people in similar fields to mine, who are interested in what I have found out so far, and my new and improved approach.
Importantly, my new age osteopathy slash thai slash chi massage is proving to be rather effective on the small amount of people I have treated so far. I am busy bringing all the information together, so it makes sense to me, and feels “together” for the patient. I would not want my treatment to feel patchy, as it can quickly become uncomfortable.
Even more importantly, I am really enjoying treating these people, my new friends, and practising what I have learned.

The rest of my time is spent studying my Thai and Chinese medicine books, as well as Western medicine and anatomy books, to refresh my knowledge of physiology and anatomy. I might as well make the most of my time! I am also managing to keep up the practise of meditation, with about an hour every other day. The beach  has become my favourite place for it. I then run and jump into the waves, swimming and enjoying the tumbles.

I am learning to bodysurf. What you need for bodysurfing, is a body, and some waves. Once you’re in the water, you swim hard to get beyond where the waves break. Then you watch the Ocean. The water is about 20 degrees, the sun is burning and even out there in the middle of the water, it smells of sunscreen lotion mixed with seaweed. Once you spot a nice swell (or see the other bodysurfers getting excited), you turn your back to the wave, and start swimming like a lunatic towards the shore. The aim is to pick up speed before the wave catches you.
When you do not pick up enough speed, the wave engulfes you and pulls you deep into the Ocean, filling your nose and mouth full of terribly salty sea water. But if you manage to swim fast enough, and stay perpendicular to the oncoming wave, as it approaches you, you can feel the power of the ocean lifting you up gently.
At first, you are gently being propulsed into the sky on a big fluffy cloud. The wave is thundering behind you, and breaks a couple of centimetres from your toes. From that moment, I found the best technique to outstretch both arms in front of you, and keep kicking your legs. Once the power of the wave is released, gravity catches up with the rising water and yourself, and the foam crashes down towards the sand. Because you continued kicking your legs, you stay on top of the wave. You are high up on the wave, kicking hard, watching the beach, the water, being propulsed forward at great speed. This is body surfing.
There is no graceful way of getting off the wave. As it hits the sand, the wave’s strength disperses, and your weight is no longer supported, so you too fall towards the bottom, often in a big tumble. I find that my generous buttocks tend to find the surface first, and then I fight the water until my face reaches the air. You cannot breathe in straight away, as you must first expel all the sea water that has entered your nose and mouth. The salty, nauseous taste stays with you as you take your deep inbreath. The cool air feels delicious and restore your lungs. Another couple of breaths, before facing the Ocean and swimming out again.
I finally give up when a wave brings me all the way to the shore. I am breathless, exhausted and thirsty. I run out, and dive on the warm towel waiting for me, spread out on the perfectly soft sand.

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