Solo Female Travel

The Interview: Jennifer Idol talks Diving all Fifty States of America, The Muddy Middle and why you'll never use a straw again.

Frozen with horror at the sight of the Deep Horizon Oil spill left Jennifer Idol with guilt and regret at not reaching for her trusty camera to record the sight in time. Luckily rather than dwell in the past she chose an empowered response in the moment and set her heart on sharing the stories of our underwater world to people everywhere. 

Between 2011 - 2014 Jen combined her passions of design and scuba diving to become the first woman in the US to dive all 50 states. She recorded her extraordinary journey and is now a published author to boot. We talk The muddy middle, our culture of immediacy and why you'll never use a straw again!

The Interview: Building Belief & Inner strength with South Pole trekking Sandra Floate.

I meet Sandra in the beautiful botanical gardens of Bella Tiamantini - a Botanical Gardens set in the humid heat and jungly backdrop of Santo Domingo, Northern Ecuador. The gardens are run by a delightful old couple Don Marcos and his wife Estrella who are committed to rescuing and nurturing over 1000 native plant species from deforested areas of the Amazon, in oder to protect plant diversity in Ecuador.

 

 I have turned up at the gardens by myself and am not sure what I'm letting myself in for. With relief I see there is another English speaker amongst us! 

Sandra is a softly spoken Aussie from Melbourne with a flush of blond curls around her face, twinkly blue eyes and rosy cheeks. She is sitting outside the concrete breeze block guest bedroom on a plastic stool helping Estrella shell corn.

Welcoming me with a warm smile she speaks with an endearing shy humility about herself and quiet enthusiasm for her time volunteering with this delightful family. I'm about to turn 40 and as the conversation drifts to this milestone of a birthday I ask Sandra (now in her mid fifties) how she felt about turning 40. Apparently she felt that she'd lost some of her physical shape and fitness due to being a full time mother. What did she decide to do to regain her fitness? Renew her membership at the local gym? Nope. Sign up for an extra Pilates class? Nope. No ladies, Sandra Floate decided to go to the South Pole....! 

As a sensitive introvert myself I'm fully aware of the magnificent adventures, physical feats and courageous acts us quiet ones are capable of.. .however I have to admit to still reacting with some surprise when this gently self effacing woman drops into the conversation that when she turned 40 she once led an all female expedition of mothers called The Ice Maidens, on a trek to the Antarctic. 

Excuse me, you did what???? 

Time for an interview! 

WW: OK would you like to start by giving me a little bit of background?  a brief life story! You were mainly based in Melbourne is that right? 

SF: Yes I was born and bred in Melbourne and went to school there. After leaving school I did a diploma in advertising and then travelled for 2 years to Asian and Europe and worked in Londo for a year as a nanny, and then to India, Nepal and then in Australia met and worked an Indian.

WW: How old were you when you were married?

SF: I was 25 and I had two children in my mid thirities and worked in our family business cabinet making business, my husband and I had been in business for 30 years.

And then when I was 40 I did an expedition to the Antarctic. Which is 3 years training for 2 weeks on the ice.

WW: And had you done any training, hiking or professional trekking before then?

SF:  No I was a mother! ...I'm a skier and a snow skier and I've done that all my life so I've always loved skiing i learned to do cross country for Antarctica. We went out and found women and they had to be mothers.

WW:  So you decided to do this trek and they had to be women and they had to be mothers!? 

SF: Yes, we found women and they had to be mothers because there are many constraints when you're a mother to be able to go out and train. You need a sympathetic partner, because men can go off and work and then train in the evening but women  can't do that when they've got children, they cant just walk out of the house and say "well i'm off to go train" five nights a week so you needed a certain sort of sympathetic partner as well to accommodate the expedition.

WW: But it was part of the expedition requirements that everyone was mothers? why was that? 

SF: Because the English group that did it (it was first done by an all female group in Britain)  some of them were mothers and some of them were single. We based our group on 5 english women that did it, and one of them was a mother, and there were different problems for mothers, we had to go away at weekends and leave our children or train at 5am or train while eveyone was asleep and that's hard.  If you have a family you've got to find time train. When you are working part time or full time its very difficult to find the training time. So because the three or four of us had kids we all had to realize the dififciulties in having an expedition as well as the constraints around doing it around family, and having the money. It started as 5 but there were 3 in the end because they drop off.

WW: I can imagine! (laughs)

SF: We all started of from zero fitness.

WW: It seeems like an extraordinary thing to suddenly decide to do...what prompted it?

SF: Just one of the women always wanted to do it an expedition to Antarctica and so she asked around and  I said yes and then a couple of others said yes, and then we just went along with the process without really understanding what that process was... 

WW: Did you know it would take 3 years?

SF: No we just knew it was a lot of training. Then we needed to find all the sponsors, doctors, physios, runners, gym membership...we had 40 - 50 sponsors in the end, plus Quantas (major Australian airline) who came on board.

WW: In order to raise the funds to do it? 

SF: To raise the funds to do it, to get us to South America, tro get us to SA to bring our canoes ( we didn't have sleds we had canoes) because they are round so they are very easy to use. Then we had to tap into...because it's  such a small population who had done expeditions we had to tap into that community. So for example we had conversations with Eric Phillips and Peter Hillary to give us guidance on the best way to do it and complete it. 

WW: And did you also do it for charity?

SF: Yes we raised money for the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne. In the end the flights, our gear (sponsored by Mountain Design)  so we probably raised about $300,000. 

WW: That's incredible, what a fantastic achievement.

SF: But the flight costs from Chile to Antarctica is probably about $80,000.

WW: Oh wow, just to fly to Antarctica? 

SF: When you are in the base camp at Antarctica and you go out to the South Pole they've got planes there. If you have a problem they can come and pick you up.

WW: how long did the expedition take? 

SF: It was supposed to be 10 weeks but we didn't get to the south pole just to Antartica, we only lasted 2 weeks. 

SF: We always dreamed to get the South Pole but we didn't get there. We didn't dream it enough... you know you have the image in your brain? It was hard enough just to get to Antarctica, leave our children do all the hard work and the training, get all the money. 

WW: and what happened that meant you had to cut it short after 2 weeks.

SF: At the end of the training there were only 2 of us left out of the 5. We needed one more person and she only joined us 9 months previously. So we didn't have that bond that you needed and she turned inot a bit of a loose cannon. She hadn't as much experience in the snow as us and we had problems with her breathing and her hypothermia. So she was very physical but she hadn't had enough snow and ice training.

WW: Did you have to have another person?

SF: Yes it's best with three. Because if something happens like you fall down a crevasse or something and there's only two people  - you're only leaving one person to make a decision on what to do whether or not to leave you.  Whereas if you have three people you have two people to take that decision.

WW: Oh gosh I see, because of the probability of having to make a  life or death decisions. How do you prepare mentally for that?

SF: We had an Englishman, Roddie, who was a former SAS teacher who would do meditation with us...he was former SAS but turned Buddhist.

WW: Wow he sounds like a good person to talk to. So you would visualize scenarios that could happen?

SF: Yeah we had a lot of discussions around all of the scenarios that could happen, with other people that had done expeditions. Unfortunately also, Quantas airlines lost our gear.

WW: Oh no!

SF: Yeah! So we were 2 weeks in Chile instead of 3 days before we got going, so by that time we were very apprehensive. We had been raring to go so we were really uptight by the time we got going. You only have a certain window of time. Because if you start your expedition too late and you're not quite at the pole they have to come and get you to fly you back to Chile, so we were very stressed by the time we got to Antarctica to do this trip. 

WW: Was there anything at that point in your life that prompted it? Or was it just your friend saying "I'm going to Antarctica do you want to come along?" I'm trying to work out what the appeal was?!

SF: The appeal was, I was reaching 40 and didn't have any fitness because i'd spent all my time looking after children.

WW: How old were your children?

SF: They were 12 and 9. And feeling like I was running out of time and that I might not be able to get fit for something like this. 

WW: I'm turning 40 tomorrow...(laughs)

SF: The possibility of even considering it was way off the planet. But you just start with something and see where it leads to. To know that we actually got there and got onto the ice. We had two trips to New Zealand also in preparation on the Fox Glacier. 

WW: And you were called "The Ice Maidens" - brilliant.

And what lessons did you learn emotionally, how did you overcome challenges in preparation or on the trek? 

SF: Yeah it was very stressful. So it was about being safe because we had children.

And we were looked on differently because we had children. We got emails saying "you shouldn't be leaving your family! blah blah blah" 

Mentally to do these trips -  at 40 and beyond is best. You'll find most expeditions are with older people because you have to have that maturity as an adult to take it on. 

WW: That's interesting isn't it you wouldn't think that would be the case, that you would need to be young and physically fit foremost.

SF: Yeah look at Ralph Fiennes he's just done a night one - he's 65? and he thought he'd do Antarctica in the dark in winter. I mean, that's bizarre!  But there's no limit to your physical age, he's just thinking "I can do that." 

WW: And because he's thinking he can do that he can?

SF: Yeah and because he's older he can, a lot of them are older, late thirties, forties. It's better. 

WW: This is a very small example in comparison but it's made me think of the time that I did Kung Fu in China with a bunch of 18 years. And I did the Shaolin, and it was the same kind of thing, I was really trying to push my myself and I was pretty out of shape and I was crap at it (laughs) but I did it. But lots of people in the 18 - 25 category would come try it for a bit and then drop out because it was too hard and they couldn't be bothered. Just before I joined 7 people dropped out of the Shaolin Kung Fu class so as a then 37 year old woman everyone was expecting me to fold, but out of sheer mental determination (and some may say stubbornness!) I persisted. When you get to a certain point you're proving it to yourself and that mental discipline isn't necessarily always there when you're younger.

WW: Did you learn anything about yourself that you hadn't realized before?

SF: Yeah lots and lots. Mostly mental strength. I"ve had to keep applying that. When I got back my daughter got sick and was very ill for 6 or 7 years. So i had to apply mental strength to keep her well and sane for the years that she was ill.  

WW: And how did what you learnt on the trip help you do that?

SF: Finding that inner strength that I had, that we've all got. Always being tested emotional, physically and needing to push yourself that little bit more. 

SF I had that strength, emotional strength to get through because it was an awful time. If you're children die or get sick its awful.

WW: What did she have?

SF: She had chronic fatigue and then depression because her body shut down and wasn't working.

WW: How did it change you? 

SF: Yes it changed my life.

W: How?

SF: I wasn't ever a team player and never played in teams, so with an expedition you have to rely on your team members because they may have to save your life. And that you can do just about anything if you're physically able and believe it. Believe in wanting something badly enough that you can do it.

And making other people believe that you can do it. So that you're getting that people behind you. There was a group of people behind you another group of people helping you to get to the goal.

WW: And your husband was supportive.

SF: Yes very much. 

WW: Great. So now, we're meeting in Ecuador...so that was 10 years ago for you...I was 45 years when I did it. Did you do any travelling between then and now?

SF: I went skiing in Japan and a brief trip to Vietnam, but otherwise no...no. 

WW: So what prompted you to suddenly go to Ecuador in your mid fifties?

SF: Because I wanted to volunteer in Ecuador and by this time my children were old enough so that I could actually leave them.

WW: And why Ecuador?

SF: The first time was with a friend because it had the Andes, the Amazon and the Galapagos in one country and because it was small. It was supposed to be the 10th year anniversary of our expedition to the Antarctic and i was supposed to come here with Michelle from that trek. We were going to go to Siberia to see lots of volcanoes but we wouldn't have had the culture and in Ecuador we got the culture, the sea, the mountains and the jungle,

WW: And that was a 10 week trip?

SF: No that was a month or 5 weeks and 10 year anniversary celebration of Antarctica. And then  I decided to come back as a volunteer as I felt comfortable here the first time.

WW: And at that point, was that when you were splitting up with your husband ?

SF: No but i was thinking about it, so travel was a way of getting time out from family and friends and husband to think about things.

WW: What advice would you give to women wanting to travel in their forties and fifties who are a bit frightened of going to a country solo.

SF: Sometimes its good to do a quick trip, and then go back. If yo feel comfortable in a country do a quick overview first for a holiday and then go back and see it more in depth. That's what you did isn't it? 

WW: Yeah it wasn't deliberately planned like that, but that is what ended up happening. I started travelling five years ago when I took a month of extended leave off work to travel South America. So I started by doing group tours as well so I wasn't completely by myself. 

 

SF: Yeah i started travelling when I was 21 and did a couple of years by myself so I already had that inner strength and belief at that age that I could do it and knew at this age I could do it again.

WW: And now you're trying to combine your time between Ecuador and Australia?
SF: Yes by helping out here with volunteering.

WW: How do you support yourself when you're travelling?

SF: I work in Australia and save up to travel. I prioritize the money and go without certain things knowing that i'll need to save up for airfare. I met a lady a few years ago and what she said to me really stuck in my mind...I was just turning 50 and she was 65 and she said? 

You are in the best years of your life right now, after you've had children is the best time you've got left. Because you're still relatively fit, Its a time for yourself  again. You get your time back without commitments and family. 

WW: And you took the decision to split from your husband is that right?

SF: Yes I've made the decision to separate because my husband didn't want to back me in this volunteering.  I felt in a marriage when you get to an older age with a  partnership you should be able to take time to explore other things that you want. Life is for living it's not long and you don't have a lot of good years, they go quickly. Soon you won't be able to . 

WW:  You're volunteering for Bella Tiamantini, what has that brought you? Why were you drawn here?

SF: Because of the garden and the family and i thought i could offer western eyes to help with their project and enjoy a different lifestyle. 

WW: And how do you see the next 20 years for you?

SF: One of travel and splitting time between countries and learning new languages.

WW: Perfect! Thank you Sandra! 

 

 

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The Interview: Kicking Fear to the Kerb with the Globe Trotting Granny - Connie Giffin

Connie Giffin

If you've ever been plagued with doubts that you were too old, too broke, too scared or just too damn late to discover your purpose in life and put everything you have behind living it... then this interview is for you. 

In 2008 Connie Giffin believed she'd found and was living her life purpose. A  successful, self employed, entrepreneur in her late sixties she was looking forward to handing over the reigns of her three successful businesses to her successor so that she could enjoy retirement and quality time with her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

All that was about to come crashing down when the financial crisis liquidated her clients, her companies and most of her assets and life savings -  over night. Left with nothing except her "financially shaking rocking chair." She decided she needed a new life purpose.  On the brink of her 70th birthday Connie became a student again and embarked on an 18 country tour of the world to research models of best practise in holistic education*. The aim?  She's driven by  a desire to redefine the educational system,  a legacy that won't just benefit the lives of her own family but children everywhere 

I meet Connie in the beautiful Andean hills  of Vilcabamba, in Southern Ecuador. A place nicknamed, appropriately enough, "the Valley of Longevity"  as some of its inhabitants have lived to a 129! Now 72 years young Connie holds a  BA in psychology from Prescott University, a Masters in experiential education from Prescott and is currently working towards a PHD in eco  - psychology, with Akumai. She's got smart, cropped grey hair, twinkling blue eyes and a Southern lilt to her voice that means when she talks about growing up in the forests and lakes of her grandfather's farm, I could listen all day. But make no mistake there is an assuredness and steel beneath the eyes and a voice that means business. Well it's not every great grandmother in their 70s  that loses everything only to reinvent themselves, travel the world and is now gearing up to publish their first book!  Ladies, meet Connie Giffin!

WW: Connie you've had a remarkable life, talk me through your career arc to how we come to be sitting here today. 


CG: From the age of 17 I worked in the corporate world climbing that good ol' corporate ladder. I was a central Office Manager for the Belle and Howe corporation and then in 1976 I  left all that behind me and opened my own first business which was an art gallery. 

After that I took up a traveling sales rep position in Arizona for a national photo company and five years later my former husband and I started another business creating steel and concrete cast stairs by which point I was in my forties. After that I went back to college to finish my Bachelor of Arts in Education, which I completed in 1998. 

WW: So you didn't go to university when you were 18? 

CG: Well I started studying for it when I was 18 but I didn't complete it until I was in my forties. I studied for it at night school which was the only thing I could afford on my income at the time,  but I was always determined to complete it.  And guess what...it happened.

That's one of two things I've carried from childhood. Education is the way to success and nature was my nurturer and counsellor. After I completed that qualification I moved to Colorado and opened my own mortgage business and did the design and build of monolithic homes. 

WW: And that's what you were doing when the financial crash happened?

CG: All I financed was eco - homes, earth friendly properties. That means anything sustainable that no one else would finance. Even though they were more sound, no one would touch it because they weren't conventional so that's what I financed for 9 years.

And I had my art company - a framing company; and an interior design business. I had all three companies going until the big financial crash when i lost all three.

WW: And you were content at that time with the businesses you were running? 

CG: I believed i'd found my life purpose and suddenly all of that was taken from me, if it hadn't of been I probably would have continued on. 

WW: Do you think we can have different life purposes at different stages of our lives then? 

CG: Well obviously it happens! 

At the time I provided a service that was very much needed and there was nothing like it in the US and people were desperately trying to make changes in their lives and build sustainable homes. So at least it was a beginning, i hoped it would be carried on but I hadn't planned to be the one to carry it on. I actually had a buyer for it and i was going to work with her for a couple of years and then sell the business to her, but then suddenly we had no business because we had no lenders. I lost my business, my income, my properties, everything.

WW: I can't imagine how scary that must have been. What happened next, did you start looking for other work? 

CG: So when it was all gone I stumbled around for a while. I applied for work but at my age I could not find a job, or any source of little income and had very little to live on.

WW: What did you do?

CG: I sort of wandered around lost and eventually had the good fortune to do  enough to do a programme with Barbara Marx Hubbard, called the Agents of Evolution. Through that programme, I discovered I didn't want to spend the rest of my life sitting in what I called my "financially shaky rocking chair" I wanted to get up and do something that benefited humanity and I wanted to do something for my grandchildren. 

The more I thought about it and the more I gave myself some time to let it all settle, I concluded that the way to help my grandchildren was through education. I knew we needed a new educational system but beyound that i didn't know what.

WW: Incredible. So take me through the steps from deciding you wanted to commit to a new purpose - one where you started to look for a new educational system and how you actually started down that path, a path that led you through 18 different countries!? 

CG: There was a college got in touch with me.  They thought that they'd developed a course that I was actually looking for back in 1999 when I completed my BA with them (Prescott University.)

WW: Wait, they contacted you 15 years later??  I'm not sure the administrative systems of many universities in Britain are that organized! (laughs)

CG:  It shocked me! But you know i'm a great believer that when you follow the path you're supposed to follow: the people, the path and the things you need are put before you.  I laughed and shared that I had just lost everything: money, business, properties...everything and I was desperate. He said that in those circumstances the student loan programme could probably grant me about $130,000 dollars. 

I'm very much against our young people having huge financial debts however for someone my age the repayment was really in my favor so I considered it seriously and then checked 44 other different colleges around the US hoping that from 1999 - 2011 they had also become more experiential.  To my dismay they had not, so i woke up the following morning and said "ok, then."

I called Prescott University and said here's the deal:

"I have a new purpose in life and it comes first. I need to hep the children and I need to do that by creating a new educational system.

If you can accept me back on those terms I really need a college as a background for my work and research and I know the college background will open up a lot of doors for what I want to do. 

WW: And so part of beginning to create this new educational system was to research best practise and see what's already out there?

CG: That's right. I put together a proposal for my school and was told it was far too extensive for just one student to take on! But I did all the research myself.  I had a very flexible schedule and my purpose was to locate the most innovative models of holisitic model of education in the world, so I could see what was going on that worked. For my thesis I chose 15 of the most innovative which was a drop in the bucket of all that i’ve been in contact with but those are the ones that i spent the most time, and really felt they had very outstanding models. 

WW: And you visited communities mainly? Sustainable communities? 

CG: I started in England and had a flight ticket out of Stockholm with one date in Budapest in between. The plan was to visit communities that were doing something different, communities, schools, colleges. So I had a big list that I left here with but I left it open, and also had a list of places that i wanted to visit for my book, places such as the Eden Proect in the UK and the Plantagon in Stockholm. In the end I visited 18 countries around Europe as well as America and Canada.

As my trip progressed I realized that although a lot of sustainable communities are into education they are mostly focused on educating the outside world on environmental issues rather than creating something spectacular for their own children. 

WW: Before we get on to chatting more about the actual travel, tell me some more about the places you visited, any stand out models for you?  

CG: I visited La Cite Ecologique in Canada  -  one of the most outstanding models of education I'd seen. 

Another great place and one of the greatest participants was a small community in Northern Denmark, called (in English)  The Essential Teachers Training college. This was a group of people that some years back built the tallest windmill in the world and were told it was impossible.  I had the privelege of going to the top of it while I was there, by someone that had taken part in building it. 

They decided to create a different kind of college and teach teachers how to teach. 

I also spent quite a bit of time in Nice, France while I was there. I sat at a big dining room table outside at the hostel Iwas staying in and there happened to be a family there from Australia.  The mother had homeschooled her son who had ADHD and she'd also spent most of her life promoting homeschooling and small family farming.

WW: So homeschooling and unschooling is another example of holistic education? I was gong to ask what your views are on that? 

CG: Its exactly what we need to be doing,  we need to undo everything that the children have been learning for generations in schools. 

WW: You don't think children need to be around their peers to learn social skills? 

CG: I don't think school is the only way to learn social skills. They can learn those skills in other communities, schools are only one possibility but there could be many others.

This first evening she and i got talking and people seemed to come from all around the world to join us at the table to talk about education so I didn't have to do anything, just sit there and have dinner. 

WW: What about stand out countries in terms of education? Are some countries doing it better than others?

On the whole the Scandinavian countries put a bigger empahisis on education than other countries.

Finland was my number one country. It made a change in its priorities thirty years ago.

They had very few natural resources, their economy was suffering so they chose to invest in their greatest asset, their people. Their purpose was "to give quality to every student." They weren't trying to create a handful of geniuses, they wanted their entire population educated to its fullest potential.

WW:  When put so simply it seems like such an obvious investment and so vital. Yet how many other countries have that as their guiding vision.... similar to how great organizations to work for are also often highly successful because they choose to invest in their staff.

Now lets talk about the travel. Did you have any fears before you set off -  about going on this huge adventure as a 70 year old women travelling by herself? 

CG: No but that's a personal choice I made a long time ago.  I made a decision not to live my journey in fear. So I don't. 

 

A lot of people said: You’re goin to do what?? You can’t do that! 

and I said: Well i’m going to do that!

WW: Any countries you put on the list just because you wanted to see the sights? (laughs) 

CG: I'd say it was combined if there was a country i was interested in i might look real hard so i had a legitimate reason for being there. (laughs)

WW How did you budget and plan your trip? Did you backpack or five star it? 

CG: Well lets say this, I had no money, i had a small student loan that I could use a part of for my research, I had a very small budget.  I spent 10 weeks in Europe and it cost me $5500 and 6 weeks in canada on $1250 and that included my flights to and from. 

I travelled clear across Canada, I had a Greyhound North American bus pass which was $350 for 60 days anywhere in North America and a small discount for being a senior citizen. 

In Europe I flew in to London and back from Stockholm and I got a special first class Global Euro Rail Pass.

That took care of most of my transportation.

I could not get a student airline ticket because i was over 26. I said:  what's that got to do with anything? I am as  full time a legitimate student as you'll have anywhere else?! But they didn't agree, so I changed the booking went back to the same airline and changed one of the flights and got a lower full price ticket! 

WW: And for accommodation? Did you stay in hotels,  private rooms, dorms?? 

CG: The greatest thing i did was stay in hostels all over Europe, they're not for kids anymore. I only encountered one hostel that had age restrictions,

But the hostels were a wealth of resources. Oh I stayed in dormitories, cheapest I could find. It was nothing to be in a room with 12 people and sometimes that was quieter than with two. Sometimes you'd get put next to a nightclub, but overall I stayed in some very nice ones and was very grateful to meet so many friendly people.

WW: When I meet American friends they often say to me, Oh i'd love to do what you're doing (traveling) but if I did I'd lose my healthcare...its a bit like a golden handcuffs in the States right? How do you deal with that, I'm guessing as someone who was self employed for so long you haven't had that for a while anyway? 

CG: I don't use healthcare and haven't used Western medicine since 1982 when I ruptured a disc in my back and used alternative means to get well. That's when the doctors and I parted ways.

WW: That sounds like a whole other story in itself!  

CG Yes since I don't spend one penny on that and I ignore it all  it doesn't bother me.  I got well from a lot of serious things through natural methods. I changed my health habits and I look at my health from a preventive standpoint, its one of the reasons i'm sitting opposite you right now in Vilcabamba,  Ecuador. We are in one of the healthiest place on earth and it has all kinds of health benefits. 

WW: Wonderful. So you managed to tour 18 different countries including America, Canada and then Europe. What happened when you got back? 

CG: When I got back and started to  put all of it together I  started to see a pattern forming of what's really underneath the holistic framework and 6 essences of building blocks. Holisitic education was pretty well defined by Ron Miller back in the 60s.  There were 24 groups over the years that really contributed to what we consider holistic education today, for eg Montessori, Friends Association, the homeschooling method, all kinds of different groups, and Ron Miller spent a decade putting together a definition that pooled the elements from all of that and that's what we mainly look at today.

What I discovered from my research which was new was that underneath this framework were these 6 essences that were consistently making up the base for it.

And then this year I learned from one of my participants Dr Michael Cohen that underneath all of that, one of these essences holds the solution to end all human created problems in the world

WW Is that all you dsicovered this year Connie?! (laughing) 

CG: Human created suffering, problems challenges, devastation everything...

WW: Are you going to tell me what that is, or save it for your book?

CG: Oh i'll tell you its not a secret, actually there have been quite a few other people that have proposed as a solution. But what's been missing all these years... 

We saw that reconnecting to nature is how we would get back onto a sustainable path and how war/famine would end because we'd have a complete redistribution of resources and in community people would share  - but no one had really looked underneath that to say: well how do we do that?

I tell you... go spend 15 minutes a day in nature and your life will change somewhat. However what Michael Cohen discovered was 54 sensory attractions. Ways to sense things and his programme and solution is to give us the procedure of reconnecting to nature through those 54 senses, and this as applicable to a tiny child as to someone my age, and its offered as a PHD degree.

WW: Wonderful. So if people want to learn more about this how can they? 

CG: Since publishing my initial thesis I've been busy writing my first book that distills my knowledge in a way that's easy for people to understand. When the book's ready to be published i'll be selling it on my website which will also be a platform for learning that connects young people around the world and educates parents, teachers, schools and colleges on what i've discovered.

And in another remarkable sign of synchronicity,  in the time that that Connie and I are together in Vilcabamba she is approached by a major German publishing house and has just signed a contract to publish her first book. 

I'm helping Connie create her first website and if you are interested in reading more about her work in holistic education, or purchasing a copy of the book when it becomes available then drop me a note with Connie in the subject header on the link below and i'll send you some more details :) 

Contact Connie (click here)

Thanks for reading, I'd love to hear your views on holistic education, travel or any of the above, in the comments below. 

 

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What's going to be your trigger to travel?

For me it wasn’t the boss who I wanted to stab in the eye with a fork (although that helped.)

It wasn’t the increasingly toxic venom with which i’d regard my blackberry before accidentallydropping it and cracking the screen. It wasn’t the “mean girl” at work who bought me an alarm clock and a princess crown as not so subtle form of passive aggressive secret santa presents.

Come January 2012 I was at an all time low. Depressed and feeling like i was failing on all fronts, I had a non existent personal life, a stress rash of excema on my back, my hair was falling out andmy skin had broken out. The brand, new, exciting role i’d taken on heading up the retail marketing team for a premiership soccer team in London had been stripped off all novelty once i’d finished enjoying making the footballers strip off ( to put on clothes forphoto shoots you understand…) 

Whilst the world and his wife was telling me how lucky I wasto have a dream job people would die for - I could only conclude that maybe God had inadvertently got me mixed up with some 22 year old boy called Dominic as I didn’t even like football that much.

In the few days I had off between Christmas and New Year I slunk away to the seaside with an old friend to recuperate. On my return I found another flurry of emails from work, they were round the clock and the fact that  I was on holiday didn’t mean a thing . I started to lie awake at night with an ever increasing sense of panic as the days ticked by  - worrying that I might never get away to do some proper travelling and pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Somehow here I was, 36, single, working a 60 hour week and living up the road from my parents. 

There was only one thing for it, i prayed to the heavens and decided to implore the great gods of the ethernet. I typed into Google: I want to quit my job and travel. And a blog article came up entitled: Why you should quit your job and travel.

Promising! 


It  had been written by a man with an even more ridiculous,  French sounding name than mine .His name was Chris Guillebeau,  a traveller and writer- who had ambitions to visit every country in the world by the time he was 35 and his blog was called The Art of Nonconformity. He’d been making plans to travel for a long time. I’d been putting savings aside for years, i’d accrued holiday and dipped my toe in the water of independent travel with a month in South America, I’d chosen my first flat to buy soley based on the fact it would be easy to let and provide a bit of extra income while I was on the road. It was not bought for the attractiveness of its location which happened to be up the road from my parents. And I was still here. 

Because I was frightened. Of everything.

I was frightened of giving up a regular income, of not being able to find work again, of being single and in my late thirties. 

 

My fearwas enforced by a media obsessed with rising unemployment figures and underlined by the mute incomprehension of my friends all of whom were either happy in careers or marriages or both and none of whom shared my passion to jack it all in and travel the world. 

I was frightened of the unknown. Not the unknown of navigating a chicken bus squashed between a little Tibetan man and a boy with a sack of raw meat - nothing about travelling the world scared me, it was all the stuff that comes before that moment that had me anxious and stuck. 

Change is frightening.  Going against the grain is scary.  Being different, doing different, wanting different from the general population at large is alienating,  difficult, uncomfortable and yes painful.  

But there comes a point when staying stuck is even more painful and as soon as I could see a way out, as soon as i had a little chink of light, the beacon of home and comfort that somewhere out there, there was at least one other person in the world who saw life like I did and I was no longer crazy or alone or on my own; it gave me the confidence I needed. The trigger to travel. 

I lost his site the same day that I found it. But it didn't matter.  A seed had been sown.  

I told my boss that all I really wanted to do was write poetry, travel the world and fall in love - lots. And that’s what i did. I packed my bags for Rio and embarked on a pitstop tour of the world, 13 countries in 19 months. 

I trusted that when i needed to i’d come across his site again. And sure enough just over a year later last July 2013 I found The Art of Nonconformity and discovered that Chris Guillebeau continued to travel and was in Southern Thailand at the same time I was. 

At the grand old age of 37 wrote my first ever fan letter, or at the least a very sincere, thank you email.  The fact that we were at that moment in time, both staring out at a similar strip of turquoise sea was in no small part because of him. 

And this July, 2014? This year I was in Portland, Oregon attending the World Dominatoin Summit a weekend of events, meet ups and inspiratonal talks set up by Chris Guillebeau to gather together remarkable people leading unconventional lives.

Two years ago it was stumbling across one man and his blog, a fellowtraveller and writer that finally helped me say no to what wasn’t working in my life, quit my job and follow my dreams and two years later because of that moment i’m able to write freelance, travel regularly and this July  reach out to not just one but surround myself  2500 other likeminded, positive, uplifting and non judgemental people. 

What’s going to be your trigger to travel? 


Naked Lady Bathing in Japan

sakura (cherry blossom) in Japan

One of my favourite parts of a recent two week whistle stop tour of Japan with my 75 year old father was getting to escape the neon lit,  smog filled cities of Osaka and Tokyo (and my father) and enjoy the ritual of a female only hot spring bath in a traditional Japanese Onsen. 

We have travelled for hours on the famous bullet train and taken a winding local bus up the hills towards the shores of Lake Ashi near Mount Fuji and are staying at a traditional Ryokan where the walls of our room are made of rice paper dividers and the only place to sit is a small mat on the floor. 

The Onsen are divided into male and female bathing quarters and the rules are strict. One washes first and bathes, naked. 

A young student in her twenties laughs in delight when i ask if i have to get in naked.

“It is strange for you, are you embarrassed?” she asks.

Although i’ve never been body conscious it makes me wonder - there is a second of discomfort due to the strangeness and unfamiliarity of disrobing in front of so many of my own sex that has never happened taking my clothes in front of a man before.  

I drop my towel and perch on the little plastic stool, and then wash using the shower handle to rinse myself down.

Peering over the steam drifting in layers over the sunken stone baths I make my way over and ease my way into the hot water. The onsen is beautiful. A sunken stone pool outside, lit up in the early spring sunshine with bright pink bursts of cyclamen decorating the grounds. 

I gaze at all the different women’s bodies I'm sharing this pool with. I look at their thick, creamy white legs and the heaviness their hips, of the young student who talked to me and the xylophone of her ribs and study with envy the sheets of their black, shiny hair twirled up into chignons.

It's like a Degas painting in here, beautiful and sensuous and steamy. Women of all shapes and sizes huddling in corners or floating in the water in a world of their own. 

Old ladies help each other over the slippery tiles, giggling and a mother guides her little girl down into the waters. 

There is a something I find so special about this ritual of communal bathing with our own sex and soothing - the softness, camaraderie and safety of women of all ages gathering and bathing naked.

It reminds me of other times and other cultures where i’ve had the pleasure of experiencing something similar.

I oncespent several happy nights in Luang Prabang, Laos wandering through the tumbling rain and jumping over the puddles in the broken stones of the road to join the local women at their herbal steam room. 

Here young girls in their twenties showed me how to wrap my cotton sarong and tie my hair up in a knot. They handed me barley tea outside when i needed to cool off and gave me the communal pumice to slough away dead skin on my body. I will always remember the deep, steamy heat and medicated air of that steam room and the soft hushed giggles and whispers of the women I shared it with whilst the dark, chilly rain pounded outside. 

In Morocco and Turkey I’ve stood naked and shivering whilst a little old lady in plastic knickers throws a bucket of foam and water at me and then scrubbed me down with a brush. Laying on a thick marble slab i remember anticipating a relaxing western style spa massage only to endure an hour long torture of my poor muscles being slapped, poked and pummelled into submission.

It reminds me of an anecdote one of my friends told me,  who also experienced the baths of Morocco and, unable to believe that one should enter naked,  found herself standing in soggy bra and knickers in ornately decorated tile room where everyone else was naked. I wonder how much i’ve missed not having a ritual like this in my Western world where its more normal that women have been pitted against each other in the office or are held up for scrutiny in the gossipy trivia of the glossies.

Would we be as fixated with the body beautiful and burdened by the pressure to conform if we had this regular ritual in our day to day experience in the UK.  Sharing a zumba class together and then getting changed after at the local gym just doesn't cut it. 

That sense of female bonding seems so far removed from the smoothies and hipster cafes and mindless TV and grafitti of South East london. Perhaps my female friends who are mothers get to share a female solidarity in baby and toddler groups with each other i've missed out on so far - but even that portion of our lives is such a small segment in comparison with the whole. I imagine having a place when I was a teenager where, instead of the likes of Page 3 or Conde Nast dictating how and what our bodies mean, we were able to experience the whole gamut of female body shape and life from the very young to the very old. Where we could find solace in a regular ritual amongst women of all ages and use that to define both our comfort and our relationship with our own bodies as well as with other women.

I like to think, if i ever have a little girl, I would try and incorporate this ritual into her life...Not sure how achievable its going to be this side of Waterloo Bridge though... !

 

When guys go weird and girls go after, mountain climbing and turkish telepathy in Koh Pangan, Thailand

I wake up on January 2nd still feeling sick. The White Russians on NYE probably didn't help but hey... Talon's been trying to get us to climb the big wooded mountain in the middle of the island for a while now (Canadians!) and today is the very last day I feel like doing it. But maybe sweating and a bit of aerobic exercise will help. He thinks its about a 6 hour round trip. Great. 

We drive to the base of the hill and start walking. I tell him I need to take it at my own pace and he says: 

“Oh anytime you want to we can start heading down just let me know” and then he disappears off up the mountain taking long strides. 

I'm beginning to regret my loose tee shirt dress outfit – and i've just conveniently remembered my vow that I would do no more treks or hikes in jungle tundra. I am sweet meat for mosquitos – I just prefer the calm , cool still beauty of the mountains. 

After about an hour i'm knackered and stopping for a quick breather more often. The legs are not enjoying their first proper work out since the running routine stopped sometime mid Laos. Plus, having been fighting a stomach bug all of December I don't think I have any natural reserves of energy either. 

“We can head down if you want to …? But hey I think we are nearly at the top” Talon says. 

I can tell the last thing he wants to do is head down and to be honest its not really my idea of a motivating day out either, giving up now, so I say: 

“No we'll keep going I just need to take my time is all.” 

He disappears off again and then I hear whooping, after only an hour and a half we get there. Thank god whoever said it was three hours either way got their facts wrong or walks slower than my dear departed grandmother. 

And its worth the wait. The air is calm and cool and you can see over the dense dark green wooded jungle down to the golden strips of coast and the dreamy blue sea beyond. Its so peaceful up here, I'm glad I made the effort. 

He gives me a perfunctory kiss and a squeeze. And then we head down . I watch has he disappears off into the undergrowth again. Every now and then he stops to wait for me, except one time where he goes: 

“Oh hahaha I forgot you were with me.” 

Quite. 
 


I don't feel very happy today, Talon is doing that thing “that guys do.” That weird, going all distant thing, that even at the age of 37 I haven't quite worked out. And in response i'm doing that weird thing that girls do... some kind of default mechanism I immediately whir into (I like to call Girl Crazy) that makes me start thinking - “What did I do?” “what did I say?” “Should I have done this better?”. And then trying extra hard. 

I think back to Martin, the lovely Argentinian boy I met in Vietnam. He would never have just left me to stumble down a mountain and disappeared off without reaching out his arm to help me down the tricky bits. Is it old fashioned to want a guy to do that? 

In the evening we go for a meal, I've said i'll treat him as he made all the effort for NYE. We head to Phangan Cove and share pizza to start, and fish amok – a Thai speciality of fish curry steamed in banana leaves. 

We've spent every day together since I've arrived and I think its been a bit much. He needs some space and so do I. I'm not sure all of this has quite filtered up into his conscious mind yet so he's just pulled away without realising it, and like a lot of girls, i'm pretty sensitive and notice and am feeling vulnerable as a result. Three glasses of wine and a more emotionally charged chat than I would have liked we part ways. 

I berate myself for getting involved too soon with someone without having to got to know them better but its tough when you are travelling because there isn't always a lot of time! I knotch it up as a lesson all the same, I need to take more time getting to know people because its oh so easy to to be be seduced in this gorgeous and seductive landscape... 

He comes round to clear the air the next day and return my laundry, and he's back in touch the following day asking if I want to grab a drink at sunset. So he comes over and then we head for the hills to the Yoga Resort. A lovely little place with steam room and yoga lessons. All the yogis here are really friendly and welcoming and there is a great Indian vegetarian all you can eat buffet for 150B but you have to be quick. We bow out when the winds pick up to try and make sure we miss any rain and part company at 8pm. 



Over the weekend Jo comes back and I'm glad i've got a girly friend to talk things through. She's put herself up in a nice place in town and I get to stay the night. We spend a little bit of time by her pool and then while she writes the Introduction notes to her new book about to be published - cue plug!!! Mindfulness for Dummies (available now on Amazon!) I head into to Thongsala for a little bit of retail therapy. A white crochet dress and a white denim mini skirt later and I feel a bit more purged. I've never been a tub of ice cream or half a cheesecake in the middle of the night girl - when guys make me feel crap I always headed straight for the shops. She's lured me over with talk of the great movie channel on her T.V so I'm expecting good things and i'm not disappointed – its Alvin and the Chipmunks. A highly annoying film which becomes slowly addictive, particularly as i'm reminded later – when they do the Single Ladies dance to Beyonce. 

On sunday we head back to Ananada and settle down in the restauarant with our computers. Talon comes over and joins us. 

“Well this is going to be awkward” I mutter to Jo who has been filled in on the whole story. Sure enough, I really don't know what to say. Is he even here to see me? Or just see the sunset? Does he want to just hang out as mates or something more? 

Subsequently I don't say anything to him. Then he leaves. I feel bad after – I didn't mean to freeze him out on purpose but I think i've hurt his feelings and when he posts a very public statement on facebook about what “sensitive creatures, we humans ” are.

That night its open mic night at Ananda again. Sure enough it always ends the same way with an old Japanese guy playing Ravel's Bolero on the guitar. Erol the mad, bald headed but brilliant Turkish guy finishes dancing his mad tribal dance to it and comes over and looks at me intently. 

“You are very sensitive. Very sensitive. With people,you need to make a decision quickly, take action and then don't think about it anymore.” 

And then he goes again. He's like a bloody mindreader ...how did he know EXACTLY what i was thinking about?? 

The next day, Level 1 yoga starts. 85 people are in the hall at Agama and the teacher, Adam, -a Californian with gentle voice, shoulder length black hair and piercing blue eyes, is addressing the group of 85 students or so gathered in front of him. 

Jo is having boy trouble of her own. She has gone out for a meal with Greg the nigh before and now as she poses herself on the mat next to me with our hands in bowed in namaste I think she's trying to tell me she has to leave: 

“What can go wrong in one evening??!” I ask bewildered. 

“I HAVE to leave the island!!” she exclaims. 

“You don't have to leave the whole island beause of some boy!” I retort without any idea of what is going on. 

Afterwards I decide to go round and see Talon and smooth things over. 

My hurt pride would never have let me go and try and patch things up with him before, but i've taken Erol's advice and made a decision to clear the air, I don't like the idea of anyone being unhappy because of me, and so i'm “changing my behaviour” and trying to behave like an adult about things. 

He's not in his hut but eventually I find him on the beach. 

“Yeah” he says “that was a bit weird hey, I just wanted some space...and you, you put up a wall.” 

Well, story of my life. Its hard for me to be vulerable with people and I still don't always get it right. There is a happier way, and i'm determined to find it. 



What becomes clear is that we still both want to spend some time together before he goes so we agree to meet up for lunch before my next yoga session. We go back to “Christmas Day Beach” and buy fresh shrimp and mackerel from the market. On the beach he makes a fire (again...Canadians!) and we grill it and eat it sitting up on a rock in the bright sunshine before he heads back home to the snows of British Colombia.


An impromptu visit to Malaysia and Master Wong, the Fortune Teller.

I am ferried into a cab with a Swedish couple coming to the end of their travels. I have no idea what's going on (fairly standard for me) but I had thought i'd bought a bus ticket to travel across the border from Siem Reap down to Bangkok. 

“Oh no I think it was overbooked that's why we are in a cab” 

I'm always the last to know! We get over the border and I realise its the first time i haven't looked up the visa requirements in advance. Big. Mistake. 

After an interminable wait at customs we shuffle through and I look at my stamp. Turns out you don't even get a month coming in overland to Thailand and my passport has only been stamped for 15 days. I have a big New Year's eve planned at the Full Moon party with friends from England on Koh Phangan and have then already paid up for a month's yoga course in January. 

I check the date stamp again to see when I have to get out of the country by: 

December 31st

Bollocks. 

My brilliant planning skills strike again. 

I head on down to Bangkok anyway and after some of the best street food known to man – bbq pork with lemon grass, rice and papaya salad (outside my hostel Lub d off Silom Road) I realise the only thing for it is to leave the bloody country again, apply for a 3 month tourist visa and then head back to Koh Phangan. After stocking up on the kind of essentials its been hard to find in the rest of Asia – namely a proper sports bra– I decide to head down to Penang in Malaysia for the visa run. 
 


Somehow it all works out, and after treating myself to a glorious breakfast of waffles with maple syrup and walnuts at the trendy American cafe next door i'm standing at Bangkok train station buying a ticket for Butterworth – the strangely American fort -esque moniker for the train station you need to go to for Pengang. 

The temperature of the cabin is cool, belying the humidity of the afternoon. To my left the sun sets rose tinting the clouds . I watch the palm trees that darken the landscape begin to whizz past and settle in for a long ride. 

 

 


I love train rides – so i'm not too bothered about the roadtrip continuing. Its a sleeper and my top bunk (which is very slender) gets unfolded by the crew towards the evening. They have an a la carte buffet service which is good and the next day I get breakfast delivered to my bed with a hot coffee. Eventually I clamber down in time for us to traipse through customs into Malaysia, bleary eyed. Thank goodness for the Malays who have none of this visa nonense and just stamp your passport for 90 days. 

I navigate my way out of Butterworth train station with The Bastard on my back and go in search of the ferry to Georgetown (in Penang) I filter through to some seats take The Bastard off and wait. I keep looking out ot sea and wonder when the ferry is gong to arrive. After about 20 miutes I turn around and realise I am surrounded by water – I've been on the ferry the whole time. Oh dear – another clue that I often remain completely oblivious to the world around me. 

Finally I arrive into George Town and end up staying on

 

Muntri street just off one of the main roads. 

After handing over 140RM (about 30 quid) to a guest house to sort out my Thai visa I decide to visit Master Wong the fortune teller. In the front of his room is an intricate multi layered shrine in red with incense burning. A woman is performing an animist ritual, lighting up silver curls of paper that smoke and then fall smouldering into a brass cauldron. She is remembering her ancestors who have passed away. 

Master Wong heralds me in and starts with his patter – when he realises i'm 37 it starts to go awry. He clutches my palm a bit tighter and after much deliberation and some consideration says: 

“No, No, is ok, you get married at …...43! – and you can have.... three kids!” 



Assuming of course, that this what every gal wishes for...and then he adds a hasty warning.... 

“BUT!!! 

...YOU GOTTA BE QUICK!!!”