Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Old Fashioned Way

When you’re holed up in a cabin for two weeks with no shops, no roads and (almost) no power, there's not too many things to keep you busy. After a week of walking, reading and jigsaw puzzling, the time came for thinking outside the box... and getting busy in the kitchen. 

Baking bread at my grandparents' bach has been a tradition since I was a little girl, a time consuming treat that one only has the patience for on holiday. It requires hot water bottles as rising agents, and old fashioned gas contraptions as ovens. An Edmonds Cook Book and Dad’s falling apart notes for instructions. Ancient mixing bowls and scorched cake tins. Flour caked hands and a whole lotta time. 

But the reward, oh the reward. Sweet smelling bread, hot from the oven with only butter to alter its perfect taste. Served on adorably vintage plates with a sea side view... ain't nothing boring about that!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Shaking Things Up

Change is scary. Diving in head first, even scarier. Dipping your feet in slowly before retreating for a reprieve? Hmm, a little easier. Six weeks ago, three weeks after returning home, six months after ditching my makeup in Mexico, eleven months since the wearing of high heels – or anything other than sneakers and jandals - and five months since the compiling of any sort of “outfit”, I got dressed up in the name of fashion. Or, as I preferred to think of it, the name of friendship, curiosity and creativity. One sunny Friday, with more than a little trepidation, I dug out my old accessories, gingerly applied mascara, put on a – slight – heel and proceeded to "model" some gorgeous new threads for my dear friend Jenna-Lee’s online store, the fabulously fun and funky Jonty Apparel.

And, slight self-consciousness aside, once I relaxed, it was a whole lotta fun. Time trippin’ back to our fashion and art school days where photo shoots were for play and dressing OTT was the norm. I am not a model. But I do love playing with clothes and putting together outfits, and I especially love doing this with Jenna-Lee – in fact some of the best times in our relationship have involved the positioning of a camera lens between us. Jen doesn’t follow trends, she creates them. Taking things she loves – which may or may not reference the Seventies and Eighties – she produces amazing clothes and images which portray happiness, laughter and all inclusive beauty. Today, I want to thank her for reminding me how much fun fashion can be. That I shouldn’t take myself so seriously. And that it’s ok to love clothes and still care about the really important things in life.

You see, ever since the return from my overseas adventure I’d been avoiding my closet; eyeing it with distrust; feeling disconnected from the world inside. In a move my old self could hardly believe, I had continued to dress from the same small bag of clothes that had travelled with me throughout the last year. No matter how old, ripped or shabby they were, they were comfortable, they were easy, they were me. They reminded me of the lessons I’d learned, the journey I was lucky enough to have experienced and the simplicity and lack of attachment I had grown to love. I honestly could not see myself returning to the platform heels, palazzo pants and mini dresses that hung inside my closet, the treasured possessions that I had so carefully dry cleaned and lovingly placed on wooden hangers before I left.

It was the complete opposite to my last gypsy hiatus, when I spent the entire year bemoaning my lack of wardrobe space while longing for the jackets, hats, furs and heels of home. Upon return to civilisation I’d waved good bye to my travellin’ rags and leapt headfirst into a ‘grown up’ wardrobe to suit my new grown up life; my first real job; my return to the big city. Only now do I see how my need to look good became a little too needy. How I fell under the spell of fitting in. How much I wanted to be cool, look glamorous, become somebody. How I succumbed to the all too present pressure that to succeed in the fickle fashion world, one had to dress to impress.

Just a few months apart from fancy frocks and full length mirrors though, and this attachment began to die a slow and surprising death. Surprising myself more than anyone else, I cared less and less as the weeks flew by and the real world faded farther away. Wearing the same baggy pants, five dollar trucker cap and old t-shirts every day. Giving away pieces I never thought I’d part with as the heavy pack grew tiresome. Forgetting how it felt to care. Slowly forgetting fashion, my first love. 

The night before our Jonty photo shoot, Jenna-Lee and I spent hours laughing over old photo albums. Remembering when each outfit encompassed a different theme and each day inspired a new work of art – however questionable the outcome - reignited a lingering spark, leaving me to wonder whether denying my creativity its obvious outlet was really the best idea. Yes, there are a million more important things in life, and my trip had slapped me in the face with that knowledge. But would dressing like a drop out change anything? Couldn’t I allow myself to indulge my daily dress-up pleasure without sacrificing my integrity? I sensed it would take more energy to suppress my creativity than to allow it to flourish.

And so I allow myself to ease back in, slowly supplementing my travel wardrobe with my cheap and cheerful Jonty tops and – just sometimes - my old (most comfy) heels. Still though, the travelling t-shirts remain firm favourites, and I continue to eye certain pieces in my closet with suspicion – many items likely destined for the nearest op shop. My challenge now is learning to dress for me, not some expectation of who I should be. Keeping it realistic, and not investing more time and energy than I get out. Allowing myself to dress for success one day, and keep it simple and sloth-like the next. Having fun with clothes without giving up my dreams for change. After all I used to proclaim fashion to be my art form, a passion which helped inspire me to wake up each morning. And if that passion can extend to the rest of my life and dreams, then that's the most worthwhile cause I can imagine.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Time Tripping

Five years ago? Or could this be just today? Same bach, same Bart Simpson jersey, same slightly chilly time of year...

Once again we find ourselves in our favourite place in the world, with no jobs and few possessions, amid another adventure. Recuperating in my Grandparents adorably cosy bach in New Zealand's smallest and arguably (although by who I don't know) most beautiful National Park, the turquoise inlet filled Abel Tasman.

This is the place I dreamt about from afar - the peace, the pristine forests, the lack of people - I spent my entire trip searching for its equivalent. Instead I found chaos and a wealth of culture, fascinating and oh so far removed from my own. As invigorating as it was, for me it just served to satiate - nearly all - my travel desires and point out where my heart and suitcase really belonged.

Still though... sometimes my mind can't help but wander to those carefree, brand new days in someone else's country, and I have to remind myself not to fall into the trap of constantly wishing the grass was greener. It's an ongoing struggle of mine - romanticising future fantasies and past memories into impossible ideals, never quite being satisfied with the present, even if its exactly what I always wanted. Learning to be here now is one of those philosophies that is a lot easier in theory than in the realities of my mind.

But as I write this in front of the fire with my fellow gypsy beside me, waves crashing behind me and not another soul for miles around, the bustling streets of far off worlds fade away and I'm exactly where I want to be.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Finally Following

Saying goodbye to Google Reader and joining the Bloglovin club... come on you know you want to follow the winding road with me. Follow my blog with Bloglovin here.

Our Next Adventure?

Having experienced a fair few varieties of this wayward, gypsy life, I can’t help wondering about our next mode of transport. My love of the ocean and an untethered lifestyle has often led me to ponder whether seafaring should be the next port of call. Sailing seems to encompass the ultimate way of life – no rent, no fuel, no responsibility, just going with the wind… Let me pre-empt your (and my) excitement here and distil the illusion that the above photo may have crafted about this happening sooner than anticipated, though. Alas, we haven’t committed to this lifestyle yet, having only just found our feet back on familiar ground. Yes, this is my parents' boat and no, we haven’t quite mastered the art of sailing ourselves yet. But our curiosity was quickly reignited after ten lazy days away with the folks. This holiday was the perfect antidote to a long year backpacking, which no one can call a holiday. And now, we’re inspired. To buy a boat, to learn to sail, to discover the world like our pal Fritz… or maybe just Auckland’s backyard like my parents.

Home Again

The understandable assumption from my lengthy silence would be that for the last two months I have been holed up in the same tiny Buenos Aires kitchen, baking the same lemon slices every day. Well this may sound remotely appealing; actually, we came home instead. But as you can see from my spectacular round the world cake, the baking never stops.

As you might have guessed from my homely yearnings in recent posts, the love of the nomadic life had been slowly dwindling. After ten months of travel and two months of parasites, the stability, space and simple foods of home were appearing more and more favourable. However the decision to give up the last two months of our overseas adventure didn’t come easily. The roundabout discussions and pros and cons lists were torturous, the possibilities endless. Eventually though, the decision made itself after a climactic week with old and new friends in the north of Argentina. Instinctively, we knew there could be no better finale to our trip. From a Gaucho wedding on a delightfully shambolic farm to the crashing splendour of Iguazu Falls. Four overnight busses in two weeks and the resulting exhaustion and satisfaction. Receiving our final lesson in adapting to a foreign culture, learning to love the things we hated to begin with. Within hours of completing our trip to Iguazu Falls we had changed our flights to return to New Zealand. Our Mothers were ecstatic. We were relieved. It’s hard to imagine how tiring ten months on the road can be until you reach that point. We needed home. Sleep, structure and a regular life please.

With that decision made, we could relax and enjoy our final two weeks, starting with the wineries of Mendoza, Argentina and finishing in artistic, port-side Valparaiso, Chile; our bus slowly climbing the Andes in between. A final few days in Santiago present shopping and soaking up the foreign foods and markets, enjoying every last moment, before returning to normality. Sure I couldn’t wait for the comforts of home, but I also knew I would forever miss the feeling of the unknown, the surprise of every day and the possibility of every interaction being something completely new. I knew I would miss it, yet my overwhelmed senses couldn’t take any more in. And so, exhausted and excited we boarded a plane, enjoyed our last boxed up plane meal and made it through one last night’s sleep sitting up. Thirteen hours later, we touched down in New Zealand to two sets of parents, a giant banner, some very excited school girls and a welcome home brunch.

The strange (but in hindsight startlingly predictable) thing was, that everything I had been so excited about, the familiarity and ease of home, the country that I had held on a pedestal this whole trip, didn’t seem quite as amazing as I remembered. It just seemed – normal. As I revelled in the company of old friends, and enjoyed the feeling of having nowhere to be, nothing to pack and no bus to catch, I was pleased, but I couldn’t shake a lingering unsettled feeling.

Perhaps it was a classic case of anticipation versus reality. Or simply the culture shock of adapting back to normality. Maybe it was the feeling of foreign lands and life lessons fading under the glare of 1st world comforts, as toilet paper and running water became the norm again. Or the loss of freedom and excitement that every day overseas had brought with it. Possibly it was the necessary low after a year’s high, my body shutting down to recoup some lost energy. It could have been the worry of returning to reality, and figuring out where to live and what to do with my life. Maybe it was all of these things. But most significantly, I sensed it was a feeling of change. The fact that I’ve changed considerably, and my old world has neglected to change with me. In some cases, has changed in the opposite direction. The feeling that I can’t go back to my old life when I have moved so far from where I began.

The quest for spiritual enlightenment while overseas is rather clich├ęd, but also tends to be inevitable. By leaving the trappings of modern life behind, you leave the person you identified with behind too. Seeing first-hand how a large proportion of the world lives every day can’t help but change you irrevocably. And afterwards, you may need to make a choice. You can forget these lessons and go back to your old life or you can grieve for that self, and begin a new chapter. I’m hoping that there’s a way to merge my two worlds, the old and the new Fiona, meeting them somewhere in the middle. I’ll let you know how I go.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Baking in Buenos Aires

Last night I baked. In the world’s tiniest kitchen, on a steamy Buenos Aires night, I swapped backpacker for baker and tried my hand at these little lemon bars. Inspired by my absolute favourite blog, the always inspiring, little-bit-of-everything-you-never-knew-you-wanted A Beautiful Mess, I created my own mess, and enjoyably, some tasty treats.

Until recently, I wouldn’t have labelled myself the baking type. I made a fair few cakes and cookies as a child - or so I assume from the many photos of me in pint size apron with chocolate covered hands and face - but I seemed to have outgrown this hobby along with the filthy apron. Aside from the occasional hasty birthday cake or emergency sweet craving, my busy life had pushed baking into the archives of strange things from centuries past, somewhere in between Walkmans and Squiggle Pens. Yet send me away for a year with no access to an oven or muffin tray, and apparently baking is all I can think about.

The strange thing is, I find cooking anything other than sweet treats a rather stressful occasion. In the realm of domestic duties I always choose dishes over dinner prep. My boyfriend and old house mates can attest to the fact that in my kitchen everything burns, pots are ruined, meat is over cooked and the kitchen is generally a utensil and food strewn disaster zone. But baking is different. It’s precise, and somehow perfect. It’s losing yourself measuring, pouring and stirring. Melting, straining and whisking.  Tasting, testing and digesting. For the majority of time the food hides away in the oven where I can’t ruin it. I still make a massive mess, but the edible reward at the end – and at each step of the way - makes cleaning up less of a drag.

An unusual new hobby to develop while travelling you might say, since most hotel rooms consist of bed and no way to make breakfast, and hostel kitchens are now out of bounds for fear of a parasite reprisal. And so this becomes another blog where I sing the praises of airbnb, where rooms come equipped with kitchens and at times, whole houses. Not to say baking was suddenly simple - I still had the foreign ingredient situation to tackle, including translating common ingredients into Spanish and wondering why icing sugar is so hard to find.  But I was a woman on a mission with a craving for baking, and I would make it work, god damnit!

Hence, my first travel and bake was in a Mexican cabin with half a kitchen and no oven, producing my one and only attempt at no bake cookies. Verdict: a little soft and crumbly. In our next house, the beautiful Casa Menta in Guatemala, I was blessed with a terrifically equipped, fabulously coloured 1970's kitchen where I managed to pull off a gluten free chocolate cake for a new friend’s birthday. And last night, our apartment in Buenos Aires resulted in the above citrus efforts, which were quite delicious, even if they lacked the intrinsic beauty of Emma’s. But in my defence, I was maneuvering awkwardly in a one square metre kitchen, utilising a gas oven with no temperature gauge and cooking with a very limited oven tray selection. But it didn't seem to matter as I was proud and my cravings were satiated. 

As thoughts of home, and fantasies of orange and yellow kitchens complete with grown up aprons cloud my head, I wonder if there is something strange in choosing sweating in front of a stove over perusing the Argentinian bar scene. And then, I refer my over active mind to my last post, and say Que Sera, Sera. Just let it be.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Letting Go

You probably won’t be too surprised that after seven months of constant, full steam ahead travel, our bodies and minds were getting rather tired. You may be more surprised however, to learn that we were so astounded by this development. So much so, that we didn’t really believe we needed to listen to the little message our bodies were trying to tell us, and trooped on, regardless of the lack of motivation or energy. We were travelling, which meant moving, exploring, seeing and doing – that’s what we had been doing for the last seven months, that’s what we knew how to do, and so that’s how we would continue.

And yet, rather suddenly, I was over travelling. I couldn’t get excited. I didn’t want to go on another tour, see another building, or read another guide book. I couldn’t be bothered doing anything. I just wanted to settle down and stay – somewhere, anywhere. In part, I wanted to go home. But because we were travelling around the world for a year, that was what we kept doing. Of course, as is usually the case when one doesn’t heed one’s bodies' warnings, we got sick. And then we got sick again, and again. Until, after another month and a half of heart-not-quite-in-it travel, we were finally forced to stop.

Now I’ve been chronically sick before, and therefore theoretically know the need for pacing, listening to your body, and taking time out when needed. However, travelling seemed to throw all my carefully learnt rules out the window, as the complete lack of routine and stability created new rules, schedules and systems. Plus, both mine and C.P’s inherent perfectionism meant we couldn’t help wanting to see every monument in every city, every city in every country, every corner of every continent. We wanted to make the most of every minute of every day of this year of travel. Hence the reason we probably chose to do a round the world trip, with quick stops in four continents, unlike the slower, more sensible method of spending a year truly exploring one continent or one country.

I never understood most travellers’ preference for chilling out in one place for a few months - relaxing, just hanging out, not doing much of anything. More like I didn’t know how this was possible for someone like me, who needed to keep busy to keep the anxiety of not having a routine at bay. Until now. Or until this last month, which has seen us doing absolutely nothing. Not seeing much, not doing much, just staying in one place, waking each day, and taking it as it comes. Admittedly we were literally forced into this situation by our constant sickness, but hey I’ll take a break when it’s offered on a plate. 

However, as you can imagine, being sick and starting to crave the comforts of home meant hotels, hostels and bathroom’s shared with other sickly creatures were starting to wear thin. Enter our saviour in the form of airbnb - our new home abroad, and the chance to reacquaint ourselves with the joys of cooking and cleaning. Our delightful little cabin in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico came equipped with three cats, one dog, a gorgeous, grassy section, vegetable and herb filled garden and - oh yes the house - a tiny, rustic one room retreat encompassing just a bed, kitchen bench, writing desk and clay pot fire. Rekindling our love of home cooking was never so much fun as when we could pick our own vegetables, roast potatoes and beetroots in the fire, and eat it outside our house looking over the animals and garden, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. I put aside my need for seeing every church and climbing every hill and let myself revel in a whole lot of nothing, and a little bit of home making. And it wasn’t as hard as I had expected, although it helped that my constant headache and active parasite made it near impossible to move.

Of course, once we had experienced this quiet variety of travel, we finally understood the appeal. And now we can’t imagine going back to the speedy ways of before, the need to do everything. We're not so worried about all the places we are missing by spending longer in just one spot.  We stopped feeling the need to experience every country in Central America. After all, we were never going to see it all anyway.

On the eve of our journey to South America and (hooray!) closer to home, I’m looking for the perfect spot for another retreat, perhaps in an adorable sea side abode this time. What better place to do some writing, some relaxing, and a little bit more of nothing.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tourists or Invaders?

My niggling sense that tourism is not the world’s best occupation is compounded when we arrive in Cuba. Naively, I had no real idea what to expect from this completely foreign land. Selfishly, I wanted to see communism first hand, photograph the classic cars and crumbling architecture and dance with some sultry locals.

Impossibly photogenic and lively, at first Havana is a sight to behold, a travel gem to remember. Until a couple of days in, it becomes clear that we are not welcome. That tourists are greeted with suspicion, hostility and ridicule. Either the locals wanted to ignore us, or scam us. And understandably so, when you think about how tourism works in this country.

Opened to tourists in the 1990’s to inject some much needed income into Cuba, a separate currency was introduced for tourists, who would always have more money than the residents. Separate hotels, separate restaurants, separate buses, taxis and internet services were also introduced. All these things a foreigner takes for granted, would never be enjoyed by a Cuban; while the local slices of life a backpacker takes for granted are swapped for tourist traps and ridiculous prices. Add in the fact that tourists have clothes, cameras and toys that were previously unseen in this country, and that Havana police have the right to detain a Cuban who fraternises with a foreigner, and you’ve got a recipe for hostility. Why would anyone want to smile and welcome me when I represent the double standards and class system that socialism is supposed to safeguard against?
More than ever before I am ashamed to be a western tourist, traversing to far off third worlds, curious to see how the other half lives. Are we modern day explorers just as bad as Christopher Columbus and friends? In search of foreign lands to conquer, exotic souvenirs, pictures and stories to bring home, no thought to the consequences? As I jet around the world to places I previously knew nothing about, I can’t help but hate the system I am perpetuating. I can’t reconcile my yearning for the thrill of travel and the excitement of a world far from my own, with the feeling that the whole thing is unfair, that all I am really doing is trampling indigenous customs while flaunting wealth and techno gadgets – all which are far from special, in fact downright out of date in my own country, but are more than some of these cultures could ever comprehend. Is it fair that some people will never be able to travel to foreign lands the way I have? Never be as free as we will?

Coming from New Zealand, land of the Big O.E, my faded backpack and year-long sabbatical were nothing new. But here on the other side of the world, every time someone asks how long we are on ‘vacation’ for, I find myself lying. Failing to mention the seven months we have already been away, shaving a couple months off the end. Only naming one or two countries we might visit instead of the four separate continents we’ve seen. All to assuage the guilt and ease any envy; to tone down an unfair world I find impossible to participate in. The fact is none of this occurred to me before I left home, and somehow I imagine, back in the comforts of a job and house, some of it will fade away. But right now, all I want to do is change something. Right some wrongs. Make it fair. Forget my past. Help someone else. Be somebody else.
Back in Cuba, fate steps in, throwing C.P. an injured ankle, forcing us to forgo the whirlwind city tour and stay in small town Vinales for a week. Offering us the chance to see Cuba through new eyes, and to realise perhaps it was just the jaded Havana city dwellers who couldn’t stand the sight of us. Staying at a warm and friendly Cuban guesthouse, five days enforced ‘repose’ becomes a humorous tangle of hand signals, smiles and stuttered Spanish, as our hosts become our temporary family.

When my adopted Padre peers over my shoulder and asks to see the book of travel adventures I am busily scrapbooking, I cringe, wishing I could gloss over all the amazing places we have been, hoping to skip a few pages to lessen the impact. But he seems fascinated, perhaps enjoying the chance to travel through our eyes more than I expect. Five minutes later, he returns, bearing his own ‘scrapbook’. Simply three family photos, each thirty years apart. A fascinating study of children, long passed siblings, and changing fashions. Along with a travel book by a French photographer amigo, bearing a photo of him opposite one of a bevy of African women. His pride in his own lifetime of memories and adventures is tangible and relieves my guilt, while the chance for me to time travel through his world reminds me why we do this thing called travelling. It’s moments like these that make it all worth-while.

For fascinating Cuban musings direct from Cuba, be sure to check out the poetic Yoani Sanchez at Generation Y

Slowly but Surely

Lately, my blog may have appeared sadly dormant, perhaps even extinct once more, as weeks and (almost) months flowed by with nary a post upload. But don’t worry darlin’s, 'cause I’ve still been writing. Mostly in my notebook - scribbles and drafts and possible first chapters of possible books. And a few sentences even made their way to the computer. Hence to follow, a little backlog of posts, starting with my melancholy musings from Cuba...