“Happy Blogiversary” To The Unlikely Pilgrim!

I cannot believe it has been a full year that I have been jetting about exploring religions, cultures and making friends in the strangest of places. I have hit 18 countries and been to tiny little villages in India and Indonesia, super cities like Shanghai, Bangkok and London. I’ve frolicked in the waves of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, among others. I’ve seen ancient sites and felt the history within them as if I was a time traveller. I’ve eaten anything and everything, dabbled in local dance, learnt languages, customs and got lost A LOT! So to mark this monumental occasion I’ve compiled my seven most remarkable memories from the last 12 months. Enjoy!


Spiritual Enlightenment

Given my love of God and the fact that this is The Unlikely Pilgrim, I’ve been privileged to experience some incredible festivals, monuments, places of worship and powerful moments. The one for me that stands out most has to be Jerusalem. Amongst the chattering of Japanese tourists and the chaos of Easter weekend crowds, I was in the Upper Room where it is written that Jesus hosted the Last Supper the day before he was crucified. I stood in awe of the location, a relatively bland room with hints from its Islamic, Jewish and Christian past. I listened to Hillsong tunes echo through my earpods. I was completely engulfed by the magnitude of the occasion and its importance in my faith and therefore my heart and soul. In that moment it was as if I was alone, reflective of what had gone down in this room. My commitment to Christ swelled inside me and reaffirmed my path: to celebrate God my way and love others, like Jesus had. Not with judgement, not with an agenda, but because we are all one. That was my Jerusalem moment.


 Underwater Paradise

The Caribbean is the clearest, bluest most incredible water I’ve witnessed to date. The turquoise shimmer of the sun is mesmerising and inviting. It was here on my 33rd birthday I went diving with one of my best friends Nea off the coast of Can Cun at Isla Mujeres. The MUSA underwater museum is home to thousands of colourful fish and massive turtles all swimming amongst hundreds of statues placed underwater, as an artificial reef. I’ve been diving all over the world and the ocean scenery is always captivating; but I think what made this special was the symbolism of unity that these statues represented. Combined with the stunning nature of the above water views as well, helped. It was a feast for the eyes and for the soul.


Drunken Debauchery

Did someone say Carnivale in Rio? Five days of bloco parties, samba, Brazilian music, fancy dress and the world’s most gorgeous people half naked, offering me beer. YES please! Combined with stunning beaches and glorious churches to explore whilst in recovery mode, made this a very hazy yet very enjoyable stop along the way. A weeklong party that EVERYONE gets involved in from the little ones to the grey army. I highly recommend getting yourself to Carnivale in Rio. It won’t disappoint.


Forever Friendship

Tough category! I am going to omit the Bali crowd from this one as they are already on that list. This one goes out to Maria. Maria is my proofreader and originally a friend of a friend. I have only met her in person twice, yet she has been with me all the way. Ensuring my blogs make sense, offering impartial yet valuable advice and helping my book come to life. Her views are often not aligned with mine and this is why I love her. She is a kindred spirit yet our differences are what makes that so. It’s funny how connected you can feel to someone with oceans and mountains between you. I’ve learnt that this year. I’ve learnt that true friendships don’t fade with distance, they evolve and they change, but true friends will be there in the end. Even when you are worlds apart. (She totes has to proofread this, haha!)

 WTF Moment

Back to Brazil! This was not the only “exorcism” I have witnessed this year but inside the walls of the Temple of Solomon in Sao Paolo, shit got real! Surrounded by 6000 evangelist Christians, on their feet all shouting “get out” in Portuguese to the apparent demon within the dishevelled woman on the stage seemed to be quite extreme, even to me. I certainly said my own prayers amongst the fanfare and hype of the moment. Not for the lady, but for me to make it out without donning the stage or being discovered as completely bewildered at the practice.

I Wish I Lived There

Bali! Bali! Bali! I loved every moment of my time on the paradise island, with its thunderous wet season, scorching dry months, ceremony overload and endless rice fields. I loved the lifestyle of yoga by day and beers with mates by night. I met some incredible people that are firmly in the forever friendship groups. I found myself and I conquered so many fears and demons in that place. Not to mention the beaches are beautiful, the people are so kind and friendly and life is just simple there. I’ll be back. I know it.


Time Traveller

 Lebanon – The history that laps the shores there is incredible for me. Phoenician ruins dating back 6000 years in Byblos and temples for Venus and Bacchus at Baalbek in the mountains. Cedar trees that are centuries old. I enjoyed the unity of the Islamic and Christian worlds colliding over time yet emerging united in what Pope Benedict XVI said is an example for the rest of the world. Islamic burial grounds annexed Christian cemeteries in Tyre. Towering Minarets overlooking Church bell towers in Beirut. Glimpses of the war years linger and yet the general vibe of the place is one of party, friendship and harmony.


 Three hundred and sixty-five days on the road. I feel blessed to have enjoyed the journey thus far and look forward to sharing what the next year has to offer.

 Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

Beers, Beaches and Besties. Yep I’m back in Paradise

I’m home! Ok not home home, but close enough.

When I landed and headed down Sunset Road with my favourite driver and my man on my arm, my heart skipped a beat. I love Bali, I love the people, I love the food, I love the weather and I love the culture. Saddled up back on my scooter, shorts and singlets on (no more dress codes to adhere to), sun shining and an ice cold been in my hand – heaven!


Note to self – sell loads of books and settle in Bali!
Note to reader – buy loads of my books so I can settle in Bali!

I’ve just missed Nyepi – the Balinese Hindu New Year where the island shuts up shop for 24 hours and everyone stays inside, meditates, and spends time with family and God, all ready for the year ahead. Even the airport shuts down. It’s a full lock down to be at peace. Sorry to have missed it but I’m in time for Galungan and its wedding season! The Balinese calendar dictates certain times and days that are suitable for marriage and New Year that are perfect.


I’ve never been to a Balinese wedding so when I notice one being set up on my morning ride for a delicious organic brekky down at Canggu, I brush up on my Indo and sweet talk the uncle to let me come in. Not a hard task because the Balinese are so welcoming and open. He says absolutely, throw your sarong on and in you go. What a magnificent set up! I’m always so impressed with the beautiful creations that the Balinese achieve with such simple resources. Flowers, bamboo and cocoa leaves adorn the pathways into the house.

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The Gamelan plays and the traditional dancers entertain us for over an hour. The arrival of the bride and groom sparks wide smiles and glowing looks from the crowd. As the series of rituals unfold, the guests for the most part go about their own business. Offerings overflow at various altars, the Pemangku (Bali Hindu Priest) offers a live duck to the temple, another collection of women chant softly yet purposefully off to the sides. The traditional wedding attire is simply magnificent. Bright red with gold from top to toe, traditional make up and the happy couple look calm, hot, and happy. Again, with the open-mindedness they happily pose for photos with the two foreign strangers who have turned up and after a bite to eat and feeling bit sun stroked, we say our goodbyes and leave.

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A sucker for ceremony I drag my adopted family the Dillons off to the temple for Galungan and explain the Odalan, offerings and holy water. We watch the people focused in prayer and admire the offerings that come and go through the temple on this the second most important ceremony of the year (second to Nyepi).

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I remember that I have water from the Ganges in my backpack and ask the Pemangku if he would like it. By his animated and excited response hugging me and clutching my hands I think the answer is yes. I knew I was right not to leave India without some, given so many Hindus were bottling it up for ceremony. This year I was happy to be celebrating Galungan in Bali and whilst it was much more subdued than the three-day extravaganza of last year in the village, I loved that one year on I could teach my friends a thing or two about what was going on. And I not only tied my own sarong, but I dressed the whole family too. I’m obviously learning a thing or two on this journey, and it’s nice to know it’s sticking.

With sadness, I leave my second home but with Jerusalem as the next stop, I’m about to tick off the number one on my bucket list!

 

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim