Sao Paulo – Unique Encounters – Part 1: Umbanda

Brazil is the world’s largest population of Catholics with an estimated 130 million followers. So, it was obvious this trip was going to be focused around the big JC; however I have had two completely unique encounters in Sao Paulo that I wasn’t expecting.

I was hosted in Sao Paulo by my dear friend Giovanna, whom I shared a room with in Ubud when we were teaching English in Bali. She offered to take me to see her chosen religion in action. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity, so with her family leading the way we went. Umbanda – an Afro Brazilian tradition dating back to when the African slaves were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. We were treated as guests of honour as we had told the leader what my trip was about and that I was interested in all things faith. There, on a small stage elevated above the congregation by maybe  half a metre, we sat behind the draped white curtains, in the heart of the action. And action it was. Starting in darkness the participants (mediums) were dressed in flowing white skirts and tops with different colour sashes, symbolising their rankings in the hierarchy of that centre. The women were on the left; the men on the right.

An outstanding band of drummers was off to the side, and boom, it started! LOUD is not the word the beating of the drums pounded into my heart and soul, in a good way, and then the chanting started by the leader and two male singers whose voices echoed equally through my every being. Dancing and chanting before an altar of candles and 17 figurines/entities, ranging from Jesus Christ, Indians, Catholic saints and even a sea goddess. It started with greetings and hand signals between the mediums which I likened in my mind to secret handshakes. There were circles of dancing and erratic movements as the spirits entered. A series of circle-based dances were performed, cleansing the room, clearing the evil, and all negativity that we carry with us. All our doubt, anger and jealousy were cleared. The room must be pure for the spirits. The lights went on and the dancing continued and then we were summoned to the middle circle. Hands were laid on me and turned around three times (ofcourse the magic number) [M1] and sat back onto my seat. Only myself, Giovanna and her mum Angelina were ‘blessed’ in this way then the ritual continued, again we were summoned and this time after our three turns we were led to the leader Gina, who touched different parts of my body in a sweeping motion or hand patter – shoulder, tummy, hips. I was turned around and the same was done on my back. Then I got a hug and a kiss – nice.

This time the congregation came to the stage (shoes off) through to the circle then in lines to the mediums of which there was about 15, for what looked like when you go to the front of the church for prayer. However this was more conciliatory and I found out later it is for advice, prayer or guidance. It was a lovely gesture. All the while the drums continued to play and then there was another blessing where I was led to Americo, the gentleman who originally invited us to participate on stage. This was again the hand movements upon my front and back, chanting with words of encouragement and the customary cuddle. Finally, it was candlelight only again for the closing of the ritual where the mediums allow the manifested spirits to leave them and return to themselves, ready to face the world after having blessed others through the entities that were the leaders of this group.

A delightful evening and whether my faith allows me to believe that spirits were in that room, the feeling of closeness to God and humanity was following through me as I left and the beating of drums will beat in my heart for years to come.

Yours in Faith,


The Unlikely Pilgrim
[M1]Another connection to the number 3 perhaps? All your other blogs have highlighted the importance of doing things 3 times as rituals. Maybe this is another one of those?

The Unlikely Pilgrim – Launched

Charles Kuralt once said “The love of family and the admiration of friends are much more important than wealth and privilege.”
That pretty much sums up how I feel after hosting ‘The Unlikely Pilgrim’s Launch Event – Honour Thy Neighbour Syria Fundraiser’. Two weeks before the event on a whim, I decided to turn my low-key launch event with close friends and family into the ‘Fundraiser for Syrian Refugees’ on behalf of ‘Hand in Hand for Syria’. That might sound admirable and plenty of people have applauded my initiative, the event and outcome.

But what happened next is the truly admirable part of the story. With only 17 days of planning, my network of friends, family, and friends of friends managed to donate over 70 items to be collated into raffle hampers. Booze, jewellery, games, accessories, toys and beauty products were kindly donated. All of the items were brand new. There were Christmas re-gifts, and odds and ends from the top cupboard where we all hoard things. Even gin was delivered duty free from Dubai. It was incredible.
My sister Camille, the real star of the show was behind the scenes pushing me every inch, further and harder to make sure we had a cracking event. Yeah, I was the bossy boots, spamming my friends’ Facebook feeds and sweet talking venues to host us for free, but that’s what years in recruitment gives you… cold call skills. But Millie, she was making flyers, calling her friends, employers, people she vaguely remembered who had skills for a family fun day (hence the brilliant face painter, Felicity). She helped me make the raffles bigger and better, even driving all over town collecting her friends’ donations. We sat at night with a wine for her and a beer for me and brain stormed. How else could we make money? Lucky dips? “I’m on it,” she says, and off we go to buy some supplies, after she’d hit her boss up for stuff from her work first. It turns out as a team we are a force to be reckoned with. Watch out event planning world!

It’s so inspiring to see your network come together for you. It may sometimes feel like no one cares about your projects, or your goals or what you’re doing. It can be isolating to be out there on your own, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed trying to make things work. You certainly can’t always rely on people and others will always support you more than some. This used to get me down as I have always been a giver. I tend to go above and beyond for people. I work too hard when I’m working in a company and then burn out. I constantly compromise in my relationships to the point where it goes unnoticed and then resentment creeps in. I’m also known to drop everything for a friend in need and this is a quality that I have always expected of myself and created an expectation in my circle that sometimes is not always reciprocated, which can be confusing. My wise sister and my best friend, my two angels in life, remind me (they too are people pleasers ) that this quality is a gift. They tell me not to be disheartened when sometimes people who you expect to show up for you don’t. We are like this because this is how God made us nd others aren’t and that is ok and doesn’t mean we should give less of ourselves. Give, love, and lead by example, if that is what is in your nature to do.

In times of pressure I always hold a fine balance between outward enthusiastic determination and inner fear and nervousness on whether I will succeed. The old ‘will people come to my party?’ fear. I’ve always been like this and I am just me, but the support that flowed from even perfect strangers for the Launch Event was incredible. Geckoes Wildlife came free of charge to entertain the kids with snakes, lizards, a beautiful owl and other critters. The Hamilton Hotel jumped on board immediately with free room hire and food discounts. Not to mention the 55 people who walked through the door with their cash in hand, smiles on their faces and a wave of words of encouragement and support for not only Syria, but for my project, for my dreams and for me.

There were people I haven’t seen in years, people who I met briefly, people I have known for 20 plus years, and of course my family. It was a fabulous day. It was a room filled with love and laughter and I am so thankful for all the effort and generosity of all those who came and those who could not come but gave their money and their love. In partnership with ‘Hand in Hand for Syria’, I am still committed to Taking a Leap of Faith for Syria and once I find a suitable location to skydive from, it’s on. I am committed to this because I have not forgotten my friends from all over the world who have reached into their hearts and their pockets and donated online.

I’m writing this from the comfort of my last minute cheeky and cheap business class upgrade on my Emirates flight to Singapore and all I can think is, ‘wow I am so wealthy, not in money, but in people and health and love.’ I feel immensely privileged to have so many people in my life who are there in my corner, supporting and guiding me. So was The Unlikely Pilgrim Launch a success? Absolutely! With you all behind me, I cannot fail. This trip of a lifetime is going to be blessed. I can feel it. Thank you again.
If you want to donate –

If you want to see where your money is going –

If you want to book a cracking venue in Brisbane –

If you want to book Geckoes Wildlife for your next party –

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

Pilgrim of the Week 2017 : 1 – Celia Camara

Today in a crowded food court, I shared a table with the very talkative and inspiring Celia. Originally from the Philippines, this enthusiastic and vibrant woman shared her passion for food and God. A devout catholic who has experienced her share of life’s trials, including a terrible back injury that forced her out of work.  She decided to focus her energy into these passions and write a cookbook. ‘My Filipino Recipes with Spiritual Flavour’ is a collection of delicious Filipino delights and also incorporates Christian values like, Prayers for Grace, bible quotes related to feast and superfoods of the bible. What an incredible woman and a delightful chance meeting.

Yours in Faith

The Unlikely Pilgrim

The Colours of Balinese Hinduism

Wow! What a colourful couple of weeks I have had. It’s been a series of ceremonies for me amongst packing up and getting ready to leave. I went to a village ceremony in Karangasem with Joe and Rosie; a cremation of an elderly relative of my friend Yuli in Singaraja; and finally a temple’s birthday ceremony with the school kids in Sangeh.

If reincarnation does exist, I want to be a Hindu in my next life. I truly admire the Balinese dedication and the level of importance that they give to their faith. Rain, hail or shine (literally) on these important occasions, the community comes together and has one almighty celebration. The themes and run of the day seem quite alike to me now that I have been to so many different ceremonies. Of course, there is a myriad of differences unbeknown to me, but for the most part there is a familiarity to them.

What I have witnessed is this. There are four main elements of these ceremonies, and if you take these principals they really fit into religious celebrations across all faiths.
The start is always a gathering for prayer, led by beautiful music and in this case Pemangku’s (Hindu Priests) singing mantras in Sanskrit, a throaty melody that floats over the congregation.

Secondly, there is normally some sort of procession with countless faithfuls in a vibrant collage of colours filing down jungle paths, rice fields, closed off roads or even alongside busy urban streets, where stopping traffic is the norm.

Thirdly, the offerings are spectacular and very impressive. The effort, expense and meticulous detail that goes in to these handmade delights adorned with fruit, flowers, incense, cakes or sometimes just whole suckling pigs, is extraordinary. I’ve been lucky enough to make offerings with my friend Yuli and the care and love that is placed with every element is simply beautiful. Every component is perfectly placed as this is an offering to God, in thanks, in celebration or in honour of just being Him ; and on these occasions only the best will do.

Lastly but certainly not least is the food. At all ceremonies there is always a feast. An array of delicious local cuisine is supplied by different members of the community to feed the masses. Offerings are also returned home to be shared and enjoyed: succulent meats, exotic fruits, sweeties; the best you can afford.
This coming together of the entire community, including those who have moved away, makes me think of Christmas, Diwali, Passover or Eid . It is a time of celebration with religious significance. People travel far and wide to celebrate with their community and their family, whether it be these significant dates or other religious events like weddings, funerals or christenings. It’s a time for family, for unity and for celebration. Sometimes the message is lost thanks to commercialism . But we break bread, we share wine and we honour what we have in our lives. Thanksgiving too is a coming together of our loved ones, new and old, a tradition that is alive and well in the United States. In Brunei, the Sultan opens his home to everyone, regardless of religion, to come and feast in the palace in the three days of Eid Ul Fitri following Ramadan.

This commonality of feast, community and honouring our God, our traditions, are another reminder of our similarity of how religions (so different in our minds), are built on very similar ground root principals. The celebrations, the inclusion of music and of course the feast are common themes amongst all religions.
Why must we fight? We are all inhabitants of this great planet, and far more alike than we give ourselves credit for. For me I am enjoying festivals, ceremonies and celebrations of any faith and hey, if there’s food, I’m always in!

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

Church Hopping in Manila!

From one of the smallest countries in the world,  to the Catholic capital of Asia.  WOW!   I thought I loved Jesus but my goodness, the Filipinos looove the Lord! Churches on every corner. “Jesus is Lord”, “In God We Trust” up in lights on skyscrapers and side streets. There’s even a giant flashing Rosary on a building near the the airport.  Such a contrast to the subtle yet definitely Islamic architecture of Brunei.

I’m beginning to love taxi drivers world wide.  Not just because my dad is a taxi driver but because the welcome to the city that often starts with your transfer is becoming my secret delight in this globetrotting adventure.  This time was no different.  Glen, a family man, picked me up and for anyone that knows Manila,  we had plenty of time to chat. Traffic is an understatement, carpark springs to mind.  I asked Glen, what are the must see churches were in his town.  Eagerly, he rattled off 6/7 musts in Manila and if I had time a gorgeous historical church in Miag ao. Maybe?  He then insisted on giving me the Rosary Beads that were hanging on his review mirror.  I did protest saying that I did already have a set and he should keep them.  He was having none of it, so I accepted his gift.  I must give it to you ma’am. It’s Gods will.  Ok, ok but enough with the ma’am thanks.

So Saturday I grabbed an uber and headed off on a church hopping extravaganza, after lots of warnings from the hotel to be careful on my own.  Come on, do they know who there dealing with?  Ofcourse, I advise people to be cautious in any city, in any country and yes there is petty crime  here, but the people I encountered in my 3 days were nothing but kind , helpful albeit a little curious. Where are all the tourists?  I can’t be  the only foreigner in these places all the time.

I hit the The Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene (Quialpo Church to the locals) first off and the church of choice for thousands of faithful Manilans, especially on a Friday. This was spectacular. I think maybe 4-5000 people overflowing out into the streets.  A constant stream of worshippers,  services here run continuously all day. The organ playing the choir singing, and the harmonies of the crowd, simply amazing. It was like, its own little faith filled eco system existing within the concrete jungle of downtown Manila. I noticed a queue at the back of the church and saw people on their knees, heading down the long aisle.  I asked the man next to me what they were doing and he said, they might have troubles in their lives, so they throw themselves at God’s mercy and humbly “crawl ” down the aisle in a sign of submission to the Lord to bless them. Wow.  I thought about making the journey, but felt so blessed in my life, thought  it better to stand and pray for those on their knees instead.

Next was the Manila Cathedral (Officially The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception). Wow !!! This is a real indicator of the Spanish colony heritage of this country. The architecture took me back to my Europoean travels for sure. With gorgeous shrines  lining the corridors either side and the grandeur of the artwork,  I could have spent hours just enjoying the beauty that surrounded me. But in this city, too many great sites to see, so it was off to one of the most talked about churchs of Manila


Santa Augustine.  This building was even more impressive, unfortunately I didn’t get many snaps. Why you ask ?  Well I arrived and there was nearly 100 police officers in the carpark,  I tentatively walked in after asking if I could as there was a wedding on. Ushered in with smiles, I took a seat and watched the I do’s and even got a sneaky shot of the happy couple and congratulated the groom (the least I could do having gatecrashed their special day).  However, the most exciting part was when I stopped for a quick bite before going back in to get my snaps.  Obviously, I  got chatting to the rather handsome bunch of police officers at the restaurant.  They explained the President’s son in laws brother (or something like that ) was getting married next (a wedding happens nearly every hour here at St Augustines and I can see why it’s magnificent). So President Duterte was on the way !!! Shut up!  I’m not going anywhere. So I passed the hour long wait chatting to the Pulisi and enjoyed Chicken Adobo,  a Filipino favourite and then it was on !!  The boys were up, the sirens sounded and a convoy of SUV’s arrived. Even though I watched like a hawk, camera at the ready the President was whisked in and I didn’t get a snap but the fanfare was enough for me. The lads seemed happy with my sense of excitement of the “almost sighting” of their fearless leader.

During the rest of my visit I saw lots more church’s.  St Sebastian, Manila’s only all steel church , The Edsa Shrine in Quezon City , where mother Mary watches over the people.  Greenbelt Chapel in the middle of an open air shopping village, in what I can only describe as a dome similar to that of the planetarium in Brisbane.  Santa Clara which is the place to go for fertility apparently and luckily I went via St Judes (the place to pray for a husband ) it wasn’t Thursday though, which is apparently the time to go to pray for a husband but we’ll see how that turns out.  I googled St Clare and known as the Saint for hopeless causes.   I  wonder why Glen recommended I go there after finding out I wasn’t married at 32 (mmm, I’ll let that slide) . St Francis, an unassuming church near my hotel, yet still packed to the rafters with faithfuls. Lastly, on the way to the airport a locals  church (the name escapes me) that was again overflowing this Sunday morning. They also had markets and food stalls all over the grounds. My kind of church! And that’s just to name a few !


After all that I thought I’d be church’d out, but instead was mapping in my mind when I can squeeze in another few days in the Philippines.  If this is what the city has on show, imagine what stunning beauty the country areas have to offer.


Sometimes it is said, that a city is just a city no matter where you go.  Personally, I think every city is its own reality and the people and places that you find are unique and well worth exploring .

Discover the Philippines and Manila you won’t be disappointed !

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim.

Brunei – Abode of Peace

On the way to Manila and with a layover, it was just 9 hours we had together and Brunei did not disappoint.  A sovereign state on the island of Borneo, the official name is – Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace.  Now, any country whose name has the word peace in it, is right up my street.  Conveniently there is a number of small tours available from the airport (good thinking Royal Brunei Airlines).  After an hour or so of dilly dally trying to rustle up more guests we were off.  The motley crew, Patrick the hot German consultant living in Saudi, his equally gorgeous Ukrainian girlfriend Alina, a banker in Dubai.  The Aussie superannuation experts Stefan and Sarah, bright and bubbly pommy Alison, legal PA also living in Dubai and The Unlikely Pilgrim… This should be interesting !


The legend that is Chris from Sunshine Borneo Tours was our leader, guide and fountain of knowlege for the day.  A  Filipino christian, living in Brunei predominantly an islamic nation (approx 70%).  He talks us through what we were to expect and kept the troops in line on when and where it was appropriate to smoke, sit,  even how to point (with the thumb, not the index finger its seems or it would be rude).  Inititally,  I thought we may have bitten off more than we can chew, with 3 museums, a massive mosque, lunch at a local restaurant, afternoon tea in the water village and a swing by a palace or 2.  Me of little faith,  in 5 1/2 hours we saw it all and didnt feel rushed, maybe just a touch tired, but it was worth it.

First stop, Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque.  OMG! This place was magnificent, built by the 29th and reigning Sultan in 1992.  29 is the magic number here, 29 golden domes , 29 swarovski crystal chandeliers , mahogany from the Philipines, marble from Italy , oh and a cracking gate and fence from the Aussies (a fence, really? At least it wasnt a colourbond).  This Mosque known locally as Kiarong Mosque can accommodate up to 5000 people and even the shoe rack is a site to be seen.  The grand entrance opened only when the Sultan is coming (through the aussie gates ofcourse) and private escalator only used by the Sultan shows the wealth of this country.  Equisite tiled minarets surround the structure, espansive and perfectly manicured gardens and a water feature or two.  Not to mention, by the look of the size of the speaker system, no-one is going to  miss the call to prayer from here.  Certainly a must see if you’re in Brunei and close to the airport so you’ve got time.

Next, the Istana Nurul Iman (The Light of Faith Palace, they do have a way with words the Bruneians). Naturally being the official residence of the Sultan and the largest residential palace in  the world, this stop was just a happy snap of the gates because you can’t go in.  However, every year following the month of Ramadan when the celebration of Eid Al Fitri is going on, the Sultan opens his home to the public.  That’s right anyone can come.  Chris tells us, you are hosted to an amazing banquet which is catered by Hyatt chefs, you can eat as much as you like, then every single person has the opportunity to shake hands with the Sultan (if you’re a man) and other male members of the royal family.  For the ladies its meeting the Queen and princesses (sounds fantastic!).  Finally  on your way out, you  are given a beautiful gift box with cakes or biscuits, all with the palace seal as a memento of the day you met the Royals.  Now this is definitely on the calendar for next Eid!


We stopped for a  lunch  at a locals restaurant, we didn’t know what we were eating but it was all delicious (ok so the dehydrated fish wasn’t for me, everything else was yummy).   Here I got some fabulous insights from Patrick on life in Saudi and tips for next year.  Not so scary after all, damn the media trying to freak me out.  After lunch we visited the Royal Regalia museum.  It seemed to me, this is basically a building for the Sultan to house some of the countless trinkets, heirlooms and gifts from nations all over the world.  No photos allowed in here and the strict staff were on to it, so I didnt dare. Chris, knew all the gossip from the divorce of the sultan amd his 3rd wife to the miniature Medina that Saudi gave to the US and they re-gifted to Brunei (honestly, just leave it in the cupboard America like the rest of us). I’m sure the Saudis weren’t loving that or the Sultan no doubt.  It was interesting and I enjoyed the artifacts and the stories behind them, especially the minature replica of the grand ballroom of the Palace, to get a glimpse of life as a royal.


Next was the highlight for Alison who loved being on the water.  We went on a small boat ride around Brunei Bay,  to whats known as the Kampong Ayer (Water Village).  Compared to the housing on the mainland, you would think that the people of the water village perhaps were not as wealthy as the land bound neighbours.  Yet, Chris assures us that most households have two or three cars and maybe more and just love living on  the water.  Similar, I guess to buying a run down old historical terrace or cottage in the UK instead of a grand new build. The water village is literally houses  built on cement and steel pylons on the banks and in the river.  To the tune of an estimated 40,000 people with schools, clinics, and even a sports field all part of the development. We enjoyed a charming afternoon  tea, in a quaint little house and then we were back on dry land.

Just in time for a quick stop by the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, much to Alina’s delight, who kept asking all day when we were stopping there.  It again is a marvellous display of architcrural brilliance, with Mughal (think Taj Mahal) and Malay styles coupled beautifully.  Opened in 1958 and closed to non-muslims  at prayer times,  you can understand why its the postcard shot of Brunei.  All in all, a brilliant day in this tiny yet intriguing nation, wonderful memories and a new friend found in Miss Alison whom I’ll totally meet up with in Dubai next month!


So if your in transit or just fancy a hop over to a great little destination, Brunei has loads to offer, more than you would ever think.

Off to the Philippines!

Yours in Faith,


The Unlikely Pilgrim.

Om Swastiastu!

What a wonderful couple of days we’ve had. I was welcomed with open arms into the house of my friend Yuli and her husband Nyoman’s family, in a small village outside of Singaraja called Mayong Village, about 3 hours north of Kuta. Meme (Yuli’s Mother in Law) was excited to meet me and the feeling was mutual.  In fact, she spent the next 3 days trying to fatten me up, which reminded me of my own Nanna, always feeding the neighbourhood. It was a pleasant thought, no matter who or where you are, Nanna’s will feed you till you burst and she did just that.  We arrived to share the first of many feasts, all Balinese food of course and I put my Indonesian lessons to good use. Spicy as hell but my iron tummy can take it!  I felt like a fish out of water for about 2 minutes, a feeling I’m beginning to tame, then Boom! I was part of the family.

I met Lucy the gorgeous 18-year-old niece who is a ball of energy and is simply a delight to be around, her smile is so infectious and she speaks English! I learnt that Nyoman’s sisters all converted to Islam; so the Hindus, the Christian and the Muslim were together, ready for the big celebration that is Galungan. Oh this is gonna be fun! Galungan, the second most important ceremony of the year (after Nyepi), the Balinese celebrate the balance of good and evil and recognise without the dark there is no light and that the two complement each other and are necessary in life.  Ying and Yang sprung to mind. The more I learn about Balinese Hinduism (Agama Hindu Dharma) the more I see the Buddhist undertones and understand how this mashup religion is so appealing.



The day before Galungan is a busy one and we are up early for a day full of preparations.  How exciting! Meme taught me how to make sate babi (Pork Satay) with freshly cracked and shaved coconut, pork, chilli of course and a myriad of other spices. Breakfast of champions! Next the offerings. I’m talking maybe 35 offerings needed to be made, some pyramids of fruit made with the help of a banana tree branch to secure the fruit (Pajagan) and also with fish, rice, coconut, egg, chicken, cakes and all sorts.  Next, I think my favourite part. The Penjor!!  The Penjor is a bamboo pole covered in decorations made from coconut palm leaves and finished with a Sanggah Cucuk and a Sampian. My friend Ketut once explained it to me as the Bali Christmas tree (ok, not the same, but you get the idea). Very complicated structures with many parts and harder than it looks, but we made one.  I go-pro’d the whole thing so keep your eye out for that. (Gimme time to work out how to edit the footage, hahaha).


Next was the slaughter of a pig for the traditional babi guling dish.  Unfortunately, or luckily I missed it, because the news had spread that a Bule (foreigner) was in town and the local Pemangku (Hindu Priest) stopped by to say G’Day.  We chatted briefly (in Indonesian) and then all of a sudden, it seems I had accepted an invitation to his house for tea.  Walking through the village to his home we were stopped by everyone (Mr Popular this guy). We sipped tea and chatted about world religion, shared stories and opinions on faith, organised religion, Islam, Christianity and the common ground that we all are children of God and that’s all that matters. His many grandchildren (cucu) sat by curiously and we practiced English words together, a lovely afternoon.  He walked me home by the rice fields and I was in awe of this man’s energy.  Kindness and calm seemed to exude from his pores, a real man of faith and a leader in the community.


Right! Happy Galungan, the day had arrived.  With all the prep done the day before, all that was left was to suit up in our Kebayas and Sarongs, fasten our temple sash and put flowers in our hair. Well, honestly  I would have been happy just walking the streets, looking at all the beautiful outfits and how radiant everyone looked. We spent the morning at the family temple, which isn’t exactly just the family given the 150 odd people there.  My friend Wayan, the Pemangku greeted me and I muttered something awkward like (I carried a watermelon) referring to the Carmen Miranda offering on my head.  Now, important information to know BEFORE praying in a temple in Bali is that each region and even temple have a slightly different approach.  So you can imagine my surprise when the Odalan started and there was no red flower reference (Oh Shit!) Yuli help me.  Of course she whispered and guided me through the “Singaraja way” with kindness and slight amusement in her smile.  Luckily the holy water process is the same, Splash, Splash, Splash. Splash Drink. Splash Drink. Splash Drink.  Splash face, rice and done (Phew!)  We ended the first formal part of the day and relaxed the afternoon away waiting for Temple Round 2, at the larger regional temple ceremony at 5 pm.  Lucy and Yuli took me on a lovely walk along the “Mayong Trek” track. (Trekkers in Bali check it out!) A 3-4 hour round trip through untouched and beautiful rice field, jungle and by the river, in what I imagine the south used to look like before the tourism explosion of Kuta and Seminyak moved in.

Temple #2 – That was interesting to say the least, they had traditional dancers, hundreds upon hundreds of fellow faithfuls, speaker systems bellowing the prayers and traditional Gamelan players (traditional Balinese instrument).  I was again overwhelmed with the wonder of this coming together of people of the lord, praying and worshipping, loving one another and God.  Similar to that tingly feeling of Amazing Grace or Hallelujah being sung out in a church.  As the sun set proceedings had finished.  I remembered the new prayer style and managed not to choke on my rice (a random fear I have) followed by a lovely dinner prepared by Meme and off to bed.  Galungan done!  So what is the 3rd day for I ask Yuli. To santai (relax) she says, you want to see the dolphins?  Umm Yes! Tomorrow an adventure in North Bali,  I’m in!

Up at sparrows literally, the alarm sounded at 430am and Nyoman dragging himself out of bed dutifully took, Yuli, Lucy and I to Lovina for a sunrise boat ride to see the dolphins on the bay.  What an experience, the dolphins were plentiful (so were the tourists to be honest but still lovely). We cut our trip short given poor Lucy was not at one with the waves and had her head over the side providing fish food for most of the trip. We decided to spend the day by the water, a little further down at Krishna Water Sports, which I can highly recommend. Lucy and I went snorkelling and the marine life was spectacular, our guides were fantastic and all activities reasonably priced (see the link below).  After a light lunch we hooned about on some jet skis and then headed back to Mayong to pack up and head home.

In the car I was reflecting not only on the events of the ceremony, but the inspiring conversations I had over the past few days. Chatting to Wayan the Pemangku about all things faith, Lucy explaining to me the process of Rataak and Qur’anic prayer, Made at the family temple thanking me for coming to learn about their culture and religion or Uncle Putu listening intently to me explain the plight of The Unlikely Pilgrim and his words of summary “God is in our hearts and that is between only you and God.  It doesn’t matter the pathway just the Faith and the love of Tuhan (God in Indonesian).” So True.

Every day is a blessing and the open hearts and homes that I will and have already come across, is exactly why this trip is going to be a once in a lifetime experience that I am so grateful for.  Lastly but no means least, a massive thankyou to Yuli, Nyoman, Meme and Lucy for making me feel so loved in their home and for Nyoman stopping on the way home at Munduk Waterfall and Lake Tamblingan despite the crazy traffic because he thought I’d like it.  I did.  I will definitely be back.

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

Did Someone Say Ceremony?

This week is the lead up to Galungan, one of the most important festivals in the Balinese calendar. Part of the preparation is Sugian, 3 days of ceremony, to cleanse the environment externally and the individual internally.   My friends Joe and Rosie kindly offered to take me to their home village and allowed me to join in the festivities. We set off on the 2-hour drive north to Karangasem, stopping en route at Klung Kung to their ancestor’s temple. We wait patiently outside as the group before us pray, a constant flow of people from all over Bali visit here. Of course the glances of curiosity came but all with warm smiles attached.

We enter and there are offerings everywhere. Rosie disappears to lay ours on the alter.  Joe and I sit and wait for proceedings to commence.  With the incense in front of me, I bathe my hands 3 times in the smoke as previously briefed.  Words of encouragement from Rosie, “don’t worry that you don’t know how to pray in Sanskrit. You pray whatever you like even in English, God will understand.” Yes, he will Rosie. Yes, he will.  Then as the Pemangku (Balinese Priest) sounds the mantra I pray five times with maybe 500 Balinese Hindus to God.  Tuhan!


Right let’s see what I remember. Number 1; I raise my hands in prayer above my head with my thumbs resting on my forehead, no flower I remind myself. This is to welcome God.  The mantra stops. Number 2; red flower between the fingers, again raise my hands in prayer. This time to welcome the Sun to witness our prayers. Next any flower. We pray for all the people in the temple. I’m on a roll, any flower again.  This time we pray for ourselves.  Nomor Lima (5),  no flower. We give thanks and don’t forget to say sorry whispers Rosie. (I’m on it) My first Odalan done!

Next a Pemangku comes around with the holy water, ok let me get this straight I tell my mind. He splashes cool water which in the hot sun is quite refreshing over my head three times, then into my cupped hands. Splash, drink. Splash, drink. Splash, drink. (so far so good) Then splash, wipe your head.  Right now for the rice. Collect some rice from the basket offered by the Pemangku.  Press pieces on your forehead for good thoughts and mind (tick).  2nd into your neck/chest, good heart and actions (tick). Eat 3 pieces of rice (not the broken one’s Joe reminds me) for good words. The remains of the rice in your hands goes over head for final blessing (tick, tick, tick) and we’re done.  Now we collect our offering to eat with the family later. Not bad I think, managed to remember all the instructions and not offend anyone.

We pick up some sate from the vendors outside the temple and drove a quick 10 mins to the beach where we had our feast, coconuts and all.  And cheap! Over 20 skewers 3 portions of rice and sambal. $6.  After enjoying the beautiful ocean view we head north to Joe’s village. We are welcomed by Ketut his father and invited into the Ibu Pura (Mother Temple) and what a fan fare there is.  Much smaller than the ancestor’s temple in Klung Kung but such a hive of activity, the whole stuffed suckling pig or two passes by and a cohort of Rejang dancers follow.  Again there are flowers and offerings everywhere and then its prayer time! I’m ready.  Ok no flower, red flower, any flower, any flower, no flower.  Splash Splash Splash. Splash Drink! Splash Drink! Splash Drink! Splash Head!  Rice, head, chest, eat.  Ooh I’m good!! Totally a pro.  We stay to watch the beautiful girls of the village perform a traditional Balinese dance which is simply mesmerizing.  No time to dilly dally, we still have to hit the family temple and the village temple down the hill.

We arrive at Joe’s house after a small walk through the woods.  There in the clearing is a very modest home, I’ve been here before but it somehow feels smaller with the grandeur of the day and everybody looks so charming in their temple attire.  Ketut offers me a sweet that is made from brown sugar wrapped in a banana leaf (I won’t lie I was rather apprehensive, but I ate it). Sweet like a jelly or date consistency but larger, not bad.  Joe ushers me into the small yet lovely family temple and off we go again.  No mantra to guide us this time and Joe is in charge of the holy water.  Little Komang (5) and Delon (9) seem rather amused with my praying, I can’t possibly imagine why, I know what I’m doing.


So where is Ketut (Joe’s Mum also called Ketut) and Handrawan (Joe’s other nephew)? Oh down in the village temple because Handrawan is staying there for 2 weeks?  Umm ok, off we go.  A short drive down the hill and into the town it looks like we missed one hell of a party! Offerings and odd bamboo structures littered the streets. The main road was closed off and it’s a bit like a ghost town. We park up and head down to find Ketut and Handrawan. It turns out once every 14 years there is a ceremony where all the priests in Karangasem converge on this village and the teenagers from the surrounding villages come to spend 2 weeks learning about all things ceremony (and there is a LOT to learn) Girls and boys can come and they must be dressed in a special Gringsing Sarong which historically was died red with the blood of sacrificed humans who could no longer work or were sick. Rosie tells me, “we can’t do that anymore because it’s not allowed” (ya think!). Now these special sarongs are died with the help of the root of a local plant.   It’s a little lord of the flies with all the young boys walking around in this special uniform and a large dagger tucked into their back as is custom.


We head into the temple and it’s a double whammy.  First we pray under the guidance of the Pemangku with the other people and to my surprise its three splashes on the head at the end here. (Each temple varies across regions) Lucky I’m adaptable.  Then we wander around to another “alter” just the family.  Here, Handrawan assumes the responsibility of the holy water much to the satisfaction of the family as I discover later, having completed this rite of passage that occurs only every 14 years Handrawan now on the way to being a Pemangku, therefore is higher in stature then his family.  He seems impressed with my prayer style and takes my hand to his forehead in a sign of respect.  Cute!!!


The sun is starting to set and Miss Rosie is missing her baby girl so we say our goodbyes and head back to Kerobokan and am in a state of indulgent thankfulness at this amazing day that I have shared with such kind and beautiful souls. Cannot wait for Galungan. Stay Tuned.


Yours in faith,

The Unlikley Pilgrim


Two Worlds Collide

Spring has sprung in the southern hemisphere and whilst I only experienced about a day and a half of cold weather this winter (when I was in Perth) it certainly is still exciting to see the flowers bloom, the baby calves in the fields and the general energy that the month of “Musim Semi” offers.

This week has been another fabulous exploration of cultures colliding in this melting pot that we call Bali.  Tuesday was just another day, spent going to yoga, lazing in the sun, researching for the trip and also on Tuesday afternoons I visit a small community in Denpasar to teach English. But I’ll tell you about them another day.  They deserve a blog to themselves.  This was about what happened after class.

My friend Deidre drove me to my local church’s monthly Worship evening and this time it was extra special.  Pastor Don, Pastor Jason and the team have been working tirelessly to raise funds to build a brand new church building in Kuta right on top of the Galleria Mall.  I have heard a lot about the plans and thought I should go check it out, since they’d decided to hold this month’s Ignite worship service on the site.  I don’t always make it to these worship evenings, in fact this is my first and I’ve been here 6 months (my bad).  So I arrive late (of course thanks to bail traffic) and there on the 4 th floor of the multi-story car park is maybe 40 devotees of God, Jesus and in support of this great project.

Strangely it reminded me in a way of the scene in Independence Day where the alien lovers are on the rooftop welcoming the creatures from another planet and ok they get blown apart in the end but the same euphoria was present on this rooftop.  Except the participants on this occasion were men and women of God singing their heart out, worshipping the lord, praying for the project, for Bali and the world as a whole.  I must admit it was quite intoxicating especially when we started to sing in Indonesian (Bahasa to the locals). No I didn’t know at all what was being sung but I was overwhelmed.  It was beautiful watching the devotion flow passionately from their mouths and their souls. I appreciate the attitude of the Balinese, a predominantly Hindu Island in the highest Muslim populated country on earth. Yet, if a bunch of Christians want to shout from the rooftop (quite literally) their love for Jesus. Knock yourself out.

I’ve been attending ICC Bali since I first moved here and the good work they do in the community all over Bali and the welcome I have received from them is a real testament to their mission of people helping people. I thoroughly recommend a service at ICC Bali currently being held at the Harris Hotel On Sunset Road.  If your feeling like you want to put your hand in your pocket to help, make this amazing project develop and grow feel free to contact them at   Maybe a fundraiser could be held in your home town to help the community here in Bali?


I left my friends on the roof and headed home for a well-earned rest and what I faced in my street was definitely not going to be conducive with an early night.  There was a mighty commotion going on with, music and sound systems, street lined with motorbikes. It was loud.   Another wedding I thought, so with a soft nudge from my mates on facey.  I wandered tentatively across the road.

I started chatting to one of the ladies watching the fanfare from outside the gate of a paddock I didn’t even know was there. I noticed every one wearing their sarongs and in my short shorts thought it best not to go in. I spoke to the lady in Bahasa for a few minutes with the intention to go back to bed having satisfied my curiosity.  However she invited me in to have a closer look, “Saya Tidak Punya Sarong” (I don’t have a sarong) I said. “Tidak apa apa” (no worries) she insisted.  Ok I’m going in!  Well Holy Bananas batman.  It was the craziest thing, crowds of Balinese laughing their back off at the spectacle before us.  Two beautiful women singing and giggling on stage (Not ACTUALLY women!) and two masked men going along with the chaotic carry on. They dragged unwilling participants from the crowd onto the stage, I kept my head down!

What I was watching was a traditional Balinese Drama and Comedy show called a Bondres.  Think Drag queens, stand up comedians dressed with awesome masks on and singing and dancing of course, A really eclectic mash up of performing arts and I didn’t know what they were saying either but I liked it.  I managed to find a nice inconspicuous spot under a tree behind the crowd and I thought I was out of the way until….

His eyes locked mine and it was on.  The main comedian shouted something in Bahasa and 200 eyes turned and looked at me. To which I responded with an awkward “Selamat Malam” (Good Evening) He humoured me and asked where I was from in English.  I shouted Australia in an accent that even sounded broad to me. We had some banter in English and then he said heaven knows what but the crowd were in hysterics and all still looking at me. Probably, stupid white girl, where’s her sarong? Doesn’t she know she not in the tourist district. So after being “forced” to take a seat in the front row, he had his fun and continued the show and it was brilliant! I wasn’t at the $50 tourist show I was with all my neighbours and they welcomed me with open arms albeit after taking the mick out of me first.  The beautiful woman singing offered to take a picture with me afterwards and I went to bed.  An evening of Christian worship followed by Balinese Hindu stand-up comedy show.  Just another day in Bali.

Check out the link for more on Bondres.

Or follow the great work being done by ICC Bali.

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim