21 Nov 2012

Plan A

OK folks, so here's the deal! Sarawak - Australia - Hawaii - California

I had to call this Plan A because each of those idyllic destinations contains at least two letters 'A'. My rationale was that  Plan A would give this trip project a forward-thinking dynamic vibration! Secondly, as much I would like to be able to explore other avenues and travel opportunities, this is currently about the only tangible Plan there is for me. So to paraphrase that great M&S campaign, we call it Plan A because there's no Plan B!

'A Morning View', photo by Rana Simhan (cknara), via Flickr

All going well, kick-off for Plan A is Spring 2013. Ideally I would love to get one or two of my adventure-enclined friends involved in this combo but so far they either can't or won't commit, for reasons their own. As a result, it looks like I am solo-bound. Not an ideal situation for the gregarious, people's person that I am, but honestly I could still be waiting an hypophetical number of years until a seemingly 'ideal' situation presents itself... And I've learnt the hard way that you have to compose with what life offers you, not rely on others and build your future on dreams, promises, illusions, fantasies and waffs of hot air... If I want something, I'd better roll up my sleeves, architect it and build it myself!

Now don't believe for one second that I'm in control and I know what I'm doing. I am absolutely daunted by the prospect of solo travel to places I have never been (bar California). I am no seasoned traveller either, I have never travelled on my own outside a few carefully-chosen European destinations, am generally more used to glamping than camping, although once again does sleeping in the great oudoors or in one's car count as camping and roughing it?

Escape to... Baja Mexico, by Santa Barbara Chic, photo by Patrick Moyer

If you take out the Sarawak bit and just concentrate on the Australia - Hawaii - California trio, you would be forgiven to believe that this is part of The Beach Boys repertoire, that I am bound for an Xtreme Sports Channel surfing competition, or a long vacation! Besides although it might sound like I've done the fun easy bit by picking up juicy destinations, it wasn't as random and carefree as it appears. Sarawak has been on my radar for the last 12 months via The Great Orangutan Project towards which I have secured a deposit as a (paying) volunteer on an orangutan conservation programme based deep in the Bornean jungle. From there I thought I might stretch it down to Australia, why not?

After a relatively 'hardcore' start with Sarawak, I thought it best to enjoy a breather and play it safer and cooler for the remainder of my Pacific odyssey, on an open return, heading first for the Australian Gold Coast (forget the outbacks and the dirt tracks!), then across to California (a soft spot for the Santa Barbara region), via Hawaii (a late addition to the trip, after admiring paradisiac views on Pinterest!). I intend to work (most of) my way through and line up a few contacts before leaving Europe!

Polynesian Knot Statue

Meanwhile a few practical matters have started nagging me lately, as they do... I have been putting strange video requests on YouTube in the name of research, watching the best creepy-crawlies each of my stopovers has to offer, and both Sarawak and Australia deserve gold stars! Ideally (as we know there is no such thing as 'ideally') I would like to avoid Australia's spider season if I can but it looks like I will be hitting the Gold Coast head on in the Australian Autumn... in time for a good face-to-face with those dreaded Huntsmans. Now we haven't even started on the tarentulas yet, have we?

As I am gonna get ready over the next few weeks, I warmly invite you all to follow my pre-departure adventures and check on those pre-trip nerves, via La Baguette Magique. Hopefully once I'm out there I will be able to provide you with regular travel updates. In the light of this, I'm gonna look into those sleek lightweight nifty Tablet/ Notebook devices that I can slip into my yet-to-be-purchased backpack! And here's another one to jot down the To Do list! Talk soon and meanwhile please don't hesitate to part with your advice, recommendations and suggestions, very much welcome!

P.S: Check out my 'Poolside or Seaside' Pinterest board for some Australian, Hawaiian and Californian coastline inspiration!

15 Nov 2012

Smells Like Free Spirit (Part 4)

"Not all those who wander are lost." - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings first volume, The  Fellowship of the Ring, 1954

I am convinced that no matter their age, free spirits are young at heart. Their outlook, their stance, their attitude, their drive, mean that they remain young and radiate inner beauty. They won't turn into those bitter old prunes that make ageing look like a disadvantage. Rather they will embrace the past, present and future, take experience in their stride and still look on the bright side of life, a glint of mischief in the eye and marvel at the ready, their skin sunkissed and their footstep light and airy!

By Studio Wonder, via Cargo Collective

Believe you me, the world needs more of us free spirits! The vast majority of us are not on this planet to cause trouble and start revolutions, we just see the world differently and want fairness. I'll just take one example. I am a lifelong devotee to the animal cause and became a vegetarian after years of being pressured by my peers (starting off with my parents) into the carnivorous diet. I one day decided I was lying to myself and this had to stop! I will happily discuss my vegetarian reasons to whoever is keen to listen, and maybe suggest that they compromise and give it a try, if only for once a week, but I will not force my views onto anyone! And since you're asking, ironically most - if not all - of my friends aren't veggies, yet they have somehow curbed their meat-loving ways after I gave them some food for thought!

My industry sector (sustainable agriculture and preservation of old cultivated varieties) is prone to attract a good number of free spirits and 'affiliates'. The fact that I live on a holiday island adds to the attraction. Meeting those gals and guys from different walks of life and corners of the world has been enlightening to me and I have utterly relished the experience! It has broadened my own perceptions of life.

'Lemonia philopalus', by CraftyPip (Philip Heinzl), via Flickr

The free spirits I met travel light, head for the roads less travelled inland and will rarely settle down. No, they don't all physically look like hippies, some of the cool dudes I met might feel slightly insulted by the connotation! Meanwhile I am still trying to work out how some of them guys manage to sustain a living, being nomadic 'no-strings-attached' types with no fixed employment or abode for that matter, sleeping in their cars, on friends couches, in disused buildings or on the beaches in Summer... There is a sense of community amongst free spirits as I found out, and those with a roof over their heads will open their doors to the less fortunate. We end up bumping into familiar faces across the island, sharing similar experiences and hanging out together...

Despite not having regular employment, and only surviving on fruit-picking, pastoral activities and the odd building job, some of them can somehow afford to travel on to faraway shores like Thailand, without (seemingly) a money care in the world, while Corsica has either become their homebase of sorts, their stopover, or gateway destination to the rest of the world... Corsica gives them a taste for adventure and trampolines them into the wider world! Some are here today, and who knows where they'll be tomorrow!

'Male Rufous Hummingbird', photo by cdbtx, via Flickr

Some of them, skilled or unskilled trade guys, head for ecovillages as wwoofers to experience a new community spirit, contribute to the common good and hopefully learn a skill and make friends. Some others, after years of wandering about, end up settling down on the island, and they do so in their own terms, while staying true to their own principles: on the cheap, building environmentally-friendly tippees on either rented, lended or purchased land. Some push the boat further, and unite with a common dream of building alternative rural communities based around permaculture and made out of ideas and ideals, makeshift and hard graft, without compromising on the good life (beach parties, music festivals, and yay more parties)!

Some have landed from continental France with a skeleton or two in the closet and I have become good at picking the vibe. No questions asked, no comments passed, if they want to confide, they know where I am and sure I'll lend a sympathetic ear. Their experience will help them grow, sharing it will help them understand it better and the listener will benefit from it too. Meanwhile everyone is entitled to second chances, everyone has the right to want to escape their troubled past and start over, or at least kick-start a process that will take them onto a new life journey.

'Ceremonial Textile (Sarita)', Indonesia, Sulawesi, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Herewith I have ambitiously attempted to share reflections on free spirits, and the journey has turned more personal than I thought it would. It has amplified my travel wanderlust, made me yearn for vast unspoilt territories, and when it would have been easy to get critical over the lifestyle choices of some of those free spirits, it actually helped me understand them better.

In the history of La Baguette Magique, this post is the longest I have ever written, and the first to be spread over four parts. Yep this is telling something... I'm on the verge of a personal discovery and it's all good! Thanks for reading this personal odyssey of mine, and I hope it will have transported you to new territories and you will have found it refreshing and inspirational!

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Smells Like Free Spirit is a 4-part series:  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4

10 Nov 2012

Smells Like Free Spirit (Part 3)

"I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion." - Jack Kerouac, On the Road, 1957, Part 2, Ch. 4

How do I do it as a free spirit, I hear you ask? For starters, being labelled a free spirit is a revelation because I never thought worthy of such a privilege! I never saw myself that interesting! Now that I am taking this on board, I'd better live up to it and that might take some adjusting, after years of the 'obligated' conformist lifestyle, following lines of conduct, business protocoles and abiding to company mission statements, flirting with the upsides of capitalism and suffering from its downsides too.

Via We Heart It

Pretending to be someone I wasn't and looking for answers in all the wrong places, feeding off the fleeting buzz off a new material purchase or upscale social event, I was lying to myself and in those late-night blurs, in my darkest minute with caked-in make-up around teary eyes checking my reflection in the bathroom mirror, when suddenly hit by the solitude of it all, it would briefly dawn on me that this lifestyle would never satisfy me, my soul, my spirit, my heart.

I felt trapped. I kept thinking: 'Is that it? Is that all there is to life? To make money and to spend it?' Then I would brush my doubts off, get up and go back to where I had come from, the office, the long commutes, the airport lobby, the party, the fakes and the doppelgangers. I had to because questioning my choices at that pressured moment in my life would have been to admit I had been wrong all - or at least most of - the way, and it takes courage and a certain form of abnegation to get to admit that! The timing wasn't right. I had spiritedness as a state of mind but at that moment in time I couldn't liberate it and be myself.

'Sleeping Angel' (Highgate Cemetery), photo by Ben Jeffrey, via Flickr

So then for the sake of research, can we capture the essence of a free spirit? Or is it too rare, unique, evanescent and elusive to be bottled into an eau de parfum? Well, you can say that again! Actually if you described it as 'a little je ne sais quoi', you might get close to a definition. But if you're not happy with that, I will venture a few reflections. A free spirit stands out with their views (and for their views!) and their ways of thinking. They stand up from the masses and sometimes they stand alone. They do not tend to follow the herds, which is why seasoned marketers and advertisers must have a field day trying to 'sell' them the coolness of their brands!

Via Pinterest

Free spirits do not (cannot!) care too much about what everyone else thinks about them. You have to let go of prejudices and be tolerant, respect differences, be more detached or you'll get sucked back in; yet having said that, this apparent carefree attitude doesn't mean you don't care as a free spirit! The ones I know care too much for their own good! And as for one I am incredibly sensitive and passionate, verging on the compulsive dramatist at times, just ask those closest and dearest...

Free spirits are not necessarily creative, however their thinking is creative! On the other hand, being a creative doesn't warrant free-spiritedness. I know some creative types with regimented organised materialistic lifestyles who would never contemplate the more Bohemian aspects of a free spirit lifestyle, and who try to instill 'some sense' into my life. And that, I'm afraid, will get them a buh-bye from me! (to be continued)

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Smells Like Free Spirit is a 4-part series:  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4

3 Nov 2012

Smells Like Free Spirit (Part 2)

"A prayer for the wild at heart that are kept in cages" - Tennessee Williams, Stairs to the Roof, 1941

Free spirits come in all shapes and forms. I firmly believe that we are all free spirits at heart. We are born that way, although education, social codes and expectations, the class system, the structured work environment, financial pressures, life changes, and other externals will send a reality check down our way, crush those youthful ideals and shackle most of us to our 'lower base needs', i.e. a lifetime of relative servitude, rewarded by a stack of material possessions, and vaguely comforted by mirages and second bests.

'Clinging to the cliffside', Route 1, Big Sur Coastline by Jeff Swanson, via Flickr

Most of us will find some sort of contentment within our shallow lifestyle, while others will be kept awake at night by the intrinsic wonders of life, puzzled by the actual meaning of it all, and tortured in their waking hours by that urge to finally break free from the rat race but without any clear-cut master plan in mind, yet sane enough to not fall prey to any sort of "turn on, tune in and drop out" counterculture psychedelic buzzphrase, or any form of sectarian idolism!

Nonetheless a handful of us will remain true to our core values throughout, stand the test of time and the trappings of the modern world to move to the next level, to seek the meaning of happiness and engage in its pursuit. Pursue the quest for wisdom, a purpose to life, a fit in society, via worthwhile charitable causes, faith and religion, and/ or travel. One will facilitate the other. Some will embark upon a journey of self-discovery for a while, maybe even through a career break or 'adult' gap year, then come back when satisfied enough, hopefully with a role, a purpose, a vision, a mission, a line of conduct. Some will be back with no clear purpose, but will be enriched by experience, a taste of freedom and new-found knowledge in a multitude of areas.

Via All That Glitters Is Not Gold (Tumblr)

Others will be in it for the long haul, devoting a lifetime to the self-discovery cause, yet with no guarantee to find answers and/ or to contribute meaningfully to society's welfare via their alternative thinking and doing. They might get lost in the process and turn into those 'eternal' travellers, those drifters living for the moment, who lost their roots and foundations, and are of no fixed abode.

Philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and sociologists have devoted lifetimes to the fact that man is naturally good and needs to break free from society's coercive and corruptive hold. With this in mind, some of us free spirits will take to the road looking for ourselves, seeking answers, musing about inspiration, searching the truth, our own truth, while enacting our own version of the Jack Kerouac road trip.

Via Le Croissant d'Argent (Tumblr)

Not all journeys are necessarily geographical. Some are inner/ introvert journeys, through spiritual awareness, meditation, contemplation, philosophy etc. At the other end of the spectrum, some journeys start, happen or end down California's Silicon Valley. The valley is full of original free spirits, techie by nature, but also outside-of-the-box thinkers wearing Converse sneakers and that Che Guevara tee, who juggle algorithms and streamline open source so the rest of us can benefit from the latest web 2.0 advancements. Free spirits are not necessarily ascetic nor are they bound to be cash-poor and devoid of needs.

The definition of free spirit is difficult to pinpoint as such. Free spirits are free thinkers, truth seekers, open-minded, open to the world and to change, open to the possibilities of a better world; they see things from a different perspective. They have a fresh approach, with a hint of optimism and idealism; they are passionate lovers of life (despite sometimes contesting it), almost carefree and not as confined by social restrictions as the conformists. (to be continued)

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Smells Like Free Spirit is a 4-part series:  Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4
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