Day 3 – rise and shine

km 47 – km 61 – km 74


rise and shine! And Walk your talk – it could not be more literal in my case. A lot of MY WORK and living revolves around playing with the law of attraction – you get what you give – being in charge of one’s own happiness, creating memories, living in the moment.

‘If you don’t like something, change it or leave it.
for the very least: learn from it.’

I know myself and my defaults well by now, and i knew very well that my feeling sorry for myself out there in the elements, all alone, was not very conducive, or fun for that matter, on the long run. it was high time for a perspective change and taking OWNERSHIP! I was here. on an amazing adventure. in breathtaking scenery. with a healthy functioning body. and a strong mind. get up and keep walking!


But first: Get up!

OMG, I woke up to the insides of my tent walls flapping against my nose, that there Blizzard was still on! And the rain was crashing down loudly – the sound of rain has something comforting in a tent, or under the roof of a dry house with skylight windows as I have at home. The comforting feeling is rather nullified though when the tent one is in is all but taking off from the ground – and when one knows that the next steps are to ‘rise, get out of the tent, pack it up, stuff it into the rucksack, and walk through the elements all day only to put up said tent again’.

'A tent well pitched is the basic rule for staying dry' - and in this case, grounded; my tent pitching knowledge I took from my many trips with my camp-mentor cousin Martine.

‘A tent well pitched is the basic rule for staying dry’ – and in this case, grounded; my tent pitching knowledge I took from my many trips with my camp-mentor cousin Martine.

Here is where I thank my cousin Martine – she used to be a scout, and is my personal camping mentor. On our six week trip through the US SouthWest and another trip around the Canadian West, many many moons ago, and then some to the Dutch seaside, Martine taught me everything I need to know about pitching a tent in a way that had it stand strong and keep us dry, no matter what the weather. She is also, along with my mother, one of my big teachers on how to be a resourceful maker of luxury moments in the weirdest, coldest, most improbable circumstances, with just the tiniest tweaks. Whatever I know comes mainly from their inspirations to not just ‘let it be’ – and I am now also an expert at making nests in aeroplane seats and canoes alike, so to say!

The only way out is onwards.

I was so quick that morning, everything was down and stowed by 8am! New addition to my ritual, only possible because I was at a camp: leave backpack by the hut, visit the facilities and return for an expensive cup of filter coffee from a thermos flask sold at the mini shop here at Sälka – and warm my hands that had gotten frostbitten in the pack-up process. OK, ‘frostbite’ is a bit dramatic, but I take that privilege!

I was not the only one warming up, the tiny 3×3 meter front room of the refuge had a wood burning fire stove, there were people huddling, evaluating the trail and day goals (it became apparent that getting to the camp at Alesjaure, km 74, was most of ours’ intention) and tending to their blisters – here is a moment to thank the hiking lords that I was still only dealing with my one blister from the first day, that I hadn’t felt since compeeding it then – I saw so many feet along the way when people took their boots off on breaks, full of plasters and tape and bandages; I was a lucky girl and I knew it.

I also overheard a man enquiring about helicopter services.

So yeah, where I’d gotten myself to was not reachable any other way than on foot and by helicopter (I think also snowmobile in Winter). And yes, you could have yourself airlifted out for 5500SEK (580€) per person, if four are sharing.
I admit that I briefly let the idea cross my mind… ‘treat yourself princess, you do not need to prove anything to anyone…’

And the second I let that thought in was my lowest low… and the start of my rise.

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. - Doctor SeussNO, Laura, you have a healthy and functioning body, you are fine and you are here to walk: WALK!

And off we went, my team and me! I greeted my key body parts with my little chant from the previous day:

‘My dear feet, you can do this. My good legs, you can do this. My strong back, you can do this. My strong shoulders, you can do this. My focussed mind, you can do this.’
And today I added ‘We have been joined by the energy system which has been fed – WE CAN REALLY DO THIS!’

Because yes, I was eating – and what do you know? It works! Not rocket science, really, but wow! I added another ritual to my day: I’d put my bag of snacks (nuts and candied ginger) in my jacket pocket for easy access (DUH! It only took me two days to come up with that one!) and so every time I stopped and took my gloves off to blow my nose – you know how on cold days you always have one little drip dangling from the tip of your nose? – I would also have a sip of water, apply chapstick and have a handful of snack.

For the first part of the day I noticed that I wasn’t feeling my feet and back all the time, and because they weren’t on my mind every second, I found myself singing. Mantras, I like them. Om Tryambakam and Tumi Bhaja Re Mana.

Soft little melodies in my mind, the day had something soft to it – as I climbed up the trail for 7 kilometers to the Tjäktjapass.

My faithful bestie of the tour, my gps watch, vibrated its celebratory kilometre marks as I was walking towards the

First milestone of the Day of Milestones: KM 55 – Halfway!

KM 55 - Halfway!!! BIG milestone on my journey, I started telling myself 'nearly there'

KM 55 – Halfway!!! BIG milestone on my journey, I started telling myself ‘nearly there’

And when it came, I stopped, and gleamed at whoever was right by me then and there… they went along with my excitement, crying ‘champagne’!

From here I could also see the pass. We scurried up, all of us, I think I was not the only one driven by a newfound force!

The last fifty meters were the steepest of the whole trail and it hardly slowed any of us down.

 

Second milestone of the Day of Milestones: Tjäktja Pass – downhill from here!

Third milestone of the Day of Milestones: lunch break

It wouldn’t be a big deal if I hadn’t made such a big deal of not having eaten. But as I was lingering around the refuge on the top of the mountain wondering what next, I heard the same guide I spoke to the previous night, the lady of ‘you must eat otherwise you won’t get out’, instructing her group to take off their backpacks and bring lunch inside the hut.
I took off my backpack and brought lunch inside the hut.

Milestone: Lunchbreak, in the cheerful company of Taiwanese hikers

Milestone: Lunchbreak, in the cheerful company of Taiwanese hikers

So, in the cheerful company of smiling Taiwanese walkers, I ate the most gorgeous tomato sandwich, another of my ingenious bringings from home: ‘tomato paste in individual pots’ and ‘sun dried tomatoes’, which I put on the bread Fjällräven gave me before leaving.

The other important thing about eating is that it makes the backpack lighter! Another DUH for the blonde first timer!

Back to the pack, and of course, by the time I was geared up, my fingers were frozen despite my fancy odlo gloves and if walking off with cold fingers is avoidable, I’ll avoid it. I went back into the hut fully loaded, and just stood there. A man politely invited me to sit, I told him what I was doing and then he… held out his warm ‘food in a bag’ for me to hold! In that moment, it was the single most generous thing anyone had ever done for me – it almost made me cry as my fingers warmed up. He waited patiently, until I noticed, and said he could continue to eat, I’d hold his meal for him – which he then did, and somewhere in the cameras of some people of the Fjällräven Classic 2017 there is a picture of me holding a kind man’s food while he’s eating.

I told him he was my hero. Because he was.

We namaskar bowed to each other, and off I went again. Downhill, oh delight!

Downhill over kilometres of rubble!

The other side of Tjäktja Pass. Downhill from here - kilometres of rubble

The other side of Tjäktja Pass. Downhill from here – kilometres of rubble.

 

The Tjäktja check-point, in the middle of nowhere

The Tjäktja check-point, in the middle of nowhere

I got to the Tjäktja Checkpoint at 14.45 that day, 6 hours after leaving Sälka, and probably the longest it took me to go 14km. It was the simplest of all the checkpoints: just the two blue Fjällräven tents (one for stamps in the passport, one distributing brownies – which I FORGOT to collect for myself!!!) and three toilet tents. Nothing else, but many many people.

The loo line at Tjäktja did me worlds of good.

In the loo line we got chatting. I talked to Sue and Edith from the UK, a Finnish girl from a group I’d been passing and being passed by for two days (it was nice to see the same people over and over again and I’d told them that), a lady, who confided that next time she’d not let her husband choose their holiday destination by himself, and a sunny young girl from France whose name I don’t know; to her face I called her ‘sunshine’, and in my mind I called her Emily – she had a fresh smile, a light spring and a spark about her, like a fairy.

These were the first people I had a laugh with.

Mood-lifting encounters, in the loo line in the middle of nowhere, of all places.

Mood-lifting encounters, in the loo line in the middle of nowhere, of all places.

See, there were only ever a few loos along the trail, Fjällräven Classic had sent us all a video of ‘what to do when nature calls and you’re out in… nature’, and we were above the tree line so needless to say, everybody knew what everybody was doing in them – and the wait was naturally extended. And that was fine. We all looked at the tents blowing in the still very strong winds and Edith made the poignant observation

‘Now wouldn’t THAT just be the ultimate insult – to have the loo tent blow off just as you’re sat there!’

Oh it felt so good to laugh, and I am a softy for toilet humour!
I liked Edith from the get-go, she was the one who said out loud what we all, as it turned out, were thinking ‘One night in a cold tent is fine, but four?’. Oh yay, it wasn’t just me.

Edith also high-fived me, right there in the loo line, for doing this on my own. The others then joined in, it touched me. ‘Are you hiking alone?‘ was one of the classic Classic questions (along with ‘is this your first?’, ‘when did you start?’, ‘where are you from?’ and ‘what made you sign up?’), and I must say that every time I told my story I did get a hats off in admiration. The statistics of the previous Fjällräven Classic said the ratio was about one third women to two thirds men on the tour, and I know I wasn’t the only woman alone either – but there weren’t many of us, I reckon, and Edith’s high-five to me at that very moment was an energy boost; you know what mental state I had walked myself away from that morning, and she came in like a trek angel by cheering me on for it.

It felt good to be acknowledged like that, because I did feel I was doing something grand and hard – and that said, we all were. Most of us here, I dare say, and like in life, were here with our own stories and walking with our own set of challenges and goals, and she reminded me to, at least mentally, high-five everyone on the tour!

I high-five anyone who gets up and goes!

It can be a huge and heavy step to take, that first step in any  circumstance, and then to keep walking; high-five to those of us who actually do!  For ourselves, and as inspiration and encouragement to others.

Ahh encounters… I would keep bumping into all these nice characters from the loo line at Tjäktja until the finish line two days later. 

 

Celebratory pasta at Tjäktja, the day's halfway point.

Celebratory pasta at Tjäktja, the day’s halfway point.

 

I had my second lunch (once you break the seal…) and I treated myself to my one bag of my most-beloved comfort food: PASTA!

 

 

 

 


I set off from the Tjäktja checkpoint at 15.45 and was headed to the ‘big camp at Alesjaure, which has a Sauna’ – the sauna is what I promised us, me and my team feet-legs-back-shoulders-mind… just another 13km to go.

WE COULD DO THIS!

 

 

Day 2 – the inverted hangover

km 23 – km 47


On day 2 I came up with the ‘inverted hangover’. i wish i could say that i was singing and dancing through the swedish mountain landscapes, which truly were stunning and breathtaking, à la julie andrews and ‘the hills are alive with the sound of music; in actual fact however i admit that i spent day two with three main thoughts thumping in my mind like a cacophony, or one might say… mantras.

foot – foot – foot‘ – there was not one step i took without feeling my feet. they didn’t hurt per se but they were very present in an uncomfortable way.  ‘back – back – back‘ – same here, it didn’t hurt, but it felt weighed down, the backpack really distracted me from the hills being alive. and ‘WTF? What the hell am I doing? Why am I doing this? why would anyone do this?’


Good morning World!

Good morning World! Not matter what time I got up, there was always already that comforting string of people and colourful backpacks walking on by.

Day Two started way better than I feared it might – I’d gone to ‘bed’ slightly broken the night before, however my foot and leg massage, my few yoga stretches and probably my 10 hour sleep must have done me good: I felt good! And the sun was shining! And to my delight, the Danish voices of my neighbours were still around, and: they’d put up the yellow North Face tent I’d initially wanted for myself. I had accepted my friend Sander’s green one though, as it was 2 kg lighter, and it served me well. But how nice to see ‘my dream tent’ on the track!

breakfast of home-mixed mueslis

breakfast of home-mixed mueslis

My morning ritual was to get dressed, and pack my stuff back into many individual little waterproof and compressable bags and into the backpack, then have breakfast and take down the tent once it was empty. I complimented myself for my ingenious breakfasts, I’d mixed and pre-packed my favourite mueslis and seeds and superfoods of goji berries and hemp and chia and ginger and cinnamon and added some dried apples and bananas into four individual bags, one for each morning, which I then soaked in my tepid water from my thermos of the night before. Oh so clever and oh so delish.

And onwards!

My boots had dried sufficiently, what a relief, and I put on fresh socks. Sander had told me to dry damp socks by putting one sock in each trouser pocket – which I did now (and I confirm, by evening they were dry), and I quickly joined the flow of walkers via a spot in the river that my neighbour, the happy camper whom I’d seen taking photos the previous night, had suggested as he walked by me a few minutes earlier. Little did he know at that time how meaningful his comment was to me that very morning after wet-boot-gate, it made him one of my trek angels – he does now, we’ve met since.

The first goal was the checkpoint at Singi, at km 35, so in 12 kilometres.

Typical Kungsleden - the Swedish Royal Trail; the rocks are the path

Typical Kungsleden – the Swedish Royal Trail; the rocks are the path

I walked slower than the previous day, I was feeling my feet and shoulders, the trail was going uphill, gently but steadily, and the path was irregular, stoney, bouldery… I found my hiking style was not unlike jumping in my hometown Echternach’s dancing processing – big strides from side to side, only less elegantly and more haphazardly, as I was going from one rock to a next. It had me look down a lot, and it occupied the mind – every step required vigilance.

It is a meditation of its own, really.

After about an hour I realised I hadn’t peed since Kebnekaise – this amused me, as I hadn’t felt the need to. All night, in the morning… how unusual, and how very practical, too. Then it alarmed me, as clearly, I wasn’t drinking enough. I immediately took a break and had two more mouthfuls of the ‘Chana Masala in a bag’ from the previous night, I still didn’t like it, and I I had some water.

This is the really good thing about the Kungsleden: there are streams everywhere, and they carry fresh crystal clear water, which means there is no need to carry a lot of water and is thereby a huge advantage on weight!

I arrived at Singi (km 35) at 14.25

I know that because it is written in my ‘Wanderpass‘. Singi was a little station of the Swedish Tourist Association, a few refuge cottages for hikers (that were not to be used by any of the 2000 Fjällräven Classic participants, obviously, how would we fit in?), a dry toilet in a wooden hut, a blue Fjällräven checkpoint tent with kind volunteers registering us, a blue Fjällräven kitchen tent where they were giving out reindeer wraps – and to my joy, a vegetarian option of mushrooms and mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce! My first proper meal since breakfast in Kiruna.

So in Singi I properly looked at the trail map for the first time.

Until then I’d only just told myself that I wanted to be done in five days and that meant walking an average of 22km per day. But suddenly it seemed useful to factor in ‘camps’ and ‘the climb to the pass’. I asked the guys at Singi about where sleeping would be favourable, they said you can pitch a tent whereever but after the pass there was a stretch that wasn’t all that great for camping. Also, I’d read somewhere that it climbing up to the pass did require some energy and that it was a good idea to start the day with it rather than have it appear in the middle or towards the end.

Whatever connections my brain made, they were good: I changed my aim from ‘making it to km 44 to making it to the camp at Sälka, being km 47’ that day, which was situated just before the climb. Also, since my first night I had decided that I took a lot of comfort from hearing voices around me and that I now wanted to stay at a camp rather than avoid the crowds – that is something to do if I were with a group or in a romantic setting, but I was neither nor here: now, I wanted the company, or at least, to feel the presence of company around me.

My awesome Garmin gps watch was my ‘best friend’, as my mother had put it when I told her I’d invested in this geeky gadget at pretty much the same time that my bestie spent a similar amount of money on sexy shoes. Mummy was right, the watch was my best friend on the trail, it gave a celebratory vibration every time I made another kilometre. Sometimes it only took 15 minutes, sometimes it didn’t vibrate for a long time. And, most importantly, it told me where I was in relation to my goal and it cheered me on like that.

Walk, rest, and take in the moment

Walk, rest, and take in the moment

The scenery on day two was outstanding.

Oh my, it was that of all the dreamy landscape photos, National Geographic, outdoor adventures, and as if taken straight out of the Things I would like to do with you blog I follow on facebook. Snow powdered mountain tops, rolling valleys, trickling streams, the big wide open, fresh air, lakes and that quiet we only get when we get far enough away from mankind’s great ‘civilzation’. Oh pure bliss.

So km 47 was my goal, and I decided I could do it.

No, actually, I decided we could do it. Yes, on day two I started talking to my body, my body was my team. The pep talk that I said out loud was:

‘My dear feet, you can do this. My good legs, you can do this. My strong back, you can do this. My strong shoulders, you can do this. My focussed mind, you can do this.
WE CAN DO THIS.’

 

Oh I wanted to make it to km 47. Actually, I really wanted to make it out.

No matter how amazing the scenery was, I could not get my mind off how heavy my backpack was, how cold it was, that I was going to have to set up my tent for refuge and that the only way out was going to be with my own body, walking. Every step I managed to make was bringing me closer to the finish line.

So many people had told me to ‘remember to enjoy’ and I could hear their voices as I walked and walked and walked. I evaluated with my good self if I’d regret it later… and decided that everything was just fine as it was. I had catapulted myself into this walk for whichever universal reason, and the way I was feeling right now, I really just wanted to make it out. With the weight on my back, the cold in my face, and the heaviness in my feet I had so much trouble enjoying it, and the thoughts that kept bumping in my mind where

Why the f*ck are you doing this? Who does this? Who carries 18kg of stuff around in the cold? Yeah, follow your dreams, but also, make sure you are in fact following your own dreams! Was this even my dream? Not really, if I was honest. So what was I doing here by myself now? My last salaries spent on a whole bunch of gear I may never use again. And friends, on this day I kept hearing my inner voice say: Never again!

Oh there was anger in me, and I promised myself, like I promise myself a lof of things, that this was the last time I would get myself into one of these pickles!

YES to amazing places, OH YES to adventures, but next time I find myself en-route to a South African Safari or a Northern Scandinavian Hike without company I would remind myself of this promise ‘Henceforth I will then readjust my plans and take myself to somewhere within my own comfort zone. Not this. NO LAURA! Not this.’ And I was going to brief my closest confidantes for accountability, to make sure they reminded me of this promise I made myself, way up here on the Kungsleden.

The thing is, even while I was angrily stomping (very slowly, albeit, the energy levels didn’t want to join my passionate grump – in my mind I see a sulky child purposefully leaving the room, in actual fact, I think I looked more like a weary old turtle crawling along a path), the adventurer and traveller in me already knew that
I was experiencing the typical symptoms of the ‘inverted hangover’, a term I came up with myself that day for an experience I’d made many a time before…

The inverted hangover

While we are drinking, we are having a good time – and it isn’t until the day after that we say ‘never again’, a claim we quickly forget though, latest when the next apéritif is handed our way. And this here is inverted in that during the experience I was saying ‘never again’, yet I had a slight suspicion that by the time I’d be back in comfort, and safety and the pride of having done it, I’d fall in love with it. This keeps happening to me, my entire raw food and Philippines experience back in 2012 was like this and it ended up impacting me more positively than I could ever have imagined.
I knew I was suffering from the inverted hangover.

I walked into the mountain station of Sälka at km 47 at 18.45 that day

And just as I did, it started to rain and the wind was blowing a gale – I named it The Blizzard. The colourful tents that were already up looked precarious as their sides were blowing about in the wind. I was exhausted, and I was feeling so sorry for myself.
I often, cheekily, say that the weather isn’t as bad when you dress right and just go into it. But today, I just wanted to get out of it. I’d been in it for 10 hours, well, 30 hours, and all I really wanted was to take the wet clothes off, put on my comfy clothes, and sit by a fire. Hygge is what I wanted. What I didn’t want was to open my backpack in the rain with the probable risk of getting the contents inside wet (remembering Sander’s warning ‘Whatever you do, do not get the insides of your boots wet, and do not get your stuff, especially not your sleeping bag, wet!‘), or to put up my tent in The Blizzard.

Tent view boot shot before the best moment: taking them off. Great view, add 0 degrees and blizzard winds to it.

Tent view boot shot before the best moment: taking them off. Great view, add 0 degrees and blizzard winds to it.

And I sure as hell was not looking forward to collecting water from the icy river, setting up my stove or sleeping in the tent. Poor Laura, what on earth was I doing here?

Standing in line for the checkpoint stamp I got chatting to the guide of one of the groups on the trail – there were a few groups from Taiwan I kept coming across, they were accompanied by Fjällräven guides. I asked her about the pass and the next stations, she said that yes, tomorrow would be the hardest day, and she told me to eat a lot. I confided in her that I’d hardly eaten at all, it had been too cold and too wet for me to stop, take a break, open my pack and the whole shebang – I just wanted to get out.
She went instantly serious on me, her eyes concerned and she insisted I eat more than my usual. And to snack a lot, and to drink.

‘YOU MUST EAT OTHERWISE YOU WON’T GET OUT.’

She was one of my trek angels. Just like the Danish men the night before. The tiny things that help.


That night, huddled in my tent, like a punished child and mouthful by mouthful, I finished the meal-in-a-bag I’d made the previous evening, then I wrapped myself up for my evening ritual. Following another piece of advice I got from a colleague just days before leaving, I put the clothes I was going to wear the next day by my feet inside my sleeping bag, so they wouldn’t be cold… it was a TOP tip! The other items that made it into my sleeping bag at nights were my thermos bottle with warm water (which I had managed to purchase as ‘three teas’ from the little shop at the station and that saved me from firing up my stove) and my phone (only useable for photos) – to keep the battery warm.

As I heard the comforting voices of my German speaking neighbours laughing (oh how nice it must be to have someone with you), I opened my card marked Day 2 from Michèle:

Escape the Ordinary - alles wats Du haut brauchs, hues Du schon an Dir...

Escape the Ordinary – alles wats Du haut brauchs, hues Du schon an Dir…

Escape the ordinary.

‘You already have everything you need in you,
courage and thirst for adventure, and this day, too, will be good!’

Spot on. That was uncanny.

Good night x

Day 1 – strong enough to finish

km 0 – km 23


 Just before leaving on MyBigWalk my friend Michèle sat me down and gave me an envelope with 5 tiny envelopes in it, each marked with Day 1 to Day 5 – I was to open one a day, she said, like an advent calendar, adding ‘I am with you all the way’.

She had no idea HOW spot on her words and with me she was, and how very very much I held onto those little envelopes I would treat myself to every evening.


So, you trained? Kristof asked me at Nikkaluokta during the wait for what felt like the never-ending start between being shipped there by bus from Kiruna, and finally starting to walk at 13.00 sharp. I proudly said YES, and proceeded on to tell my story about how I’d rediscovered my home country and my love and delight for beautiful Luxembourg, and how so many of my friends and family had stepped up and walked with me – my journey really began months ago at home.

He asked if I’d trained with the backpack and before I could elaborate how I’d done three walks of over 15km each with backpack, he took the air out of my pride by saying ‘they recommend you walk 200km with your backpack and the weight you’ll carry here – in training.’

GULP.

The heaviest my backpack in training weighed 14.6kg, now it is 18kg,

and I totalled 50km with backpack if I was generous. HOLY SH*T, what have I done? Oh well, not much I could do about it now, here we were. I had spent the last month packing my rucksack, and repacking it, carefully elaborating what I may need to walk and sleep and eat for 5 days in the rough, potentially cold and rainy Swedish lapland.

the bare minimums - selected, reevaluated and repacked over and over again

the bare minimums – selected, reevaluated and repacked over and over again

I’d never done this before, I was going by what people told me, what I’d read and an amalgamation of my life and travel experience so far. When I travel I pack last minute, I boast about only having put the things into my backpack for my three months to India 30 minutes before having to leave to the airport – but this was different, I was going to the unknown and also, there was no way to readjust the content of my stuff once en-route: I’d have to carry it, and it would have to be the right stuff. I didn’t know what the right stuff was, and what I had chosen over the months simmered down to 18kg, which was 6kg more than the suggested maximum for women. But I had NO IDEA at this point what else to take out. I must say, it is a humbling learning to put oneself into beginner’s shoes every now and then – it does the smug in us good to NOT KNOW from time to time.

 Let’s go already!

everything we need for five days in the wild in one 18kg pack each

everything we need for five days in the wild in one 18kg pack each

After applying a last coat of mosquito repellent and attaching the orange FjällrävenClassic flag (that can be seen from the rescue helicopters) to the packs, we all went and stood in the starting blocks and waited for the countdown. Oh finally, this was the moment, finally this Big Walk of mine would start and I could start to stop wondering about it, start to stop fretting over it, start to stop planning for the unknown.

…3… 2… 1… GOOOOOO!

Ready to go for a walk; 110km in Swedish Lapand ahead

Ready to go for a walk; 110km in Swedish Lapand ahead

Quick press start on the gps-watch activity tracker and off we went like a herd of cattle, boots chomp-chomp-chomping, and as a surprise to me: I got tearful.

Onwards!

The last thing I remember Luc saying to me was ‘see the red paint on the stones, that marks the trail.’ … after that, him and Kristof shot off into the horizon. I think I lost them when I stopped 5 minutes in to put the rain cover onto my backpack for the first shower. It stayed on pretty much for the rest of the hike.

Oh what bliss. Just walk. Just walk.

Colourful dots, always ahead of me, always behind me - never alone

Colourful dots, always ahead of me, always behind me – never alone

The herd spread out and turned the landscape into the pictures I knew from the internet: big wide and wild open, one little path, lots of colourful dots ahead of me, lots of colourful dots behind me. Over the next five days, they would become my comfort, this chain of dots, always there, slowly moving and meaning I was never alone.

This day was just walking. Walking away from home stuff, contemplating recent conversations and happenings, walking away from the unknown that had been on my mind and walking in the unknown.

Typical Kungsleden, Sweden's Royal Trail

Typical Kungsleden, Sweden’s Royal Trail

The path was very pretty; in the ‘low lands’, some trees, some bogs, lots and lots of stones and boulders… the wettest parts of the trail were covered by long wooden planks, most parts of the trail one walked from one stone to the next, over dry ground and over rivers and streams… it was soon evident that this was not going to be a straightforward walk, it was more of a dance and stone stepping juggling act.

The FjällrävenClassic trail map

The FjällrävenClassic trail map

I’d set myself the goal of an average of 22km per day, I really wanted to finish the 110kms on day 5!
There were checkpoints along the route, friends who’d done this before had said they would camp a few kilometres beyond the checkpoints so as to leave the crowds.
This is what I wanted to do today, too, as the checkpoint was at km19.
The walk was easy on Day 1, the weather was kind, the path light, everything was new, and the backpack and body went along well. I was quite surprised at how good I felt when I walked into the Kebnekaise checkpoint at 18.30. I got my trek passport stamp, warmed up in the teepee, made use of the last flushing toilet I’d see until my arrival in Abisko, and geared up again.

However my energy level did then drop drastically after leaving the checkpoint. It was getting late, and cold. And though it wasn’t dark, it got grey, and windy. Well, I was climbing by now, and had left the treeline. Part of me was hoping to catch up with Luc and Kristof for the night (little did I know then that they made it to the next checkpoint that evening), so I looked at all the tents that were scattered around the countryside, maybe one of them would have a Luxembourg flag on it.

“Whatever you do,

do not get the inside of your boots wet!”

Every time I told people of my adventure, I would get tips. This one came from Sander who’d done the Classic before… and I heard his voice loud and clear, echoing from the mountain tops, as I slipped off a stepping stone into a stream at km 20!

Within a split second the water gushed down the top of both my boots… and the next three kilometres I walked with a slush-slush sound coming from my feet, a lot of anger coming from my head and a bit of lurking despair as I was starting to get cold.

The obligatory tent picture, this was night 1, notice the socks drying on the walking sticks

The obligatory tent picture, this was night 1, notice the socks drying on the walking sticks

I pitched my tent in the most beautiful of all my tent spots that night, at km 23, in a valley behind the hill after the Kebnekaise checkpoint, and before the trail started going uphill to Singi. It was very windy, and this valley had lots of low shrubs, and tents emerging from their middles. I thought they may protect from the cold, and I chose a spot about 20 meters away from a man who had just finished putting his up and was taking the obligatory photo of it. He looked happy and proud, and he looked like he’d be a good neighbour.

It was gorgeous here, and still light at 8pm, it wouldn’t get dark til after 11 here way north of the artic circle in August. Cold and wind oblige, I was very efficient in my proceedings. Also, I needed to get the boots and socks off, ‘how silly silly silly Laura to get your all-important boots wet on the very first day!!’ Oh I was mad at myself.

What follows next turned into some sort of evening ritual:

1 – I hung the socks on the walking sticks and took the soles out of the boots as I made my bed and put on my thermal evening clothes. I love my thermal evening clothes. I loved them from the moment I bought them, they are cozy and they look good. The guy in the shop said I looked great in them – on My Big Walk  I couldn’t show off my great looks much, though, it being so cold, the hundreds of people around me and my good self tended to retreat into our tents as soon as they were up.

night one: culinary delights - meal-in-a-bag

night one: culinary delights – meal-in-a-bag

2 – I set up my stove and cooked some water for my meal-in-a-bag, which I didn’t like so I kept it for lunch the next day, and how ingenious was I for bringing these two items with: my thermos water bottle, well worth the extra weight because I filled it with hot water to have warm water in the morning, and my flat super light plastic bottle which I could use to carry water to camp and also: as a hot water bottle on my poor frozen feet.

3 – Foot care, following another piece of advice, this one from Luc! He suggested a dip in the cold river, but I was too cold for that so I went straight for the good cream and added my own practice: a proper foot massage. I congratulated myself for having taken that clinical massage training this year, it came in super handy. On Day 1 I also got my first and only blister, on my right heel. Covered with a compeed and it didn’t bother me henceforth.

keep warm!

keep warm!

4 – And then I settled into the warm of my little tent bubble. I journaled. And I started my letter to my injured buddy at home, I’d write her every evening. I only ever wrote a few lines, it was so cold. And I was exhausted.

And truth be told, I was lonely and starting to wonder why on earth I was in a cold tent in the middle of nowhere all by myself and realising how far away from anything I was and that the only way out was forward, with the power of my own body and mind. Would I make it?

I quietly thanked the two Danish-speaking men who put up their tent a few meters away from mine, strangers who by their sheer presence and soft voices made me feel more comfortable in my nest.


my evening treats

my evening treats

And once I was settled I treated myself to the first tiny envelope from my friend Michèle.

I almost cried when I saw the message, she could not have been more spot on for the moment:

“If you are brave enough to start,

you are strong enough to finish.”

if you are brave enough to start, you are strong enough to finish

if you are brave enough to start, you are strong enough to finish

She added that I would make it, the first day would be hard, but that all beginnings are difficult, the hardest step is the first.

I’m not alone. I re-read some of the last messages I exchanged on whatsapp before going offline – oh yes, there was no telephone network along the way – and nodded off into a really good sleep.

Day 1 – brave enough to start

Here we are, at the start line. OMG it is really happening; it had been happening for months, only now I was here, At the starting point of the FJÄLLRÄVEN CLASSIC 2017 in a station called Nikkaluokta in the back-of-beyond of Northern Sweden – about to head out to the backer-of-beyonder of Northern Sweden on foot and with an 18kg backpack on my back.


The energy at the start line was electric and calm.
I was beginning my walk with Group 5, at 13.00 on 12 August. As far as I could make out, there were 9 starting groups over three days, I guess to spread out the crowds – apparently some 2000 hikers do this trek every year in the same 10 days.

Luc and Kristof, my starting buddies

Luc and Kristof, my starting buddies

I was starting with my fun and fun-loving travel and start buddies Luc, who organised and booked it all for me, and his mate Kristof. They were brilliant, they brought me to where I needed to be in lightness and laughter; they provided cheeky beers on the night before, helped with last minute gps-watch adjustments and gave answers to so many of my questions. And I had loads. We were clear about not walking together, for they were on a mission to finish in 4 days, a man-challenge thing from what I could tell.

I was focussed on finishing in 5 days – because that is how long Luc had reckoned we would need when he booked a room at the hostel at the arrival. The prospect of that very room at the end of five days would keep me going going going the next five days.

My buddy was not with me. My friend whose dream this hike is and who managed to spark my eagerness for it with her own fiery enthusiasm, sadly had to cancel out a few weeks before due to an injury. I understood and totally encouraged her not to set off injured, however her cancelling out was somewhat of a deal for me as it did leave me with the question for my good self:

LAURA, will you still do this on your own?

Look, I’d never done a thing remotely like this, though I had elements of what this was, and luckily so.

1- I have travelled alone, lots. I’ve been to Australia, the Philippines, India, the States, South Africa, countless European cities, Ecuador, ohh I’ve been alone to more places I can remember, and I will always encourage everyone to travel alone at some point in their lives – it is part of the getting-to-know-yourself process, and I know that I am always going to be fine and I am never really alone.

2- I have camped. I have put up tents, big tents and little tents, I’ve put them up and taken them down in sunshine and rain, day and dark, warm and cold. And I have slept in them, I know the basics of keeping warm and being comfortable in simple conditions.

3- I have walked. Well, I thought I had walked. I love walking. And hiking. I do my little tours in my boots.

4- I tend to ‘do something new’ more than the once a year they tell you to, I’m that nosey by nature.

But I’ve never done all together; carry my tent and gear through cold over an average of 22km per day by myself for the first time ever.

More to the point on my very personal level and referring to point 1: I had made a promise to myself just months before to not go to amazing places on my own again. I’d spent the days after my 40th birthday in an impossibly romantic tented safari camp outside Kruger National Park in South Africa, where the tables were lovingly laid for two – except the one, which was laid for one, mine. While I was perfectly content and grateful, I decided then and there that it was time to move on and find company for my amazing life.

So what would I do now? Honour my promise to myself or give it a shot anyway?

My friends got me. So many people would even say ‘I’d come, if I’d known sooner’, or ‘I’d come, if it weren’t for the sleeping in a tent’, ‘I’d come, if it weren’t for pooping in nature’, ‘I know someone who might be up for it’, or, best ever, ‘I’d come, if it weren’t for all the walking’. My people all have my back and gave me various words of encouragement.

Some spoke the voices of the cheerleaders
‘Yeah, you can do it, it’ll be amazing!!’
others said out loud what I was feeling inside
‘I’m worried for you, this is a huge deal, and you don’t need to do it, you do not need to prove anything to anyone!’.

Every word of advice was deeply appreciated, yet, at the end of the day, this decision was down to me, and seeing as I now had the time off work, I’d invested in all the gear, invested in all the training, mental and physical, and told so many people about it…

…I decided to, YES, start.

brave enough to start

brave enough to start

 

 

 

‘This is the one! Take it, quick!’

A few years later, I was having a meal with my yoga teacher and endless inspiration, Wenche, in Sri Lanka, and we talked about how ‘travelling’ really teaches us everything we need to know about ourselves and getting through life (in a nutshell) and she mentioned that she met an HR boss who would make a point of asking people how much they’d travelled versus what academics they have to present.
Yes, it is all part of the learning, and the situations we find ourselves in on our journeys never fail to impress and teach me, about myself, about the differences in cultures, about people.

Originally published January 23, 2012

This is the one! Take it, quick!

And so, in a somewhat frantic moment following Ramke’s urging tone, I grabbed the outside handle of the yellow bus and leapt onto the already moving step.

Off I went.

This was the moment, the moment I had previously mentioned, the scary moment of taking the public transport by myself for the first time.

What I have learned so far is that the busses have designated stops, as opposed to Jeepneys who stop when there are customers to get off or on. But they don’t have timetables; you just go to the road and wait for yours to drive by. Which is why it all happened so fast; I had asked Ramke to just get me on the right bus in the right direction – and it just happened to roll by as we turned the corner.

I was headed for Gaston, via Manapla.

And once again, the ‘directions‘ and ‘address’ I had been given hardly made sense – until I got there.

I sat down by an open window, paid the conductor/steward/boy 35 pesos for my journey, and asked him to let me know when we get to ‘Gaston’… ‘yeah yeah yeah’, he said with a smirk.
He was with some other lads and they were downright laughing at my request – or me! I notice that a lot, then again, I have hardly noticed any other foreigners in the Talisay area, apart from Simone and me, so maybe it’s funny to see me.

you are never alone when you travel alone – watching others and engaging in conversation with strangers is great company

2012 take the journeyExhaust polluted wind blew into my face, mussing up my hair, drying out my eyes… I loved it. I was on my own. I was enjoying being with Simone and Ramke, but this little weekend ‘getaway’ was ALL MINE!

 

 

What a great feeling! This is me, on my way, on my own adventure in a foreign country.

The bus filled up as we made our way north. Where I was headed was one hour up the road, the ‘ring road’ of Negros Island.
At one point, a little boy got onto the bus and sat down. The conductor came to him and spoke to him in a friendly but firm tone; I don’t understand Ilongo, but it was clear he was asking him where he was headed, where his parents were, and if he could pay the fare. As soon as he left him, the boy began to beg and sure enough, e few moments later, I felt a strong tweak at my shoulder. I had a few cookies left and asked the lady next to me if she thought he’d like them, and she said that she thought he would. I gave them to him. They were scoffed in no time at all, and the bag was thrown out of the window – where else? But then again, it was pretty clear this little boy was receiving no education except the rules of the road and copying others.

…and I missed my stop

When we drove into Manapla I started asking about my stop.

The lady next to me looked a bit worried and called the conductor.
Here, as my cousin Marianne had also pointed out to me when we were travelling in Latin America, when you wave people to you, your hand moves in a downward shovelling way.
The conductor didn’t look happy, and the lady explained that we had passed my stop. I was asked to hand him my ticket and he started scribbling onto it.
At the next stop he told me to get out, and gestured something at me, trying to explain but I didn’t get it. I’m sure it was about which bus to take next.

There I was, stranded at a wrong stop and a bit puzzled, truth be said.

Damsel in distress, bus-chasing-bus and travelling strangers helping me get to where I wanted to get

I asked a tricycle driver to take me to ‘Gaston’ and he looked blank, then I said ‘Hacienda Rosalia’ in the hopes he may know it and that it might be closer than ‘Gaston’ itself. Blank.
Then MY bus, the one I had just gotten off of, stopped next to me again, no idea where it came from – I was waved to come back in and immediately we started racing down the rickety streets of Manapla – OMG, I thought, he’s taking me back to my initial stop!
Actually, he was chasing the bus going south that we had just crossed. As it stopped, we stopped, my guy leapt out and instructed me to follow, I was pushed onto the other bus and off I was again, going back. Quite a fast adventure, very heroic, really.
Self-conscious, I now got up every time the bus halted, not going to miss it this time, but all the people on the bus, like a chorus, were waving at me to sit down until they, eventually, all waved at me to get up.

Everybody was on my cause now, quite humbling – I can’t help but wonder what I must have looked like to them, the Western Damsel in Distress, especially considering where it was I was going. They knew, but I didn’t. 

Gaston!

I stepped out.

‘Gaston’ was a tree

It seems that ‘Gaston’ was a tree and a dirt road lined with palm trees leading off the main road in a right angle.

If I didn’t already before, now I felt a tad nervous, to be honest.

I was an unmistakable tourist, a young blonde woman at that, and I was somewhat stranded… on a relatively quiet roadside… on an island… in the Philippines. Far away from anyone I knew.
Yes, things could happen. Things DO happen. One reads about ‘things‘. And when one reads about these ‘things’, one comments on them, from the smug safety of one’s own home, say, ‘how irresponsible it was for a young woman to set off on her own like that, she didn’t even know the people she was going to!

into a village

the path into ‘gaston’

However, these kinds of thoughts never help, I learned that ages ago.
Again, in Chile in 2000, my cousin Marianne and I had decided that it was absolutely unnecessary to sew money bags into one’s bra for safety (as some fellow travellers were doing until late into the night before setting off on a trip). We had decided and agreed that safety was mainly a question of mindset, trust and the way face situations – and also, admittedly, comfort (what a waste of time to sew ones money into ones underwear).

And so I checked in with another perspective:

This is it, this is life! This is where experiences are made.

These unknown, unpredictable situations when we find ourselves way beyond our comfort zone are the situations that spice up our life and our stories!

And situations always clear up, they always do.

And so, as I made one step toward the tree, two tricycles and two men appeared into my vision field, lounging in the shade and jumping up eagerly when they saw me.

I hopped on one and we wobbled down the straight dirt road. Five hundred meters down it, the road made a right turn and just before it made a left, we stopped at the gate of what appeared to be the farm.

I went in, asked for Neneng and a friendly man brought me back out again, put me in yet another tricycle and so the journey down the dirt road continued. The road was now in the shade, little village huts were nestled into them, colourful washing hanging out to dry; it only took about 3 minutes and we stopped outside a stone built cottage with a big porch.

villages are nestled in trees

villages are nestled in trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

The driver yelled out and soon enough, my host appeared at the door with a big smile.

Later on, over a meal, the kitchen help mumbled something with a smile, and everyone laughed. Neneng told me that my little escapade in Manapla had already made the rounds in the community – everyone was talking about how I got off at the wrong place.

As Auntie Pam would say, ‘Fame at last’.

A letter home

Originally published January 16 2012. This is where my blog really began, I had been writing on retreat in the mountains, and published the first blogs once back on wifi.

Patag, 15 January 2012

Dear family and friends,

I am without internet. It is a good exercise, I reckon. We may be too connected these days.

Or are we? Because what is wrong about wanting to hear from the people you love? Especially when one finds oneself way out in the orbit of one’s comfort zone. Way out.

I am pretty much exactly where I pictured myself to be, yet I will admit it is a challenge. And I miss you.

The Cottage

our cottage

I write this email in a word document that I will send to you as soon as I am back online. I am in the ‘big’ house on the mountain, I sleep in the cottage.

 

 

 

 

The big house has a fridge, so we prepare our meals here, and it has a big table so Simone and I can both be on our PCs at the same time. Most of all, it has a shower – which the cottage doesn’t. And the toilet has a door for privacy, which the cottage doesn’t either. I prefer being here 😉

Things are well on my end. I am basically living with Simone and her Philippine friend Ramke; we stay at his sister’s house in Talisay, near the city, and we stay at the family’s cottage in the North Negros Forrest mountains, a 2-hour wobbly bus ride and a brief hike through mud away from the city of Bacolod. Up here it is lovely.

It is hot, and it is tropically humid – and so lush

All is lush and green, it is hilly and peaceful.

And it is cooler than down in the valley, I actually need to wear my fleece in the evening.

The cottage lies on the top of the hill, Simone and I walked down into the ‘village’ yesterday – which is a row of huts along a larger track.

We walked past ‘rooster farms’ on our way there. The racket of them is omnipresent and at first I didn’t know what it was. And it ain’t quiet at all. Think: seagulls in the morning. Lots of seagulls – and then up the volume by ten! The racket goes on, all day long. They are in lots of big gardens, they each have a wooden triangle/hut and stand on them and crow. Quite unusual. I asked. They are ‘cultivated’ for cockfighting.

 

 

2012 philippines patag shopThe village is where the ‘shops’ are, which are tiny windows in people’s houses out of which a hand reaches to give you your purchases.

 

 

 

I treated myself to sachets of Nescafé from an old lady at 2 pesos a piece (43 pesos is 1 USD).Shopkeeper in Patag, North Negros Mountains

She allowed me to take her photo and I love it.

 

We don’t physically ‘do’ much up here, but we are very productive.

2012 philippines patag home office

home office

So on the project: Simone, with her own organisation Nomadic Hands, has been working for one and a half years on setting up a social entrepreneurship training workshop for a local community here in Negros.

She aims to approach her overall goal, being to reduce child labour and abuse, from the other end, i.e. by educating the population, making them create their own livelihood by empowering them with more knowledge and skills.

The day I arrived she finally got the go-ahead from her local partner organization, and the first workshop begins next Wednesday. We spent a great deal of yesterday finalising the programme, going through each day and topic individually. She has planned 2 full days every week for about a year. Supposedly some 50 locals have enrolled. Her programme is on creative social entrepreneurship, a creative and simplified take on business planning. Very ambitious but also very well put together. She wants me to hold a day on Marketing, which is planned for 7 February, the evening of which day I will be leaving Negros.

We talked a lot; it took me a while to get what she is trying to do, it is all so complex.

2012 philippines patag washingThe thing is that, apparently, there is a plan to build a road up to this community which currently lives in seclusion. The community is being told that it will enable them to connect better to the world, sell their handicrafts globally and attract tourism.

A threat that Nomadic Hands has identified is that a road will most likely come with ‘development’ plans, big concrete housing unnatural to the area and false hopes, with the ultimate loss of a cultural identity.

So with the workshops they want to instil the thought of eco-tourism for the community as another opportunity, and by that participate in a sustainable and active manner. The workshops aim to spark a sense of ownership, incitation and also give all necessary knowledge and coaching to help individuals set up own businesses. And they should connect this community with a neighbouring community on the other side of the mountain (where we are right now) who are currently building an earth village made from mud huts. Their vision is to create a space where healing, arts and social entrepreneurship can help their local community.

The project is called Connect, Create, Conserve.

Connecting organisations, communities and social enterprises
Creating livelihoods for families as a way of preventing child labour
Conserving cultural and social structures and their natural environment

Now you know all about it.

We will see how it goes; I have no idea what this community will be like or how they will take the business and academic input. She has developed a more creative approach to it, using symbols and tangible examples to them, and we have worked on it together. Let us see what it does, Wednesday.

I am a bit apprehensive of this workshop as we will be up there for two days and nights at a time. Simone doesn’t know where we will sleep, ‘somewhere in the community’ – I am picturing on the floor somewhere with very basic sanitary installations (judging on the regular ones, which are already pretty basic to me).

But I will give it a go, this is a very unique opportunity to go deep into other forms of life and living, and it is what I came for.

Friends, I had a ‘moment’ this morning; one has ‘moments’ when far away and alone, so I know it. I called this moment here a Princess Moment. It’s why I chose to go on a project in the first place.

I have written for my blog, there are so many things I feel like writing about. And actually, there is no time. So I hope my texts won’t be sheer reports. Or maybe, over time, I will be able to dilute all my thoughts into a few short meaningful texts. But right now, it just comes out of me because I have a need to share. I won’t take it badly if you don’t read every detail.

So one of the things I am documenting is this raw-food diet I am on. What a random thing to do, and what a scary reality. ‘Cooked food is poison‘, they say in the book I am reading. I will also google it once I get online, I am keen to read what others have to say about it.

So there, I am alright, living the life and so grateful to be able to do so.

Much love,

Lauraxxo

 

 

Evenings at the cottage are very light and easy and rhythmic… with local furry company.

2012 philippines patag simone moonstar

2012 philippines patag evenings2012 philippines patag moonstar

 

Day 6 – the inevitable day things got dirty

Raw Food at the market

A Philippines market in 2012

I never used to be a ‘special eater’, though, I remember proudly declaring I was not one of them, actually – I loved my meat… UNTIL I actually let some of all the information that is available to us settle in, and one day it just clicked, and I changed my daily habits.
My transformation into an organic vegan all pretty much began by going raw in 2012; I was in the Philippines, working with Nomadic Hands, and I decided to join my host on her raw food diet for a month – I called it an ‘experiment’, I did it for no other reason than for fun and convenience, and I took some notes. I had no idea it would be a #lifechanger.

Originally published January 16 2012 – I woke up feeling awful. My back and bottom were sore. The mattress I slept on on the mezzanine of the cottage in the mountains appears to be less bouncy and, in effect, only a separation between me and the ground. Also, I had not been online in a while and was feeling lonely.

But more urgently, my tummy was making the threatening rumbles of indigestion, which had me flinging the kitten off me into the mosquito net (she had been sleeping on the my belly all night) and charging down the stairs in a hurry. I got to where I needed to get in time.

Now, I reckon what we are doing here in the mountains is somewhere between slumming it and glamping. On this particular matter I refer to the fact that there is a loo in the cottage, however, there is no toilet seat, you flush by pouring in water from the bucket next to it, and most importantly, it is separated from the rest of the cottage by a  door that is only half the size of the doorframe. Not unusual for Asia, as I now know, but still, no privacy in my books – luckily, at that moment as I was alone.

My condition and these many little elements all triggered a sense of utter discomfort, frustration and homesickness in me.

Here I was, 10,000 physical miles – and light years in my habits and heart – from home,

I was still adjusting to slumming it, to basically sleeping on the floor, to sharing the outside kitchen with all sorts of creepy crawlers (we had found a dead gecko in one of our empty, but not yet washed, smoothie glasses) to not having a bathroom like I was used to, and to the general state of dirt that comes with living indoor/outdoor in a tropical showery climate, i.e. muddy outdoors and boots (me) and bare feet (Simone and Ramke) brining it all inside..

WHY ON EARTH would I also subject my system to a drastic dietary change?

This was not conducive to the whole experience; I did not like my state at 8am this morning. I rummaged in my luggage for the two last squishy croissants that I had brought up from Bacolod and that I had been sure I’d be binning when we left, and stomped up to the ‘big house’ on the property that we used during the day, to get warm water for my Nescafé.

As I was warming the croissants in the toaster and after another purging visit to the loo (the one in the big house complies perfectly to my ‘standards’, and it has a door), Simone came in.

I didn’t loose a minute to declare that I needed to stop the diet. It wasn’t doing me any good, I was having too many other elements to digest (and not just the food-kinds) at this time. I just ranted away at her, like an upset child, really!

She was very good and said: ‘OK, I think it is time we talk about how you are experiencing this time, let’s do it now.’

We had a good exchange. I told her that I felt quite a bit out of my comfort zone, which is something I had been expecting and even seeking, but that settling into the simplicity of Philippine mountain life was a task I needed to concentrate on at this time, and that possibly this diet was one too many element in the ‘new’ of it all. Especially when I needed a toilet and really in those situations, like to be able to

  • a) sit on a loo; and
  • b) be in private.

She was understanding and encouraging, I think she may have forgotten what ‘luxuries’ active Westerners consider basic these days, and I felt much better having her know about my feelings – it is truly amazing how plain naming a feeling can make everything better. After our conversation I realised the extent of my drama, because, bottom line, I had absolutely nothing to complain or be grumpy about – and henceforth referred to this behaviour of mine as having ‘Princess Moments’. They come, we name them, maybe have a laugh, and move on.

Strengthened by my obligatory cup of coffee, I left the croissants on the side for the time being.

Maybe I’ll follow through with the raw diet after all.

Over the lunchtime salad of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, sesame seeds and a fruit we got at the market but didn’t know what it was, of which I managed to eat about 5 mouthfuls, I mentioned my state to Ramke and he said,

‘This is good, you are de-toxing. You are experiencing withdrawal, in a few days you’ll feel so much better, you’ll be more creative, less tired, more enlightened over all.’

We’ll see about that, affaire à suivre.

Day 4 – giving the raw food diet another go

raw food

The raw food diet – and giving it another try

My transformation into an organic vegan all pretty much began by going raw in 2012; I was in the Philippines, working with Nomadic Hands, and I decided to join my host on her raw food diet for a month. I called it an ‘experiment‘, I did it for no other reason than fun and convenience, but I kept a diary of what went on. I had no idea it would be a life changer, both in terms of how I eat and how I think. But it was. This is from my diary.

Originally published January 16, 2012 – In the Philippines and on day 4, Simone, Ramke and I headed up to the ‘mountains’ for a few days.

The cottage in the mountains is a two-hour bus ride on bumpy dirt roads through nature to the back of beyond. One goes shopping before heading up, so we dropped by the market on our way out. Ramke had declared he was starting up the raw food diet, and once again, I had no inclination to go out and purchase my own meals. I had no way of knowing which equipment was going to be waiting for us at the cottage, so, as well as being the obviously convenient option, it is much more sociable to ‘cook’ and dine together.

So I am back on the raw food diet!

And after the smoothie breakfast (and 2 more squishy croissants at home before leaving), a tomato, cucumber and unidentified lettuce salad spruced up with apple cider vinegar and raw sesame seeds for lunch, and a dinner of the same but different because cabbage had been added to the mix, I actually felt quite good about myself.

The jetlag was gone, my skin was clearing up, even my hair felt less limp than the previous days. And most of all, I wasn’t feeling hungry – at all! Even before meals, I felt no appetite nor need for food.

I was getting back to being excited about how much good I was going to have done to myself after a month of this.

Day 2 – moody and weak

Food revolution

My raw food diet begins

My transformation into an organic vegan all pretty much began by going raw in 2012; I was in the Philippines, working with Nomadic Hands, and I decided to join my host on her raw food diet for a month – I called it an ‘experiment’, I did it for no other reason than fun and convenience, and I kept a diary of what went on. I had no idea it would be a lifechanger, both in how I eat and how I think. But it was. This is from my diary.

Originally written January 16, 2012 – ‘You’ll be moody and feel weak at first, because you will be detoxing’, said Ramke as he got wind of me and the raw food diet, with a wise but smirkey look in his eyes,

but it is the best thing you can do to your body and soul, you will heal and feel much better, healthier and inspired once you’re on it’.

I’ll say. Day 2 I was handed another heavenly smoothie of banana, papaya and fresh coconut. It was breakfast.

By 10 am I was craving carbs, big time. Carbs and coffee. Oh my darling beloved morning brew.

We went to the mall for supplies for a project Nomadic Hands is working on, and when we nipped into the supermarket I bought myself a cheeky packet of oatmeal cookies, which I ate immediately like some junkie, and a plastic bag of processed croissants that looked jucier and more attractive to me than ever.

raw ‘spaghetti’ – shredded pumpkin

We had the dubious ‘spaghetti’ for dinner. And what do you know, pumpkin shreds are surprisingly close to al dente spaghetti in consistency, and taste. And the sauce of tomatoes and cucumbers and onion and garlic Simone had made in the blender was like a gaspacho on top. Good!

But that evening I felt rotten. All over rotten. My hair was sticky from the heat. My body was smelly from the sweating. My skin had outburst into all sorts of spots. And I was tired and weary. No, not good.

I blamed jet lag and acclimatization to this very new and unknown environment I was now finding myself in, diet and all.