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.




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,




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.