The Last Bit of Basking in Bali

One cannot truly experience a new land without seeing how the locals live. A land far from tourist areas where the pace is slower, the grass is greener and the country really shows you what it is has to offer.

Our fifth day was spent venturing away from the buzz of the beach area and into the archipelago wilderness towards the serene Ubud. The journey from Seminyak took us a good two hours. We had arranged the day before and booked with Bali Eco Cycling.

Our transfer arrived and our driver didn’t speak much English although we wouldn’t have been able to hear him over the loud snore of the engine getting gradually louder as the gears changed. We picked up four more people on the way and ventured from the tourist areas past the little villages and lush green landscapes to Ubud.

The Rice Terraces
The Rice Terraces

We stopped and picked up Weda, our guide for the day. He explained how he used to be a rice farmer and that he was now doing tours to improve his English; which was perfectly comprehensible. With a wide smile and a welcoming face he explained a short history of Bali and certain cultural aspects of Balinese life.

Listening intently we drove the tight road into a national park in the Kintamani area which is home to the active Batur Volcano and the calm Batur Lake. Our snoring van came to a halt at The Lookout Cafe where we were to have some breakfast. The view made me forget all about the void in my stomach and I was taken back by the sheer natural beauty of the area. The Batur Volcano last erupted in the sixties but the fertile land is a blessing and the lake below provides water to the rice paddies in the larger surrounding area.

The Batur Lake & Volcano
The Batur Lake & Volcano

Eventually after a light breakfast and when I could tear my eyes away from the majestic landscape, it was back into our noisy van to visit a coffee plantation. We were shown a variety of different plants by Weda and told about a type of coffee very unique to Indonsia and the little animal who helps produce it.

Kopi Luwak is the rarest type of coffee around and is produced after a small luwak or civet cat digests the beans allows them to pass through their system and then locals look for the droppings, clean them and roast them. Unfortunately these days the poor little luwaks are just kept in cages and exploited for the sake of a very expensive coffee. Coffee you cannot bring into Australia.

With our tea and coffee experience behind us it was time to start seeing the countryside without the constant grumble of the van. We were trading our four wheels for two and placing a helmet on our heads as we began a 25km ride.

It wasn’t long before we picked up a fair amount of speed as we were continuously travelling downhill and just as I was beginning to get used to the gears on the bike it was time to pull over onto a dirt track to our first stop.

Weda told us that we were going to visit a compound where several families lived and that some of the money from the tour was used to help the family. Walking in we were shown the kitchen. The small fire in the corner had coloured the walls black and the preparation bench was low to the ground. Traditionally in Balinese homes the women cook but Weda explained that it is not exclusively the women who cook and that for Balinese people meal time is something which is enjoyed alone and not in the company of others as Westerners are so used to doing.

Walking out of the kitchen someone caught my eye. There was a small old man who had been following me through the compound. With skin like a well-used leather bag and more wrinkles than a shirt in need of an iron this man muttered to himself. He sat himself on the side of the compound; always muttering to himself and seemingly pointing at nothing at all. Meanwhile around him was a hive of activity where the women were doing all the work weaving banana leaves into decorative shapes and bowls in preparation for the New Year festivities in a few days time.

"When his wife died, so did his spirit"
“When his wife died, so did his spirit”

I couldn’t tear my gaze from this old man. His empty eyes had caught mine full of wonder and I took a photograph of his face, he had a face full of stories and I had to capture it. Once I had I asked Weda about this intriguing man. He told me that he was the crazy man and that when his wife died so did his spirit.

We wandered through the compound and saw the ATM; which is the livestock. The livestock in the compound allow the families to make a small yet steady income. The old man was the only male I saw in the compound all of the other women has busied themselves and there was no barrier on age.

Grandmother
Grandmother

The oldest woman in the compound was 92 and she sat weaving while she gazed off into the distance. It made me wonder what they thought of us, tourists watching them. Encroaching on their daily routine with cameras and a sense of curiosity. This old woman; the grandmother of the compound had captivating eyes the colour of the ocean just after sunrise and age spots covered her face. When we said hello she smiled and gave us a nod all the while her hands never once stopping the intricate banana leaf weave.

It was a humbling experience to see the way that the majority of Balinese people in the rural areas live and how important trade and hard work is to them. Walking out of the compound I turned around one final time to see if I could spot the old man but he was gone.

Peddling down the hill we began seeing wide open spaces with eternal green rice fields, people were working in the fields and children ran to the road to wave frantically and shout ‘hello’ as us, the strangers, passing by in awe.

The Eternal Green Paddies
The Eternal Green Paddies

We stopped in the rice paddies and got to have a little walk through, balancing carefully, so as not to fall in the mud below, we walked on the paths between the paddies. Rice is the staple food for the majority of the global population and to see the work behind something we take so for granted was fascinating.

Weda handed us ponchos and said it was going to rain; without question we popped them on and continued our ride through the countryside. True to his word the heavens opened and a refreshing tropical rain fell. Within minutes we were all soaked but there was something magical about riding in the rain. All the tension and electricity held in the humidity before just dissipated and the cool drops were welcoming with both of us opening our arms and embracing the  droplets rolling off of our faces. The path cleared of frantic children, the rice paddies were deserted and had an overwhelming feeling of solitude and happiness.

Our day cycling around the countryside was nearly complete but we needed to have a final lunch stop before the journey home. We drove up to a beautiful restaurant which overlooked yet another rice paddy field and the smell of peanut and chilli filled the air along with the damp ground below from the rain. We sat and indulged on a variety of different dishes all with an Indonesian or South East Asian influence. There was Nasi Goring, similar to fried rice, duck, chicken satay with a tofu dish and of course fresh steamed rice.

Paying only US$40 for our whole day with Bali Eco Cycling; we were amazed at everything that had been included and I really would highly recommend them if you plan on going to Bali.

We eventually said our goodbyes to Weda our wonderful guide and began on the winding road away from the dense forest and green fields back towards  the brown sandy beaches of Seminyak on the outer edge of the island. I began reflecting on the morning and everything that we had done. It had been spectacular, not just this day but all the previous days in Bali too. It is beautiful to see how the people are so gentle, friendly and welcoming.

A Final Sunset
A Final Sunset

Our last days in Bali were spent embracing the culture, rituals and traditions of the island. We sat and watched the sun set over the ocean, we laughed and we experienced a place of true beauty which captivated me and left me wanting to stay.

 

Basking in Bali: Day Four

Traditions and rituals are two things which define a culture. Seeing both while travelling allows for a greater understanding and overall appreciation of a country.

Our fourth day in Bali was spent observing some of these traditions and rituals as we made our way to one of the most popular temples in Bali;  Pura Tanah Lot.

Tanah Lot is located in Tabanan off of the Indonesian island and is perfectly placed on the top of a large rock which juts out from the sea. It stands tall while the Indian Ocean batters and shapes its sides while the temple is witness to some of Bali’s best sunsets over the horizon. It is around a 45 minute drive from the centre of Seminyak. Entrance costs 30 000 IDR each (around AUS $3) and to park a car it costs a small 5000 IDR (AUS $0.50) which is a small price to pay for the beauty of the complex.

Pura Tanah Lot
Pura Tanah Lot

Once through the gates  you will find an array of market stalls. While many of the goods are the same as you can find in Seminyak there are a few slight differences in some of the products with more hand-crafted goods including woven bowls and wooden statues.

One of the stores had three women sitting in a row and they ran a well-oiled coconut cutting machine; two of the women shaved coconuts and rolled the shavings into small balls for people to try while the third woman stood with a machete knife and beheaded coconuts; pouring the water into a small plastic bag and before tying the top places a straw in the bag for easy drinking which is much lighter than carrying an entire coconut around.

Meandering through the markets and dodging the daily offerings we made it to the entrance gates of the Tanah Lot area. When we arrived the tide was low, the sky clear and the sun high. To the left of Tanah Lot was the Pura Batu Bolong temple. This tiny temple is situated on the edge a cliff sticking out into the ocean where centuries of crashing salt water waves have eroded the rock causing a hole in the wall of the cliff creating a unique natural scene.

Pura Batu Bolong
Pura Batu Bolong

Meandering from the Pura Batu Bolong we made our way down the stairs to the entrance of the Tanah Lot temple where the sea water swashed its way around the rock holding the temple. People were getting photographs from every angle while ensuring that they didn’t step in a puddle left from the low tide.

We walked up towards the temple and saw people crossing the small stream to get to the entrance of the temple. Upon crossing the stream ourselves and with soggy shoes we noticed that the men in the temple were offering blessings to all. There was a stream of Holy Water which you poured over your head, once you had done this you then were sprinkled with more water, had rice grains placed on your forehead and a frangipani placed behind your ear as a blessing. It was a very peaceful and beautiful ritual which I have never experienced before.

Guarding the Guardians
Guarding the Guardians

After our blessing we were able to have a look at the Holy Sea Snakes. These snakes are said to guard the temple from evil spirits and they used to be free and able to protect the area.Now they are kept in a small sand cave with a local man guarding the guardians and ensuring visitors pay a small fee to view them.

In the heat of the midday sun the Tanah Lot stands cool and calm with its free-flowing Holy Water and it’s age old traditions. A visit to Bali wouldn’t be complete without visiting this unique Sea Temple.

To Live the Suitcase Life

So many people seem to call themselves well-travelled these days but many seem to live something they imagine to be the suitcase life.

Once you have lived out of a suitcase for over two or five years then perhaps you can call yourself reasonably travelled.

The idea of being well-travelled does not mean staying in 5 Star hotels and having mummy and daddy pay for it all. It means; getting lost and not knowing which direction to turn, scraping pennies for the £3 meal deal at Tescos, having all of your belongings stolen in a land where not a soul speaks English and waking up in the middle of the night with a swollen face from the bed bugs who have bitten you in the early hours.

I am well-travelled and this is something I would not trade for the world.

There are so many ‘travellers’ and impressionable bloggers out there who call themselves well-travelled but who have no real idea what it truly means.

In my job I travel every day and I take people for whirls around Europe. I enhance their experiences by showing them the time of their lives. Some of these people are what most consider to be well-travelled but really they are only beginning to get their first glimpse of what real travelling truly means. They have budgets and commitments which anyone who is travelling should have. For many of these temporary suitcase travellers they really do have the time of their lives, I know this to be true as many have said that they felt liberated, free and happy with the people they have slowly become by travelling over time by discovering new cities and cultures. They live the temporary suitcase life but ultimately return to normality where life is comfortable and constant; something we humans crave.

I like to think that I show them the real world and not some jaded image of how people think people should be travelling these days.

The real suitcase life means hanging around a laundromat until your washing is dry enough that it won’t smell like mould in the next 3 days, it means wearing flip-flops in the shower and hearing the person snoring in the bed across the dorm as you imagine throwing a pillow at their head; and in some instances you do. These descriptions merely scratch the surface of a real suitcase traveller.

I cross countries every two to three days and yes in my job I get a snapshot of cities; but these cities I return to, the locals become friends and the customs become ordinary.

To live the suitcase life means to you become a local; you are greeted in the language of the country you are in because you are seen as one of them. You don’t stand out and flash your Prada handbags and free top-notch accommodation because all that does is scream ignorant tourist and spoilt little brat.

You spend your free days (which are few and far between) searching for something new to do where the tourists do not exist and where you feel as though you fit the mould of a local. Your holidays are spent scouring any possible resource for the best bargain to the most remote place you know. It becomes a new adventure to add to the never-ending list you have not written down but have scrambled in your head with everything else you wish to achieve before you have to get “serious about life”.

To live the suitcase life is not for everyone but rather for those with the spirit for it. It is for those who have nothing to prove to everyone else. Nothing to show off to the endless followers with floppy hats claiming that they are wanderlust when really all they are is delusional. Delusional about reality and what it really means to travel.

I salute all who really embrace the suitcase life and all the hard times that go with it. I admire those even more who take those hard times with their suitcase and who make friends with people that they never thought they could, who live life on budget they never thought that they could manage, who fall in love with remarkable cities and who see the world with new eyes because they have truly travelled and know that they have gained a world of experience from it. To live the suitcase life is to take anything that comes your way and to turn it all into noteworthy memories and times that you shall never forget.

If you really live the suitcase life then you know what I am talking about because you are in it, living it and breathing it because the normality of life that humans crave does not fit us. We break the mould each day, we become locals in several countries because we know how they live. Everyday we get up and our suitcases are packed and ready to go, ready to see what awaits us at our next destination.

To those who truly live the in this never ending moving world that I speak of; go and make memories while living your suitcase life because it certainly is the best time of your life.

 

Fez-tive Moroccan Madness

Moroccan Sunlight
Moroccan Sunlight

The dark red cotton sheets hang from store to store as the setting sun peeks through the small holes onto the rough cobble stone streets below where tourists and locals alike wander the marketplace.

Assaulted with colours and smells; store owners try and lure you into their hole in the wall stores with the best possible deal. The array of products on offer is enough to entice any market wanderer. There is the sound of the butcher chopping a head of a lamb while the live chickens cluck with their legs tied to the cages which bind them. An old man with skin wrinkled by the Sahara sun pushes a cart of fresh mint as shoppers bargain for a bunch to add to their daily dose of Moroccan tea.

Morocco truly is a feast for the senses; an overwhelming experience that will leave you wondering how the chaos seems to make this thriving country function while remaining so very unique.

We made our way to the ancient capital of Fez where we had our first true Moroccan experience.

The madness of the Fez markets was something to behold. Every place we looked it seemed that everyone was on a mission. The shop keepers so desperately trying to get the attention of any of the tourists who walked past their shop front and the tourists doing anything to avoid making eye contact with these shop keepers, so that they weren’t lured into their special price web in which so many became so easily entangled.

The markets displayed an enormous amount of products from leather shoes and teapots with the mint cart brushing past your thigh to the goat head; chopped and skinned with a blank stare as the butcher behind the counter cheers and shouts to other shop keepers with chicken feet in his hands.

The smell of the market is what hit me first; each section of the market has a rather unique smell. Beneath it all is he smell of urine from the stray animals but this is combined with the smell of Moroccan leather in shoe alley, to raw meat, fresh fruit and the best of all; the smell of the restaurants, it sure does fill the nostrils.

The Blue Gate
Bab Boujeloud

Tourists in Fez stick out like a sore thumb as they all dine in the same area near the Blue Gate or Bab Boujeloud as it is known is a hive for tourists with overly friendly waiters luring on the edges of their establishments with menus to entice anyone who is ready to try a Moroccan dish.

Sitting amongst tourists; which admittedly is not something I enjoy doing but my stomach gave me no other option, we ordered our food but as it appears we were not the only ones at the table. The stray cats weaved between our legs trying to charm us. Lucas, not a lover of cats, soon chased them away and we ordered. The mint tea was overly sweet but the contrast of the granulated sugar at the bottom and the fresh mint certainly cooled me off after a hot day. Morocco is known for tajine, a couscous dish cooked with meat or vegetables in a traditional dish called a tajine. I had to have one and being a Monday I knew it was a good idea.

Why Monday you may wonder? Well the locals in Morocco only make and eat fresh couscous on a Friday; it is an age old tradition which makes eating couscous unique. Of course there is couscous available every other day for tourists but if you want the best then it is a good idea to order it as close to Friday as you possibly can. My tajine with couscous was not really what I expected, being in Morocco I expected the food to be spicier; however it is more plain than you would imagine and by no means less tasty. Lucas enjoyed a variety of meats on kebabs and we sat and watched the waiters lure in tourists just as we had been lured ourselves.

Women in the Market Place
Women in the Market Place

The Moroccan sun set over the distant mountains and the sound of the call to prayer brought a calming effect on the bustling city. Sat on our rooftop with the cool Moroccan summer breeze on our backs I felt tranquil and relaxed as after the prayer the city below began buzzing again.

The following day we had only one goal; get lost in the Medina or the Old Town. Upon further examination we had discovered that we had only scratched the surface of the Medina the night before and that we needed to delve deeper inside the maze that dominated the city of ancient Moroccan city of Fez.

Wandering through the markets I felt less intimidated than I had the evening before. The overwhelming attention thrown my way was certainly not something that I was used to but it was something I was going to have to come to terms with. While I dressed respectfully I still stuck out and not only was I stared at by men who would whistle and holler at me but by Muslim women who were dressed in their Burqas. I noticed one woman staring at me from across the street, she had been for quite some time. I looked at her and smiled as a natural reaction and I am positive she smiled back. In that moment I felt some kind of mutual understanding. We may have been from opposite ends of the earth with different beliefs and lifestyles but at the core we were both women who in some way understood each other. It may sound odd to some but that was one of the most beautiful moments of the day.

Moroccan Tanneries
The Tanneries

An essential part of the Moroccan markets was the leather products and Fez has one of the oldest tanneries in the world. A tannery is where all the leather is chemically and mechanically dyed before it is made into the diverse range of products which are later sold in the market place. We both knew the direction of the tanneries however as soon as we were spotted by local we were helpfully escorted to the tanneries; for a fee of course. We were greeted with a handful of mint which was abruptly shoved in our hands which confused us ever so slightly.

We walked up to the balconies and saw the array of ancient tubs with the dyes in each and local men doing backbreaking work as they dyed each piece of fresh leather as if the animal was skinned that morning; possibly because they had been. Then we needed the mint. The smell of the fresh leather and the dyes was quite gag-worthy. A few tourists were spotted gagging as they passed by, it was rather comical really. Tourists would have a sniff of the mint, lower it, raise the camera, get their shot before quickly replacing the mint while gagging on the smell. The experience was certainly one that is an absolute must in the ancient city of Fez and one that me and my nose would never forget.

Tombeaux des Merindes

As we continued to wander we left the Medina and started climbing an endless hill, arriving later at the top of Fez with a view of the entire city at the Tombeaux des Merindes. These tombs were home to ancient Kings of Morocco which have since been raided and only the outer walls remains. It provides locals and tourists with one of the most spectacular views of the city and once again we were moved by the sound of the call to prayer bellowing across the city from left to right.

I had no expectations of what the city of Fez would be like but this ancient city became somewhat of a surprise. The people were friendly, the markets packed with a chaotic business which when you sat back and observed gave it a certain meaning. All of my senses were completely overwhelmed but it was exactly what I was craving; something new and exciting and this was only the beginning of the Moroccan adventure. The best was yet to come.

 

The Real Madrid

From the cobble stone streets, colourful expansive squares where activity buzzes to the black, grey and white of Picasso’s Guernica; Madrid will captivate you in more ways than you might expect from this Spanish capital city.

Having only ever been to Barcelona in Spain I wondered what to expect of this diverse capital and suffice to say I was blown away.

Arriving in the evening with plenty of jet lag my priority was food and bed however I was immediately struck by the beauty of Madrid. Emmerging from the Metro into Puerta del Sol my eyes darted from one building to another. Their elaborate decoration and height reminded me of Vienna. Knowing the Hapsburg’s had an influential reign in this great city made me understand it’s architecture that much more.

Puerta del Sol is adorned with a statue of King Charles III who sits on his horse in the middle of the square keeping a watchful eye over the happenings below. Another statue on one end of the square shows a bear reaching for the Modrono Tree; a heraldic symbol of the city of Madrid.

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Charles III keeping a watchful eye over the city

Surrounding the square are various main streets which allow for a wide variety of stores to spew out onto the street for the tempted visitor.

Spain is know for it’s clothing brands with Mango, Berksha and Zara being some of the many stores available in the surrounding areas.

If you are a big shopper then it is a great idea to explore El Cortes Ingles. This enormous department store truly does have anything you will need. It is so big that it is separated into different stores along the main strip according to categories. A wander through this store won’t cost you anything but a purchase might. El Cortes Ingles stocks designer brands and designer prices. Should you wish to shop without emptying your purse I would recommend Top Shop or the always reliable H&M; while not Spanish in origin it still allows for a few new items in your suitcase without entirely blowing your budget.

A twenty minute walk down Calle de Alcala sends you into the business district of Madrid with the Palacio de Communicaiones immediately drawing your eye. This grand building proudly waving the Spanish flag used to be the headquartersfor the Spanish Post and Telegraphy Company.

The Palace of Communications

A short walk away is the cultural triangle of Madrid. This triangle; made up of Museo Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and Museo Tyssen Bornemisza contains all the art you need to be completely blown away.

A visit into Museo del Prado is an absolute must and you can either pay €14 during the day for admission or plan your day around a visit between 18:00 and 20:00 and save yourself that €14.

The Museo del Prado has ever changing exhibitions which are included in the admission cost, it also hosts an array of Spanish, French and Dutch works from the likes of Goya, El Greco, Rembrant, Bosch and Raphael.

Should you wish to spend more than two hours quickly rushing through the museum I suggest you pay the admission price and take your time wandering through pieces of art and sculptures which range from the early 11th century all the way through to the Renaissance era and up until the 18th century.

If you are hoping to see art which is a little more modern then the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia is your best option. Once again you can either pay the €12 admission or arrive between 19:00 and 21:00 and pocket the extra cash.

Reina Sofia contains enough Picasso to leave any art lover satisfied for a lifetime. From the Lady in Blue to Picasso’s most renowned work; Guernica, you will find your jaw slack throughout the museum with your eyes capturing more detail  the longer you stare and the magnificent paintings. The variety of Spanish artists on display in the museum include the likes of Joan Miro and Slavador Dali along with many other local and international artists that will leave you wondering what exactly it was they were smoking when they picked up their paintbrush.

Other recommendations include Retiro Park which allows for a break from the tall city buildings and facades to a well mantained public park where a stroll to the famous Alfonso Monument is an absolute must. The monument hugs a murky blue lake with romantic couples and close friends rowing in small dark blue boats from one end of the lake to the other.

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Alfonso Monument in Retiro Park

The enormous Royal Palace is certainly something to behold. As the largest in all Europe it boasts an unfathomable 3418 rooms. For just €11 you can have a peek into the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family or just walk around the immense building getting a feeling of its sheer size.

Finally food is one of the most integral parts of Spanish culture and it would be silly not to embrace it while in the country’s capital. Madrid is home to one of the oldest Churro restaurants around. A Churro is basically a long cinnamon doughnut but it is not like your average cinnamon doughnut. The place to try these is in the most famous Chocolateria San Gines; open since 1894 they got something right. Their fresh Churros dipped in warm melted chocolate will have you drooling for more. The restaurant is a stones throw away from Puerta del Sol and will only cost you around €3.50 for a plate of 6. Sharing is optional.

Besides stuffing your face with Churros your options include enough tapas to satisfy any size belly accompanied by Paella or a freshly grilled Spanish steak. Your options for food truly are endless and you can wash it down with a large glass or five of Sangria.

Madrid privides any tourist with endless possibilities from museums that take an entire day to pubs that will keep you drinking all night. The atmosphere of this beautiful city is certainly something to behold and is a recommendation for anyone looking to visit Spain.

The Final Countdown-Contiki Training Part Six

It has been nearly a year since Contiki training started and the feeling of finishing that trip is possibly the greatest achievement in my short 23 years on this beautiful planet.

The final stages of the Contiki Training Trip were possibly the most difficult. Following the ‘Zombie Stage’ comes the stage where everything becomes a bit of a blur. Eastern Europe felt so rushed, we travelled through more than one country a day and as soon as we finished studying one we were hurtled into another.

The cities began to look the same and the routine of each day became like that of ‘Ground Hog Day’ just with a different background.

Highlighters marked each completed day and the closer we got to the end the more it began to dawn on me and others that we were going to do this, that we were going to successfully complete training and be signing a contract with Contiki, the World’s number one tour company for 18-35 year olds.

It is the most testing thing I have ever done and one that makes me proud every day. I pushed through with my colleagues and we finished together. Sixty six long days; we were grumpy, tired, emotional and occasionally snapped at each other but all worked endlessly to get through.

So many of my readers are going on this journey themselves. Jumping into the relatively unknown and attempting to land the job that I consider to be the best in the world (I know this may sound cliché but it is true).

To all of you who are on this years training trip or to anybody who is considering it in the future; work hard. Nothing is ever easy and you will be testing to your physical and mental limits. You may find that there will be days that you want to quit and throw in the towel, where getting out of bed seems impossible but really it is not.

Training is designed to test you and just remember that you have already put in some of the hard yards; you have gone through the interviewing process, been accepted and hopefully poured your heart and soul into the assignment.

Contiki saw something in you, a little sparkle and they are giving you a shot, a big opportunity. Show them what you have got and more importantly prove to yourself what you can do.

Give it your all; head down and bottom up, don’t think that you know it all because you most certainly do not. Do what you are told, get the work done and most importantly remember to enjoy yourself.

Training allows you to see some of the most incredible places in all of Europe so wake up each day with a fresh outlook, smile, laugh and stay off of the caffeine tablets!

I won’t say good luck because luck has nothing to do with it, work hard and hopefully I will see you on the road.

Be Your Own Pack Mule: Everything You Need For Life On the Road

Living Out of a Suitcase It is time for you to embrace the idea of living on the road and being proud of your inner pack mule. Taking all that you have and trying to fit it into one suitcase can be a very daunting challenge. You will need to keep your wits about you because you cannot take everything you want along; especially not if you are going to be living out of a suitcase for who knows how long. 

I have been asked by several budding Tour Managers to write about what to pack and wear when faced with the prospect of joining Contiki .

Here are the top 10 things you need;

Packed and ready1. A Good Suitcase- now this may sound obvious to some but trust me when I say that spending the extra money is well worth it. Go with a brand you know; I spent a fortune on my little green Samsonite machine and I have not had a spot of bother. When deciding between a backpack or a suitcase with wheels; I would opt for the one with wheels and don’t go old school and choose 2 wheels, be fancy and take 4, your body will thank you.

2. Wikipedia Offline- this handy offline encyclopedia saved my life more times than I can keep count. Free WIFI is time consuming to find and when given 5 minutes to research something you never thought existed, Wikipedia can be a helpful tool. I understand that you shouldn’t always rely on Wikipedia for your information but it can help with a basic understanding. You can download Wikipedia Offline onto Android and Apple devices. It is free for Android devices and costs around $10 for Apple devices. It is well worth it; just bear in mind the initial download can take some time.

4-socket-power-board-with-usb-1085-500x5003. Power board– charging more than one device can be made easy with a power board. It also decreases the amount of international adaptors you need to carry. They have all sorts of fancy ones these days; some have USB ports to make charging phones and tablets a breeze.

4. Running Shoes– not comfy walking shoes; running shoes, you will be running, a lot.

5. Passport Copies- every good traveller knows that they should have at least two copies of their passports hidden in the lining of their suitcase. You are no exception because on the road your passport is your life. Having copies ensures that if something goes wrong you have a copy to fall back on. It is also a good idea to keep copies of your travel insurance details with your passport copies.

6. Enough underwear and socks- again this may sound simple but there is not much time to do washing while on the road and nobody wants to wear underwear more than once.

7. Washing powder- if you do find yourself running short on underwear and socks it is a good idea to keep a small tub of washing powder in your suitcase that you can hand-wash a pair of knickers or jocks if crisis strikes. Run out of washing power? Use shampoo.

8. Rainproof jacket- getting stuck in the rain is not always very fun so make sure you have something relatively light and waterproof to stop you getting soaked.

9. Multivitamins- travelling can tire you out and if you are training to become a Tour Manager you are always going to be tired. You also aren’t eating the way you normally do and are consuming copious amounts of alcohol. Having a multivitamin that you take each morning can give you the boost you need; even if that boost is just to stay awake all day.

10. First Aid Kit- I do not mean a huge bag with hundreds of different drugs but rather something small that you keep for yourself. The key is to NEVER tell clients you have medication because ultimately you become a free pharmacy and when you get sick you are left with nothing. Let them go to a pharmacy on any street and you ensure you have the following in your personal first aid kit:Basic-First-Aid-Kit

  • Cold and Flu tablets
  • Antibiotics
  • Headache tablets
  • Band-Aids
  • Hydrator sachets
  • Imodium
  • Travel sickness tablets
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Antiseptic cream-Betadine does the job
  • Tweezers

What to wear on training

With regards to what to wear on the training trip with Contiki; ensure that while looking professional you have items of clothing that are comfortable and follow the issued list.

PackingOn training I wore jeans or high waisted work pants and a nice polo shirt or blouse with either black ballet flats or closed shoes. Blouses are great and you can get some that cut at the shoulder or lower. As it got slightly warmer I would wear a nice day dress of a moderate length or tailored shorts again with a polo shirt or blouse.

Ladies take a couple of nice dresses along and perhaps a little bit of make-up for the evenings when you go out. Heels can stay at home, ballet flats will suffice. A nice blazer is always handy to have to dress up an outfit.

Gents ensure you have more than one collared long sleeve work shirt and one pair of smart works pants with black shoes and socks to match.

Do not stress too much about what to wear on training; you all end up wearing the same thing over and over again and trust me when I say that it is the least of your worries.

Armed with all of this knowledge you are ready for life on the road and to embrace your inner pack mule. You best get packing!

Enter Zombie Phase-Contiki Training Part Five

We have all had those days where getting out of bed seems near impossible; where turning over and going back into a heavy dose trumps doing anything else, your body aches, you feel heavy and your brain is wondering if you are dreaming or if you are awake. NO! You are not dreaming, get up, GET UP!

You think that is bad for one or two days? Well try having that same feeling every single day for 66 days. Surviving on very little sleep was probably the biggest challenge for most of us on Contiki training. It allowed us to enter a phase that most dare not enter for fear that they will never return; the Zombie Phase.

WAKE UPNow when I say Zombie I don’t mean the human eating kind; with rags for clothes, red eyes and arms directly in front as they wander in your direction and you run screaming. No I mean the kind where everything is an effort and where each minute you are fighting sleep with your eyelids feeling weighted and the pen in your hand slipping off your sheet of paper.

You may be wondering how this is humanly possible? Living on less than four hours each night, running around cities all day, consuming more information than you every thought you could. The truth is I have no idea how I did it.

If training taught me one thing it was that I would be able to push myself further than I ever thought I could. Getting out of bed each morning was agony and having to endure the same belittlement and anxiety at the thought of having to do a speech, I may not have got round to the night before, was horrifying. So many days I felt myself living for the moment that I could fall into bed, absolutely exhausted and slip into a deep sleep that if it were up to me would last an eternity.

Sleepy Lucas
Sleepy Lucas

Each drive day there was always one person who would nod off and we each had a strategy to not get caught. Firstly you needed the help of your buddy, the person sitting next to you. You would inform them that you were going to try and grab a quick micro sleep.

Micro sleep:

Noun

Defined by all Contiki trainees as a recurring period of between 2 and 10 minutes on a Contiki coach in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended until violently woken by your buddy.

Secondly you needed to make sure you looked like you were doing something. The trick was to deceive your trainer. We did this by making sure our papers were on our lap, pen in hand, looking down to ensure we looked like we were working.

Lastly you had to be quiet about it; snoring would instantly give you away and if you looked odd or in the least bit funny; you risked alerting fellow trainees who would giggle, point and take photos of you as they tried to stick their finger up your nose.

Unfortunately sleeping on training is not allowed and the violent shove you got from your buddy was enough to alert you that the trainer is looking your way and that the pen, which a second ago lay limp in your hand, needed to be scribbling down something mildly relative to European subject matter.

The most entertaining part of my day was watching others take their micro sleep. Heads fell back and tongues flailed to the side, all while our pens were resting on our pages with tiny words scribbled down, slowly forming a long solid blue line from the minute we began falling asleep. I watched my buddy draw on his own hand for a solid four minutes while falling asleep, convinced he was still awake and writing an incredible history.

Ian working hard
Ian working hard

The Zombie Phase was made worse by some with the use of ‘No Doz’; a caffeine tablet to help relieve mental fatigue and drowsiness, helping you stay alert and awake. That is all fine and well, until you have been living off of caffeine tablets for more than two weeks.

You have endless shakes, paranoia, little sleep and a huge crash an hour after consumption. One Contiki trainee has told me she thought that they were going to kill her by the end, causing her to break out into spontaneous fits of tears, pull out her hair and vomit on a constant basis; not pretty. My advice; avoid all of that kind of stuff and ensure you are eating healthy and opt for coffee rather than a tablet solution.

Entering the Zombie Phase sounds frightening and alarming; I can assure you it is but that is the time where you need to push harder than before. You need to try and stay awake, pay attention and absorb everything around you. One thing I wish I had done was to pay more attention on training.

Enter Zombie Phase
Enter Zombie Phase

Prioritise your time on the coach and work as hard as you can, leaving the late nights for what they are meant for; much needed rest before that alarm goes off and the Zombie Phase starts all over again.

What to Expect-The Contiki Interview Part Two

It is not easy, it is the interview that made me walk out not knowing how I did or if I was going to get the dream job.

I have received plenty of emails asking about what to expect in the Contiki Group and personal interviews and to be completely honest I don’t think our experiences will be the same. In Part One I explored how to go about writing your speech for the interview and now comes the nitty gritty

Having spoken to colleagues about their interview experiences it is fair to say that everyone had a completely different experience and they were all asked entirely different questions.

Putting that aside I will share with you my experience and the questions I was asked but more importantly how I held myself together in both Contiki interviews.

Walking into the interview in Sydney I saw 25 or so other nervous and eager faces waiting as patiently as I was to find out more about the position of European Tour Manager. My head was filled with my speech, repeating it over and over in my head so that I would not forget it when it came to the presentation.

The, then, Operations Manager got up and spoke for a solid hour about the position and she didn’t make it sound fuzzy and warm like you see in the brochure, she gave us the facts, the things we may not have known or rather chose to ignore about the job. Perhaps she wanted to see who was really there for the position and who was just there because it would get them a ride around some of the most incredible cities in Europe.

We were then tasked with an exercise; we had five minutes to chat to the person next to us, to find out a little more about them and then to introduce them to the audience and the Contiki staff.

Following this it was time for the presentations, the cliché of being able to cut the tension with a knife was an understatement. Starting in alphabetical order I knew I had some time to relax before I was called to present. The nerves in the room reached an all time high when the first girl fumbled numerous times, burst into tears and ran back to her chair. People were falling and we hadn’t even passed the first hurdle.

My turn came as I knew it would and I was slightly nervous. In my speech I mentioned how everything works in threes, luckily for me the Operations Manager had mentioned the power of three in her chat to us. She instantly lifted her head and I knew I had her attention. The audience giggled at my jokes and hardly noticed my fumble. I sat down confident and listened to all the other speeches, ensuring I wrote down each person’s topic next to their name.

We were then told that the interview was over and we needed to call back in just over an hour to see if we had made it to the personal interview. The wait was agonising. All us interviewees had decided to go for lunch and to call together. When the time came to call I was sat at the table of “NO”, my nerves were out of control, eventually I built up the courage and was told I had made it through and needed to be back in two hours.

The time came and I was finally called to the interview room where I met the Operations Manager and a senior Tour Manager, I gave them a big smile as I walked in, I didn’t get a smile back.

I was asked a series of questions with the interview lasting just over thirty minutes on a range of topics. My studies, intentions and skills were all questioned and scrutinised. Later I was given a scenario a tour manager may experience on the job and it was by no means easy. I had to think about what I would do as a tour manager with real clients who were having real issues. Almost all the interviewees got a scenario, they want to see how you would think about it and prioritise the necessary steps.

I felt confident about my responses and more importantly, I took my time. If I needed to think about something, I did, I made them wait for a response that I knew would be better than if I had rushed and blurted out something stupid.

I walked out of the interview not knowing how I did and it was only three weeks later that I received a response saying I was accepted on the training trip. It was one of the happiest moments of my life and I sit here a year later having had the best year of my life.

My advice to you about the interviews is just to be yourself, be confident because if you are really passionate and want the job then that will show.

All the best of luck and who knows, we may meet on the road.

3 Minutes to Impress- The Contiki Interview Part One

Well congratulations, there must have been something in your application that the Contiki office staff liked. Now comes the time to show them what you are made of, because trust me when I say, you don’t have very long.

Any job interview is daunting but an interview with Contiki, for the greatest job in the world, when you want nothing else than to be accepted onto that training trip, can be petrifying.

Over the past few months I have had a few emails from prospective tour managers asking me all about the interview process for Contiki and how to present your three-minute talks; so I am going to tell you about my experience and hopefully give you some tips and answer your questions regarding an interview that could change your life.

So you have received the email for your interview and in true ‘Contiki style’ you already have a ‘find out’. You need to do a speech about an assigned topic. This should be taken very seriously. Contiki want to see how you present yourself and whether or not the research, that you have spent ages looking up, is interesting and more importantly; relative to the 18-35 Contiki market.

Public speaking is the number one fear of the majority of people in the world and so don’t worry if you find it daunting, it is not something that becomes amazing overnight and not everyone has the gift of the gab.

Here are a few tips about your talk:

1. Stick to the 3 minute time limit

It is there for a reason, you are not the only person in the interview and you need to show off your information condensing skills. You also don’t want to bore your audience or make the Contiki staff daydream about where they would rather be.

2. Please make it interesting, PLEASE!

You need to remember that if you do get the job that you will be addressing Contiki clients, 18-35 year olds with diverse backgrounds. Make it fun, don’t just give a bland timeline “So and so was born on this day, blah blah”  everyone may as well just take a snooze.

Find the juicy information; the things we may not know about your topic. Surprise people and bring something different to the table. I chose to talk about the scandalous things Mr Galileo Galilei did, a friend had a photo of her historic person and offered a bottle of wine to whoever could recognise who it was. Or set the scene, give your audience a picture of what you are talking about.

3. Structure is important

If you do not have a beginning, middle and end to your speech you look as lost as a fart in a perfume shop. Having a structure and breaking your speech into 3 parts will also help you remember all the information.

4. Practice makes perfect

You are not allowed to use notes to help you during your speech so you had best make sure that you know it off by heart and the best way to do that is to practice. Say your speech to anyone who will listen and even if they don’t want to listen, say it to them anyway. See if they have the reaction you were expecting and if they don’t; then change something. You want to be as prepared as you possibly can and saying out loud may make you reconsider some of the things you have written.

5. Smile and use eye contact

Smiling and keeping eye contact with your audience makes them feel like you are engaging with them, they are also more likely to listen to what you have to say if you have good eye contact.

6. If you stumble, don’t panic

I stumbled in my speech but I stopped, took a breath and continued from the last point. Everyone is nervous and the Contiki staff know that. It is not the end of the world if you fumble. Whatever you do, do not give up and sit down! Don’t you dare! You deserve to be there just like everyone else and if you get so nervous that you run and sit down in your chair then it will be over. Giving up isn’t going to solve anything and while I am not judging your speeches I am sure that you will be looked upon fondly if you tried rather than giving up.

7. KISS-Keep it simple stupid!

Nobody likes a talk that confuses them and trust me when I say that some of the topics can be made more confusing than they need to be. Keep it simple, use everyday language and break it down into manageable bite size chunks that you and your audience can handle.

8. Try to enjoy yourself

You have made it to the first interview and this is your chance, your three minutes to impress, so do just that while trying to enjoy yourself. If you are passionate about what you are saying and enjoy yourself it will show.

In part two I will explore exactly what happens in the first Contiki interview and little tips that may help you find a place on the training trip, without giving too much away of course.

Happy speech writing.

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