Bear necessities

If you’re hiking in the Romanian woods and run into a bear, apparently you should play dead.

I’m not sure I’d trust my acting skills in such a dire situation. Then again, lying in foetal position in a frozen state of panic probably wouldn’t involve that much acting.

If the bear proceeds to try and eat you, apparently it’s then time to talk in a firm voice. I can’t help but wonder if he’d understand the Kiwi accent?

Bear etiquette 101. This was quickly googled after many a traveller returned from Transylvanian hikes proclaiming they’d smelt bears.

Yes, no joke. Apparently you can litterally smell them.

“What sort of smell is it?” I enquired, ever so casually.

“You just know. Go the other way if you smell them.”

Great. Very reassuring. Honey face masks probably not be happening this week.

But bears are not all grrrrrrrr. Sometimes they get depressed. I learnt all about it at the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Brasov, Romania.

A lot of bears became depressed at the hands of cruel owners who used them to attract tourists. The bears would refuse to eat, or worse, self mutiliate – eating their own paws.

There were many other horrific stories as well. Bears with arthritis from being made to sit still for too long. Bears who had never been to the forest. Bears scared of other bears. Bears blinded from the flashes of tourist’s cameras.

When you see these fellas with their soulful eyes, playful paws and feigned cuddly ways you can’t help but feel incredibly sorry for them. But surely modern day tourists wouldn’t be so stupid.

At the sanctuary there were many huge signs, warning of the electric fences around the enclosures. Our guide kept reiterating not to get more than 1m close.

Next thing there’s a gasp, and everyone had gathered. As I got closer I realise someone had dropped their iPhone 6 in the enclosure.

“Who would be stupid enough to do that?” I muttered to myself.

“We did!” A couple next to me admitted sheepishly.

Opps. I feigned sympathy as they retold how he’d leaned too close with his phone, got electrocuted and phone went flying in.

Well at least now maybe the bear could take selfies? That seemed to help depressed people get a self-esteem boost.

I wonder what you should do if you come across a depressed bear in the wild? Give him a hug?

I’d like to hope they wouldn’t be depressed in nature. And luckily I follow the advice of google, not my desire to get the ultimate bear hug.

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L o s t in the world

If a girl screams in the forest and no one hears her, does it make a sound?

If you go into the woods today you might get a big surprise…

But let’s not spoil the ending, we’ll start at the beginning.

I’ve done short bursts of solo travel, but never such an ambitious trip. I guess you could call it a cathartic journey.

Post quick fire break ups it wasn’t just that I wanted to escape into the oblivion of travel bliss, it was that the very core of me was screaming for the need to be alone – in fresh scenery, with head space.

People rave about the merits of solo travel. The autonomy, the freedom, the sense of accomplishment -navigating across new cities and countries alone! But no one speaks of the challenges.

Solitude is a two edged sword, and sometimes with it comes a bitter loneliness. And yet when you come face to face with it, it’s not as bad as anticipated.

Perhaps it was for this very reason I was drawn to countries off the beaten track, minus the hordes of backpacking revellers – forever looking for their next drink and their next root.

Lost in the world, but purposefully so.

I thought my lowest point was stuck in a Latvian hospital for 5 hours, awaiting a brain CT scan after a bicycle incident where I didn’t remember hitting my head.

That was until I spent a night in a cabin in the woods clutching my nail scissors. They were sharp, but not as sharp as I would’ve liked.

I’d found a travel oasis. Solo cabins, surrounded by beautiful forest beside a beach on one of Estonia’s western islands. Only €15 per night. There were no other travellers there, just a handful of local families on holiday. Initially I revelled in such a find off the beaten track, but then as night drew in a sixth sense told me this was too isolated. I was too obviously foreign and too obviously alone. All the empty cabins seemed to be watching me as wandered past. I decided the next day I’d leave for Tallin the capital.

Tired still from the remnants of the concussion I went to sleep early. Something snapped me out of my deep slumber. The door handle jerking? My patio light was on and a tall man was standing there looking in. How long he stood there I do not know. Watching me sleep? I didn’t know his intention but I knew it wasn’t good. I’m not sure if I moved, or if he saw my eyes snap open but he swiftly disappeared into the night.

After what felt like an eternity, I slowly reached over and checked my phone. 210am. I checked my surroundings, trying to devise a plan if he came back. The only exit was the glass door where he’d been standing. The window to my left had no openings. I debated whether I could throw my phone through it and climb out. My toiletry bag? That was heavy. It was going to be a long sleepless night.

Maybe I should call the police? I cursed myself that I didn’t know the number and hadn’t gotten around to topping up my phone. Idiot! 911 – that was universal surely? Next thing I was being transferred to an English speaking operator. And before I knew it two policemen were outside my cabin.

“There’s no one here.” Obviously. But there had been.

“The light. The censor light came on” I stammered. Why wasn’t it on now then I wondered? The policeman raised eye brows at each other, obviously thinking the same thing.

“There is no one here. Go back to sleep. Lock your door”

As the 4am sun rose, I fell into a fitful sleep clutching my phone and nail scissors wondering if I’d imagined the whole ordeal.

When I awoke I noticed the patio had a light you switched on from outside. So the creep had been watching me sleep, and that explained how he dissolved into darkness so quickly.

Counting my blessings I googled the next bus out of there.

The moral of the story? It’s one thing to be utterly absorbed in a new world, it’s another to go so far astray you might not be found.

For all my soul searching and radical adventures across the Phillipines, China and the Baltics, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 2nd half of my trip had somehow been interspersed with good friends from home.

Whatever it was I’d been trying to prove to myself, I guess I had proven it.

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BUCKET.

This year felt different. I wanted to feel alive. Fresh. To explore. And so I wrote a list. I think I’ve done quite well.

 

TRAVEL SOLO TO COLOMBIA TO VISIT ONE OF MY BESTIES

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GET MY HAIR BRAIDED ON A CARRIBEAN BEACH

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CASUALLY FLOAT DOWN THE AMAZON RIVER

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BOAT FROM ONE COUNTRY TO ANOTHER

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DO SOME LONE WANDERING THROUGH CENTRAL AMERICA

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TOUCH DOWN IN THE USA

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In hindesight, I probably should have added these things to the list…

 

GET PAINTED LIKE JAGUAR IN THE MIDST OF THE AMAZON JUNGLE

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DRINK COCONUT WATER AU NATURAL

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POOP IN A TROPICAL TOILET

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MAKE A HUMAN PYRAMID ON A DESERTED ISLAND

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ACCIDENTALLY LIMIT ALL MY POSSESSIONS TO THIS

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ADOPT A KITTEN IN A CLUB

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TAKE A PHOTO LIKE THIS

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Life is short. Make it sweet.    peace-sign-hand-peace-sign-1

Vietnam on camera

A throwback to Vietnam. One winter, awhile ago, I took myself to Vietnam. We had a 10 day hiatus in the middle of shooting a season of Spartacus. It’s possibly the only trip I’ve done entirely alone.

But there was something quite liberating about it. There was a moment, somewhere on a 3 hour journey through nowhere, where I had several epiphanies. I felt “lost in the world” to quote Kanye West, with my backpack balanced on the front of taxi driver’s scouter, and the thought that no one in world knows where I am now, and that’s kinda exciting.

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