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Farewell North Shore, Oahu…

Last Thursday when I placed our order for 2 cheese pizzas at the Wicked Hi pizza stand, the lady taking our order smiled at me and said “I love that your family comes here every week.” I smiled back and replied “yeah, but sadly this is our last week coming here. After 6 incredible months in Oahu we head back to the mainland end of this month”…

As I walked away a wave of emotions washed over me. This was the first time it actually hit me that our time here is almost up.

While I’m excited to be going back to our beautiful home in Marin and can’t wait to catch up with all of our friends, I know that I’m truly going to miss living on the North Shore of Oahu.

Here’s my compilation of the top 10 things I’ll miss most:

1. Perfect weather every day
Having lived in a range of climates, I can definitively say that I love warm weather the best. I know some people need to have their seasons, but for me, warm and sunny every day is perfection. And that’s what you get living in Hawaii. Now, admittedly we did have a handful of rain drenched days during the winter, but for the most part, every day here over the last 6 months has been ~27 degrees celsius (~81 Fahrenheit) and sunny. Can’t be beat!

2. Thursday evening pizza picnic at Waimea Valley Farmer’s Market
One lovely weekly ritual for the family was to visit the Waimea Valley Farmer’s Market every Thursday afternoon and having a picnic in the lush surroundings. We’d bring a bottle of red wine (thank you wine club membership at Haleiwa Bottle Shop!) and a picnic mat, and then we’d go order from the food vendors in the market. Our favorite (as you may have picked up from the intro) was Wicked Hi’s sourdough pizza’s (a must have for the kids), but Christine and I also branched out to indulge on pasta, burgers or poke salads depending on our mood.

But what I loved most about these weekly picnics wasn’t just the food, but the beautiful atmosphere. Waimea Valley is a breathtaking setting with lush greenery and giant trees. And the sight of children coming together to play tag, hide and seek or climb trees is truly special.

3. Finishing work by 3pm
I’m not going to lie but the 3 hour time difference between Hawaii and SF was tough at times, particularly with 5am board meetings. But on the flip side, it also meant that I was done with meetings most days by 2pm and could switch off not much past 3pm. It really allowed us to have two parts of our day: working and playing. It really made life feel much more balanced.

4. Finding mangoes on our morning walks
Early in our stay, Christine and I saw a sign that said: “Watch out for falling mangoes.” We looked up at this tall tree that didn’t appear to have mangoes and we asked each other “Is this a joke? Do mangoes really grow on tall trees like this? I thought they grew on bushes…”. Well, fast forward a couple of months and while on our morning walk not far from our house we stumbled upon a half eaten mango on the ground that a wild chicken was pecking at. I didn’t think much of it at first, until I noticed a second and then a third mango on the ground. I looked up, and lo and behold it turns out mangoes do in fact grow on tall trees!

Mango tree! (Look closely!)

Best thing about having mango trees near your house….. free mangoes!! (so long as you can get to them before the chickens peck at them first!).

5. Sushi in “town”
It’s funny how every place you go, there are references for various other places as “the city” or “town.” On Oahu, Honolulu is “town.” And while I’m glad we chose to live outside of “town” to get more of a low key, chilled setting while living in Hawaii, I’m also glad we had access to Honolulu given the number of amazing world class restaurants there (a major advantage of Oahu vs. other islands). But if there’s one cuisine that Honolulu really excels in, it would have to be sushi. No doubt a result of the large Japanese population and Japanese connections, there are a number of outstanding sushi restaurants and izakaya’s. Our favorites: Sushi Izakaya Gaku, Sushi ii, Izakaya Torae Torae, and @sushi. All wonderful! We also wanted to try Sushi Sho and Sushi Sasabune but couldn’t find a time. Next time!

6. Hiro Dreams of Sushi!
On the topic of AMAZING sushi, we’d be remiss if we didn’t give a shout out to a wonderful sushi chef who came to our place not once, not twice, but three times (!!) during our stay, Chef Atsuhiro (“Hiro”) Kajita. We got introduced to Hiro through our very good friend Molly Goshorn when Molly, Joshua and their family came to stay with us. Turns our Molly went to high school with Hiro and he has since become a world class sushi chef living on Oahu. Molly and Josh gifted us an evening with Hiro when they stayed with us and we were hooked! Can’t recommend Hiro more highly!

7. Date night with help from Auntie Jay
Our many sushi date nights in Honolulu would not have been possible were in not for Auntie Jay. Auntie Jay is a wonderful lady and grandmother who lived in Waialua not far from our home. Once we discovered her, it became an almost weekly ritual to drop the kids off with her on a Saturday afternoon so that Christine and I could have a date night. What’s best is that the kids always looked forward to visiting Auntie Jay’s and getting to watch movies and playing with so many toys!

8. Our North Shore friends
Christine wrote a post on Ka Hana Pono, our kids’ preschool (which in itself deserves to be in my top 10 things I’ll miss), but one of the amazing side benefits of the preschool was the community of parents we got to know. It was a wonderful mixed crowd of people who’ve lived on Oahu for many years, to people staying for a few months like us. We will miss you all!

9. Watching the world’s best surfers on Pipeline
I remember when I was 11 years old that I had a friend who surfed called Barney, and he told me of the hallowed beaches of Waimea Bay and Pipeline, where the world’s best surfers went to prove themselves. Incredible that almost 3 decades later I would be living on this very spot, learning from the locals about the incredible intricacies (and dangers) of surfing Pipeline and witness first hand the spectacular perfect barrels of the break. A great documentary we watched that really captures the place is Momentum Generation (and another great cheesy movie that kind of captures it too is North Shore). Christine and I had countless evenings sitting on our lanai with a glass of wine, awestruck by the surfers at Pipeline. When we arrived we found out we were neighbors with pro surfer, Jadson Andre, and it was a thrill to watch him surf. We also often saw world famous surfer and Pipeline resident Jamie O’Brien shredding it on our doorstep. And we even got a glimpse of Kelly Slater out there one day too.

On topic of celebrity sightings, Christine often bumped into Jack Johnson riding his kids to Sunset Elementary on her morning runs! How cool is that?!

10. Living by the beach
Saving the absolute best to last, I’m truly going to miss living on a beach. I grew up in Sydney and lived my entire childhood and early adulthood only a stone’s throw away from the beach, but living right on the beach just can’t be beat. From hearing the thunderous winter waves from our bed at night, to the numerous quick dips in the ocean between work meetings, to the many hours we spent mesmerized looking out at the pacific horizon, the experience living here for the past 6 months has been nothing short of magical. I very much hope to make living by a beach a bigger part of our lives in the future!

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Ka Hana Pono: A magical school that lets kids be kids

Ka Hana Pono School, Haleiwa, Oahu, Hawaii

As our 6-month chapter in Hawaii is coming to an end, I keep reflecting on the special time we’ve had and how incredibly lucky we were to find Ka Hana Pono, the local preschool that our kids attended over the past half year. First, the school choice was a bit of a wildcard as there are only two full-time preschools in the area and second, that we were able to get spots for both Bastiaan and Lea. I remember when I was googling preschools in Haleiwa and stumbled onto Ka Hana Pono’s website. The photos immediately captivated me – the lush green outdoor garden and playground. Memories of my outdoor adventures as a kid in Austria came to mind. And, they taught the kids about healthy living and eating? Sold! After a brief virtual Zoom tour by Jason aka “Uncle Bison”, the owner and one of the main teachers, I was even more convinced of this choice. This looked like a fantastic place for two young children to spend 6 months. Ka Hana Pono it was.

The meaning of the name itself made me ponder life and curious about how their day-to-day would unfold: “‘Ka Hana Pono’ is a pragmatic set of tools for understanding and making the practice of Pono (= being at one with everything) a part of your daily life. These tools are consolidated into a reference work that combines both the philosophy of personal greatness, with the cognitive skills necessary for maintaining it – a practical guide for mastering the art of living in Pono.” (Source: https://huna-hana.tripod.com). Sounds like a school I could benefit from going to myself ūüôā

So what did Bastiaan’s and Lea’s experience look like in practice?

  1. Connection to nature + pure play. The kids spent the majority of their time outdoors, barefoot, exploring, learning from and playing with nature. They would come home with mud on their feet, their shorts dirty to the point that even the strongest detergent would fail miserably. They had climbed, planted, harvested, swung, jumped, painted (messily), danced and sung. It made me smile to see them at pick up time – their hair dusty or sweaty, exhilarated and tired.
  2. Learning by doing. Bastiaan would have never touched bugs back in California. Now he knows that bok choy stalks regrow if you trim them and put them back in shallow water, he picks and eats berries from local bushes and names (and touches!) all sorts of bugs. The teachers read to the kids and tell them stories grounded in core values like respect and love. While the curriculum (on purpose) isn’t “academic-first” the kids learn core concepts like counting, colors and shapes while going about their gardening activities or games.
  3. Team work and collaboration – teachers as the guides. The teachers guide the kids on activities but let the kids take the lead. The kids learn how to work together, play with each other, and work through conflict. The teachers feel like the wise elder friends that aren’t too overpowering or hierarchical. They make the kids feel seen and heard – each one of them them acknowledged for who they uniquely are. Also, turns out Uncle Bison is a singer-song writer who plays in a ska band. He teaches the kids to play Ukulele and whips out his guitar to sing and dance with the kids during the day.

I must admit that I had a brief moment of hesitation early on about the mainly play-based approach. This brief doubt evaporated quickly as I saw Lea and Bastiaan develop and grow during their time here. Bastiaan in particular became more confident and outgoing. The ability to fully express himself through play and physical activity (he’s a very physical guy) helped him come out of his shell. The close and loving relationship with the teachers led to a huge jump in his social and verbal skills. And our Lea is thriving all around – our little social butterfly could let her full spirit shine and share her light with the many other wonderful children that are now her friends.

Thank you Ka Hana Pono for the special environment you create every day – for the love, dedication, creativity and freedom you provide. We feel incredibly grateful that Bastiaan and Lea could spend this chapter of their lives with you – their time at Ka Hana Pono enabled them to connect with and let their individual lights shine more brightly.

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Video: Hooping around the world

Our incredible journey has come to an end. It’s been a magical¬†experience on all dimensions – exploring new countries & cultures, spending quality time with family & friends and learning more about the world and ourselves. But our blog wouldn’t be complete without one last video:

“365 days, 6 continents and 1 hula hoop”

Now, we are excited to be back in the Bay Area. Off to our next adventure!

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7 observations from a month in Berlin

Berlin Trabi Car

Berlin Trabi Car

[NOTE: For those of you who know us well, you’ll realize that this blog post is a bit out of date. I began it in Berlin a couple of months back but never got around to publishing it. Oh well, better late than never!…]

Berlin was a really fun place to hang out in for a month. While it has many of the familiarities of a typical modern western city, it also has its quirks that make it like no other. Here’s a list of some of the more different and defining aspects of the Berlin and Berliners:

1. Poor, but sexy

Street performer

Street performer

There’s a famous quote from a former Berlin mayor, saying that “Berlin is poor, but sexy”. I think this sums up the place well.

On the “poor” side of things, I must admit that this came as a bit of a shock to me. Given the relative strength of the German economy, I was surprised to find that the economy of the capital city isn’t so strong. From what I learned, the period of East German communism (1949 – 1990) led to almost all major German corporations moving out of Berlin and setting up shop in the major West German cities. As a result, there is a dearth of industry to power the economy here. A positive bi-product for day-to-day living is that Berlin is really cheap for a major European city. Rent is cheap. Food is cheap. Beer is cheap (often cheaper than bottled water).

As for the “sexy” side of things, Berlin has this in spades. Nightlife is big with a world renowned electronic music scene. And what it lacks in investment bankers and suited corporate types, it makes up in creative types like artists, musicians and start-up tech workers. The style in Berlin is retro, hipster and grungy. Think: fitted¬†plaid shirts; beanies in summer;¬†coloured hair, tats and piercings.

Berlin hipsters

Berlin hipsters

But I’d say that Berlin is more than just sexy. It’s also very liveable. There are parks everywhere. Great cafes, restaurants and bars at every block corner. And a highly efficient and effective public transport system that one would expect of a¬†major¬†German city.

2. Everyone carries a beer with them, everywhere

Beer on the streets

Beer on the streets

It felt like we would see people carrying an open beer with them everywhere we went. And I mean everywhere! Guy riding his bike down the road: drinking a beer. Couple of young women heading to the train station: drinking beers. Couple of guys chilling outside of a convenience store: drinking beers.

3. You can mention the war

John Cleese from "Fawlty Towers"

John Cleese from “Fawlty Towers”

One of my favourite shows growing up was Fawlty Towers, and one of the all time great lines was when Basel Fawlty (played by John Cleese) would tell his staff¬†“don’t mention the war” in reference to the German guests staying with them. However, in reality, the idea that Germans are touchy or hush-hush about Germany’s role in WW2 couldn’t be further from the truth. Berlin is full of museums and monuments that lay out in great detail the many atrocities committed by the Nazis, without sugar coating.¬†Interestingly, this is pretty different to our observations in our recent travels in Japan.

4. May Day chaos

May Day street party

May Day

In our month in Berlin we were witness to more demonstrations and strikes than we had experienced in our entire lives. It seems Berlin is a bit of hub for this. This is most evident on May 1st, where leftists and anarchists from around Europe descend on Berlin to participate in demonstrations that can border on riots. Kind of a strange tradition, but fortunately the more mainstream thing to do on May Day is to party on the streets (which is what we did!).

May Day street party

May Day street party

May Day street party

May Day street party

5. Graffiti and street art

Berlin wall

Berlin wall

Berlin is also a city of graffiti. It’s everywhere. Just to give you one example, we stayed in a relatively nice apartment in the very family friendly neighborhood of Prenzlauerberg, and yet the doors and hallways were covered in graffiti. On the positive side, not all the graffiti is just lame tags. A lot of it is truly a work of street art.

6. Photo booths

Photoautomat

Photoautomat

Fitting in with the retro vibe, there are old school photo booth machines all around the place. In an era of ubiquitous camera phones, it’s cool to see that these machines have survived and remain¬†surprisingly popular in Berlin.

7. Open Air Karaoke in Mauer Park

Karaoke at Mauer Park

Karaoke at Mauer Park

IMG_2457Now this is really cool. Every weekend a guy comes along with a microphone, loudspeaker and a computer full of back up sound tracks, and invites people to sing karaoke to the hundreds of onlookers in the park. Super fun atmosphere with the occasional brilliant singer up there among the many not so brilliant.

* * * * *

To sum it up, as noted by many other Berliners and visitors of Berlin before us, Berlin is the least German city in all of Germany. Christine and I had a brilliant month living here and look forward to returning again soon.

Finally, we’d like to give a big shout out to Werner Zedler, our friend and Berliner, who took us under his wing and showed¬†us the very best parts of Berlin and its surroundings during our month here. Werner, we are forever in your debt!

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Getting out of my comfort zone: Improv Theatre

Buehnenrausch 1

BuehnenRausch – Improvisationstheater in Berlin

Do you remember a situation, personal or professional, where¬†you were¬†put on the spot and felt a bit uncomfortable? I can recount a few instances over the years that made my heart jump a bit. Karaoke¬†is one example. I’m not a particularly good singer and having to perform in front of others does¬†make me a bit nervous. Or I remember these first few weeks at¬†Business School where I felt self-conscious about my Austrian accent and hence always felt my heart beat a bit faster before raising my hand in class. But why?¬†I guess I’m someone who likes to be in¬†control. I’m not a control freak but I do like to have a plan¬†and some structure in my life. I’m also someone who thinks about how others might perceive me.¬†I run around with my personal screen, evaluating if I lived up to and ideally exceeded expectations¬†–¬†most of the time my own high¬†expectations. I¬†always admired people who¬†completely enjoy the thrill of the unexpected or maybe just don’t care all¬†too much what others think about them. Wouldn’t it be¬†so liberating if I could stop overthinking in certain situations¬†and just do?¬†So I decided that I want to¬†learn how to enjoy not being in control ‚ÄĒ and decided to take improv theatre¬†lessons¬†during our one-month¬†stay¬†Berlin.

Why improv theatre?¬†Improv theatre means reacting spontaneously. There are a few basic rules and¬†elements that should be reflected in a scene on stage. For example, the audience picks a place, a relationship, a profession, or a¬†tricky situation. But that’s about it. The actors, inspired by the chosen topic, get going. One person starts with a statement, the other builds on it. There is no script just spontaneous ideas that eventually make up the entire story. No play is the same. Everything feels new¬†– and is very unpredictable. This sounded exactly like what I needed!

I signed up for two separate improv courses. One was a weekly 3-hour improv¬†evening class. The other was a 2-day intensive weekend workshop.¬†I might as well go all in! The warm up exercises at the beginning of each session (word association games¬†or¬†word-by-word group story telling) were fun. But then¬†the “easy” part was over. It was time to get up on stage.¬†I was nervous to take¬†the leap and go up without preparing. While some others were kicking things off¬†on stage,¬†I immediately started thinking about the type of¬†character I should or could play. If I¬†at least settled¬†on¬†a few characteristics beforehand¬†it would be easier (so I thought). But there was barely enough time to think! And that’s the whole point. A topic is chosen and then it’s “go”.¬†Plus, even if you have already made up the perfect story in your mind it’s useless. The interaction on stage will take it in a totally different direction. So there I was on stage, my mind racing back and forth between my real me and my “new me”. Somehow, words were coming out of my mouth and I created a little story¬†with my co-player.¬†And parts of it turned out to be really¬†entertaining. We laughed our heads off. That felt really good. At least some potential to build on! But at times¬†I was pulled back into the real world¬†and I was trying to make out the faces in the audience for a reaction.¬†Could I have been more funny? More surprising? More witty? More interesting?¬†So many maybe’s,¬†could have’s and should have’s? Why? Why not just go with the flow¬†and¬†be happy with what has happened?¬†After all, this whole thing is about experiencing something completely new. That’s when I realised that it will take some serious work to lower the voice of my “ego”. The ego looks for validation. The ego looks for a pat on the back. The ego compares and wants to do better.

I left my first couple of¬†lessons with mixed feelings. On the one hand I was proud that I had pushed myself into new territory, on the other hand I thought that I could have done better. But I had the feeling that I was on to something, beginning to discover a new¬†side of myself. As the classes continued I learned about different types of games, how to take on different roles (high¬†vs.¬†low status, different emotional states) and storytelling. All of these elements were aiming at one thing: letting go. Letting go of established¬†thought and behavioral¬†patterns, structures and expectations. My nervousness of “just putting myself out there” decreased¬†with each training session. I must admit that it hasn’t completely¬†disappeared quite yet but I became more at ease with going with the flow and letting go of my self¬†censorship. The more I let go the more I felt present and, interestingly,¬†also more creative.

What’s best about improv is that it is a very collaborative game. The main rule of improv is to let the other person shine. Everything should be approached with a “yes, and‚Ķ”¬†attitude. You always build on what the other person says, if you like it or not. Instead of being the smartest, the funniest or the boldest the main advice in improv is to “do the obvious”. Don’t try to come up with the best or most original idea. If you’d just steam roll everyone else with your, let’s say,¬†smart idea, no story would develop. It’s all about co-creating, listening¬†to and building on each other. That’s when the best stories come to life. Nobody wins, nobody loses. Improv is about¬†appreciating what¬†already exists versus¬†thinking about what’s lacking. That’s a neat concept. Focus on your strengths and not only on your weaknesses. And everyone can do¬†it, regardless of¬†cultural, socio-economic¬†or professional¬†background. Everyone can play, learn and feel good.¬†Seems to me like we all should play more¬†improv games in our lives¬†‚Ķ For me, a journey that’s¬†worth continuing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Special thank you to: 
 
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Japan: the fun and the fascinating

Cherry blossoms, Kyoto

Cherry blossoms, Kyoto

To put it simply, we loved Japan. 3-weeks was barely enough time. A beautiful country with a rich and truly unique culture. We loved how efficiently everything functions, like the train system that runs so punctually that it puts every other country’s train system to shame. We loved how incredibly polite and hospitable everyone is, such as the times we would ask someone for directions and have them personally accompany us all the way to our destination. We loved how clean everything is, even though you struggle to find a rubbish bin. We loved Japan’s quirkiness, such as the crazy cafes where young waitresses dressed up as french maids “meow” at you, or the cosplay fashion where young adults dress up like comic book characters. And of course, we loved the food. More on that later.

Tokyo: random Karaoke

Our first stop in Japan was Tokyo, where we stayed for a week. Tokyo has that incredible buzz of a metropolis mixed with everything great about Japanese culture from cleanliness, to efficiency, to politeness and of course quirkiness. It’s a place we want to go back to again and again, as we get the impression we would never grow bored of it.

Lights of Shinjuku, Tokyo

Lights of Shinjuku, Tokyo

“Meow!” at the Maid Cafe, Tokyo

Shinkansen (bullet train), Tokyo

Shinkansen (bullet train), Tokyo

One of the highlights of our week in Tokyo was not really planned. On our second evening we found ourselves feeling a little hungry. It was a bit¬†early for dinner, so we decided to just have a snack at a yakitori (chicken skewers) joint. We’d been told that a good place to try yakitori is Omoide Yokocho (also known as “piss alley” for some reason) in Shinkuju so we thought we’d give it a try. The narrow alley is littered with small restaurants, with very little¬†written in English. Unsure how to choose, we figured to go after the joint that seemed most crowded with Japanese people¬†and¬†found this great place¬†where no English was spoken. Through a bunch of pointing we were able to order some skewers of a whole bunch of different pig parts. I’m usually not a big fan of innards or tongue, but this stuff was delicious. So delicious that our quick snack turned into a full on dinner, as we tried all sorts of meats that I’m not even sure of and drank lots of beer.

Omoide Yokocho (

Omoide Yokocho (“piss alley”)

Omoide Yokocho (

Omoide Yokocho (“piss alley”)

IMG_1481

Our yakitori joint, Omoide Yokocho (“piss alley”)

First course: pig intestines (I think...)

First course: pig intestines (I think…)

Second course: beef tongue (yum!)

Second course: beef tongue (yum!)

IMG_1490

Skewers of all different parts of the pig

Skewers of all different parts of the pig

A couple of hours later, we stumbled out of the joint and it was now dark. Not yet¬†ready to go home we looked for a bar to have a drink or two before calling it a night. Just down the road¬†from Omoide Yokocho is another place that was recommended to us: Golden Gai. Golden Gai is a neighbourhood full of tiny bars that barely seat 6 people. Each has its own kind of theme. Again we looked for a bar that seemed to be busy and found one that could just squeeze us in. The great thing about these kinds of bars is that they’re intimate so that everyone talks with each other. While not a lot of English was spoken, the guy next to us tried his best. After a couple of drinks,¬†two more guys¬†came in the bar, one from Japan and one from England. We started chatting together and before long we were invited to come and sing karaoke with them. Why not?! So what we expected to be a casual and quiet Sunday evening, ended in late night beers and karaoke. Only in Japan.

Our bar in Golden Gai, Tokyo

Our bar in Golden Gai, Tokyo

New friends (Kevin and Ken) we met at the bar

New friends (Kevin and Ken) we met at the bar

Karaoke with our new friends, Kevin and Ken

Karoake with our new friends, Kevin and Ken

Karaoke with our new friends, Kevin and Ken

Karoake with our new friends, Kevin and Ken

Mt Takao: the “oh so cute” Japanese school children

View of Mt. Fuji from Mt. Takao, Japan

View of Mt. Fuji from Mt. Takao, Japan

Having budgeted 6-days in Tokyo, we figured that afforded enough time to make a day trip out of the city to get a bit closer to nature. After some asking around, we heard that Mount Takao would be a good choice since the surrounding nature is beautiful, it has a great view of Mt. Fuji, and it is less than an hour away by train. While all of that turned out to be true, the actual highlight of our day trip to Mt. Takao was observing a group of adorable 6 year old Japanese school kids on excursion.

The whole scene could not be more different to what a school lunch break was like when I was 6 years old, where we’d sit on the ground and eat a sandwich with our grubby fingers. Instead, each of them had their own picnic mats that they took out of their backpacks and carefully laid out in front of them. Before sitting on these picnic mats, they took of their shoes. Before beginning to eat, they took out a rolled up wet cloth (that had its own special container in their backpack) and diligently cleaned their hands. And of course, the food in their lunch box was wonderful. Each child had their own bento box that had clearly been homemade. We saw skewers of edamame; rice balls with smiley faces; nori rolls, just to name a few. Watching these children reminded us of everything that is so wonderful about Japanese culture.

While we didn’t want to be those kinds of tourists who secretly take photos of other people, we couldn’t help ourselves…

Naoshima: bumping into friends in the middle of nowhere
For our first stop after Tokyo, we made our way to the tiny island of Naoshima for a day and a night. Over the last 10 years, Naoshima has established itself as a bit of an art lovers destination with its several art galleries and installations scattered across the island. That said, the place is tiny with barely 3,000 people. So you can imagine our surprise when we bumped into our friends Alan Au and Kian Lee from Sydney, who happened to be there on their honeymoon!

“Look who we bumped into?!” with Alan Au and Kian Lee in Naoshima

Biking around Naoshima

Biking around Naoshima

Naoshima art island, Japan

Naoshima art island, Japan

Hiroshima: hula-hooping under a cherry blossom tree.

Peace memorial park, Hiroshima

Peace memorial park, Hiroshima

By the time we arrived in Hiroshima, the cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom. Now, I’ll admit that before we came to Japan I was skeptical as to why there was so much fuss around cherry blossom season. It’s just a flower blooming after all. However, after having experienced it I can appreciate why the occasion is so beloved. First of all, cherry blossom trees grow almost everywhere in Japan and so when they hit full bloom the colours of the trees transform the streets and parks. Second, the cherry blossom trees themselves don’t have any leaves at this stage so all you see is the beautiful white/pink blower buds which almost looks like snow. It’s like a winter wonderland in spring. Third, the tradition of having picnics under cherry blossom trees create a festive atmosphere. And last, the fact that the full bloom barely lasts more than a few days creates a feeling of preciousness to the occasion.

One of our favourite cherry blossom experiences was in Hiroshima at Hijiyama park. We went to the park looking to find a quiet patch of grass where we could practice hula hooping for a while. We ended up finding this beautiful spot right under a cherry blossom tree where we plugged in our headphones and hooped the afternoon away. It was a serene experience. The perfect weather; the state of flow we got into while hooping listening to music; the beauty of the cherry blossom tree. Just amazing.

Miyajima: our secret night time cherry blossom spot

Floating shrine, Miyajima

Floating shrine, Miyajima

Five story pagoda, Miyajima

Five story pagoda, Miyajima

Another one of my favourite cherry blossom experiences was at Miyajima, nearby from Hiroshima. Christine and I were taking a stroll in the evening after dinner, and took a detour away from the main strip up into the nearby hills. It was there we stumbled across this tiny park, full of cherry blossom trees that were illuminated at night with pink lanterns. Under one of the trees a group of young Japanese adults were having an evening picnic. From this spot you could look through the lit up cherry blossoms out onto the waters of Miyajima.

Evening cherry blossom viewing, Miyajima

Evening cherry blossom viewing, Miyajima

Night time cherry blossom viewing, Miyajima

Night time cherry blossom viewing, Miyajima

Kyoto: Discovering Dashi
After a few days spent between Naoshima, Hiroshima and Miyajima, we arrived in Kyoto where we stayed for¬†4 days. We had decided to spend a good amount of time in Kyoto because it is the cultural capital of Japan and we’d also been told it was the best place to view cherry blossoms in the country.

Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto

Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto

Bamboo grove, Kyoto

Bamboo grove, Kyoto

Tenryuji Temple, Kyoto

Tenryuji Temple, Kyoto

Geisha tea ceremony, Kyoto

Geisha tea ceremony, Kyoto

Dinner with Pato and Kenny, Kyoto

Dinner with Pato and Kenny, Kyoto

We had amazing food experiences throughout Japan: yakitori; gyozas; ramen; udon; soba; tonkatsu; miso; tempura; sushi; just to name a few! In Kyoto, we got a little closer to understanding why Japanese food is so great, taking a cooking class with Cooking Sun. We cooked a bunch of different dishes, but the biggest revelation was learning about Dashi. Dashi is a broth that is the foundation of many Japanese dishes from miso soup to the accompanying broth we had with many fish dishes to the sauce we dipped our tempura in. What I love about Dashi is that unlike other European style broths made with bones, it is so quick and easy¬†to prepare. Just kombu seaweed and bonito (dried fish) flakes. Like other broths, the purpose of Dashi is to bring out the umami flavour in foods which the Japanese are masters of. Since doing the cooking class we’ve since read about the rich history of Dashi along with the many health benefits. And we’ve even had a chance to experiment with making Dashi and other variations at home, even using it as a base in European dishes we cook (worked very well!).

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Dashi ingredients: dried shiitake mushrooms, kombu seaweed and bonito

Making our first ever dashi!

Making our first ever dashi!

Kobe: Kobe in Kobe
On the topic of great food experiences, one of the absolute highlights was eating Kobe beef in Kobe. After some digging around we’d heard that Kobe Ishidaya would be a great introduction to the wonderful world of Kobe beef. Ishidaya is a Teppan restaurant where the chef cooks in front of you (no, they don’t throw food at you like at those cheesy Benihana restaurants). Christine and I both ordered the set menu, with one of us taking the very highest grade Kobe (most marbled) and the other taking the next grade down (slightly less marbled) to have some point of comparison. Both cuts of meat were incredible. Melt in your mouth incredible. The taste was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It was probably more akin to fatty tuna than steak. As I recall this experience I find my mouth watering…

Kobe beef, Kobe

Kobe beef, Kobe

Kobe beef cooked on the teppan, Kobe

Kobe beef cooked on the teppan, Kobe

Delicious Kobe beef, Kobe

Delicious Kobe beef, Kobe

Kinosaki Onsen: our glimpse into traditional Japan
Almost everyone, who we asked for tips on Japan, said we had to experience a traditional Japanese onsen (hot spring), many recommending the small onsen town of Kinosaki Onsen as the place to go. We loved it. The whole experience was so calming and another wonderful example of everything we love about Japan.

Kinosaki Onsen is a tiny town with barely more than a few Ryokans (Japanese traditional accommodation) and the seven public bath houses built upon the natural hot springs. It is set in beautiful hilly countryside, not far away from the northern coast of the main island of Japan (Honshu). The majority of the architecture is old style Japan. Most of the guests in the town are dressed in the traditional Yukatas (like a basic version of the Kimono) as they go from bathhouse to bathhouse.

The Ryokan experience is wonderful in itself. The room you stay in is very basic. Just tatami mats and a low table with cushions. A Kaiseki (multi-course) dinner was served in the room. It was quite serene to sit in our Yukata robes and eat this wonderful meal together. And then afterwards, the staff cleared everything away making space for our futons for us to sleep on.

Tokyo (again): farewell sushi
After almost 3-weeks in Japan, we found ourselves back in Tokyo for our final two nights before we flew out. A little while ago, Christine and I had watched the documentary of a Japanese sushi chef, Jiro dreams of sushi, with awe and fascination. While it would have been cool to actually eat at his restaurant (which was out of the question since it’s booked out months in advance) we did the next best thing and found an equally impressive high end sushi restaurant for our last night in Tokyo, Sushi Kanesaka. To say it was the best sushi we’d ever eaten would be an understatement. Every piece we ate was an absolute delight. The perfect end to a fantastic Japan experience.

4

Hula Hoop Retreat in Bali

Group pic

Friends reunion at the hula hoop retreat

Why hula hooping? One could say it all started about 9 months ago in Ibiza, a Spanish island in the mediterranean sea. It was my bachelorette weekend. Teeba, one of my close friends, had organised an incredible three days. And one of the agenda points was a hula hooping session! Back then Teeba, herself a talented hooper already, was toying with the idea of starting her own hoop company in Dubai (by now her company Flowground is a successful hoop enterprise in the Middle East!). We girls were curious to see what it was all about and Teeba was excited to test her hula hoop teaching concept with us. We ended up hooping to music on the beach during sunset. I loved the whole session. It’s like your long forgotten inner child suddenly appears. It wants to play. It wants to learn. It wants to move. Not only was the session fun and a good workout, to me it was also a form of dance. I was hooked. The next important milestone was Teeba’s wedding present to me one month later: a collapsible hoop that I could take with me on our world travels. Over the next few months I kept practicing some basic moves. I got better at it, but to be honest, my discipline faded a bit given other activities that were on Christian’s and my agenda. So when I heard about the one week intensive hula hoop retreat that my girlfriends planned to attend¬†in Bali it seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. When would I ever get the opportunity again to spend one week with my best friends, fully immersing myself in the art of hooping. If not during our year off, when then? So Christian, being the incredibly supportive husband he is, and I embarked on a 40-hour journey from Brazil to Bali – and in the process throwing all of our intended travel plans in South America and Africa overboard.

Fast forward to March 2015 and here we are in Bali at the Sacred Circularities hula hooping retreat. Hooping means a lot of different things to different people, so instead of summarising my experience alone I thought it might be more interesting to learn about our individual journeys. Hear directly from Teeba, Pato, Shilpa, Christian (yes, he signed up last minute to the retreat too!) and myself on what it was like.

TEEBA

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Teeba, the chief hoop fairy of Flowground

A WEEK long Hula hoop Retreat. Sacred Circularities. Bali. My Hoop idols. My 3 closest friends (and CSW joining in last minute). A Hoop Community.

I think my brain was going to pop. I probably spent every possible (non-working) moment before the retreat day dreaming about sacred circularities, and probably drooling in the process. I just knew what to expect. It was going to be one of the best weeks of my life, no doubt: full of amazing experiences, lots of learning, and fun times with my closest friends & hoop community. An added bonus: I have never been to Bali before and been dreaming of going there for years, plus I haven’t had a vacation and barely any weekends off in 6 months as I have been so swamped with work.

Ahhhh!!! I felt like I was a kid going into a candy store for the very first time!

What I did not take into consideration is the theme of SCBali 2015, which was the year of realization. I mean… what could that possibly mean?

We start of the retreat on the wrong road literally, winding through rice fields, to arrive 30 minutes late to the opening circle, but once we get there, I feel the presence of that moment and the power of the opening circle as we all introduce ourselves and set our intentions. My intention was to really get to know & indulge in the community. I have always been someone that suffers from what they, and especially Basel [Teeba’s husband] calls ‚Äúhigh expectations‚ÄĚ, but my experience was just on par, including but not limited to:

  1. Insane workshops of balances, wobbles, and scorpions…
  2. Learning… to breathe, send balls of light, finally getting the chest roll, drill twins, and killer combos all the while injuring a toe (a minor injury is a given lol)
  3. Deep thought… and deep laughter moments at workshops, room balcony, bathrooms, lunches, you name it
  4. Amazing performances; and a learning to not chicken out next time and do one of my own
  5. Awakening physical moments of HoopYogini and awakening mindful moments at in-depths of my hoop idols
  6. Bonding with my closest friends, with hoopers all over the world and reuniting with a Canadian family that I never knew before
  7. Bonding with the wildlife: seeing an insect (forgot its name) dance with Caterina, and a snail eating a coconut in slooooo moooo
  8. Private sessions including a mind-opening business coaching by Jocelyn and a flow coaching by Caterina where we develop my own move based on my own flow.

Yet, there was still something off for me. I always remember professor Kaplan saying: Happiness = Reality ‚Äď Expectations. It‚Äôs not that I wasn‚Äôt happy but there was something that was clearly off for me.

I had my realisation at my shamanic healing session with Malaika. I chose to do the healing due to my gastric issues, but came out of it with much more. I go into the session and pull a card called “Goddess of the Earth‚ÄĚ, which indicates the need for grounding, and another one ‚ÄúCore Healing‚ÄĚ, which I guess is self explanatory.

Funny enough, Malaika explains it very clearly in the closing circle as well. It’s as if she read my mind. I have been always the type of person who experiences new things and indulges in experiences, and cannot wait to share it with the world. I have invited 4 of my closest friends who have never really experienced the hoop and its community to join me at the retreat, and expected them to come with the same expectations that I had, which left me very ungrounded for most of the experience. Little did I know, that my lesson was, not only for this experience but for many in the past and in the future, that just being present, while allowing others to experience their own path and go through their own process, will rub off on them and the goodness will spread on its own. And it did.

To my friends, and to the community: we all came in as individuals, with different intentions & expectations… from separate environments, separates lifestyles, separate mindsets, separate communities… completely different lives all together. Yet we all bonded in this one place through each other. Through this process we were able to understand each other more, and understand ourselves more. And we came out as ONE.

At closing circle, Caterina approaches me and tells me that she has been thinking of the move that we developed together and what the intention should be behind it: grounding. With disbelief, I smile at her, share my own realizations, and tell her that my move is now officially called: Goddess of the earth. A move that I always flow with, ground myself with and will always remind me of this experience.

I end with a quote that Jaguar Mary shared ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own Myth‚ÄĚ – Rumi. Now I know what the year of realization means‚Ķ and especially for me, and for those around me. Thank YOU for being part of my realization.

Hoop love,
Teeba Alkhudairi
Chief Hoop Fairy

PATO

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Pato

Sacred circularities‚Ķ I didn‚Äôt know what to expect when I signed up for the retreat in Bali but I knew that I would have the opportunity to spend quality time with the friends I love so much so I was up for the adventure. And it was an adventure‚Ķpartying under the stars until my body had no more energy, getting lost on rice crop fields whilst laughing and hardly seeing what we were walking on, meeting people from all over the world who dance sooooo freely and beautifully with their hoop partners, feeling my body exhausted after full days of concentration and learning, having quality talks with ‚Äúthe birds‚ÄĚ [reference to our group of friends] in the balcony, yummy food, amazing massages ‚Ķ it felt like another world in the world‚Ķ.a world where people dance, teach each other, smile, laugh, where there is time to meditate, to feel free, to recharge‚Ķ.!

I hope the inspiration I got will stay with me to drive me to practice and practice until I can also be one with my hoop. I hope there will be more of this yearly experiences that help me see the many worlds there are in this world.

SHILPA

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Teeba introduced us to the hula hoop quite a few months ago but just like most things I do, I went through phases – couple of weeks where I would really practice and try to dance with it and then long “dry patches” where work/ travel/ general impatience would take over. As a result, I went into our hoop retreat in Bali completely unprepared – like a student that had only read the 1st chapter of a 500 chapter book. Plus all the meditation, healing and spiritual bonding stuff sounded weird to me.

I have always loved Bali but being there with my three HBS “soul sisters” would be an entirely special experience altogether. So even though I knew I was quite out of my comfort zone and my element, I decided on day 1 to let go of my cynicism and just go with the flow.

The entire week and experience blew my mind Рit was so much more amazing than I had ever imagined it could be. In addition to spending quality time with some of my closest friends in the magical place that is Ubud, I discovered a whole new community. A community of people that are the most creative, collaborative and friendly people one can meet. I saw beautifully flowing hoop dance by teachers and students alike. I stumbled my way laughing through workshops and drills, realizing that even though I was learning only 10% of what was being taught, that was already double of what I knew before. I connected with myself and the spiritual world through deep, meaningful meditation sessions and I danced, laughed and ate with both old and new friends. This trip was something else and I could not have had better companions for the journey!

CHRISTIAN

Learning new tricks

Learning new tricks

When Christine decided she wanted to do the retreat, it crossed my mind that maybe I should join her, but I quickly decided not to because hooping isn’t really my thing. However last minute I had a change of heart. I figured that if there’s ever a time to push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things, now is the time as we take a year off to travel and broaden our horizons. And I can say emphatically, I’m so happy with my decision.

My first day at the retreat was very intimidating. Watching the other hoopers around me felt like they could be a¬†Cirque du Soleil troupe and I felt like a fraud being in the same retreat as them. However, each of the other participants couldn’t have been more welcoming to me, helping me to learn the most basic of moves while they learned to perfect some of the trickiest of moves. Throughout the week, I was inspired by each of them and often mesmerised at the fluidity of their hooping.

What’s wonderful about hooping is that, like many other sports and games, one can get into a state of flow and feel an intense sense of happiness as they do it. I’m glad to have discovered this and excited to be hooping.

CHRISTINE

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Myself

When I reflected on the retreat the following words came to my mind: intimated, encouraged, inspired and connected. Here is why.

Intimidated, at first. Encouraged, later. Imagine you find yourself among 30+ people. You know how to keep the hoop on your hip and have a few select tricks in your box. But everyone around you seems to be a professional and puts on an incredible show. Was I at the right workshop? Maybe this was a bit out of my league? My fear, however, was short-lived. Not only did our teachers structure the sessions so that beginners could follow but the whole community was incredibly supportive. Many times during the sessions and at the hoop jams did fellow hoopers, unpromptedly, approach me and offer their guidance and support. It was during many of those interactions when I had my “aha” moments, finally getting the gist of a new trick!

Inspired. One of my personal goals for the retreat week was to continue my journey of “connecting with myself”. Now, admittedly, that sounds a bit esoteric so let me explain. I feel as we go through life we develop a certain picture of “who we are” and “who we are not”. And as part of that we are put into specific boxes, by others but mainly by yourselves. You might think you are the “responsible one, always in control”, “the ambitious one, always focused on career”, “the creative one”, “the adventurous one”, “the worrying one”, and so on. Having had a break from our life in San Francisco, I kept thinking about my own mental picture of myself. Are there any hidden sides that I never explored due to other priorities? What about personal traits that were more pronounced when I was younger that I neglected over time? And that’s where hooping comes into the picture. Every time I hoop I forget the world around me. I am just focused on the movement. In a way, it is meditative, a state of flow. The more I hooped the more I realised how much I love dance. I always liked dancing but I never realised what role it could or should play in my life. When I hoop dance I let go of all my worries and tensions. And with that comes a lot of energy. It’s a release and a recharge at the same time. The other thing that surprised me was how creative one can be with the hoop. Hooping is a way of self expression. Each participant at the retreat had their very own style. Sure, a lot of the tricks are similar, but the way people move is truly unique. Hooping lets your personality and temperament shine through. There are energetic hoopers, graceful and soft hoopers, acrobatic hoopers. It was incredibly inspiring to watch my fellow hoopers and the sheer amount of talent. It felt to me that there is no right and wrong. Hooping encourages you to explore who you are. And with that I got more confident in my own self expression, not worrying about what others might think about me. It’s a very liberating feeling.

Connected, with my friends and the hoop community. One of the highlights of the retreat was spending time with my close friends Teeba, Pato and Shilpa. Being spread across the world, every opportunity for us to connect is special. It was a first for all of us, however, to attend a retreat together. And going through this experience we got to know each other from yet another angel which was very special. The other big revelation for me was the hoop community itself: a diverse set of people with different backgrounds and outlooks on life. Yet, the hoop created an invisible bond. I could have not imagined that this community of warm and loving people would play such an important role on my own personal journey.

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Our Sacred Circularities Group!

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A special thank you goes to:

  • Teeba (Flowground) for introducing me to the hoop, teaching me how to use it and continuously inspiring me to continue this journey.
  • Jaguar Mary and the entire Sacred Circularities team for organising an outstanding program.
  • Our hoop dance teachers Babz Robinson, Caterina Suttin, and Tiana Zoumer for being awesome and incredibly inspiring! You girls rock!
  • All the other amazing teachers who helped create a meaningful¬†experience from further¬†hoop tricks, meditation, yoga, HoopYogini to 5 Elements dance.
  • The SC community for sharing your tips & tricks, laughing a lot, being playful and above all, for sharing your personal experiences.
2

Blissful Bali

Enjoying the view at the Bulgari Hotel, Bali

Enjoying the view at the Bulgari Hotel, Bali

If I were to use one word to summarise our 2.5 week stay in Bali, it would be “bliss.” Pure, utter, serene, “bliss.” The Balinese are friendly, happy and peaceful people; the tropical island landscape is stunning; the accommodations are luxurious; the food is delicious; massages are fantastic and incredible cheap; and then add to this mix, getting to spend time with some of our closest friends, it was clear that our stay was going to be¬†an amazing¬†few weeks.

You’ll recall that we hadn’t originally planned to cut to come back to Asia, however our plans changed after Christine was lured here by a hula hooping retreat (Christine will write about this separately). So we made the 40 hour journey from Rio to Bali, the longest haul either of us had ever done. We arrived into Bali 4-days before the hula hoop retreat and joined our good friends Teeba and Basel at our villa in Seminyak, Bali. I don’t know which was better, getting to see Teeba and Basel, who we hadn’t seen since Tomorrowland last July, or getting introduced to the amazing accommodation they had booked for us with our own private infinity pool, tropical garden and luxurious bedrooms (of course the answer is getting to see Teeba and Basel :)).

Arrival drinks in Bali

Arrival drinks in Bali

Basel and our beautiful villa tree

Basel and our beautiful villa tree

For the next four days, we made full use of the villa, while also taking time to go explore the island. We saw one of the most spectacular sunsets from Uluwatu, where a 11th century temple is perched on the edge of a cliff face looking south over the Pacific ocean. We also got to explore some of the jungles and canyons of the island as we abseiled down waterfalls and jumped into waterholes during our canyoning day trip. And on the final evening when Shilpa and Pato arrived, we partied the night away at one of Bali’s many beach clubs.

Chilling at the Bulgari Hotel, Bali

Chilling at the Bulgari Hotel, Bali

Cliffs at Uluwatu

Cliffs at Uluwatu

Uluwatu Temple

Uluwatu Temple

Sunset fire dance at Uluwatu Temple

Sunset fire dance at Uluwatu Temple

Basel and friend at Uluwatu Temple

Basel and friend at Uluwatu Temple

Shilpa chilling at the villa

Shilpa chilling at the villa

Hula hooping at the villa

Hula hooping at the villa

Cuddle puddle

Cuddle puddle

At the end of the four days, the girls made their way to Ubud for their hula hooping retreat while Basel and I headed off to scuba dive at¬†Tulamben for a day and a night. It was my first night dive experience which was pretty cool. It’s kind of eery down below when you can only see along the tunnel of light projected by your torch. And also cool to see plankton glow like stars as you kick your fins.

Suiting up for scuba

Suiting up for scuba

Christian and Basel scuba diving at Tulamben Bay, Bali

Christian and Basel scuba diving at Tulamben Bay, Bali

ahem... how did that photo get in there?...

ahem… how did that photo get in there?…

After diving, Basel had to leave to return back to work, which left me at a loose end. Initially, I thought I would just take it easy and just chill in Ubud by myself. But at the last minute I was inspired to go join the girls in the hula hooping retreat and see what all the fuss was about. As I said, Christine’s going to write a separate update on the retreat so I don’t want to steal her thunder, other than to say that personally for me it was an amazing experience.

After the retreat was over, we decided to hang out in Ubud for 5 more days. Of all the places I’ve visited in Bali, Ubud is by far my favourite. While it isn’t on the beach, it nonetheless has incredible natural beauty mixed with a very peaceful vibe. It also has many great places to eat and grab a coffee, as well as a number of fantastic massage places, so it wasn’t hard to fill in the time here. One of our favourite things to do in Ubud was just roam around the lush green rice paddies.

Rice paddies near Ubud

Rice fields near Ubud

Rice paddy

Rice fields

Ubud

Ubud

On our final day we left Ubud to make our way to Balangan beach and enjoy one of our wedding gifts: surf lesson in Bali (thanks Lara and Greg!). After the lesson was over, we sat by the water, drinking our Bintang beers not wanting to leave. While our upcoming adventures in Japan excited us, it was tough to say goodbye to such incredible bliss…

2

Winging it in Patagonia

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Glacier Grey on our way to an ice hike

Exploring the End of the World (Tierra del Fuego)

It was in the middle of the night when our airplane touched down¬†in Punta Arenas (Southern Chile),¬†a medium-sized, sprawled out city that serves mainly as a military base and hop off point for Patagonia hikers and Antarctica travellers. We had 5 days to spare before our epic Antarctica journey.¬†For some reason we hadn’t really made any plans¬†in advance, which was probably attributable to a bit of travel¬†planning fatigue (it felt much better to play with my nephews in Australia than doing google searches) combined with an increased desire to go with the flow. I guess you could say we decided we’d just wing it. Initially we figured we could just spend the 5 day hanging out in Punta Arenas. However, after one day of strolling through the city, visiting a couple of museums, and stopping by the fish market for ceviche we felt like¬†we¬†had seen it all.¬†That’s when an idea struck us: let’s explore Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago¬†off the southernmost tip off the South American mainland. So we found the nearest car rental place, jumped on Google to book a few hotels, downloaded a map and then¬†set off.

Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas

The further away we got from Punta Arenas the more beautiful the landscape became, a mix of steppe and grassland. Guanacos (a type of lama) started to emerge and suddenly seemed to be everywhere.

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Guanaco in Tierra del Fuego

After a day of driving through this beauty we arrived in Porvenir, a small port town. The¬†place had a unique feeling. A ghost town¬†with¬†colourful houses that while¬†looking charming had seen better days. A hint that we were approaching the¬†“end of the world” after all. Leaving Porvenir the next¬†morning the paved roads gave way to dirt¬†and gravel. Slowly,¬†we were winding our way through the rugged nature. Once in a while we saw signs hinting to former gold mines. Bumping along the increasingly difficult dirt track, we¬†realised that we¬†hadn’t¬†seen other cars in a long while. It struck us that our little Renault rental car might have not been the best choice for this terrain. Compared to our Australian Outback adventure where we were fully prepared with a 4wd camping vehicle, this¬†car was so bare bones¬†that it¬†didn’t¬†even¬†have a¬†clock¬†on the dashboard! It also hadn’t¬†occurred to us that we should¬†have stocked up on water or brought something to eat. Plus, Google maps¬†(also not unsurprisingly)¬†had lost¬†satellite connection. With a¬†somewhat uneasy feeling in our stomachs we continued the journey. It¬†was¬†either a choice¬†of going all in¬†or returning. We chose to keep going. And were happy that we did. After 2 more hours of¬†off-roading¬†(I’m still surprised that the car¬†didn’t fall apart¬†‚Ķ¬†turns out French cars are¬†more solid than I thought) we hit the coastline¬†and with it a somewhat better and more frequented road. The day¬†turned out to be a highlight. Little did we know that we would pass by the only king¬†penguin colony¬†in the area. Beautiful creatures!

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Entrance of the King Penguin Park

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King Penguins in Tierra del Fuego

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King Penguins in Tierra del Fuego

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King Penguins in Tierra del Fuego

Hugging the beautiful coastline we continued the journey, passing big farms and a couple of small villages, before turning land-inwards.

Then the landscape changed from steppe into woodlands. Soon we arrived at our accommodation for the night, Parador Russfin.¬†A street sign pointed us towards a reception. To our confusion we found ourselves¬†at the office of a¬†wood cutting factory. Were we at the right place? With my very limited Spanish vocabulary and lots of hand waving we finally figured out that we indeed were at¬†the¬†right place.¬†Tripadvisor had failed to inform us that this place was basically an accommodation for the seasonal wood workers¬†in the area –¬†and the occasional tourist that passes¬†by. Well, we got our fair dose of adventure¬†after all!¬†Dinner and breakfast were served¬†in the factory canteen¬†where we¬†found¬†ourselves¬†amongst workers in blue overalls. Fun things happen if you don’t plan much in advance. The next day we jumped back into our little Renault¬†winding our way back to Porvenir¬†and then setting over via¬†ferry to Punta¬†Arenas. Next day we flew out of Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams to begin our Antarctic adventure. Albeit only spending a few days in Tierra del Fuego,¬†we had gotten a teaser of its rare beauty.

Hiking in Torres del Paine

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Beautiful Patagonia (Chile)

After¬†spending 21 days in the Antarctic cramped on a small sailing yacht, we found ourselves back in Patagonia and¬†ready to move our legs again. This time we were in Puerto Natales as the starting point for 5 days of hiking in¬†Torres del Paine. I was super excited as I had always wanted to hike in¬†Patagonia and everyone who had been there described it as a “must see”.

While most hikers in Torres del Paine come fully prepared with the big hiking packs, tents, sleeping bags and cookers, we were somewhat less prepared. Once again, we were kind of winging it by just bringing along a small day pack with a change of clothes, a few toiletries, a camera, headlamps and Kindles.¬†For one, we didn’t have a tent, mats or sleeping bags with us on our year-long journey. It would have just been too much to carry around the world given our diverse set of activities and and our decision to travel with carry-on luggage only. Plus, Torres del Paine offered several lodges across the main trail, called the W-trek. So we opted for either staying in bunk beds or rented tents along the way. And lastly, the thought of trying to get on with the absolute minimum seemed a good challenge.

The whole week exceeded our expectations. The landscape was just stunning. The sharp edges of the grey¬†stone massif with its distinct granite peaks reaching high up into the sky looked spectacular. As a contrast to the peaks, the well-trodden hiking paths took us past unbelievably clear, ice blue lakes surrounded by¬†scrubland.¬†The lakes have an incredibly bright blue colour¬†due to the fresh glacier water and the lack of sediments and provide a beautiful contrast to the vegetation with its green, brown and yellowish colours. To our surprise, the lodges were well equipped and quite comfortable (apart from the occasional snorer in the mixed dorm rooms). For the most part, the meals (including a bagged lunch) tasted surprisingly good. As advice for the less heavy meat eaters out there, opt for the vegetarian option once in a while. Otherwise, get ready for¬†a filet of meat and rice for dinner ūüôā

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The Torres – the famous three granite peaks

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On the way to Valle Frances

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Valle Frances 

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Hiking in Torres del Paine

Thinking that nothing could beat this stunning scenery, we encountered yet another highlight on this trip, Glacier Grey. It’s a massive glacier that winds its way down the valley all the way into the lake Lago Grey. We had booked a glacier hike and were excited to set foot on this massive piece of eternal ice. Just getting there was a trip in itself: with the dingy across the choppy waters of Lago Grey, followed by a 1.5 hour ascent through rocks. We put on crampons and after a few instructions we set foot on the large ice shield. Surrounded by the high peaks of the National Park¬†with the glacier coming down on one side and the blue lake on the other, this felt like being at the heart of Patagonia!

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Hiking towards Glacier Grey

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Glacier Grey

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Getting ready for our glacier hike

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Hiking on the glacier

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Torres del Paine’s stunning scenery!

One other highlight on¬†our hike was to make friends along the way. Most hikers walk the W-trek from East to West so we kept running into the same people at the lodges. At dinner on Day 1, we set next to a Swiss-Italian couple, Anna and Marco. Marco spoke only Italian but that ended up not being a major barrier for us to communicate. While Anna translated most of our conversation, Marco would at times happily chat with us in Italian, cracking jokes and looking at us expectantly for a reaction. At times we had no idea what he was saying and laughed along with his jokes. It was refreshing to meet someone who didn’t let a language barrier get in the way of connecting with others! Excited about our new friends, we caught up again in other lodges along the way and even hiked the last day together.

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With our hiking buddies Anna and Marco from Switzerland

Halfway through our journey, we arrived at one of the lodges early in the afternoon. Waiting for our rented tent, we struck up a conversation with a couple sitting next to us and hit if off right away. Morena, an actuary, and Sebastiaan, a software developer, were both from Holland. I was intrigued by the fact that they both worked part-time in interesting jobs and managed to take a two-month vacation every year – one month for traveling and the other month for volunteering. Quite inspirational! Over a couple of beers the conversation moved from work-life balance, volunteering and travels to metaphysics and meditation. Before knowing it, the afternoon had passed and we were sharing dinner together.

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Meeting Morena & Sebastiaan at Refugio Cuernos

Sadly, Morena and Sebastiaan were going against the stream on the W-trek, hiking it from West to East. So unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to catch up along the way. Just before we parted ways, however, we figured out that we’d all be back in Puerto Natales on the same night. A double date it was. And even better, it was Sebastiaan’s 40th birthday giving us a good reason to celebrate! We ended up having a lovely dinner and fun evening at Mesita Grande Pizza (great thin-crust pizza, highly recommended). After¬†parting ways that night, I felt confident that somehow¬†the four of us would again cross paths¬†somewhere in this world.