The sun may go down in the UAE but the fire still burns bright. Atop a tall spire, not quite as far in the desert distance as I would like is an instant reminder that I live in a country with the seventh largest oil reserve. This reminder, along with an expansive sand box for a backyard and a sea of women cloaked in black abayas, is exactly what I hoped for when I signed on for a year in the United Arab Emirates: to be culture shocked beyond a recognizable doubt…or anything recognizable for that matter. Oddly enough I search for these giant torches in the sky as something to break up the monotony of sand, on evenings when I could swear no life force besides myself is stirring across mile after mile of desert. While wandering through the desert may feel futile, camping in the desert is just the adventure necessary to bring this landscape to life, and I was fortunate enough to see for myself last week as I embarked on my first desert safari with Happy Linkers tour company.
Happy Linkers operates daily trips out of Dubai with pick-ups from the Dubai Mall. So, along with fifty SABIS teachers I dawned my smartest camel riding attire and rode deep in to the Arabian desert for a night to remember. By 10 PM, hands fully henna’d, lungs brimming with sheesha, and visions of belly dance fairies shimmying in my head, the hot, white sky over the Arabian desert had switched off and the headliner entertainment came on, full horse….I mean full force. The “Horse Dance” is based off a long standing adoration with the Arabian breed, dating back nearly 4500 years. The show itself was reminiscent of a fantastic Halloween costume a friend galloped around Bellingham in whereby he represented the front half of a unicorn, laying the weight of the back half on a pair of roller skates. He easily zip from one party to the next without slowing down enough to have his tail pulled. The two men operating the horse for the safari performance must have a system worked out or at least a coin toss before shows to flip for who gets stuck in the rear.
After some Arabian rump shaking, sword swallowing and whirling dervishes, the desert reminded me of its presence and vastness by doing something that any “I told you so” landscape might do. Just when I was beginning to think of the desert as predictable, that same white sky that had just a few hours earlier cooled itself into a an indigo night cover, opened up its menacing eyes and cried great big rain drops onto our camp. I ran for a tent, Matt ran under a camel and just like that I had been tricked by the land.
The safari was my first and last time I will sign on to willingly sleep in the desert as a recreational activity, not necessarily because when the unmistakably hot sun goes out the temperature quickly drops, not because camels are far from being cuddly creatures and not because a sand pillow is much less comfortable than a bean bag chair, but because the desert scares me. It is as mysterious to me still as the first class lounge and as unpredictable as a Middle Eastern revolution. I am walking away with a losing record: Desert 1, Teach Travel Play nil.
“May the grace of God be with you always in your heart,
May you know the truth inside you from the start,
May you find the strength to know you are part of something beautiful.”
~ Alexi Murdoch
I attended a Steiner school growing up, an experience that has undoubtedly helped to shape my future educational goals and may be a clue to answering the question nagging my every rucksack weighted step “Why can’t I shake this travel bug???” The permission to be curious about the world around me and to continue to ask questions and search for answers was instilled in my Steiner education from a young age. This curiosity is THE reason I find myself now, typing away perched on a ladder, overlooking the beautiful blue mountains at the KindleHill Steiner school in Wentworth Falls! I have spent a remarkable two weeks here volunteering with the HelpX program to build a new school, and never have I been so far from my home and felt so very much at home in this welcoming and eclectic community.
The KindleHill school is using a unique cobb construction technique that I have been thrilled to be a part of, waking up early to mix materials, shovel cob, climb ladders and render walls. My evenings are spent in the workshop accommodation eating meals lovingly prepared by dedicated parents and translating jokes between the other volunteers representing five different nationalities. On weekends I wander into nearby Katoomba by train for the world’s BEST coffee and pastry from cafe Zuppa, and to chat it up with some colorful locals, before I take off on a bushwalk into some breathtaking territory. Yep, life is pretty sweet at the moment.
My constant struggle with moving from place to place has rung true blue here in that I am constantly saying good-bye to somewhere or someone and I always have that feeling that my heart will never repair itself. But it does regenerate and I am able to hold on to fond memories of all these wonderful places and the people who inhabit them and feel so unbelievably blessed to have been part of their lives for even a short while. Thank you thank you thank you to the KindleHill school for your love, generosity, openness to volunteers from far reaches of the earth and for your dedication to educating this generation in such a meaningful way.
I thought I would squeeze one more island trip into my tour of the North East coast of Queensland. Just off of Townsville lies the little gem that is magnetic island complete with eucalyptus breeze, baby koala and coconut bowling!? This was definitely the place to combine my attempts to converse with nature and pure mischievous mayhem. If you are looking for either of these in your vacation, then check out the Bungalow Bay Koala Village.
Besides miles of gorgeous beach and a maze of bushwalks to choose from, the Bungalow Bay Koala village has an animal sanctuary worth taking a peek. Bungalow Bay offers a champagne breakfast in the sanctuary followed by a tour of the grounds where you can sip your morning cocktail while holding a cockatoo. I have seen my fair share of cute and cuddly animals but by far the baby Koala takes the cake (or eucalyptus) as THE cutest creature, clinging wide-eyed to the furry back of his very relaxed momma bear. During our tour I had the pleasure of holding a crocodile, wrapping myself in a python, and walking mystified through a forest of butterflies. Unlike the underwater wildlife I had experienced diving in the whitsundays, amongst exotic birds, reptiles and crimson streaked protea, I was free to hold my breath in wonder at this unique land I have stumbled in to.
The evenings at the Koala village are well-organized by staff with drink and dinner specials and events such as the infamous coconut bowling party where guests represent their home country by hurling a coconut at a line of bowling pins hoping not to launch any into the nearby pool. Of course an American won the whole thing🙂 putting everyone else to shame, although the Germans did make a comeback after singing the best version of their national anthem. With lazy afternoons spent poolside, crack-up evenings in the open-air hostel bar and morning walks through the bush in search of wild life, magnetic Island really is the full package deal. During my twenty-minute ferry ride back to Townsville I heard that familiar voice I occasionally have when departing a particularly perfect place “Why are you leaving???”