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the power of manifesting

 “You have the power to do anything if you put your mind to it”

How many times have we heard that? It’s on every ‘inspirational’ Instagram profile you’ll find. But it’s TRUE! The power of manifesting has proved itself time and time again, in my life certainly. But what’s not to be taken lightly is the hard bloody work that goes behind it all!

Manifesting your life is, actually, quite simple. If you want it badly enough – if you dream it, breathe it, envision it – then you can imagine it into existence. And I’m not the first one to claim this works. Just google Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Jim Carrey on the subject, they all claim the same and look at where they are.

I think I can pinpoint the pivotal moment that I knew I wanted to – and COULD – shake up my life in a big way; it was when I was backpacking around Australia at the end of 2015/start of 2016. I remember quite vividly the moment when I decided: “OK, I’m going to move to Australia. I think I need a change. I’ll make it work.”

the power of manifesting - dharma dreaming

From that moment on, a noticeable shift happened in me, inside. Suddenly I became consumed with this new reality. This new future. All my thoughts turned towards myself leaving my life in London, packing up, and starting a new chapter half way across the world, by myself. But the biggest realization was that I BELIEVED it would happen. I knew I had the power to manifest this dream.

In just 9 months from that ‘aha!’ moment I had spent every day working towards making my move to Australia a reality and had planned it all out until I was physically on that plane leaving Heathrow Terminal 3, bound for my new life.

I had quit my job and timed it so that the lease on my flat ended as I was to leave, and other than those two major things, thankfully I didn’t have many other loose ends to tie up – I was pretty much free to go. But I had kept it that way on purpose. Nothing was going to get in my way. It couldn’t. I’d already created a new life for myself (in my head). It just hadn’t started yet (for real).

During the 9 months I planned, and planned, and planned. And every waking hour I dreamed my new life into existence. I imagined where I would live, the friends I would have, the job I would work at. Literally, I was making it happen through the power of my mind – and of course with hours of work behind the scenes. I created Pinterest boards on places to go in Australia, connected with flatshare websites, I emailed recruiters in Sydney and had basically lined up interviews for when I arrived. I even planned my travel itinerary for South East Asia where I’d be stopping on the way. I dedicated my every spare moment to creating this future for myself.

make a plan - dharma dreaming

So many things fell into place in the months running up to my departure and when I think back, so many things aligned beforehand to make this new life possible, too: a big break-up released me from a life in which I was unhappy and that didn’t serve me anymore, and then a brief new relationship introduced me to travelling and being happy again and an insatiable taste of freedom. The powers and forces beyond were in my favour and I became so abundant and so filled with joy that everything then kept falling into alignment still, as I kept working towards my new life.

The manifestation of the life I envisioned in Sydney changed while I was in South East Asia, it morphed into something new as I changed the direction of my energy. I was now manifesting abundance to be able to keep travelling, to keep discovering more of the world, more of myself. I wasn’t ready to go to Sydney just yet. Or maybe ever. I had bigger and better things to manifest.

I then ended up manifesting love after meeting Lucas along the way. I started to dream and believe that we could last another month, and then a month after that, and then travelling to a new continent, and then starting a life together.

Since meeting in a hostel in the Philippines we’ve now travelled across 24 countries and 3 continents and have now settled in a beautiful jungle casita in Costa Rica. How did that happen – travel romances never work? Ours did. Of course there is something special in it (and it takes two to tango!) but perhaps it helped that I worked to manifest our life together, too. Knowing, deep down, that it wouldn’t end after a few months, that it would be more than a ‘travel fling.’ I worked hard at what I could give and to grow we had/have, as well as dreaming, believing, and trusting that it would work out.

The thing with manifesting anything is that it’s a bit like baking a cake. Once you have thrown your all into it – and I mean your ALL – you kind of have to let it be. Sit back and let it do its own thing. Trust the process. Trust the Universe. Don’t open that metaphorical oven otherwise your baking will lose its rise and will fall. And you don’t want that to happen.

Now, looking at where my life is compared to when I started manifesting change and more freedom back in 2016, when I believed I’d be in Sydney, it’s completely different.

passion - the power of manifesting

Since then I’ve set new goals, new dreams, that have since come into fruition. I wrote down some intentions for the end of last year to deepen my yoga practice and to design and live a life more inline with my core values, to live more consciously, attuned to the needs of my wellbeing and health, and more recently, to become a yoga teacher and teach before I’m 30. Well, I’m a few months off that milestone and I already have regular classes here in Puerto Viejo having completed my training in April.

Again, thanks to countless nights of going to bed dreaming it, imagining it, meditating on it, literally envisioning the classes I’d be sat in front of, writing out cues and class sequences in my head, I have manifested more dreams. And it goes without saying that it also included months of prep and hard work alongside. Remember, you have to dedicate ALL your efforts and energy to your dreams in order to manifest your goals. And they won’t just happen overnight.

When you start to dream it and believe it, you’ll also find that you start to attract abundance and opportunities that weren’t there before. Things will become available to you that weren’t previously there to help you on the path of manifesting your dream. The more you dream and believe it WILL happen, the more the Universe will provide and you’ll find yourself more than able to make it happen. It’s the law of attraction. What you don’t want are any negative thoughts creeping in there, or niggling doubts – which are hard to keep at bay all the time, and which are natural, of course. But do your best to banish anything that doesn’t support this process. Any habits, physical or mental, that don’t support this new life, this dream, let them go. Remember, if you can imagine it, you can realize it – so you don’t want to realize the negative or allow any barriers or obstacles to get in the way of this powerful process. You don’t want to manifest it not happening.

Dream it, Believe it, Achieve it. It’s my mantra. I’ve actually thought about getting it tattooed on my body I love it so much! Even when I journal before bed I often write it at the end of every day as I work towards manifesting new goals and new dreams, thinking of them as the last thing before I go to sleep. Maybe it’s a little superstitious but I feel that if I write them out, too, it will help towards the process.

buddha quote - dharma dreaming

You DO have the power to create the life you want, to play the hand of God for a bit. You have more control over the destiny of your life than you think. I believe fate is linked with energy, with effort, too. Everything you can imagine is already real. Your brain doesn’t actually know the difference between what is real and what is not; if you can imagine it, you can realize it. It’s science.

So go away and write a list of things you want to manifest. How do you want your life to look? What do you need to do to make it happen? What do you need to release and let go to aid the process? (Remember: it won’t happen overnight, it will take time but it WILL happen). Finally, when you’ve written your list, memorize it, ingest it and absorb it through every cell of your body. Perhaps even hold a little ceremony for your intentions under the New Moon.

Whatever you do: Breathe it, live it, dream it. Every ounce of energy in your body, send it towards manifesting this dream. Whatever it is. Whatever they are.

If you can dream it, if you can believe it, you CAN achieve it.

[If you can’t, I’ll give you a full refund.]

yogini on the road

It’s been a while since my last post (5 months and a new year!) and I don’t have any excuses other than we’ve been having far too much fun. But, to be honest, I was lacking the motivation to write as I was busy dedicating my time to my yoga journey.

Recently, my life has taken a more focused turn – and turn for the better. For those who don’t know, I’ve been dedicating myself more fully to my yoga, both in practice and in life choices. Recently, I completed my 200-hour Teacher Training in a permaculture farm in the jungle of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. It was a transformational experience – not just a ‘yoga teacher training’ – and one that’s given me a giant kick up the butt (ahimsa, yogi style, obvs).

shala

Myself and 21 other goddess yoginis (their only all-girl group!) were immersed in the jungle for a 3-week intensive where we were up with the howler monkeys for a morning practice, followed by hours of technique, anatomy, philosophy; lectures on wom(b)en wellness, our menstrual cycles, our intimate relationships with the moon and mother nature, learning – and sampling – the magic of plant medicine; we did a cacao ceremony, had many, many, MANY healing and releasing exercises in catharsis… the list goes on. There were wounds opened (and healed) that I didn’t even know were there. I cried tears I hadn’t cried in years and sang more than I’d ever done my whole life in kirtan, ceremony and mantra. We ate delicious farm-grown food and produce locally sourced from Costa Rican organic farmers, all meals vegetarian or vegan, gluten and dairy free. Oh, and we stayed in upcycled shipping containers and pooped in compost toilets. Saving the planet, one go at a time!

But rewinding a bit. Before my training, way before, I’d felt something was missing. For a while. I felt misaligned. I felt lacking, spiritually, and I felt like I was going in a direction that didn’t fully serve me. Travelling was/is great, but it wasn’t enough. All throughout Asia I missed my yoga practice terribly (which had started a few years back, first in freezing cold gym halls, then in Uni on the floor of bouncy karate crash mats, later in London in fancy – and overpriced – hot yoga studios, and finally under the wonderful instruction of my Mum who is a yoga teacher herself).

In Asia I easily found reasons (excuses) as to why I wasn’t practicing: not having a mat, being hungover, it being too hot. The thing is, I could have gone to yoga classes here, there and everywhere if I’d have made the effort. I just didn’t – and then punished myself for it, mentally, guiltily, after.

I knew I needed a reset, falling victim to the temptations of travelling like late-nights, crap food and copious amounts of alcohol, so I took myself off for a retreats in Thailand and Sri Lanka to reconnect with my practice, and myself. Aside from those two retreats I’d lost my yoga, my ‘union’, and really, the connection to myself – though I didn’t know it yet. As soon as I would step back on the mat, my whole outlook on life, on myself, would change. It was as if an electric current had been shot through me, sparking me alive again. What was I doing? I asked myself. Why wasn’t I making my practice – myself, my wellness – a priority? I got so (SO!) much from yoga, why couldn’t I sustain it in my day to day nomadic life; didn’t I have all the time in the world? But again, I was making excuses.

Something had to change.

Later, when we were travelling in Europe, I decided I had to start practicing again. It was time to reignite my passion and reconnect with who I was and what I wanted. The next year would involve more travelling (we were already in Europe and had planned out the next 6 months and a skeleton plan for the 6 after that) so I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to find a way to make yoga and travelling work. I couldn’t’ feel ‘meh’ like I did in Asia, I’d procrastinated for 8 months too long and enough was enough. And yes, it was worth schlepping my mat, another item of hand luggage, around for the foreseeable future, without a doubt. Why hadn’t I done that in the first place? (The beauty of hindsight…)

I remember the day I first rolled out my travel mat in our Airbnb in Amsterdam. We were cat-sitting, too, and I was watched with curiosity from my suspicious feline companion. It was a rusty practice, but oh it was so good to be back. The next time I managed to roll my mat out was between our two single beds in Slovenia (FYI, a country keen on separate sleeping arrangements) so you can see I was still working up to a regular routine! Regardless, whenever I managed to find time, and space, it gave me wonderful moments for self-expression, self-reflection and just time to myself, which is precious when you’re travelling with someone 24/7. Those moments are like gold dust.

Not used to practicing without instruction, usually having followed the lead of a teacher, I was getting to know how to move by myself, for myself. I was nervous to practice in front of Lucas so would have to banish him from the room or make him turn around. I was also easing back into my body after so long, it was like working with a long-lost friend. My back was still a niggle from the disastrous cliff jumping experience, so I was also learning how to move more cautiously, with modifications, but it was ok; bodies change and I was learning accept that. Now I have a whole list of clicks and cricks that come with getting older!

yoga bled

As we were travelling over the summer I was able to practice outside, too, in the dewy meadows after sunrise in the long grass, or out on a balcony overlooking the sea. I tried to make it a routine, to practice daily (which realistically worked out at 3-4 times a week) and Lucas would often join me, after I got over my shyness, as I tried to teach him the basics of a vinyasa flow. It was then that the lightbulb moment happened.  I had already (re)realised the joy I got from yoga was not worth giving up again, changing my travel routine to include yoga, but now I wanted to make something more of it. I realised I wanted to learn to teach. I wanted to help people experience the joy that I felt in my practice with theirs.

I remember the moment I committed to this idea, in Bosnia & Herzigovina, and placing the deposit for the teacher training with a beating heart. I’d done it. The money was spent. I’d committed. This was back in August last year. The training was in March this year. In Costa Rica. So, there was a leap of faith to be made; a) that I’d still want to do it in 6 months, and b) that we’d make it to Costa Rica! Or at least I had to!

Within just a few months of reigniting my passion, and stepping back onto the path of becoming more ‘myself’, I had decided to turn yoga into more than just a lifestyle and a practice; deep down I knew it was what I’d been waiting for. Yoga was now more than just something to wake up for and ‘do,’ now I was trying to align it with my dharma.

From that day I dove into preparing for my training: watching videos, lectures, reading books on Eastern Philosophy, the Bhagavad Gita, the Sutras, e-books on the chakras, teaching myself the Sanskrit words for the poses. Everything. I felt alive again. I had a purpose. Whenever I could in the morning I’d roll out my mat first thing and flow. Feel into my body and create sequences inspired by previous mornings, other classes, Instagram videos, or muscle memory. I’d move differently every morning and give myself compassion for the ebbs and flows. Yes, some days I did more than others, some days nothing at all. I also had to be lenient about the days I would have to miss a practice by being stuck on a bus, or staying in rooms that were, literally, too small to swing a metaphorical cat let alone roll out a yoga mat. I’d often feel bad about it, like I was cheating myself of something, almost like I wasn’t feeding myself by missing a meal, but I would try to let it go and read instead, or mediate on-the-go. I didn’t want it to become an obsession. Non-attachment, one of the key practices in yoga!

My new routine stuck throughout our travels around Europe and Northern Africa – Lucas and I even went on a retreat in Croatia and Morocco together – and I only became more and more dedicated to my practice and to living with integrity in the run up to my training. And now, fast forwarding to May, I’ve done it. I’ve completed my 200-hour training to become a yoga teacher. The 6 months of preparation all paid off. It was worth every penny, every drop of sweat, every tear shed, every wound opened, picked at and healed.

But then what? Trying to align travelling with living a yogic lifestyle had its challenges. I knew that before, but it got to a point that I decided I really had to start putting myself and my yoga first. It was time to start becoming the person that I wanted to be; the best version of myself. It was time for a change. While travelling was/is SO nourishing, so educational, so inspiring, and so challenging, I needed to challenge myself, nourish myself, educate myself and inspire myself in different ways.

roof yoga

After a conversation over dinner one night in Nicaragua, Lucas and I – mutually and excitedely – decided that it was time to hang up our backpacks for a while and focus on how we want to live; sustainably, environmentally-conscious, healthily, and spiritually. More inline with our core values, which had taken a back seat in the many months we were on the road. We chose a spot to call home and have settled down for the foreseeable future in a small town on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, where I completed my training, to try and live a (relatively) ‘normal’ life and live the way we believe will nourish us.

It was time; I missed community. I missed sangha. I missed having options to eat well. I missed treating my body well. I missed self-care not being a priority. These things seem so ‘duh’ but when you’re on the road, seriously, it’s hard to prioritize yourself and your wellbeing when things like brown bread and fresh fruit are hard to come by, or beer is cheaper than water! And you can probably guess which option we would go for.

We’ve only been here a week or so but I’ve already managed to find jobs teaching, we’ve shopped at the organic food shops and the farmer’s market, there are volunteering opportunities in permaculture farms Lucas is considering, women’s circles that I want to join and, of course, yoga, yoga yoga! Everything we had wanted to find in one place seems to be here. I’m excited to take my yoga journey to the next level, both in personal practice and living a yogic lifestyle, and also to have a job that I want to wake up for every day. Basically, having the option to do the things that will align me with who I want to be.

It’s time to adult again and put myself (and my wellbeing) first. After all, whose cup can I fill if I’m not filling up my own?

 

Stay tuned for most posts on my yoga journey, yoga on the road, and other yoga-related tid-bits and tales.

into africa

From one ancient empire to another, we flew from Athens to Cairo. I always had a quiet fascination with Egypt and its ancient history. After reading about Howard Carter and his epic discovery of the boy-king Tutankhamen, aged 10, I decided that I wanted to be an Egyptologist so I dedicated all my efforts – dial-up internet had just become a thing – to finding a whole world of information online, printing off newspaper articles and filing them away into my Egyptology folder, protected lovingly in plastic pockets. I even tried learning hieroglyphics and had a mini excavation kit, the lot. Alas by my 12th year I was onto something else…

sunset egyptair

A lovely sunset aboard EgyptAir

I was also looking forward to visiting Egypt as I had fond memories of camping in the Omani desert with its vast dunes and wadis, which we used to drive to in our dusty Pajero on the weekends. But before Lucas and I went out exploring the Egyptian desert for ourselves, we spent some time in Cairo. In a sense, a similar kind of dusty desert, just an urban one.

But landing at Cairo airport was the beginning of our culture shock. Thinking I’d be somewhat familiar with the way of the Egyptians, as I figured they would be similar-ish to their Middle Eastern neighbours, it couldn’t have prepared me for the next few weeks.

We’d read up a bit on Egypt and had in our mind to be prepared for the badgering and touting, and as soon as we arrived into the baggage hall we were set upon as fresh bait. So, the tales were true – and it was just the beginning.

What also struck us upon arriving into Cairo was just how busy it was. There were so many people and cars everywhere. Lucas read the stats and there are apparently 16 million people in the capital alone! It put my stressful days of wading through crowded London streets to shame.

Motorways were six wide with, seemingly, no respect for law, or driver/passenger safety at all and everyone using a horn as if it was an accelerator that would get them to where they were going quicker. Speed limits seemed to be at each driver’s discretion, as did lanes, and traffic lights. Someone later told us, ‘if you drive in Egypt you must have eight eyes. Cars/people/donkeys/bikes come from everywhere.’ And he had a point. Sitting in the passenger seat was unnerving enough let alone driving.

Where pedestrians were concerned, it’s also the kind of place where (there being no pavements or zebra crossings) you have to just walk along the road and brave stepping out in front of cars to get to the other side, trusting they will move, swerve or slow down. I felt like I was going to die every time we went anywhere near a road. I even sent Mum a text saying how perilous the traffic was, as a kind of warning to not be surprised if she got a phone call. I had thought the streets of Vietnam were bad…

On the plus side, we did learn quickly that Egypt was also very cheap: great for backpacker budgets, and a welcome change from the average living costs in Europe. We booked into a hostel in the centre of Cairo, welcomed by the ironic catchphrase, ‘Welcome to Alaska!’, where the price of a double room was even cheaper than in Asia, usually impossible to beat, costing a mere £4 a night – with free breakfast!

From our seventh-floor vantage point downtown, we could see the Nile, the top of the Egyptian Museum and out over to the towers of the mosques in the Citadel. Every building in sight was streaked brown with layers of dust and sand and looking out over the horizon you could see a brown smog hovering over the city. It was everywhere, a light coating of desert on every surface, including inside.

Waking up on our first day to the droning sounds of the morning muezzin, something we’d not heard since Indonesia, we decided to visit the Egyptian Museum just a few hundred metres away, meaning it would take as little time as possible trying to navigate the deathly roads. But aside from what lay outside our door within walking distance, it seemed like the best way to explore Egypt, and certainly the easiest, was by organised tours and private drivers in some cases. Thankfully our hostel was amazing at sorting this out and we had our whole 2-week itinerary planned the night we arrived!

The Egyptian Museum was huge and even after spending three hours admiring the ancient exhibits we still didn’t see it all. There was so much to take in, from Tut’s real gold burial mask to 3000-year-old mummies where you could still see their hair and teeth intact. Cool, but creepy.

That evening, as newbies, we ventured out again into the bustling city to hunt down a local koshary restaurant around the corner. As I said, we were trying not to venture too far, avoiding roads if possible. Koshary is a typical Egyptian dish, heavy on the carbs, made of rice, spaghetti, macaroni, chickpeas, fried onions, and a fresh zesty tomato sauce which you were invited to spice and lemon to your taste. At just 0.83p a plate it was perhaps one of the cheapest meals we’d ever found. Including table service!

Our next Egypt outing, according to our schedule, were the Pyramids of Giza. Bucket list, check! My (inner) 11-year-old self was jumping up and down with excitement. Only the day before we’d seen so many artefacts from the tombs displayed at the Egyptian Museum, so it was fitting to see where they had been excavated from and piecing parts of history back together. On the way, we visited Saqqara, the site of the first ever step pyramid and later drove to the site of the giant 20m horizontal Ramses II statue in Memphis. For those who don’t know, King Ramses II is one of the most famous kings in all Egyptian history who famously had over 150 children with 200 or so wives. As you do.

saqqara

ramses ii

Step pyramid at Saqqara and the giant statue of Ramses II

Finally, arriving at Giza, we could spy the tips of the enormous pyramids from a mile off through our car windscreen. As we entered the ancient desert we were greeted by the epic, noseless Sphinx, with the tall towering pyramids in the background. They were huge. And so old! To see something that you read about as a kid in history books right up close was surreal and it was a major ‘pinch me’ moment to be there and see them in person.

We weren’t the only people admiring these ancient ruins, however. Oh no. Throngs of tourists and school kids were there too, along with salesmen and men atop camels and horses persistently trying to sell you a ride. The combination of annoying children and insistent men was a bad recipe with my hanger and Lucas had to make me stop and eat something before I really lost my shit.

Bar the wearisome touts, the pyramids were incredible, and we spent two hours walking around the fringe of the desert taking in these huge structures, trying to recall everything we had learnt about their regal occupants in the museums. One thing I couldn’t stop thinking about was, practically, how were they built, especially in the heat? We were visiting in November, so the temperatures were much cooler, but still in their low twenties. I could only imagine how difficult lugging these huge stones would have been in the searing hot summer before the days of air conditioning and iced water…

pyramids

sphinx

two pyramids

The epic pyramids and iconic sphinx

After gazing in awe at these giant pyramids, savouring the amazing ‘pinch me’ moment, but growing tired of constantly saying no to the men stalking us on their camels, we headed back into the bustle of Cairo, retreating to our room to decompress. In all its historic awesomeness, the city was a bit of a sensory overload. I mentioned being a pedestrian was a pretty hideous experience, not only in terms of navigating the cars and trying not to get run over, but each time you stepped out of the door you were met by a barrage of people trying to sell you things. The Egyptians are the epitome of opportunists and if there’s a chance for an upsell, they’ll take it. It’s hard to walk down the street without being accosted by shop owners who would hover on street corners waiting for new tourist prey, or restauranteurs persuading you that their fare is better than their neighbours.

‘No, thank you, I don’t want to look at your bazaar. No, thank you, I don’t want to see the good price.’ I felt like a bad person always turning them down, and you got the feeling they were probably saying something behind your back knowing you had the money to at least buy a small something, but that was just part of the game. And I wasn’t taking any of the BS sales tactics, no matter how genuine their offer. The ultimate cliché would be to fall victim to a scam. Once I spoke with a man who tried to befriend me with his charm, telling me that he had a Scottish friend from Auchtermuchty, in a bid to find common ground. An exchange made even more hilarious because of how you pronounce Auchtermuchty, which he did wonderfully.

To break from the chaos of Cairo, we booked an overnight trip to the White Desert. We were inspired to go having seen it on a Planet Earth a few weeks before, learning of the unique and naturally eroded rock sculptures, worn down throughout the ages into unusual shapes by the wind. We were checking the bucket list off quickly, as you can tell.

white desert

desert highway

The White Desert and endless miles of sandy highway to get there

At 7am we were dropped off underneath a dodgy looking bridge – seemingly this jumble of cars, vans and buses was the bus station – and piled into a car for a five-hour ride to the Baharya Oasis. It felt like a very long five hours, both bum cheeks went numb one after the other, but finally we arrived at the oasis to smooth out the cricks and crumples after driving along endless miles of sand-strewn highway.

It really was an oasis of green and palms, compared to the dusty red sand just a mile away and we were invited for lunch and ‘whisky tea,’ which was alcohol-free, sadly, but extremely strong and sugary. Rested and ready for more driving, even deeper into the desert, we were picked up by a Bedouin, Mahmoud our desert guide, in his huge 4×4 and sped through more miles of desert, further and further away from civilisation and anything green and growing.

bedouin 4x4

Mahmoud and his 4×4 in the Black Desert

We were camping at the White Desert, a National Park, but along the way we’d be stopping at the Black Desert, Crystal Mountain, and the dunes for sunset. The Black Desert was so named for its volcanic black rock and there were mountains of these dark peaks were everywhere, contrasted again the deep red and pink sand. The Crystal Mountain was a mountain made entirely out of salt as the desert used to be an ocean, millions of years ago, and since then tall salty mountains had been left in their place which, when chipped away, looked like crystal or quartz.

For sunset, we sped over dunes and through peaks of jagged rock to reach the edge of the White Desert to watch the sun go down. The Bedouins also brought out a sand board which Lucas had a go on. I decided otherwise after watching him schlep back up the 30m incline of sand which was quite a feat….

desert sunset

We enjoyed more than one beautiful sunset in Egypt

We arrived at the White Desert in the pitch black and I have to hand it to our Bedouin, Mahmoud, who was an excellent driver navigating through the rocky mountain desert narrowly avoiding the huge rock formations like a pro. I’d expected to arrive at a pre-erected camp, with dinner already on the go, and some form of tents or yurts as our sleeping arrangement. But no. We arrived at an empty sandy clearing amid these standing carved rock giants with nothing around.

Setting up in total darkness, the moon wasn’t even out yet, Mahmoud managed to unload the 4×4 and set up a cosy seating area with woven mats, rugs, and cushions on the floor. Later the same space would double up as our open-air bedroom. He also set up a makeshift kitchen with a small table and kerosene fire to cook with. He was not only the driver but chef too.

Once he’d hooked up a light to the car battery and made us a camp fire we sat back and relaxed, now that we could see, and silently contemplated how cool it was that we were deep in the Egyptian desert and about to spend a night under the stars! Errr, reality check please?

Quite the chef, Mahmoud knelt in the sand and with very rudimentary equipment rustled up tomato soup, heaps of rice, and spicy potatoes; he even grilled some chicken on the camp fire. A true maestro. And, as we devoured our Bedouin’s bounty, we were visited by the resident desert fox who frequented the area and who was often fed leftovers, so he seemed quite happy to see us.

We spent the night lost in reverie, either hypnotised by the fire or gazing up into space, at worlds beyond. Because we were so deep in the desert, over 8 hours away from any big city, we were treated to a magical show of stars that night. The skies were so bright and clear that it felt like you could see the whole universe – and I even saw two shooting stars!

That night, Mahmoud laid out cushions and sleeping bags in our former dining room and gave us heavy-duty rugs to sleep under (which smelt distinctly animal-like, but which worked a treat) and we slept out in the open. It was incredible. Neither of us had ever slept so exposed outside, without even the sheer protection of a nylon tent above our head.

We went to bed as the moon was rising, like a huge megawatt torch, made all the stronger by the reflective white sand. It obliterated the stars but created a new magical effect nonetheless – and you could go for a midnight pee without even needing your torch! I slept soundly that night, and didn’t feel the cold once, but at one point I was rudely awoken by a scuttling at my head and then I felt some tiny footsteps on my shoulder. Soon, and rather suddenly, I realised I was being climbed on by a little desert mouse. Although harmless, the shock was enough to send my heart racing – and wonder what other nocturnal animals could be crawling all over me as I slept unawares out in the desert…

bedouin camp

desert sunrise

Camping under the stars and watching sunrise in our sleeping bags

The next morning, we woke up with the sunrise at 6.15am and prepared for the long journey back through the desert and back to Cairo. A few hours later, we boarded a bus which looked like it was from the 70s and hadn’t been MOT’d since – there were people tinkering in the engine before we left, never a good sign. An hour into the journey to the capital we shuddered to a halt on the desert highway, engine gasping. Our fellow bus members all ran off to get involved and have a cigarette, but we were back on the road before long. Until, it happened again. Marooned at the side of the road on a dead bus, we considered hitch hiking to make up the remaining 5 hours, but thankfully a replacement bus pulled up alongside and we continued our journey back to Cairo… On the plus side, some very kind Egyptian man gave us delicious fresh dates which made the ride all the more bearable.

Escaping the city once more, a night later we took the overnight train from Cairo to Luxor (which was an experience in itself) for a three-day Nile Cruise south down to Aswan. We swore we’d never be ‘cruise people,’ but there you go. It was a bit of a splurge, at five stars – there was even a pool on the top deck! – but it was worth it and a unique way to experience the lush Egyptian countryside and rich green farmland along the Nile, while being a bit fancy.

cruise room

Nile views from our room

We boarded the boat and were assigned a lovely room with huge floor to ceiling windows that looked onto the river. But before we set off on our Nile voyage, we spent the day and night in Luxor, nicknamed the greatest open air museum in the world, and had the day to explore all the historic sites. We joined a tour group and headed out to the Valley of the Kings to see more tombs and ancient hieroglyphics, learning about the iconic ancient Pharos, Kings and Queens who walked the land before. Did you know when a new king was appointed people would start digging his tomb and would continue to do so until his death. So, the longer you were on the throne, the jazzier your temple and the better your afterlife would be, essentially! But there are no photos of the tombs as photography was not allowed. Unless you bribed the guards.

Back on board, it was pretty much an all-inclusive vibe where food was concerned, and we gorged on unlimited buffets day and night. It was also one of the only places we’d been to in Egypt that sold alcohol. So, drinking a cool Stella beer watching the sun set was a rather enjoyable experience, too.

nile river bank

kom ombo

nile sunset

Banks of the River Nile, Kom Ombo, and another spectacular Egyptian sunset

During the cruise we travelled from Luxor, down to Kom Ombo, and then onto Aswan. We saw temples galore and learnt about all kinds of things along the way. We even visited a crocodile mummification museum. Who knew that was a thing? After three nights of luxury and learning we boarded a train back to Luxor for a rather special once-in-a-lifetime activity: hot air ballooning! The one and only place that does it in Egypt is in Luxor by the Valley of Kings – a pretty spectacular location – so we didn’t want to pass up such a unique opportunity.

We woke for a 4am pick up and joined a group at the river to cross from the east side of the Nile to the west to make our way to the Valley of the Kings. Once we’d arrived at the site and been allocated our balloon (which was to take off first!) we clambered into the wicker basket, which held 24 people, and our pilot took us through the safety briefing getting us to practice our landing poses and advising us to hold onto our phones as we leant out the basket… After a smooth take off, we dipped and rose, reaching an altitude of over 600m taking in the vast views over the valley with the sun rising behind the iconic River Nile. It was an incredible morning. Needless to say, I took a million photos…

hot air balloon 3

hot air ballon

Hot air ballooning over Valley of the Kings

After Luxor, we’d almost exhausted the bucket list of ‘things to do’ in Egypt. We’d been on a speed date of every historic attraction and museum we could think of and so to relax and unwind for the last few nights we decided to head over to the Red Sea to do absolutely nothing. We also hoped that we’d be able to escape the endless touts and selling men.

We chose Hurghada, a touristy all-inclusive place which we shared with hoardes of Brits, Russians, and Germans, and had a lovely time doing sweet FA. We did go on a snorkelling trip one day, however, and saw lots of beautiful coral and exotic fish in the reef. But after 2.5 weeks we were ready to call time on our visit to Egypt. We felt it was a good enough length to be able to experience what we did and get a good feel for the culture, as well as have some R&R to decompress. But some culture differences were just too much to ever get our heads around.

I can’t think of any country I’ve been to that is quite like Egypt, both good and bad, and if I were to offer any advice for people going, especially inexperienced travellers, make sure you toughen up your poker face in any high-pressure sales situation, prepare to say no a lot, and be defiant in crossing oncoming traffic (you won’t die!). But most of all, be prepared to be blown away by the history, it will surely rekindle your love for all things ancient and you won’t be disappointed!

We were leaving Egypt to explore the opposite corner of northern Africa: Morocco. We had booked onto another yoga retreat (Lucas is quite the yogi now) which included surfing so the vibe was guaranteed to be more fun than the last, as we were joining a group of 20-something-year olds from my old studio in Brixton. I couldn’t wait!

surfing agadir

surfing

Surfing on Imourane beach

We flew to Agadir for the retreat which was in a tiny fishing village called Tagazhout, the country’s surf spot. The village was full of laid back surfer dudes in traditional Moroccan riads, guesthouses decorated with hand-painted tiles around an open courtyard with a roof terrace for sunrise and sunset yoga. It was idyllic. The weather was beaut at a comfortable 25 degrees every day which meant we could top up the tans on the beach, in between our classes.

The group from Brixton Yoga couldn’t have been better, we all got on really well and there was a great mix of people. We practiced yoga twice a day with meditation and yoga nidra in the evenings, after optional workshops (including dance!) and surfing in the day. We also spent an afternoon at Paradise Valley and did our sunset yoga in the dunes. After five days of an amazing retreat, we were sad to leave our new yoga family and healthy routine but we were excited to explore more of this amazing country. So far the people had been great, so friendly and laid back, and always willing to help. They were a far cry from the Egyptians and their badgering ways.

Our next stop was Marrakesh. I’d always wanted to go to this exotic bustling city with its bright colours, souks and markets so I was excited to finally see it for myself. We booked into a riad in the medina, which, we didn’t realise until we were turfed out of the taxi, was a car-free zone and made up of narrow winding streets, unmarked on Google Maps. Spotting our newbieness straight off the bat, a young man took us right to our door for a small fee. Thankfully, as we never would have managed it ourselves. It took us a few wrong turns to find our way back after dinner, too.

morocco decor

Traditional riad decor in Marrakesh 

Another thing about Morocco is that one of their spoken languages is French. So, trying my best, I dug deep for my (now very basic) French vocabulary to try and communicate and moreover negotiate. Like the French, however, the Moroccans were want to reply back in English even though I tried so hard to speak to them in their language. Clearly my s’il vous plaits and merci beaucoups weren’t up to their standards.

Marrakesh was just as busy and bustling as I’d expected, and the souks were filled with everything from jazzy printed trousers, to gilded mirrors, leather shoes, and silver jewellery. A tourist’s delight! While unlike Egypt on the whole (sorry, but we couldn’t help but make comparisons) we did still get hounded by sellers and restauranteurs tempting us into their establishments. One very opportunist lady doing henna actually grabbed my hand in the square and started drawing on it, even embellishing with glitter. Unfortunately I didn’t actually want any and had to shake her off (I’m so bad at saying no!) and we scarpered away without paying her anything… Lucas wasn’t best impressed with my naive street dealings, I have to say. He has a better game face than I do.

Once we’d been scared off the souks (only going back for last-minute souvenirs) we spent the rest of our days in Marrakesh holed up in cafes working and eating delicious food (chiwarma and chips) before planning a hiking trip into the Atlas Mountains. Slowly, the temperatures had been dropping (it was now December) and we had been getting used to wearing jeans and wrapping up in layers for the evenings, so we expected the peaks Atlas to be far colder. Packing a small rucksack each for the 2 nights we were staying in homestays in the mountains, we were practically wearing all our layers by the time we got out of the car and started hiking. It was very cold! Everyone was in their high-quality mountain wear with proper boots and woolly hats and we were in jeans and leggings, Nike shoes and light jackets. So out of place. Some Belgian hikers even commented on how underprepared we looked, but hey, we managed it and didn’t need anything extra.

mule

atlas mountains

Our trusty mule and views of the Atlas Mountains

We had planned to trek up to the second highest peak but it had snowed the night before, very delicately dusting the tops of the mountains of the Toubkal National Park. But although it was pretty, it meant we had to change route and stay lower, so we hiked the three valleys instead. The hiking wasn’t overly arduous but offered great views over the passes and in between the valleys. Plus – we could say we’d seen snow in Africa!

Our guide Ibrahim was amazing and he had been hiking these trails since a kid and for 9 years professionally, so knew them like the back of his hand. He told us of the history of these simple Berber farming villages and their traditions and customs and told us that up to 16 people would live in one of these tiny clay houses, all one big family. It was custom to all live together and look after the elders, something our cultures do very differently, we said. I was concerned as to how they kept warm in the winter (the temperature dropped to -6 degrees inside the gite we were staying in) and he told us that there would only be one fire in the house, which they would also use to cook with, but they kept their livestock in the stables below, in their basement, as another form of heating. It was astonishing how they managed to keep warm. He also said they could get snow a metre deep in some places and here we were little children running around with flipflops on and sundresses. They must have been a hardy bunch.

Where their hospitality was concerned, you couldn’t fault them. The Berber people of the Atlas Mountains, which included our guide and cook who followed us with a mule loaded with supplies for the two nights, were so friendly and approachable, always asking us if we wanted anything and making conversation. Not to mention serving up some of the most delicious food, all cooked on a tiny camping stove.

After three days and two nights of hiking and incredible mountain views we headed back to civilization. Basing ourselves in Marrakesh again, to turnaround for our next jaunt, we had planned to venture north to the picturesque town of Chefchouen, but having checked the weather forecast we decided otherwise. Ever the fairweather travellers, Lucas and I, we thought that heading back to the coast would be our safest (and warmest) bet, remembering the heat of our beach days in Agadir.

So, three hours directly east from Marrakesh, we chose Essaouira (a name I always had trouble pronouncing: eh-sa-wee-rah). This historic port was a big hit with the hippies by all accounts and was a hot spot for water sports in the summer. There were some people SUPing even then in December.

We spent three nights in Essaouira’s medina, again, full of market stalls selling everything from avocados to artisanal plates and the standard Moroccan tourist stock. We stayed in another wonderful traditional riad with a modern take, with huge high ceilings and exposed beams, plus our first hot shower in a week. Each morning we dined on Moroccan pancakes and fresh French bread served with jams and marmalades upstairs on the terrace. There was even a resident seagull which flew by especially for the meal, ready to swoop in and pinch any leftover butter.

handpainted plates

morocco stalls

All the colours in Essaouira

Because it was December, we refrained from any water sports – as did most people – and instead mainly used Essaouira for its reliable wifi and range of delicious independent restaurants at which we enjoyed a few nice meals out. Unlike Marrakesh, most of them also sold booze which was a welcome treat for a Muslim country. Essaouira definitely seemed to be a higher end tourist destination with its sea views and beach, but also had a bohemian feel to it. Perhaps it was to do with the abundant supply of hashish offered throughout the day by men carrying armfuls of home baking and ‘happy cakes.’

After wining and dining in this seaside market town, we moved on but stayed along the coast, choosing the sleepy village of Sidi Kaoki to spend our final days in Morocco, just 30 minutes away by local bus. Our riad was quite literally 50m from the sand and 50m from four out of the five restaurants, and only local businesses, in the area.

We discovered there wasn’t much to Sidi Kaoki, it was tiny. There wasn’t even an ATM and the only place that sold beer did so on the sly in case anyone of authority walked past. At first, five days in this tiny village seemed too long (what was there to do?) but in the end, it was perfect, and we’d not come for socialising or late nights anyway so we quite enjoyed the slow pace and quiet days.

We spent our mornings lounging on the roof terrace after breakfast, drinking tea and reading, and in the afternoon having a sandwich on the beach and going for long walks to discover what lay beyond the headlands and down the trails. We discovered camels roaming in the brush, local fishermen casting out on the rocks, houses abandoned midway through construction, and the secret local surfing spot where the best waves broke. After our walks, each evening we watched the sun set before dinner, lighting up the sky with magnificent golds and pinks and as night fell wild bursts of stars emerged on our walk back.

sidi camels

sidi kaoki sunset

Sidi Kaoki’s camels and coastline and sunset over the Atlantic

Much like any surfer town, the vibe in Sidi Kaoki was very laid back, welcoming people from all nationalities and walks of life for any length of time, days, weeks, months… Some had clearly settled there for a while and had their campervans parked along the shore, others had even got jobs working in the local restaurant. I can’t forget to mention the town’s cutest and most coddled resident, the runt pup, Couscous, who seemed to change hands with every passer through who wanted to play mother and claim him as their own (myself included), wooing him with scraps under the table and picking the fleas from his ears.

The quiet life of Sidi Kaoki was a wonderful way to end our trip. Soon enough we were back to Marrakesh, for the last time, to catch our planes back for Christmas to see our family and friends – and dig up some festive spirit. (That’s the thing about spending the run up to Christmas in a Muslim country, there isn’t a string of tinsel or carol singer in sight.)

As I look back on our time – 5 and a half months galavanting around Europe, Egypt and Morocco – my God, has time flown! But now, we’re enjoying our time in the mother lands, and getting ready for our next adventure: Colombia and Central America… Roll on 2018.