Mimosa flowers fall on them. Wisps of cloud float overhead and dew forms as twilight approaches. Passion has possessed them completely. They are as two young foals, spirited animals, moaning and possessing each other voraciously. Finally, everything ends, and they lie on their backs, watching the sky. Stars look on with their faces of fire. Still she forgets her son, who has been washed away down stream, over waterfalls and through torrid shoals.
The Azuero Peninsula is full of stories. Like the wistful tale of Tulivieja (a young woman who appears in various forms all over Central America), who went mad with grief after losing her baby on the banks of a river, while she was in the arms of her lover. Some say she grew hooves and long, wiry hair. Some say she roams the banks of remote rivers, wailing mournfully. Some say she knocks on doors late at night, looking for children who have been neglected or abandoned. Some say she leaves upside-down footprints on doors to warn of her presence.
Whatever the story, the past is never far away in Panama.
In Panama I learnt the importance of being yourself, no matter who that is.
I learned the importance of integrity, honesty and trust. I learned the importance of respecting the depth and complexities of culture, not just of those countries in which we travel. In Panama I relearned the strength of the bond that ties me to my own home, my own culture.
I also collaborated with some beautiful musicians
and co-wrote this song with my good friend Sarah, leaving behind a fear of singing in Spanish.
Fears We Leave Behind will be released on Tuesday 6th June, and will be available on iTunes, Spotify, Google Music and the CD Baby website.
As the days pass, it becomes harder to translate what is my personal human experience into words.
Where have I been?
My heart has broken a thousand times and I feel more alive than ever. I have travelled to places I never dreamed I’d go to and met people who were kinder than I thought possible. I’ve been inspired and rejected and loved and hated and surprised and insulted and freed.
And what I’m left with is my own face staring back at me in the mirror. I have left behind the dearest travel companion I ever knew; two people with such strong dreams whose paths are drifting apart for a while. Every day I am strengthened by what he taught me. He helped me to set free the strong, fierce warrior I have inside myself and now I’m running free. No direction, but no fear.
I left part of my soul in Panama. Everywhere I go I am blessed enough to meet people who burn with unbelievable passion. Living souls colliding with mine.
I passed through Portugal and made an album of songs which flowed out of me like water. But it wouldn’t have existed at all if it weren’t for a friend I met in the mountains of the Serra da Estrela, who helped me get really comfortable with my creativity. The more you are true to yourself, it seems, the more your kindred people drift towards you. I know that I am who I am partly because of the spectacular people I have been lucky enough to have cross my path.
And now? Timor Leste,
where bravery runs in the blood.
Many more adventures from the Land of Crocodiles to come
Watch this space for the release date of “Fears We Leave Behind”
After several months of mostly sea-based nomadism, I find myself a fully-fledged tropics-dweller. This is something which feels as if it happened by accident. Which, perhaps, is a good thing.
Land crabs scuttle around your room at night, occasionally dying inconsiderately in a corner and leaving a foul stench. Toads hop about nonchalantly in the hallway. Monkeys dance in the trees and the sky dances with lightning. Geckos wage wars for prime spots around lightbulbs. Fire ants bite your feet while you gaze up at the scarlet macaws; flashes of colour high in the almond trees. Fireflies drift and bob through heavy, thundering nights.
I stepped in a small pool of toad wee on the way to the bathroom the other night. The following day, a scorpion stung me while I was washing up; it was hiding under a plate. Hurt like buggery. I hear the words of my best friend’s legendary mother ringing in my ears…. “Ooh, Emma, is it worth it?”
Funny how quickly it all becomes normal.
How did an Ashton girl, raised on meat and potato pies, come to be living here? I am ashamed to admit it, but I’ve come to take it for granted. It’s only now I’ve found myself in one place, with a real job, without the distraction of travel, that my incongruity here is thrown into relief. In particular, there was one night a few months back, when I thought I’d treat myself to a veggie burger at the hostel down the road. Having forgotten my torch, I strayed off the path and found myself stuck, in pitch darkness, in the middle of a grassy hillock. “What the bloody hell am I doing ‘ere?” I heard myself shout into the darkness. I hope no-one else heard me. And even if they did, they probably didn’t understand the broad Lancashire twang I’d lapsed into during that stressful moment.*
You’ll be glad to know I escaped from the hillock unscathed. But it got me thinking.
We humans (particularly the ones from Lancashire) are such avid seekers of routine. We like to know what time we get up, and what time we go to bed. We like to have a nice place to keep our toothbrush. Even on the road, travellers huddle together in attentive groups, sharing precious local knowledge, which they gather in order to feel more at home. We are creatures of habit. Even in moments of transience we call ourselves back to a centre point: who we are, what we like, what we don’t like.
“It’s the way a man chooses to limit himself that determines his character. A man without habits, consistency, redundancy – and hence boredom – is not human. He’s insane.”
A friend in Bocas told me that after living with her husband and two daughters on their boat for almost six years, she was concerned about her daughters losing their ability to be in one place. I can definitely empathise with that, and I know several gypsy-like friends who can too. For those accustomed to travel, is staying in one place a skill to be developed? Is it wrong to feel itchy feet after being in one place for a while? Or is the key to be able to enjoy both sedentary and nomadic lifestyles without becoming too entrenched in any one way of life?
What do you think, gypsy friends?
Nomad or no, I think it most definitely is worth it. Being aware of what keeps your inner fires burning. Embracing the in-between places: that’s what keeps you alive, whether in the heart of the jungle or by a roaring fire on t’moors with a nice cup of tea.
I’m on the road again. After an amazing first term at Azuero School during which a bunch of crazy children undoubtedly taught me more than I taught them, I find myself in Pavones, Costa Rica, enjoying epic waves, overpriced papayas, and a renewed love affair with the tropics.
On the way we stayed at the brilliant Bambu Hostel in David, which has a pool, and a presumptuous possum.
in Pavones we have rented a lovely room at Patrick and Susan’s lovely hostel Clear River, right on the beach.
Here are some photos from the trip.
P.S. I deliberately didn’t mention where the quote was from so you’d read my next article out of curiosity.
*During a slightly hairy moment on a paddle board recently I found myself once again regressing to a broad Lancashire accent, stronger even than my real one, whilst trying to get in past some big waves: “bloody throw me t’paddle yer basterd, or I’ll bloody do yer one” I hollered to skipper over the din of the waves. Why do I regress into the accent of my youth during moments of stress?
This song was actually written by a cave woman, many millenia ago, and sent to me, through the ages, on a lunar wind.
She watches her family, and learns from them. She burns with the fire of discovery and hears echoes from her own future.
Her heart cries for glory and for things she doesn’t understand…just like mine does.
She has an acute awareness of her own impermanence, and wonders, as she sees the face of her children in the moonlight, what will become of her, and whether her suffering has a purpose.
I imagine this woman, staring up at an infinite sky, her mind filled with the same questions, the same desires, the same concerns and the same emotions as I have, right now, thousands of years later. I was filled with a sense of timelessness I will never forget.
And if that doesn’t float your boat, check out the video. It’s got some nice arty shots of seagulls. Featuring guest vocals from Tomer and Yahel Allouche and perhaps the most underestimated musical instrument ever: the recorder.
Photo of Venao by Rodrigo Suriani, at https://www.flickr.com/photos/rodrigo_suriani/
My first two months in Venão have served as a hands-on introduction to the Montessori teaching method (I’m working here). During my studies I learnt about the philosophy and the techniques, some of which may have been absorbed into my past teaching, but this is my first time at a purely Montessori school.
Montessori philosophy encourages following the child; allowing him/her to explore at his/her own pace. True learning only occurs when a child approaches a concept with curiosity and a desire to know more. That curiosity is something which arises naturally in children hundreds of times a day. Montessori is about tapping into and working with that curiosity as it arises, as well as providing structure and stimuli which encourage it.
One of the things I love about Montessori is that it isn’t results-focused. Having come from a more ‘traditional’ teaching background with exam results as a constant focus, it now seems incredible to me that children of any age are expected to comply with a set of pre-defined standards. In encouraging compliance with a set ‘norm’, creativity and diversity suffer. A system such as this succeeds only in perpetuating the inherently flawed nature of the society it is supposed to serve.
It is profoundly satisfying not only to experience the joy of teaching without the pressure of ‘results’ hanging over yours’ and your students’ heads, but also to meet teachers who are passionate about providing alternative forms of education. Not that it doesn’t have its challenges; it is easy to feel lost at first without such rigid structure, but this feeling fades a little with each meaningful interaction.
Our day trip to Manolo Caracol’s farm in Pedási had a bit of everything that helps make Montessori so special. This is Manolo:
His organic farm provides all of the fresh produce for his restaurant in the city.
The children took a tour of the farm, learning about the crops, the seasons, and the effect of local sewage treatment problems on Pedási’s rivers and streams.
They pulled up some sweet potatoes…some found it more difficult than others
After our tour we were offered fresh sweet potato chips, melon and grape juice, all from the farm.
Older children helped to look after younger ones
And Manolo showed us how the chips were made
Then we planted seeds; chillies, butter lettuce, coriander and more. Watching the children take great care in examining and placing the seeds was a real joy.
Name plaques for our crops. In a few months we will be able to return and check on their progress.
After a blissful few weeks in England and Portugal, it’s time to sit down with a nice cuppa and reflect on the trip.
I ate pies in their hundreds. I shopped for life changing pants with my best friend, who is starting her own furniture upcycling business. I gazed in awe at my wonderful mum’s new artwork.
I made weird videos whilst waiting for delayed Ryanair flights.
In Portugal, I ate pastel de natas with proper coffee in great company. I drank one too many at O’Luain’s Bar and Sometime Eatery (first mentioned here) and participated in the much missed Sunday night music session. I was reminded of the stunning beauty of the Cascais coast, and of just how enormous a Portuguese toastie can be.
Back in England I was lucky enough to join in the singaround at the Cross Keys Folk Club. What a wonderful night. Secreted away in the tiny back room of this 200-year old pub (not a smartphone in sight), we shared folk songs from all over the world. This was my favourite (extract from lyrics below):
“Oh, roll up, roll up, come and see the fat girl, Forty stone o’ loveliness and evr’y bit’s her own.” Ee she were a big ‘un, Wi’t accent on the big, And all the fellas wi’ walking sticks kept giving her a dig.
All in all a very special trip. I returned to Panama full up with love. And pies.
Below are a few photos from my current location. Bloodshot is out of the water having a well-earned rest in Bocas del Toro
…and I am getting to know my new home: Playa Venao.
It feels great to be teaching again. I had forgotten how challenging and hectic and hilarious working with children is. This is our school and it’s growing. I feel priviliged to be a part of it all.
I’m saying this now. Just wait until the novelty of actually having to work wears off.
School on a quiet Sunday
Skipper gets roped into building a mini skate ramp
festive punchline title provided by brother; guess the joke
I’m on the road again, after a delightful stay in Panama and a gem of a final night at this place
The prodigal bum (aka Skipper) has returned from a recent job, just in time for some Christmas cheer, so I once again have a travelling companion.
Journeys are taking longer; the queues of Panamanians on their way home for Christmas grow thicker, not just with people, but with baggage, presents, babies, and the occasional dog in a crate.
As sweltering and tropical Panama is, the festive season seems to drift by mostly unnoticed; it is hard to summon the spirit for it when the sun, shining hard and constant through the trees, renders any attempt at Christmas bling (as we know it) unnoticeable. If it’s not cold, it’s just not Christmas.
That is, of course, until one enters a shopping mall.
The voices, the piped music complete with jingle bells and the rumble of the escalators all echo against my senses, instantly evoking last-minute rushes through busy Manchester streets in search of Body Shop gift packs for forgotten aunts.
Children paw at thick glass windows, barely able to contain their hope; women waft by in clouds of perfume and everything, everything is covered in sequins.
I am momentarily hypnotised.
And then there’s the supermarket! The “things we only buy at Christmas” displays reminiscent of our own; pre-mixed rum punch and stacks of turron evoking memories of my own family’s festive must-haves:
-Terry’s Chocolate Orange (several)
-Bottle of Bailey’s (largest available)
This made me giggle, especially the bit about walnuts.
Browsing the book of many faces gives me a pang, as I see my friends from around the world braving extortionate Christmas air fares and sleazyjet queues to be with their loved ones. It would be lovely to join my dad in a first round of drinks at 10am, and indulge in a nostalgic Game of Life with my brother as mum annihilates the After Eights.
But embrace a tropical Christmas I shall, made all the more pleasant by thoughts of future family reunions. In between bouts of work on the old whimsical and paradigm-shifting secret project (first mentioned here) I’ll be by the pool, getting lost in the sounds produced by this absolutely magical lady, should anyone need me.