Friday, January 25, 2013


"You may say I'm a dreamer but I'm not the only one.  I hope someday you'll join us and the world will live as one."  ~John Lennon

It is going to be very hard to find the words to describe and truly convey the magic of Confest (it's something that needs to be experienced) but I'll do my best to put it into written word.

It was June when I learned about Confest from a new friend; I was instantly intrigued and so I made tentative plans to attend.  As life goes, Confest is exactly where I was from December 29th to January 2nd. 

The new friend mentioned above is Eugene (the one who introduced Shantaram to me), and it just so happens things progressed over the last few months and we are what Facebook would call, "In a relationship."  Anywho, we were lucky enough to find a ride with a friend of a friend, Jo, and so we travelled the four hours to the Confest site in New South Wales (situated between Deniliquin and Swan Hill, close to Moulamein).  I had a bit of an idea of what to expect but in the end, what I experienced was beyond any preconceived notion.

I think it is important to point out that Confest is organized solely by volunteers.  It is not a massive, mainstream, sponsored event; it's the people who attend, who volunteer their time, and who believe in the vision that organize this event and make it the wonderful experience it is.  Take a look at the first Confest invite from 1976 which will give you a bit of a understanding as to why this festival was created.

So now, I want to hit the topic of nudity right away as this seems to be the focal point after one reads "clothing optional" in various descriptions of Confest. Here is what I hope people will ponder and understand: It is my belief that society has placed such an emphasis on the relationship between being naked and sex that we have forgotten that being naked is just natural. Simple as that. We can be nude and not sexualize it (it's true, we can). And if there is any place to experience this, it's Confest.

"Welcome Home"
Photo courtesy of a fellow Confester.
Confest is a place of acceptance, non-judgment, safety, and above all, respect. Respect for people's choices and respect for people's bodies. There were people of all shapes, sizes, genders, colours, and ages in the buff. There were also people in swimmers, sarongs, and also those clad in mud. It didn't matter what you chose to wear; it was completely a non-factor. People were there to converse, to share knowledge, to create joy, not to focus on people's choices of apparel (or lack of). Everyone is accepted for who they are. Clothed or not. Being free to be naked if you so wish (and knowing you are safe and respected) is just beautiful.

I also want to explain the concept of workshops.  Everyday there are workshops.  These workshops are put on by the people who attend Confest.  There are chalkboards at the Info tent with a daily schedule and if you have a skill and/or knowledge that you want to share, feel free!  Lead a workshop!  Some examples of the workshops held are: Kundalini, drawing, dance, meditation, sound healing, tantric, storytelling, the art of kissing, joke-telling, and many, many more!

When we arrive outside the gate, we are greeted with a friendly and colourful sign stating, "Welcome Home."  I immediately felt warm and fuzzy.  Jo had invited Eug and I to camp with her and her friends and so we took her up on that offer!  Our campmates were: Jo, Rames, Lee, Kim, Fred, Shannon, Uray, and Michael.  The group was diverse in age and personal histories but one thing was certain, everyone possessed a beautiful soul.

The infamous Peter Gleeson - the creator of Spontaneous
Choir and the Processions.  A captivating man.
There really is so much to say about Confest; I guess I will share some of the spectacular moments I experienced.  Our first night, Eugene and I made our way to the 'Market' where we saw some sort of procession line of people facing each other and others walking through the human tunnel.  Curious, we joined in.  We were told to close our eyes and hang on to the shoulders of the person in front of us.  Next thing I know, I am hearing whispers in my ear of, "I love you. I love you.  I LOVE YOU! You're beautiful and I love you.  I love you."  To hear hundreds of unseen people telling you they love you was really one the most beautiful experiences (more warm fuzzies).  I felt loved, accepted, unified, and significant among these hundreds of people (and thousands of other Confesters).  They called this the "Love Procession" or the "Love Tunnel" and I scoped out a video on YouTube so you can get a visual. 

Other 'tunnels' throughout Confest included a "Congralutory Tunnel" where you would walk through the procession line being told "You did it!  You're awesome!  Way to go!"  People (including myself) got so into it!  High-fiving, hugging, patting on the back, jumping up and down. I really enjoyed giving the kudos; it was so incredible to lock eyes with someone, feel an instant connection, and just go in for the hug, congratulating them.  I just can't get over the joy I felt over the five days...amazing.

Next wonderful moment: I've always wanted to be body painted.  I find it very beautiful, expressive, and artistic; I knew Confest would be the place for this to happen.  Kim, my campmate, knew one of the artists in the Art Village by the beach/river.  Basil is his name and Basil was able to squeeze the two of us in before the New Year's Eve Fashion Parade. 

The Fashion Parade is open to whomever, wearing whatever they wish, and really is a chance to express yourself (well, ok, all of Confest is this!).  Some participants included a young boy as an airplane, a woman as a fairy, a man as a Mexican jalapeno.  Really, you could wear anything you wanted! Kim entered as 'Earth Woman' and looked stunning as ever.  Yes, being covered in paint, using reeds as hair, carrying a big stick is stunning.  It really is; Kim looked like a Goddess. And then there was, well, me.  Yes, I entered the Fashion Parade.  Reluctantly, mind you.  I did it for Basil though.  He spent a good hour painting me and I owed it to him to show off his artwork. 

I was a ball of nerves when we arrived at the 'Market' and saw heaps of people lining a 'runway'.  What was I going to do when it got to my turn?!  I must say, there was comfort in knowing that this crowd was non-judgmental and I could trust that there would be cheers no matter what so I figured I would just let my body and the surrounding energy lead me to my first ever runway walk.

But first, what did my body paint look like?  Well, I called myself 'Sunrise Over Water'.  I had a big beautiful sun on my stomach with a bright blue sky and black birds flying in the background.  My lower half was a darker sea blue carrying the reflection of the sun.  Around my calves was 'sand' decorated with sea shells and starfish.  The painting was gorgeous and it really looked like I was wearing a spandex outfit - oh the illusion!

It was then my turn, "Next, Sunrise Over Water."  Oh holy shit, that's me.  I stepped up to the plate, took a deep breath, circled my arms up with energy, looking up to the sky, bringing my palms to touch above my head, and slowly lowered to prayer in front of my heart.  As I walked side to side down the runway, I carried on with the sun salutes...I was afterall, a sunrise.  To tell you what I was thinking would be impossible because I was completely out of my body at that stage.  My heart was pounding and everything was a blur.  I saw Kim when I was done and we were both relieved and I think there was a bit of adrenalin pumping through my veins.

Top three time.  The second name to be called.....'Sunrise Over Water'.  And yet again, "Oh holy shit, that's me."  I walked out making the same motions as before.  I line up with the other top participants and await the announcement.  I am inside my head like never before and yet I am completely outside my body.  I never had a desire to win, I did this to showcase Basil's work and if anything, it is all for fun.  I thought to myself, "'Bird in Paradise' is totally going to win."  And then I thought, "Trace! Don't think like that.  You may not have wanted to do this but by all means, be positive! You can win this for Basil!"  The next thing I hear is, "The winner of the Confest Fashion Parade for 2013 is...'Sunrise Over Water'!  And one more time for good measure, "Oh holy shit, that's me."  It was all so surreal.  I immediately went and found Basil and walked down the runway with him; afterall, he is the artist that brought this 'look' together.

One more experience I will share is when Eug and I scooped up a floatie from the beach and were floating around/down the river.  We started to go with the current and then decided to head back to the shores.  Well this took a lot of effort.  We didn't realize how strong the current was until we had to work against it.  In all honestly, we were not far from shores and there was never any danger but it did take a lot of energy and was starting to become frustrating.  Mostly, there was this section with heaps of branches and twigs (submerged in water too).  We used it to try and pull ourselves to the other side, all while getting scratched and bruised up.  We were almost there when this beautiful group of "strangers" reached out for us and pulled us back to the other side.  They said, "Join us!"  And so we did.

We stood in a circle with our arms around one another as one of the girls (with a gorgeous voice) started to sing.  We moved in a counterclockwise circle as we sung back line after line.  I wish now that I had written down the words but I do remember this: "I'm better off...for the knowing of you."  From frustration on the river to pure and utter joy.  Seriously.  I love Confest. 

At the Chai tent: Eugene cutting some fabric for his newfound
friend who was making him a hat.
So those are some highlights of my time at Confest.  But there is so much more!  Our mornings we would get up about 9:00am, sit around our lovely camp, eat breaky, drink coffee and tea, and chat with our campmates.  This would go on until about 1:00pm or so when we would decide it was hot enough for a swim.  And so, we would meander through the site to the river where we would cool off and then perhaps hop into the mud bath.  Yes, mud and bath are in the same sentence.  Some people absolutely loved it but for myself, it wasn't a daily necessity.  It was really strange feeling.  But letting the mud dry in the sun and then hopping in the river and exfoliating was soooo worth it!  After we were sunned out, we would eat some lunch and maybe attend a workshop, maybe do some yoga, maybe head to the Chai Tent in the 'Market'.  When night fell, the drumming would begin.

People are always encouraged to bring musical instruments to Confest and more often than not, jam sessions would emerge.  In the evenings, the Chai tent would host quite a few musicians and then the dancing would proceed.  The energy in that space was unreal!  And here's the thing: rarely are people drinking or using other substances.  People are getting high and drunk off the pure energy of the music, of the dancing, and off the energy of other people.  Where many festivals are full of intoxicated people and drinking is promoted, Confest is not one of those places.  Not that indulging is frowned upon but simply, it just doesn't happen.

In a way, the drumming and dancing reminds me of Kirtan (chanting/bhakti yoga).  Kirtan allows for our energies to resonate together and our hearts to open. I really felt this when dancing among the crowd.  You could feel the energy of others, you could feel the vibrations, you could feel the movements; we were all moving to the same beat and getting high off the movements and sounds of each other. Again, pure joy.

The topper of this entire experience was the ride we hitched back to Melbourne.  We waited at the gate (along with other hitchhikers) holding a sign for Melbs. A wonderful Peruvian man, Jung, offered us a ride as long as we weren't going to be picky on drop-off location (as he lives outside the city limits).  Of course it wasn't a issue!  It turns out he lived rather close to the suburb Eug lives so we basically had a door-step drop-off.  The trip home was very relaxing as we listened to Hindu devotional music, had conversation and just reflected on the entire Confest experience.  To add the official cherry on top...after stopping for a picnic lunch, a van pulled up as we were getting into the car.  I heard a girl say, "Hey! You're 'Sunrise Over Water'!"  Haha, yes, that's me :) 

I guess that wraps up the pure magic of Confest.  I truly hope I did it some justice.  It was so hard to find the words to describe how joyous and beautiful it is. I feel it is one of those places that truly needs to be experienced for oneself.    

And so, let me close by saying this: John Lennon's 'Imagine' has been my favourite song for as long as I can remember. "Imagine all the people living life in peace."  Just imagine. Seriously, just imagine that for a moment.  Imagine that we are all unified.  Imagine that we all respected, accepted, and that we all loved each other. It's an incredible thought, isn't it?  To all live life in peace. Guess what?  There is a place where this happens: Confest.

One of the communal kitchens.  And there are a lack of pictures, mostly because it's not somewhere you pack a camera around!  It's about the experience :)  And also, there could be people in the nude and it's just respectful to keep your camera away.
I had just finished a workshop honouring the Feminine Divine and was making my way back to camp...and look who I passed by having a nap in a hammock...wearing his new hat I might add!

A workshop at the Comedy Tent.  This is actually where we rung in the New Year with some polka, Irish jigging, a Tina Turner impression, a reverse strip show, and lots of joy and love!
Finally, I wish.....that everyday, everywhere, everybody would live in the spirit of Confest - community, sharing, love, respect, acceptance, joy, peace, and unity.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

From Sydney to Cairns

Ok, it was rather ambitious of me to say three posts in one week.  One post every three weeks is far more feasible...anywho!

As mentioned in "Jumping into the Unknown" my good friend, Sean, came to Australia in September and I was able to take two weeks off and get in some Aussie travel time with him! 

The adventure started in Sydney where we met at the airport.  It was so surreal!  Here we are in Australia together!  Last time we saw each other was in Kelowna almost one year ago. It's one of those things that makes life and travel so magical. 
Ponderosa Way reunion!  Travis and I.

In Sydney, we stayed with an old neighbour of mine (and I'm talking back to the Merritt days circa 1990's neighbour), Travis.  Trav graciously opened his home (and let his inner tour guide shine) for a couple days while Sean and I explored the touristy places like Bondi Beach, Manly, and of course, Sydney Harbour.  Funny enough, a great memory of Sydney is actually a film we watched: Red Dog.  It's based on a true story and those who know me, know that any film that portrays the unconditional love that animals give will be one of my faves (and bring me to tears).

From Sydney, Sean and I rented a campervan and started heading north.  We stopped in Newcastle to catch the sunset and stretch our legs before carrying on for a couple more hours and eventually finding a rest stop to set up shop for the night.

Hi there!

The next day we continued on to Byron Bay where we would spend a couple of nights.  But before getting into Byron we stopped at a wildlife park.  This was not my first encounter with Australian wildlife, however; in June, a couple mates and I took a trip down the Great Ocean Road where a giant red kangaroo almost took us out while driving!  Thanks Pants for great reaction time!

The sanctuary was lovely though and we got to feed little 'roos, view some wombats (so cute!), koalas, dingos, and other Australian wildlife.  It was a nice break from driving and I could have hung out with the 'roos all day!  Alas we carried on.

One of my absolute favourite things to do is to eat fresh fish and chips on the beach and that is exactly what we did when we rolled into Byron.  The next day consisted nothing but lounging on the beach, catching some rays and sipping some bevies.

After relaxation in Byron we headed to the digusting party town of Surfer's Paradise.  Don't let the name mislead you.  Surfer's does have beaches but the town itself is full of sloppy and drunk travellers which to me makes it rather disgusting.  But who am I to judge! I might have consumed a bit of wobbly pops that evening myself (when in Rome?) and had a blast at a pub that featured a live band playing all those classic cover tunes that we know and love so much.  I might have also had a dance-off with some dude to It's Like That which he afterwards said, "I've never been shamed like that on the dance floor!"  Yeah, that's right.  Little did he know that when he challenged me to dance-off with him that this Canadian has Ukrainian dance moves rolled up her sleeve - always winning moves! 

Outdoor climbing park at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane. 
Our next stop was Brissie (aka Brisbane) where we stayed with my friend, Gareth. Brissie consisted of drinks, food, museums, hot tubs, rock climbing and tight-rope walking.  It's always nice to catch up with friends and just hang out.  And who knew Brisbane had a fantastic park right in the city featuring climbing cliffs and just chilled out people.

Finally, it was time to fly up to Cairns where the first thing on the agenda was the skydive jump; as I have said before, unreal! 

The following day it was time to head out for an overnight trip to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) aboard the Rum Runner.  The Rum Runner is a 20m sailboat (motor included) owned by Richard.  It's a small company but with that comes fantastic service and a wonderful experience. 

All the guests and the crew of the Rum Runner.
Sean and I were joined by three German girls and a Belgian guy and a British bloke.  It was a bit of a drizzly morning which meant gorgeous weather out on the Reef.  We all sat together as we had introductions to Rum Runner team, the boat, snorkelling and diving.  Things were going well for about an hour (it took about three to get to the Reef) but then I could see a few gills getting a little green, including mine.  Now I may be the daughter of a fisherman but apparently that means nothing when it comes to sea sickness.  Most of us sat and stared at the horizon as we rode the waves.  The only chipper one seemed to be Sean!

It wasn't long after that one of the German girls coughed her cookies, followed immediately by her friend, followed immediately by Dries (the Belgian).  How I did not follow suit, I'm not sure but I just sat at the stern, hugged my legs tight to my chest, stared out in the distance, and focused on my breathing.

We finally made it to the Reef and getting motivated was difficult after feeling so gross; alas, it was a gorgeous day and shit(!), we're at the GBR!!  So in I went (snorkelling) to check out the creatures that call the GBR home.  Simply beautiful.

In my last post I talked a bit about fear and trying to overcome it.  Well one of my greatest fears is actually diving. Something about relying on apparatus to breathe and being 10 metres under water.  Unfortunately, I could not get past the fear.  In combination with feeling slightly ill, choppy waters and the internal battle I was already having with myself, I couldn't bring myself to do it.  However, I have decided that I will start my diving experience in a pool where I can practice techniques and then move it to the open water.  I will overcome this fear!   Anywho, over the two days, we moved around to different areas on the Reef to explore.  It really was incredible seeing all those tropical fish and I really was quite content just snorkelling around. 

When we returned to dry land on day two, we stayed in touch with Dries and he became a travel buddy for Sean after I returned to Melbs.  Over the next couple of days we were real bums in Cairns.  "Beach" (I put beach in quotes because it is a man-made lagoon in Cairns), food, beverages, dancing, sleep and repeat.  It was actually quite strange to be in that 'backpacker mode' again.  These days my idea of travelling is really immersing myself in the culture, forming relationships with locals, just really finding and experiencing the authenticity of a city and a country.  However, I still had a blast just relaxing and hanging out with travellers. 

For one of those days in Cairns, Dries, Sean and I took a day trip to Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge (in the Daintree Rainforest); it was a lovely escape to nature for the day.  We also visited Hartley's Crocodile Park along the way where we learned about these amazing (and frightening) creatures. Be croc-wise people!

Anyway, that about sums up my two-week adventure.  It was really nice to throw the ol' backpack over the shoulder again.  Australia is a beautiful country and I have only seen a bit of it.  I look forward to more Aussie adventures in the year to come!

The iconic Opera House.

There was a plane flying around the harbour writing things in the air so I thought I would take advantage of the situation and show my angelic side ;)
"Hey Fred, quite they day, eh?"  This is all I kept thinking.  Two birds hanging out in the harbour watching the boats coming in and out...I think I've watched too much Nemo.
Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Sydney skyline - on the ferry to Manly.

Harbour Bridge from the other side near Luna Park.
Luna Park entrance - not as frightening as the one in Melbourne.

Bondi Beach.

Surfers at Bondi.

Sean chattin' up a Sydney Fire Captain.

Newcastle Lighthouse at dusk.

A little dancer in front of the setting sun. Newcastle.

A Rainbow Lorikeet (I do believe - correct me if I am wrong!)

A little Joey popping out of momma's pouch!

Feeding momma and her joey.

This one can't get enough!
Byron Bay by day.

Byron Bay by dusk.

This little one reminded me of Red Dog!  What a sweetie.
Relaxing in a Brisbane park with a good book and a bevie.  Such a life!
The outdoor park at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane.
Sean belaying Gareth.
Because why wouldn't I try walking on a slack line?!
The magnificent Great Barrier Reef.
Taking in the sights, smells and sounds...feeling better it seems. 
Duuuude, it's Crushhhh!  So cool swimming with a sea turtle!

This picture could be one of my faves. Sean captured this moment after dinner (or for some, a few bites of food here and there). Sea sickness at its finest. 
En route to Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge.

Hartley's Crocodile Park.

Croc foot!  I have to say I like these feet more than 'Crocs' shoes.
Jumpin' Jesus!  They all come out of the woodworks for feeding time.

Cruisin' together.
Flippin' terrifying!
Dries and I munching on BBQ'd prawns (in Port Douglas).
The beach in Port Douglas.

Sean cooling off at Mossman Gorge in the Daintree Rainforest.

Such a serene spot!
Nature is beautiful.