my America


he touches my four symbols

on his alphabet piano

and rips my heart into

an unseasonal bloom.


His five birds come to roost

and a landslide

of tiny



demolishes me.


Our poles connect

with Aquarian velocity

and suddenly, I

feel the gravity of his bones,

catch a scent of American earth,

see his dark beauty,

cloaked in tree, swathed in mountain,

riding across the moon.


My tender Australia,

timid on her feet

and fragile of borders,

clatters her pretty tea set.


The skitty birds hush

inside the dripping gum


a lava sunset

turns suddenly coy.


His American shadow,

ripe in musk

and heavy with legend

casts a Wuthering spell

across the nervous wattle.


Erotic shapes appear.

Strange flowers bloom.

A flinch.

Then disarray

across the virgin garden.


My menagerie of dinosaurs

and refugees,

struck clumsy with desire

for the sharp


of American charm,

push against

the scythe blade of

heavy lashes,

for that long taste

of frontier lust.


The dew, remaining

quivers bright

with rumours of his

deadly graces.

Each bead a’quiver with


of his fateful elegance

with weapons

of seduction.


Hysteria afflicts the marigolds

and the daisies act silly.


Little herds of snapdragons pout

and blush

beside the birdbath

while a cuddle of mushrooms

becomes breathless with

a most exquisite panic.


Gondwana’s prim bouquet of

lemon and honey, red earth and gum

is utterly disheveled

by this exotica

of hot pine,



and sweat.



America still…

just has to touch those four glyphs

and a pantheon of winds

unleash their deadly


into the manes

and nostrils

of stallions,

riding now,

on this full moon

across the Field of the Pacific

on hooves of wild foam,

with Isis, the moon, at the whip.




The boy with the really bad tattoo


When the fine art of conjuring the mighty cosmic serpent goes wrong, it takes a Colombian juggler, a bottle of snake juice and a steady needle to sharpen the carnal fang.

Vilcabamba Valley, deepest Ecuador, 2pm under a fierce Andean sun: here we are in the garden. Humming birds whiz about like dabs of oil paint off creation’s fast brush, the daisies are giggling and the chooks are fat.

My landlord, the local shaman, is sucking her teeth and smoking American Spirit, as usual, while her boyfriend, a sexy young Latino, hovers nervously in the shade.

We’re in the Sacred Valley. An ancient and legendary pueblo, once hidden safely in the skirts of these magnificent mountains, but now splayed open by the new Chinese-funded superhighway, and the exploits of a creepy New Zealand real estate broker.

Hordes of expatriating Americans are here, boozing, smoking pot, whining about the government, and aliens and the lack of hi-speed blenders. But in this corner, in the P1110962shaman’s pretty farm with its flower beds, fat Buddha goddess, feather charms and the loving hand of good gardening and common sense there is mostly peace.

Which Pablo is not feeling today.

A Colombian artist has arrived in town. There have been negotiations at the fountain. Pablo has been afflicted for years now by dodgy tattoo artistry. He has borne the shame of carrying a very large, extremely demented-looking snake inked across his back, and failing, in every way, to symbolise the ferocity, drama, power and virility that a shamanic serpent ought.

The snake is one of the four great power animals of South American cosmology, and the iconic image of the psychedelic healing medicine, ayahuasca – the motherload of South America’s profound trove of knowledge of chemistry, psychology, human health, the ecosphere – everything!

Mother Ayahuasca is represented by the powerful cosmic serpent. Through whom all comes into being; the planets and mitochondria, the sickness and the genius, the love and the terror. It is her strong body, and her fangs that deliver her authority – in which areas poor Pablo’s snake is errrr… grievously challenged.

Suffering a total absence of muscle-tone, lazy eye, apparent drunkenness and massive craniofacial trauma, this is evidently not a snake of shamanic proportions. It is not the serpent equal to his fang-toothed, cactus-wrangling hot mumma shaman lover either.

Contrary to the popular thought of this mixed up age, the serpent is not a male symbol, nor a demon archetype, and has very little, in reality, to do with dangling about in trees causing marital trouble. As simple observation easily proves.

Actually, the snake originally, and deeply, belongs to the goddess, to the creation story, to the notion of wholeness, self-reliance, completion, renewal, safety, wisdom and a living, ecstatic cosmos. It is the creative force for Australian Aboriginal cosmology, and the keeper of that realm, as it is in Hawaiian deep ecology, Greek, African, Celt and Pelasgian.

In ayahuasca and san pedro healing traditions the snake is not the symbol of getting ‘shot’ by psychedelic cosmic venom in a scenario of attack and survival through the AK47 of ‘expanded’ consciousness into a ‘beyond’ world full of kooky visions and stuff…  it is the symbol of the grace of the Creatrix, who holds man, woman, life and death in her body and restores peace.

Snake as cosmic dick, seeping poison and treachery, was a late twist in the universal love song for creation added by jealous Babylonian and Hebrew editors.

Which is why Pablo’s worm is sad. And why his hot serpentine lover rolls her eyes and
sparkynot her thighs at his otherwise delicious Latino wrappings.

And why the goddess in their garden twitters among the marigolds instead of just tossing off her petals and getting all wild nectar when Pablo’s around.

His tattoo, the symbol of his willingness to stand in his body, surrendered in power, in the whipstorm of adoration, erotica, craving, sadness and grief – the inevitable fields of love for life – is more like a sort of advertisement for compassionate euthanasia.

But the Colombian, a passing juggler and jewelry-maker, can fix all that.

He is a whiz on the ink and a known rehabilitator of dodgy totemic animals. He estimates a total make-over of Pablo’s tattoo will take about four hours, two bottles of snake rum and a packet of rolling tobacco.

“The problem is here, it is in the teeth,” says Miguel as he pulls up a stool, prepares his instruments and swabs the patient. “Yes, the problem, she is these teeth, they are wrong! Total! Completely without the power. And the jaw, this is the jaw of a worm! We have to change the eyes, make them strong and sexy and dangerous. We turn these sticks of teeth into swords of love for the world. Vamos!”


Hummingbirds wiggle their burlesque bottoms, the shaman puts on a pot of stew, Pablo takes a heavy swig of snake juice. As the first cuts are made and the blood begins to P1120407
run, one of our party is hastily sent down from the farm for another batch of firewater from the man with the sugarcane press at the bottom of the road.

Snake wine is the ducks guts’ in spirits in the Andes. A burning hot lava of sugarcane alcohol with a sad-looking poisonous snake floating about in the bottom of the bottle. It draws its power from the leeching of venom from the dead thing’s mouth, and just the whole idea, basically.

Pablo is a willing victim to whatever bliss the snake-punch can offer, and as we while away the afternoon on cask wine and flower-gazing, he drifts off into that strange land where pain meets euphoria and they tango off into a psychedelic sunset of hula dancers and absolute trust in fairies, doctors and Colombian jugglers.

As the hours wear on, I am thrilled to report that things do indeed look good for Pablo. There is a transformation occurring. Under the commanding gaze of our Colombian, the worm is certainly turning. What was saggy is rising up urgently. What was blunt is glistening with potencia. What was sideways is absolutely beginning to look us dead in the eye with a terrifying charm.

The fangs, lovingly sharpened, glossed and styled into scythes, bare the golden oil of death, not the drippy goo of Lala Land. Pablo is becoming a man. He is earning his totem, in praise of his goddess. There are hot breezes across the rose bushes and strange light through the eucalypts.


The shaman’s magic stew sends out long fingers of rich fragrance to seduce us in the garden and there are funky Latino beats on the iphone.

I can feel this earth, Andean earth, coming to life all around us and there is that sense – you now the one – when a puzzle is completing, when a tune finds its groove, when the work is done, and it is good.


Indiana Jones breaks the Great Aussie Silence – the lost story of peace between the races.


The profound and myth-shaking true history of friendship and brotherhood between British invaders and the Aboriginal people whose lives and land they changed forever.

This is how you fall in love with history.

Murray Arnold’s beautifully told, scrumptiously researched study of Aboriginal-European relations in West Australia’s early outpost of Albany is the book that had to happen.

A Journey Travelled treads where angels have feared to even tiptoe in the fraught and tender story of the first century of invasion. It provides a rare harvest of historical fact, and eye-witness accounts to give a history that defies the Australian norm.


A Journey Travelled, by Murray Arnold, UWA Publishing, 2015

For those who seek healthy relations and mutual respect, this factual account reminds us that it is individuals of all races who shape history.

And for the people of Denmark, Albany and surrounds this book restores the region’s legacy as a once and potentially future site for an extraordinary Australian story.

In a nation afflicted by what Historians call The Great Australian Silence, this book focuses on a remote and beautiful region where one of the questions most asked today is, “But where are all the Aboriginal people?”.

Arnold seeks traces of the missing, and many other lost stories. His intention, he says, “Whether I’m praised or challenged, is to leave a map for future storytellers and researchers,” and to add to the work of retrieving Australia’s true history.

In this he has succeeded. For a studious work, this book is so exciting I could practically see the movie coming together as I read on.

A Journey Travelled is the result of 4 years’ research culminating in a PhD from UWA. There is rich geology here for History geeks. But there is much more than that. This read is fascinating!

Arnold, a 71-year-old one-time farmer, now tutor and long distance cyclist, turned Aussie Indiana Jones on this quest to break a 200-year-long silence in Australia’s past. He sought the voices of those who lived during the untold chapter of the first century of conquest. It was an adventure in long-hidden archives, a treasure-hunt for maps, graves, and old books that unearthed so much history that not all of his discoveries could fit in this lovely book.

Countless hours sifting archives at Battye Library, old newspapers, police logs, court records, diaries, letters, online databases and oral histories remaining from the period yield the characters, events and choices of the time.

Treasures includIMG_6834e first-hand descriptions by the British of an indigenous people who lived undisturbed more 46,000 years before that fateful decision of 1826.

There are the actual words of those British men who carefully recorded what they saw and were taught about Aboriginal dress, hunting, hair styles, harvesting, building, beliefs, law and rites at first contact.

From their own diaries and orders, the book gives evidence of a mostly respectful, even gentle, approach by first white invaders.

The records show that the goodwill, friendship and diplomacy of a few good men changed everything in Albany and its surrounds. The Great Southern knew a peace rare – if not unique – in all Australia.

Noongar man and her of this region's exceptional history, Mokare, who died of disease on June 26, 1831.

Noongar man and her of this region’s exceptional history, Mokare, who died of disease on June 26, 1831.

To read this book is to dive deep into the detail of the century that eventually undermined Aboriginal society, through early settlement, military influence, farming, arrival of the railway and eventual dispossession of indigenous people from their land.

And achieve overview too. Arnold reminds us of the religious, scientific and social context uplifting and (dare I say?) often twisting the white mind at the time.

In my view, this is a pivotal work for all those with roots and visions for the region, and for all Australians, actually. It lifts veils on the echoey silence that shrouds our past, and distorts our future together as well.

What makes this a cracker of a non-fiction yarn, aside from the chance to read historical material that may not have seen the light of day for nearly 200 years, is the shimmering trail of evidence for the remarkable fact of collaboration and generosity in this area in the first years of British settlement.

This is such a dramatic departure from the Australian cliché of frontier experience, and indeed the true facts elsewhere, that this book could fairly ignite a spark for local reconciliation.


Captain Barker, who arrived to the region in 1829, protected and nurtured bonds with Aboriginal people, and died tragically in South Australia in a case of mistaken identity on April 30, 1831

The study shows Aboriginal people’s patience with the strange conduct of the white arrivals, their curiosity, and willing support of the British invaders’ endeavours. There is proof of a myth-busting story of respect toward Aboriginal people by early British leaders, notably Captain Collet Barker and Dr Alexander Collie, who was buried beside his Aboriginal friend, Mokare.

This indigenous hero, whose family group were responsible for the land upon which Albany was situated, is a man who deserves a movie of his own. His acceptance of the arrivals, gregarious nature, diplomatic brilliance and patience changed a hundred years of history.

But there are brutal stories too. The archives keep the trail of ruthless gangs of white sealers who plundered the coast, terrorised Aboriginal people and were despised by white officials. Tragedies related to drunkenness, violent troops, disease, mistakes, hardship and misery on both sides are documented. There are cautions that violence and misconduct against Aboriginal people may have been disguised in official logs of the time.

There is evidence of how people, Aboriginal and European, created a new language to conduct friendship, learning and commerce. Of how mutual benefit, exchange of skills, marriage, shared housing and all sorts of collaboration seeded a culture historians describe as The Friendly Frontier.

All destined to crumble once white settlers arrived in numbers to take land in Albany.

Arnold takes us through to 1926 by which time disease, dispossession, and government policy undermined the region’s Aboriginal people and destroyed a legacy precious to both black and white.

What touched me most deeply was my discovery that this loss was a tragedy for both races. The grief and betrayal of the next century would be felt by black and white alike, forced into a conflict that was not of their making.

For those in the region, and who would like to hear Murray Arnold tell stories from his research, discuss more about his book and the strange facts he unearthed along the way to writing – join me in conversation with the author.


    This Monday, July 6.

    5.30pm at Tea House Books in Denmark

    $10, with wine and cheese.

One night, the moon – dreamless in Denmark


That last full moon

conjured phantoms and poems

off sleepless pillows

all over town.


A desperate flotilla,

our unquiet beds

strayed the wide back of night

as we, dreamless in Denmark,

alone in the undark,

bobbed fearful

in our silvery seas.


Great tides of longing,

deep swells of forgetting,

grumbles and fretting

rode heavy under all our craft…

eating the dreamers,

tossing their boats

and conjuring a dark puzzle

of strange

marine creatures

to surf our stories

and snake our waves.


The fairy tore her linen bonnet

and twisted her nightgown

with anguish.


The forest walker

was lost for hours in a labyrinth

of dark places, hollow caves and wolf magic.


The poet, finding herself in a pool

of bright water, fallen all the way from the moon!

to electrify her sheets,

huffed twice, turned three or four times

until a pencil appeared,

a bird flew to her hand,

and the three of them embraced.


One man agreed to die.


But most clung on

their wretched craft.

Just a few,

sniffing mushroom, fox, sweet moss and drumskin,

crept out to the wild.

Out into that spangled cathedral

between the unfolding woods

and the uncurling sea

where the land gives her stories

to the silvery stars.


There they saw the ghost ship riding,

her mermaids abroad, and her stallions at large.

They saw the shimmery nets were cascading

and that halflings and soldiers and lonely bones

were riding about her, great pillars resounding

from Australia to her sister in arms, fair Pleiades.


Broken dreamers, weeping men and felons pulled those ropes.

They churned the cosmic ocean,

spilling little boats and tossing all the fishes

as the blood in the soil

took robe of flower, cloak of bark, crown of feather

and composed itself into faces

to turn toward the heavens.


Down down down

spilled the glittery tresses.

One for every lost sailor

in our geology of sorrow.


and up up up

reached those yearning caresses,

turned from pulling at shrouds

made of silence, made of violence and the deep clay of despair,

turned from their dark business with the purifying earth

and ready to ride again, brightly.


This last full moon, remember?

She set out her fleets across

rocky seas through sleepless sailors, us.

She shook up our cradles

and salted our tongues.

She gargoyled our dreams and curdled our pillows

so that all her monstrous babies

could borrow our prayers,

could bite at the sky,

could toss up the firmament

and gallop the switchback

for that starry leap

beyond the jaberwock.


Their great triumph,

a bridge made of moonstone

between the treasons of our fathers

and the futures of their sons,

born to ride the helix

on a crucifix of Love.

The poet, by moonlight.


The moon

tiptoed like a fleet of silken fairies

across a busty chorus of cloud,

across the pretty lawn, doused in nightdew

and through a lattice of gum leaves

to find

only his image upon my little window.


The moon

was not in the mood

for reflection.


He swelled up,

his silk turned to satin

his chariot to ice

and his pretty serenade

cut short at the neck.


The moon

pushed through the curtains,

pulled at my blankets,

grabbed me by my flannel pajamas

and pressed his thumb against my throat.


He was

full of hard muscle

and indigo with rage.


He stared me dead in the face.

He breathed ice upon my puckering skin.

He trailed his long fingers,

flesh-less and filed,

across my pillowy cheek,

and plucked

the petals

off my dream.


The moon

twisted my hair.

He pulled at my lashes

and yanked back the sheets of my cocoon.


To douse me

with a chill wave

of his bleak grace.


He forced his ancient cold

against my sleepy nest.

he regarded my gooey body,

dripping with sleepy lala,

and said,


in the voice of Freud,

in the colour blue

in no uncertain termsxx


               Or I will send you a monster!

Love bird


There was a story once, about a girl so in love, and so confused, that even though the man she adored was near her every day,

she never




his attention.

Years and years went by before, one day, she found herself beside him and, even though she was tattered from the heavy seas of her life, and knew the sails of that great adventure had long since passed… she bridled up her leaping heart and found the courage to speak.

Strangely enough, he knew all about her.

He knew how many trees lined the path to her door. He knew how the river curled around her house, and how, every September a Pegasus would crash out to sea from the beautiful wilds of the lovely Hacking River, shaking her windows and churning her heart.

He told her that all of life was chance after chance to learn to die.

He said the greatest gift of any story was to learn to lose oneself completely. He said, not only grief, but sweetness passes – so live tender, and above all things, drink deeply of love’s great cup. Life is not for ever, it is for learning that great beauty; of risking all for love, and being able still to let it go.

This is a poem for the one she dared love next.

He is

under  a tree,

turning a stone

with his square fingers.

soaking up the moss, the lichen,

damp secrets of the storied ground

to compose into bouquets

for his quiet



He is

under the sun,

blades of gold

upon his lovely shoulders,

as clouds compose their petticoats

into pouts and thigh and tender curves

to paint

across the broad dune of his back.


A little bird

watches him

through a frame of living wood,

holding its breath

to listen

for his.


The little bird


all its feathers recomposed.


It tilts its tiny brown head

to one side lightly

and drinks

a view of him

shot silver

with lace of web and pretty dew.


This bird,

quiet as feathers,

grows large for one sweet moment

and then explodes

into a firework

of song.








Lilium – in her glass, brightly.





in her glass, brightly

she furls

and uncurls

her long limbs,


xxxxxxwith tiny creatures

xxxxxxof light.


almost naked

in the thin glow

of this quiet table,

beside the car keys

and a flotsam of letters

with plastic windows,




a lush burlesque.



her fingers

out of silken gloves.


off her iridescent stockings,

and leaving

her brilliant laundry

in puddles

of peach, and stubborn powders

at her feet.




with love bites

and rich with juice.


while We,

thrum on,

through the crush-drizzle

of houselife,

making homely scents out of crumpets

and soup.


Lilium – right beside us!

in vivid pink,

arches her back,




anoints every eddy

with galaxies of bright things

and dangerous

love potions.


We, anyway,


by her in toweling,

between steamed puddings, sponges and sink bubbles

as she


her silky vests,

reveals her powdered neck

and swoons

’til her throat



from blowing




We, anyhow,

tug at the purring fridge,

admire the well-fingered cat,

gamble on rain.




her perfect eye,

our parade of toast and cake

and lovely cups of tea,

trailing heiroglyphys

up the wooden hallway.


we pick at our hems

as she – right beside us!

peels off her satin


and leaves them to



down the wall behind her,

a fingerpaint of erotic shadows

on a sensibly neutral

expanse of Dulux.




for her cosmic lover

xxxxxxthis suburban air,

xxxxxxeach inscrutable night,

xxxxxxevery blue dawn

xxxxxxand in the halogen glow

of our television.




her divine romance.


What it is

to be





caressing the space,

anointing its barren plains

with her sticky lashes

and dripping

scented honeys,

rude potions

and wax

to advertise her lust.


Her sex


fatal powders.

Bright gold, burnt honey and dark blood

potions which fairies

skip through, perhaps,

to mark our house with fertile footprints,

conceiving sunbeams

and starlets

and living air.


She tosses all her treasure,

her limbs even,

her graces all –






as she



and unabashed.


reducing herself

to stumps

and spent rags

on our hall table,

she swoons

unfolding toward

the delicate crush

of her dying.


In this ballet

she shreds

her satin slippers,

stains her lovely wings

and tears

all her pretty


in an excellent collapse –


like we might,

if we also



into the

hot dream of our death.

Winter Writers’ Workshop in Denmark, West Australia – June 20 & 21


pic2Write it this Winter!

The Good Medicine for Writers, 2 days in Denmark, WA

June 20 & 21, – 3.30pm

$200 includes delicious lunch and refreshments

Limited Places.

What a wonderland is the lovely little town of Denmark! I’m so in love with this rich coastal, forested region of the enchanted West, and delighted to offer a course here between long sessions writing and walking in the woods.

IMG_4136Denmark and its surrounds are rich with creative souls and stories of all sorts – the coming winter is the perfect time for those with a story inside, poetic yearnings, or a project that needs care, depth and motivation to settle in and fall in love with the journey of storycraft.

This two-day course will inspire new and experienced writers to get down to the bones of their ideas and come up with passion, energy and eloquence.

You will tap into the heart of your writing and enrich your ability to express it, developing skills in narrative voice, character, structure, scene, and techniques for creative flow.

Bring your ideas to life on the page this winter and learn how to nurture your self and your voice in a way that shows in the grace of your writing.

Contact me at

Australian Stories # 1 – Before the magpie sung me up.


It’s eight years since I left Australia full-time to explore beyond these shark-bitten frontiers. At that time I was empty of stories and exhausted with the thin pickings of a suburban existence on a land that cried out for … what?
I’d been living in the Aussie bush for five years and seen snakes, whales, sharks, goanna, the wattle in fresh bloom and the gentle traces of this land’s people – in rock art, in story and in the bitten-at faces of my small town, wracked with suicide and lanced with fence posts as it was.
Since then I’ve been on a walkabout, I suppose. Shedding off and gathering stories. Peeling away bark and letting buds compose themselves.
I came back to an Australia where the headline of the major newspaper explained that Australia rhymes with Failure – and I felt a surge of love and compassion for the people here that pitched into a perfect, curving wave. If only… if only Australians knew, or remembered, the beauty, the dignity, the wonder of themselves and this powerful land!
It’s one thing to take a quest, to potter off into the world or the wild or the unknown for a while; it’s another to bring back something worthwhile – something to offer, and which the people can recognise and receive.
I knew coming ‘home’ would be tougher than leaving. Require more honesty and more humility than it took to turn up in the world and take a place among strangers – the missfits, the inspired, the beautiful, the lost, the visionaries and thieves.
I hope to be able to find some gold in my pockets and to hold it to the Australian light so it might glitter there, in ways that might bring new things to show themselves to me and to others.
But before that, and having somehow chosen to land under the Southern Cross at the dawn of winter, there has been a welcome to country both fierce and dainty – which is, I understand at last – the essence of the place.
I wrote this about a week after landing. In about a minute on Skype to a friend. I was in the burbs of Perth after almost 10 months in Bali. My morning view of a lotus blooming its head off outside the kitchen window was suddenly replaced by an infinity of thin sky and red brick. It was the furthest I’d been from a wild environment since 2008 and I was still struggling with the speed of my transition.
rapidly she withers
in the unstoried air.
her net cast wide
in the halogen void
catches only the brittle echo
of a longago wild,
and the frigid shells
of raindrops
empty of delight
for their fall
onto concrete
and synthetic grass
and wheely bins.
the lotus closes back
into its own seed.
without mud
it dares not exhale
nor snuggle down
to rest.
but withdraws
to a bunker,
for shelter
and not yet
for becoming.

The Face of Extinction – who killed Lonesome George? Galapagos diary # 3


The pin-up boy for conservation is now known as The Face of Extinction.

lonesome george 5

Lonesome George stands pickled in New York while whispers surf the streets of his Galapagos home. Was the father of a never-born-generation killed by the scientists who ‘saved him’? Have conservationists wiped another species off the Earth?

You hop a bus, ferry and then a 4WD taxi from Galapagos airport into the nerve-center of life on Santa Cruz. It is one of the most beautiful rides on Earth. Terra firma, Galapagos-style, is a heady masala of flavours Africa, Australia, Greece and Sci Fi blended along an undullous ribbon of tarmac that surfs some of the world’s least storied landscape.

galapagos road The road rides like a dolphin through the gently rolling landscape and Ooo – there! A giant tortoise slowly mows the verge. And Ooo – there! The scrub parts to reveal huge craters glittering with indigo waters in which nymph nor pharaoh, Viking nor tribesman ever saw their own reflection. tortoise

This is a land almost free of human history. A land not yoked and laden by empire, legend or myth. Here – this air unfettered by words – has a glitter about it.

A peculiar brightness, like falling in love. Blazing through the untold wilderness I feel – for one hour of grace – the heavy load of my own stories dissolving. A thrill like that first rush of champagne.

An echo, is it, of that translucent state of Life, before the Beginning – the human one, with its Word, and resultant cacophony.

Everything in me wants to just STOP RIGHT HERE.

I want to whisper to the driver, “Let me have Galapagos like this.” Before the petrol stations, shanties, cafes and ports clutter up the innocence of it…“let’s just stop here.

Let me creep out gently into the wild and lie down in it for a month or a year or a lifetime.”

But such things are Not Allowed. The human animal on the Galapagos islands may not walk off into the wild. May not even set a naked foot upon her unless escorted by a guide in those regulated territories set aside for us, at prices set in US Dollar – unless they work for National Parks.

And so, we barrel on. Into human habitat with its scent of petroleum and barbecued chicken. The taxi releases me from its air conditioned bubble, and I wilt instantly on the parched cement of Galapagos’ main business district.

Puerto Ayora rears out of rippling heat like a building site on the industrial skirts of an Orwellian hell. The town has a heat-haze reminiscent of bridling stallions composed of vipers of cooked air, diesel fume, dollars and desperation. It thrumps with the heavy, sweaty rhythm of industry as usual in a habitat that is just too hot for this sort of carry on.

A chaos of echoes rebounds off every surface and the people melt, shimmer, wobble and seep body fluids into their cheap Chinese lycra as they set about their myriad ways of moving dollars from pocket to pocket – like everywhere else.

I gaze across the shop fronts; pharmacies, burger joints, hardware, beer fridges, ticket vendors for last minute cruising, dive shops and a huge, imposing hospital smack bang before the port, with dozens of people sprawled out around its flanks.

The waterfront is mid-way through a surgical beautification process involving the demolition of its natural visage, and replacement with one whose parts were imported from China. What stretches between me and the shimmering sea is the last naked stretch of undeveloped foreshore, receiving its final nourishment of sunshine, birdsong and breeze. Ahead, the long boulevard is already buried beneath 10 inches of desiccated sand and brick, bringing Galapagos that suspicious glory known as ‘development’.

The ‘beautified’ malecon will soon look more like the photo-shopped sexy future waterfront property developers have been flogging off to consortiums and other gamblers lately. And less like it has for those wordless Millennia it has been here.

Millennia which manged to create and nurture all life as we know it, without any mind, nor mouth having ever conceived that word, ‘progress’.

With one foot on the doomed sand, and the other on the new red paving I can feel in my own flesh the actual reality of that much argued about ‘possibility’ even a half-baked blonde can testify to; climate-change.

The beautification work is having a sort of open-air microwave effect on things. To my right side, new bricks are evidently much, much hotter than the remnant sand road to my left. The baking sheet of new road roasts the last flesh of an already enfeebled onshore breeze, which has picked up so much sun off the posh glass, and relentless cement along the foreshore that you can just about see the glitter dying in mid-air and falling to the ground in heaps of ash.

On an island where conservationists and biologists have swollen tongues from all their raving on about understanding and conserving the environment it’s kinda kooky, and sortof sickly to witness an entire ecosystem being ploughed into a shopping strip right under the noses of the world’s most noisy NGOs. galapport

Being the optimistic type, I decide not to dwell on all this and dash brightly across the bitumen to feast upon the waters that (allegedly) helped Charles Darwin, and then all humanity change our view of life, the universe and everything.

Ah – the heavenly delight of that rush to the sea!

There she lies… twinkling and rippling in a bright, cool seduction. I lean over the railings to drink the salty nectar of the far, far Pacific, and seek the shapes we all come here for: shape of iguana, shape of penguin, pelican and our own nature-loving selves. galaptrack2 Lovely red crabs skitter about on a mean-looking rubble of black lava. The calm, fizzing waters of wide, wide sea breathe off puffs of redeeming ions and… what’s that? And that? Oh! Shit! They’re Everywhere! galaptrack

As my eyes adjust to Galapagos frequency iguana, seals, pelicans, rays and other creatures start composing themselves into view… and the weirdness turns up a notch.

My cones and rods adjust their apertures wildly, but no.. it’s actually real – every moving thing, every single living thing larger than an ant on the foreshore of Santa Cruz is attached to an antenna.

galaptrack4 Perhaps scientists are comforted by a scene such as this: wild things zipping about here and there with belts, buckles, or bolts driven through them from which transmitters gossip up to satellites and satellites report back to computers key facts about ‘life’.

For me, there is a rage about it, this horror at watching innocent creatures turned into machines by organisations that claims to protect and serve nature, but are in fact the full expression of a Big Brother impulse, practicing on animals, before they get to people.

I’d spit into the water, if it wasn’t filthy already, and am scowling heavily over the railings when the Fates  call out CUT! And send in an emergency angel.

Stage right: He arrives on a clapped out bicycle, smelling of Old Spice and deepwater.

Mario drops his rickety chariot under a sagging palm with a mortal-ish clatter and flings himself at the view beside me – his heart to the horizon and his arms spread crucifixion.

“Fuckers.” He says. And turns to beam at me deliciously.

I can tell, from the strange radiance of his freshly laundered dive-shirt, his symmetrical grin and luxurious irises,  that he is of the Order of Good Men that have forever ridden into my biography on rusted-out chariots – and saved me from too much reality.

The mingled elixirs of a mutual horror, bewilderment and willingness to trip the lightfantastic anyway etch matching symbols across our gaze, mine blue, his brown, as they fuze in a magical helix across the beauty and the beastliness of Mario’s radio-active islands, this Galapagos.

“Passionfruit gelato?” I offer.

We set off, my wilting story-burdened self, and Mario, sizing up visibly under his sudden destiny as leading man to maiden in cognitive dissonance..

The best gelato on Galapagos is to be found at Galapagos Deli. About this, at least, there is no doubt.

The owners may be scowly, and serve the most unimaginative scrambled eggs on the enchanted isles, but their gelato is to die for.

He chooses chocolate, and I have passionfruit, of course, while Mario tells me in a bubbly Spanglish how he was born and raised among the mangroves, the mountains, lava fields, rock pools and deep water wonderlands of Galapagos. How he knows and loves the islands but is forbidden now, by National Parks, to visit the places of his youth. Despite his life-long passion for nature, biology, diving, exploring and his beautiful, rich mind full of intimate wisdom for the islands, he is forbidden from making a living telling his stories.

He cannot sahre the gifts of 45 years as a second generation actual Galapaguano – because he can’t pass the National Parks test.

This seems kinda smelly to me. It reminds me of the hellofatodo I had trying to assist Australian Aboriginal elders to share the meaning of the dreamtime stories their own families had carved into the rock in the Royal National Park near Sydney. I tell Mario about how there, any rambler can stumble on the sites and chip away at them with a pen-knife if he likes, National Parks guides can lead walkers if they feel like it, but if an Aboriginal wants to tell those stories Rangers will call the cops to get rid of him.

True story. It was me that had to deal with it when Uncle Max Harrison, the last surviving elder of the entire region, dared to share stories on his own ancestral land one day, and all manner of National Park hell came down upon him.

We sigh. We eat ice-cream. And Mario and I pull our focus in around our little cones of gold and brown to share our own stories: about the histories and futures we’d lost. Mine was a fresh wound.

The baby, neverborn in Vilcabamba. Whose American father had scarpered off to live with shamanic entrepreneurs and practice Thai boxing and psychedelic journeying further up the Andes when the last ultrasound said, No Longer Viable..

That was a loss, caused by forces cruel, benevolent, selective or whatever… and I had managed it. I dug the grave myself. In the pretty spiral veggie patch the fleet-footed father had built. It was the only seed ever planted there, while we lived and our love died in Vilcabamba.

I managed it, but did not really survive it in the sense that while I had all the basic signs of life one could send to a satellite, I hadn’t had an actual experience of life other than struggling for nearly a whole year now.

These are things your friends can’t really help with. Perhaps nothing much can. There was only one woman in the town where I lived who hugged me when she saw me afterwards. A man mentioned it once too, not longer after, he said, “Oh, yeah.. I thought you were getting fat!”

Other than that, everybody just ignored it. “Life goes on.” “Onward and upward”. “No use crying over spilled milk…” etc. It was weird. But people are weird – or just frightened of dealing with the losses in life, having been so focused, mainly, on keeping on keeping on.

I had a deep, unshakeable case of Actual Sadness that was not so much about the neverborn baby, but about having been abandoned. About indifference.

Abandoned, I can tell you. Sucks. It is like dancing about in a field of daisies one minute, then falling quite suddenly through a hole in the world and finding yourself in a cement coffin. That’s what it feels like. And it goes on for aaaages.

Ages and ages and eons and suchlike are crammed into minutes and days and weeks when you feel abandoned. Your body, weirdly, keeps doing what needs to be done to keep itself working, but the rest of you (that which may or may not even exist, according to atheists and reasonable types) is in an agony of just wanting to curl up under a flowering tree and dissolve into the soil.

Knowing he has nothing but the slightest grasp of English I feel totally safe to describe all this to Mario at the gelato bar, my passionfruit dripping between my fingers, and chocolate melting on his tongue.

“This feeling, where is it?” I ask, feeling sheltered by the language barrier. “How do you measure it?” “Is it against life, or part of it? Is it killing us, or making us fit for the next round?

“And is it only humans who feel this? O, do you think, that all life knows what it is, to feel lost or lonely or sad?”

I’ve wondered, and any sane person surely has – why we’ve never bothered to plot grief or sadness, loss, love or joy on our compass for understanding the world we live in – as if those were unique to humanity alone.

love for animals 3

I’ve been ashamed and horrified to witness how our greedy monopoly on feelings and morality have enabled us to inflict a cruelty on other lifeforms, and the planet around us, as we obsess over ‘facts’ about atoms and survival, about chemical urges and mechanical impulses that end up being embarrassingly wrong, sooner or later.

“What do you think, Mario? Those antennae feeding off the pulses and movements of living things on Santa Cruz, do they tell us anything at all about what it is to be alive as iguana, penguin, sea lion or shark? Do animals feel what is is to be alive, or are they wind-up toys we can know by their clockwork?”

It’s a wonderful thing to pour your heart out to a man who doesn’t understand your language. It’s very freeing. I recommend it.

I was basking in the lightness of having just set one story free to the air, when Mario was gripped with a primal shudder and bent over in a crumpled shape across the last of his gooey gelato.

“Lonesome George,” he moaned.

“They kill him also,” he wailed..

And a large chocolaty hiccup announced the arrival of a huge orb of glittering tear-water which exploded itself into smithereens across the last of his ice-cream.

“The National Park. They kill him. They kill all of us here too.” I’m stunned and afraid to see this bounding man crushed into misery as he tells me of the loss of a tortoise, and how it felt for the people who love this, their home, Galapagos. lonesome george 5

The story of Lonesome George is a world-famous narrative in devastation, conservation, animal-meddling and human idiocy that inspired, and then saddened the world, leaving an extinct species and lot of merchandise in its wake.

Wiki puts him in a nutshell like this: “Lonesome George (c. 1910 – June 24, 2012) was a male Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii) and the last known individual of the subspecies. In his last years, he was known as the rarest creature in the world. George serves as a potent symbol for conservation efforts in the Galápagos Islands and throughout the world.”

George had been rendered Lonesome by human development of his Galapagos homeland, actually, and when said same humans later found him there alone they swiftly agreed they knew just what to do with him and whisked him away from the only thing he had left as the last of his species on Earth – his native land and habitat.

From then on he had been studied in captivity, sampled, used as a tourist attraction and revenue generator by his ‘rescuers’ at the Charles Darwin Research Station and pestered, coaxed and even man-handled into mating for more than 40 years.

All attempts at salvaging George’s species failed dismally, and the last ever Pinta Island tortoise finally died, taking his right to choose non-paternity with him after decades in captivity in a strange land, constantly pestered, bothered and masturbated by the humanity that had wiped out all the others.

After they found his body, National Parks said, “His life-cycle had come to an end”. But many, including David Attenborough sighed, saying that Lonesome George may have died about 100 years before his time. Even if he was one hundred, as Parks claim, wikipedia regrets to sign off on his file, writing that this “is not especially old for a Galápagos tortoise.”

lonesome george2 Why environmentalists claim his story as a symbol for their good work is somewhat a mystery.

Mario doesn’t agree though.

He says Lonesome George is the perfect symbol for conservationists and the bureaucrats who have muscled in on the local people for control of the islands and custody of its legends.

“And they can be use his grave too!” he says, rallying up to full size.

“They kill our last one, the last beautiful baby of Pinta Island! They kill him in their prison, with their sad life they force him to survive. “His grave is their truth about what they know of life.”

Mario is commanding the space with the passion of a wounded parent. I can see, it’s for real – Lonesome George did not just ‘go extinct’, he was stolen from his home, miss-treated, and died of misery, lost forever as a being, a loved creature and a symbol for the people who fear they too will be destroyed by forces who don’t understand what it is to be a free being, alive on the land.

“They kill him with the depression. All for money!” he shakes his heavy curls. “The National Park,” he spits out the words. “is dangerousssss. The science, it has no heart inside it. It is only for de money!

“These people coming here, they do not know nothing of the true nature. What is it? I tell you now, what you learn when you grow up with the land, free in de nature. You learn this: the life it is peace. Peace with the land, peace with the water, peace with what needs done to survive, and just let everything else be as it is.”

For the science people, they see only control. They kill for control, and they think it is for understanding. But their thinking, coming from books, and not from the the really living. They forget the power of the world, and hunt for power for themselves – dividing, dividing, dividing into boxes and dollars, and how you say? De Facts!

Mario is angry and sad, he is full of passion and grief. I believe what he says – it’s suddenly obvious to me.

But Lonesome George, I decide not to tell him, has no grave to be worshiped, or sold tickets to.

After he died, National Parks immediately announced that they would have the body embalmed so the tortoise could be preserved for future generations.lonesome george 4 This was the only act of ‘preservation’ the organisation was to actually achieve. It was not without its problems though. Bitter feuds over custody of the corpse are ongoing.

Lonesome George was never, ever to know the scent or the relief of his native soil – even in death. he was frozen, skinned, disemboweled, polished, petrified, forced into a standing pose that tortoises only rarely assume, and used as the poster-boy for the un-dead by organisations dedicated to the history of human thinking.

George became known as ‘the face of extinction’. But even more horrific to consider is National Geographic’s news in 2012 that, “in an area known as Volcano Wolf—on the secluded northern tip of Isabela, another Galápagos island—the researchers have identified 17 hybrid descendants of C. abingdoni within a population of 1,667 tortoises.”

So that would make the whole Lonesome George story a fiasco of bad science, human ignorance, and bad zoo-keeping.

Is this really the best science can come up with still? And yet claim for itself a status higher than other sorts of knowledge!

To the disgust of some of the locals on Galapagos, George remains a symbol for the islands – both as a National Parks scientific playground, and as a reminder of the rare and wondrous life-forms that lived in this tough habitat, and inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Others see him as his species as a sacrifice to the cruelty of the scientific mind.

Darwin’s observation of differences between tortoises on the many islands helped him understand how animals can adapt to their conditions. But he had nothing to say on how they might adapt to being pushed to extinction by ‘progress’, then rescued from the brink by a humanity that thinks it has a grip on the realities of life on Earth.

“Sometimes, I hate the place,” groans Mario. “The research station, it has made the whole place into their prison, for experiments and torture and disrespect. Life here – this life is a trap made of science!”

We sit in a silence half miserable, half beautiful, until Mario shakes off the spell and calls the waitress for paper and a pen.

“But for you,” he says. “I can make a solution. Here.”

He touches the nib of the biro to his tongue and leans down in earnest over a fresh page in the waitress’ notebook.

“Let’s have a boy,” he smiles. And he draws him.

Your son. And he will be mine.” “What will we call him? Who have you loved?”

“Michael,” I say.

“Ah, lovely,” he beams.

“On his left side we will name him, for me, Javir, and on the right – because of all we know that is beautiful in this life, we call him Momento!” he declares proudly.

“And here, above him, we write the name of his destiny, the gift of his mother: wisdom.” Mario and I beam at the boy he has made us.

‘Yes, he is fine,” says the happy father. “But he needs muscles. He is strong.” And he sketches in some ample biceps. IMG_2466 “Perfect! An excellent boy.” Mario tears our son from the book, holds him up to the light and hands him to me saying, “I give you our baby – the hope of our Galapagos.”

The Scum Also Rises… Galapagos Diary # 2


How Charles Darwin’s ‘Struggle for Survival’ theory produced a sick-minded, hell-bent humanity which has failed to notice that…  the scum also rises. hunter2 Jetting into the Galapagos Islands is like taking a slow-motion swan dive into the infinity rock-pool of the cosmos.

You rise out of the hell that is Guayaquil – with its horrendous infestation of glittery malls – rinse the sweaty sock taste of ‘progress’ from your tongue with a gulp of Inca Cola, and behold! – the wet boudoir of the enchanted isles!

galap 3 Twinkling, teasing in their silky blue negligees and hot lava panties, the Galapagos, from 39,000 feet, appear untouched, innocent, and yet… tantalisingly prone to spontaneous acts of passion. These are lovely thoughts to nurture on the plane, because as soon as you get off all such fantasies will be ruthlessly murdered.

In my three months here I mourn over the sad realities of the islands, and discover that a paradise spoiled is a paradise still.

Galapagos is on her knees, but even battered and exploited, she offers that call expressed in nature everywhere –  her longing for harmony with the human animal.

To really see Galapagos is to be slain and inspired by how desperately we all need to change our way of thinking, being and doing.

On the enchanted isles I will learn to talk turtle, find a father for my never-born son… and learn to cry underwater.

Largely untouched by human hands, conserved forever in the remotest Pacific as an intact wilderness, teeming with protected wonders, and proof of man’s ability to keep his oil-stained mitts off just one pristine ecosystem, the Galapagos National Park is the one peace covenant in the galaxy between mankind and nature – or is it?

Swan diving into the Galapagos ends with a nasty head-on collision with the bottom of the pool. Just like when you dive into any illusion.

Galapagos is unwell, according to all indicators, and needs rest without visitors. There’s fat chance of that though, with over US$418 million moving through her skirts a year.

Scientists are sending out word that one of the planet’s most treasured oases is sustaining an, err… unsustainable invasion by a dangerous new species bringing hell down on just about every living thing there – except weeds and ants.

galap4 The Guardian reports a Galapagos Conservation Crisis, while Sea Shepherd, WWF and other observers warn that yet another paradise is choking on a bone. Humans – as usual – are trashing the place.   As the BBC describes.

galap6 Tourism will wreck the wonders of the Galapagos, the paper reports. And I roll my eyes and sigh, because, well… it’s not just when they’re dressed up in their wrinkle-resistant, snap-dry adventure wear that Homo sapiens tend to wreck wonders.

Apparently Darwin’s most highly evolved, fit for survival, first place winner for the tippety-top of the pyramid of life’s wunderkind is entirely hostile to the nature that evolved it. How… weird!

It’s a situation which could easily set one to wondering… if evolution really does select for the fittest members of species to become most succesful at survival in a process creating better and better life forms – then how come humanity is even still here, given the mess we’ve made of it.

And does this selection process, which Darwin said was driven by “constant action in combating the environment and human rivals,” really produce a human animal that reflects the best of our species?lance

Apparently. Not.

For most of us it’s a shock to discover that even the Galapagos is up shit-creek. And a surprise to discover that people actually live there.

Of all the species used as mascots for Darwin’s paradise on earth – the human inhabitants are discreetly kept out of the brochures.

As you jet down into nature’s most cloistered little boudoir, it’s thusly a bit disappointing to discover the bed sheets are well-stained with a heavy traffic of human soles.

It’s because of them, and the Boeing-load I’m arriving with, that various wildlife species are teetering on extinction, being ploughed under taxis, roads and housing estates, or fished out, drowned and chopped up by boat propellers – while Galapagos’ human population hits 40,000 and keeps booming.

The islands have one of the fastest-growing economies in all South America, the highest per capita income and a serious, seeping, seething human underbelly wracked by poverty, contaminated ground water, leaking sewers, decrepit housing, isolation and pollution.

According to research back in 2010, when the population was half as big, 52% of the well-hidden human species in Galapagos was in poverty. Back then two out of five didn’t have access to fresh water or waste systems, and dengue, depression, alcoholism and stress were causing all manner of very big trouble in paradise. Today it is exponentially worse, with the population increasing at about 100% every five years!

Oh dear. This does not bode well for my mission at all. I’ve set off for Galapagos at the fag-end of a rather fruitless search so far, for signs that evolution is working for Earth.

It’s almost my last hope. I’m looking for ways to shake off that strange sense of dread and home-sickness that stalks the human soul, and any evidence at all that humanity can play nicely with any other sort of Life on the planet.

galap7 Upon this quest, seeking evidence that ‘progress’ and ‘natural selection’ have indeed led to the success of a superior animal, I have mostly followed the advertising and been thusly mauled and battered by various storms in the chipped tea cups of lifestyle cults turning a trade on the current existential crisis in middle classes everywhere.

I’ve tried and failed to become more evolved, which is the latest thing in fending off human suffering – by becoming better than everybody else – just as Darwin and his ism have encouraged.

evolution1 I set out suffering from boredom in the burbs, dread of not getting richer than my neighbours in Sydney, disgust at the ploughing down of wilderness around me and that sense that everything just seems to be going to shit.

It was a hopeful misadventure via Bali’s yoga circus, the David Wolfe’s superfood con, a hijacked American plant medicine ride, and the shamelessly hypocritical gringo shaman scene for almost a decade… all of which reckon they’re higher lifestyles that just fretting away in the burbs, watching The News, but are actually… Not.

hippy1 I narrowly escaped the psychedelic cactus cult, meditation mafia and the violent malice of hordes of expatriating Americans all over the planet. And washed up on the Galapagos Islands – which is somehow perfectly fitting.

I am here to kick the tyres on Darwin’s wonky pyramid. Test the supporting beams on this ‘reality’ of survival of the fittest we’re building our lives around.

And to ask some questions like, “How come, when people become successful, powerful, wealthy or dominant, they tend to immediately, and by exponential degrees, turn into hostile assholes who make life hell for every thing and every body else?”

America1 Could it be possible that Darwin’s nasty little idea that Life is a “Struggle for Survival” in which “the strongest party always carries off the prize,” in a system designed by nature to serve and support the best possible expression of life is just horseshit?

In between wondering about all this, I’ll just stare at finches, penguins, clouds, stars etc to see if they might whisper me an insight about Life that will either release me from my unevolved uselessness, or at the very least, provide a suitable cliché for a book deal.

I’ve come because I’m having doubts about Darwin, but want to snuggle in his arms as well. I’d like to just let myself go, in a lovely safe place, where somebody with a beard is confident they have a grip on reality.

Darwin portrait1I’ve been advised by my conspiracy theory mates to keep an eye out at Darwin’s iconic HQ for hidden vaults, codes, Masonic isymbols and bloodstains. There are many who claim the so-called naturalist was nothing but an Illuminati stooge with connections to all sorts of Bad Guys. Bad Guys in high places, with the specific agenda of misleading humanity into the idea that life is supposed to be a rat race of competition, fear of failure and dog-eat-dog survival.

Human elites did this in order to plant insecurity and fear into the masses, keep them at hard labour, and profit from their misery. They did it to perpetuate a system which guaranteed them privilege, arguing that only the best and most competent emerge on top (by which they meant themselves) and to justify abandoning the poor, the sick, the gentle, the negro, women, children etc to the lesser lives they deserved, due to being less violent contenders in the battle of life, and therefore lesser beings.

It’s a mind-fuck we’ve all bought in to. I’m afraid. Because everything from kindergarten to TV, sports, beauty pageants, economies and our ideas about success, power and identity are designed to entrain us to Darwin’s central curse: that life is a struggle.

darwin story2 Evidence of this dastardly plot stretches from Ladakh to London, and has a file here too, because while Galapagos’ human predators thrive, everything else on the islands is bracing for a grand mal seizure.

Predictable,” say both scientists and skeptics.

Darwinism, the brand that still sells Galapagos, was a trick of the intellectual light, they say, that ripped a hole in the history of human thinking. The islands are nothing more than a living theme park – the lies about which reflect a grand human lie about everything, really.

Nothing will be left untouched by a humanity out of grace with the cosmos, they warn. Progress will be the end of us, because it’s just, basically, wrong!

darwin story1 As it turns out, evidence for the gross stupidity of nature’s triumph of evolution: us – hits like a hot skillet before you even order your first latte on Galapagos.

Touted as the world’s first ‘Green’ airport, Baltra, is hotter than a tin roof in the Nevernever and resembles a sort of glorified car park cum Pet World contraption. This hideous testimony to the green revolution sports a few feng-shui-inspired living things, like trees – which wilt about its flanks, and sparrows, which slip off its glossy exposed steel beams.

galap8 Squatting triumphantly over 6000 square meters previously known as habitat, Baltra is an example of developers’ dedication to preserve the wild by building all over it.

Shimmering amid a halo of heatsnakes at about a squillion degrees in the scrub, it issues a sort of Auschwitzy glow as it elbows the little wood and coconut palm-fringed previous airport behind it into the non-renewable past.

It’s a strange use of US$24 million, when you consider that just down the road the sewers are over-flowing, the water is polluted and the little sea lion babies, penguins and boobys that support this limping community are dying all over the place from causes not exactly linked to natural selection.

galap9The new airport is the prefect icon, actually, for what we’re doing to our Galapagos – indeed, to our planet, as humanity oxymoronically bulldozes its life-giving wilderness for what the brochure calls sustainable development.

Built to receive 3 million people a year (nearly eight times the present, devastating horde), the airport, let’s admit it, is an up-scaled syringe for siphoning cash-dollar out of a carefully planned stampede of Homo sapien across one of the most fragile environments on Earth. galap14

Ecuador wears heavy lipstick on the international tourism and development scene. She has indulged in the flagrant seduction of foreign nationals to her bosom with easy residency and mass marketing since 2008. She touts herself as a world leader in social reform and brags about her constitutional protection of Mother Earth, while filleting her own womb for gold, oil, wood and anything else tradeable for cash. The present regime spouts a socialist rhetoric that is beginning to give the whole nation a migraine.

Galapagos is a microcosm of the macro economics of Ecuador, and the whole industrial world. Despite creating a climate of growth and wealth that will undoubtedly destroy the environment, the governing agencies – both governmental, and National Parks, say their chief priority in Galapagos is conservation of all the lovely flowers, bugs and myriad creatures that inhabit these faraway islands. They say they’re all about nature.

To which the locals sigh, “Yeah… right.”  And the rest of us cheer, “Right on!” As we book our package tours.

galap12 A visit to Galapagos is how middle class people get to marvel at the intoxicating loveliness of life on Earth.

On the Galapagos you can also experience what it is like to get very, very close to wild animals who aren’t so terrified of humans they shit themselves or pretend to be dead.

This experience is so profound for many people that they actually cry. Which is evidence, I think, that life is more than a bloody battlefield for survival driven by ruthless genetics and a hostile environment.

It is evidence of a bond between all species, and a native space in the human soul not utterly indifferent to other living things – both of which Darwin and his cronies have all but bludgeoned from our experience with sick thinking and violent politics.

Anyhow. What cannot be argued over is that as the middle classes everywhere crack up with depression and sickness, as loneliness cripples economies in the world’s richest nations, fear of war, contamination, climate crisis, politicians and a deep, bubbling un-nameable misery sweeps the human biomass, the promise of a lovely holiday in a pristine wilderness full of happy sea-lion babies is a bloody good business proposition.

Ecuador is well onto this. And so are its international partners. They have tailored the Galapagos experience to mine US$500 a day, on average, from your pocket. The intricacies of this extraction are understood to a degree more rarefied than anything scientists can say for sure about any other life cycle on the islands. Which is disappointing. When you think about it.

Tourists thrive on a diet of jpegs and polo shirts. For this bounty they make extra-ordinary pilgrimages from all across the Earth. Their quest, driven by a need to make sense of life and impress the Jonses, is for digital evidence of Intimacy with Nature and Moments of Happiness. There may be, too, a primal urge to stand on the stage where Charles Darwin coughed up the idea that ferocious competition in a pitch battle for survival on a hostile Earth are the facts of our reality.

On their adventures, tourists will unwittingly reduce at least 10,000 birds a year  – to roadkill. The props of the boats they cruise on will frequently slash the bellies or sever the spines of dozens of the baby seals that have been frolicking with them on day trips.

I saw injuries like this often in the Galapagos. This image is of a California Sea Lion from

I saw injuries like this often in the Galapagos. This image is of a California Sea Lion from

As they sip sundowners on the decks of their cruising hotels, smugglers might be stowing illegal catch, trafficking wildlife or dumping waste overboard as the tourist fleets, oozing oil, plough their dogged routes. The slick that seeps from the Galapagos myth shimmers so voluptuously off Puerto Ayora at sunset, will thicken and ripen, causing the sea to shine a picturesque scarlet at dusk.

Humans will suffer their own casualties. Thousands will get very nasty sunburn indeed and be cranky unless air conditioned. Hundreds will decided to watch the stunning BBC series Galapagos instead of getting off their luxury boats to actually see the place – hot, ridden with mosquitoes and tricky to walk about on – and not get the most out of their adventure-wear. A few will somehow fall into the lava and suffer very nasty injuries indeed.

This is not to poke sticks at Galapagos. It is to show that there’s something kinda smelly about human behaviour, in general.

Is this really all we can hope for from the triumph of evolution?

Me, I am unlikely to be injured, even though I possess only a pair of flipflops, and no adventure-wear at all. But I am destined to be a Failure of chilling proportions during my Galapagos migration. I am not likely to buy an I Love Boobys T-shirt, have nothing like $500 to spend and lose all my photographs anyway.

I will spend three months poking about behind the set, seeing through the hologram, getting involved in the deaths of several sea lions that could have easily be saved, recording interview after interview with scientists, ecologists, politicians and guides who have given up, reluctantly, on Galapagos, on humanity, on the survival of anything much.

As these real-life stories constellate, I will hear echoes of the words of my hero and mentor, one Dr of Gonzo, H.S Thompson, who, after reporting on the American Dream, politics and human nature his entire career wrote, with a sigh composed of various opiates…

“The scum also rises.”


Survival of the Sickest – the mess, the cause and how to fix it.


If you’re on the path to peace, you’ll find out pretty quick that those be shark-infested waters! A guide for toe-dipping, the Curse of Darwin and who’s who in the spiritual zoo.

Twenty years’ down the road less traveled and that gorgeous, lonely path is now some of the most fought-over real estate on the planet.

This far along, and with a little bit of overview, I wanted to write about the world out here, reflect upon the hullabaloo, and offer some insight to those considering a bit of a Walkabout.

From Cusco to Ubud; Kathmandu to Ko Samui, it’s true that New Age profiteers have hung their shingles everywhere you’re thinking of heading.

They eclipse the pretty views of nature, and lure would-be questers with a buffet of spiritual experiences. A booming spiritual industry sells anything you can think of – shamanic travel, kundalini for cats, conscious fashion, chakra readings, weird medicine, yoni massage, activated pet-wear, transcendental panties and sacred gardening.

The business plan is to promise you nothing less than the life you’ve always dreamed of.

If your dream is more Martin Luther King than Martha Stewart, they’ll either ditch you, or help you ‘evolve’ to one less ‘angry’. They will reprimand you for being ‘negative’ and encourage you to aspire instead for personal radiance, orgasmic joy, funky tribal fusion outfits, ageless beauty and great sex.

Their banner – sometimes subliminally, but often just blatantly – features a heavily opiated anorexic woman in a yoga pose. She hovers pornographically, in shimmering soft focus, above what first appears to be a chakra, but turns out to be a cosmic asshole.

sexy yogi


For between US$50 and US50,000, the New Age’s shamanic businesspeople will also sell you a balm for all your suffering. If you’re worried about the suffering of others, most will just call you a moaner, or a projector, fogging up the psychic realm with low vibrations.

Only a few will gaze out across the remaining wilderness to sigh before saying… “Yes, it took me a long time to come to yoga for the right reasons.”

The New Age rests its superiority over traditional elites like bankers, lawyers, doctors and big business by pointing out their trails of victims and self-serving ambition. But contesters for the enlightenment dollar are often worse offenders.

Why? Because they will promise to help you while they exploit you, using a language of spiritual cliché, pop psychology, pseudo-science and hope that a businessman, in even the most treacherous field, would rarely dare exploit.

Does this mean we should shun the path, turn our backs on Yoga and all its glittery cousins?

No! I mean, No Way! As the madness amplifies, the scene diversifies, thousands are setting off to search for a better way and many will find ,if they have eyes to see them – guides who are fit for the coming of age that is upon us.

Weathered and bewildered by their own stumblings about, earnest yoga teachers, healers, activists and therapists in the alternative movement will admit to rites of doubt, confusion and dark nights of the soul in the dizzying storm of ‘the movement’s’ crescendo. They know all about the in-fights and rivalry, fakers, shakers and ball-breakers who eclipse more humble workers on so-called spiritual soil.

As teachers they do a heroic job, balancing on one hand the competitive silliness of their industry, while nudging students to toward compassion, non-violence, kindness, selflessness, trust and devotion with the other. If you can get that sorted, you’re halfway home.

There are some where I Iive. People like Cat Kabira, Les Leventhal, Sky xx, Lesley White at Smiling Buddha, Meg Maskell, Daniel Li Ox, the crew at Bali Silent Retreat, Chiara Ram Ramella and her husband, Mino. Seek them out if you can. They stand in the eye of the storm, holding space for one heck of a shift.

But in general, yes… The Way has been snatched from the humble fingertip of the solitary dreamer where it famously alighted, and turned into a billion dollar business fraught with all the power games and scams of any surging market.

Artwork from Osho Tarot

What a shame. But not a surprise. You can’t really blame the New Agers, or even the American MBAs who exploited them in a stampede for universal franchise of spirituality.

Not really. They, like me and you, are victims of a flaw in the very fabric of the western brain. A shadowy hoax in our reality you could call the predator effect.

There’s a shark in the ocean of Western thought, placed there deliberately, and designed to keep us enslaved to frustrating lives of fear and despair, racing against each other to escape the looming shark bite called natural selection.


It’s the Jaws in your own neural waters you have to face, and evaporate, if you really want to be free.

It’s not your job, your divorce, your mortgage, illness, sadness, wonky headstand,  backed up colon or your saggy kundalini that’s the main issue, really.

Even if you get those things sorted, you’ll discover it’s your own Great White Sharky thinking – and that of the guy next to you –  that will undermine you eventually.

There are teachers who know this, and can change your life completely.

But to get the best out of them, you need to make your own peace with the problem, and I am going to start you off.

If you want to put a face it and call it the devil, then that would be the face of Charles Darwin. Poor thing.

Darwin portrait1

It was Darwin’s thought-virus that was used to validate the idea of a life driven by suffering and survival, that pit brother against brother in a fight for existence hosted by a hostile environment, ruled by a cranky god.

Darwinism is the root cause of human sadness in the West. It’s your part in it you need to make peace with.

His ideas, backed by a ruthlessly expanding colonial elite, created a Survival of the Fittest epidemic pitching the strong against the weak, justifying violence and bullying, slavery, the subjugation of women, expansion of empire and the abandonment of the Irish to famine. In the mid 1800’s Darwinism became the carefully chosen banner under which we slaughtered Indigenous, animals and environment as we supported an indifferent  elite upon whom we entrusted our own survival. His was an argument used to contest the end of slavery in the States, and adopted by Nazis and other not very nice people. The ‘fit’, Darwin ‘proved’, were supposed to get rid of lesser beings so a more perfect human could ‘evolve’.

darwin story2

It was Darwin who argued that, actually, universal intelligence seeks a blood bath. He showed that dominators and manipulators are selected for by nature itself, in an effort to create superior beings through a linear process known as ‘evolution’ which loved nothing more than gladiatorial battles of life and death.

He put the gun in the hands of ‘progress’, pointed it at animals, wildlife and ‘savages’, nerdy kids, fat girls, boys who were bad at rugby, and argued that it was our duty to nature to blow out the brains of the meek – or at least cower them into submission.

The smoke from three centuries of this gunfire has utterly choked up the Western notion of reality. It has left us all wounded, blood-stained, lonely and estranged from the gorgeous cosmos of bliss and elegance with which earlier humans had been having a divine romance for ages.

Mad with fear for our own survival, we still argue about whether qualities like compassion, mercy, collaboration and quietly pottering about in peace are inferior traits to be weeded out by government and evolution. We get blue in the face about whether animals have feelings, if morality is a ‘construct’, whether genes are selfish and if we will suffer a debt for contamination of a mechanical biosphere.


Today its still Darwin behind our sneers at the underprivileged, the lazy, the tubby, the confused and dreamy. We use his thinking when we feel superior to others if we are better looking, better paid, score higher marks, or kick bigger goals in cooler clothes

But In academic circles Darwin has already had the colour sucked out of him by Sociologists who don’t even argue anymore about whether Darwinism has any actual merit.

In a word, they agree. It doesn’t.

Darwin and his ism were the perfect brand, and the perfect trick of reason at a moment in history when the ruling materialist elite required a public to swallow the notion of empires built on the suffering, exploitation and humiliation of others.

It’s because of the Darwinian misadventure we have tolerated a culture in which the bullies are entitled to all they can get, while the rest can suck it up.

Why? Because we are fundamentally bullies ourselves.

That’s the sneaky logic by which we really live today, and from which we are desperately trying to escape… if only we could see it.

Instead we blame our anxiety on the banks, sugar, military industrialists and the International Situation – on others, generally, because we don’t yet realise it’s our own Darwinised selves we’re sick of.

Darwinism is behind our stress in this indifferent, scarcity-afflicted universe we invented. It’s behind those first squabbles over toys at pre-school, through competitive sport, scaled schooling that favors the ‘best’, status, loneliness and on and on. In a culture which ‘wars’ over peace, drugs, poverty, religion, cancer… it’s a fight over everything. Surrender? Be damned!

To see this in action you don’t have to visit the halls of government, the New York stock exchange, or peek at the machinations of Greenpeace or the Bill Gates Foundation. Nasty politics, in-fighting, rivalry, ladder-climbing and bullying are alive and well in the playground, on the road, at mothers’ groups, yoga school, in the surf, the local disco and creep in to our relationships. No?


They’re the reason many won’t hop out of the rat-race. Terrified of ‘failing’, of being left behind, devoured by their rivals, or just found ‘unfit’ in a competitive universe they can imagine being ploughed into dust at the bottom of Darwin’s ruthless pyramid – because that was the fate of millions before them.

When you attempt to break this bondage your question should be… who, or what, can I trust?

It’s the right one, because those who can’t quite give up the impulse to dominate, even if they say they are ‘at one with the divine’ are just like the sharks in Finding Nemo, who want to be vegetarian.

Disney, Finding Nemo

Disney, Finding Nemo

And because walking into a new cosmology requires a complete break from the old one – at least for a while.

This is not a matter of character, but of a cultural virus sewn deep in our bones and jellies. In general, we’re tired of the anxiety, the lack of trust and happiness, but we don’t know where it’s coming from. We want out. We want happiness. We want love and fairies, good waves, picnics… and a nice cup of tea.

It’s not only because of evil leadership we can’t have this peace – we’re all destroying it, because we don’t trust it..

But hang on a minute! Isn’t this all a bit far-fetched?

Wasn’t Darwin just a nice quiet man who killed a lot of finches?

Actually, no. Charlie gave the game away in the title of his book, which was, in full:

On the Origin of Species

 by Means of Natural Selection,

or the Preservation of Favoured Races

in the Struggle for Life”

 (thank you, Meg Maskell)

He paid a bitter debt for these philosophical efforts. In a personal tragedy that was poetic in its unfolding. Darwin confessed to his diary near the end of his own exhausting, lonely life of conflict, that…

“I cannot endure to read a single line of poetry… those parts of my brain now atrophied.


The loss of these tastes [poetry, literature, scenery and art] is a loss of happiness…


My mind seems to have become a sort of machine for grinding general laws out of a collection of facts.”

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin.

His theory, he frankly writes, came from disenchantment with God, and a failure to see any sort of design in life.

“I can see no evidence of… design of any kind

in the details [of the universe]”, he wrote.

Seriously? He couldn’t?

Was that because he was consumed with mild depression, unpopularity, sea sickness and doubt about whether he should have ever given up a life of partridge shooting afterall?

Darwin was making, actually, an unfathomably dumb statement.

Given that Leonardo Da Vinci had already exploded the boundaries of human thinking in art, engineering, biology, aviation, physics, chemistry… everything, all after looking closely at nature.

da vinci

Da Vinci’s doodles of flowers and waves revealed an innate architecture behind everything from flying machines to dripping taps a full four hundred years earlier!

How could Darwin have missed it?

I was desperate to know.

And, since there was but a 3-hour taxi ride, one squalid night in Guayaquil and a picturesque flight between me and the theme park using his name as its billion-dollar mascot, I knew exactly how to find out.

I booked a one-way flight to the Galapagos.

To sniff around in Darwin’s underwear and see what evolved from there.

The Bitter Cup: Ayahuasca – beware the hand that serves you


As ayahuasca tourism explodes into a frenzy of expensive retreats, gringo-shamanism, one-night love-ins, and do-it-yourself thrill-seeking across the planet – a shaman from the Amazon sends a postcard on which he writes, only this….

beware the kiss

of the vine of death.


If you were sick, I mean really – and abandoned on a sandbank in the Amazon -would you trust a chain-smoking motorbike mechanic with a fetish for vomit and a blunt machete who turns up out of nowhere, and says…

“I can be help you if you be come, come with me

 I will be show you how to love de medicina.”

Deep in the ancient forests of the Amazon, where healing arts have been honed for thousands of years under strict and secret lineage, a shaman of an unknown tribe blows heavy plumes of Marlboro Red from a rickety stool under a banana tree.

His practice is a jungle garden. His ‘consulting room’ is air conditioned by plants, and his library is living all around him; in blossoms, cloud, roots, shoots, animal visitors and continual dialogues with nature who informs his powers of diagnosis and prescription.

The currandero was five days late for our appointment.

DSC_0054When he finally boomed into camp on a supped-up Yamaha, wild curls dancing behind him, he wore a grin so wide it instantly erased my resentment for the long and cranky wait.

This was a meeting I was forced into, really – having had no intention of ever ending up on the ayahuasca scene, let alone in a shaman’s wretched camp.

I came to the jungle assisting a team of American medical volunteers for the CNN-awarded outreach project, Amazon Promise.

It was in deep jungle, far away from Iquitos, that a recurring undiagnosed health problem struck me down again with its presentation of angry circular welts, allergies to everything – fatigue, fever and painful, deforming joints and nightmares. After two years’ under care of Sydney specialists I knew the pathology: disorders of the white cell count, acute and unattributed inflammation factors, evidence of infection, progressive decline with no known cause, and no known cure.

At the peak of the illness in Australia my feet and hands were reduced to livid claws too fragile to bear the weight of even a sheet. I had been placed on large doses of steroids and their related chemical cousins. I was warned I was unlikely to walk again, and told to ‘toughen up’.

My questions of experts from rheumatology, infectious diseases and oncology had not been welcome and I spent long, expensive years in a state of chemical dependency and shame.

So ending up here, on a splintery bench in the rainforest for one more shot at a happy ending did not seem intimidating at all: I was used to feeling confused and cranky.

I was also well ware that here in the jungle, shaman give a medicine so powerful for its effects it is known as the vine of death. That didn’t bother me much. Most of the drugs I’d been taking the last few years were likely to kill me in the end.

What did bother me was that I was here at all.

I had been ‘miraculously’ cured of my symptoms a year ago after a juice-fast my brother recommended from a book. 10 days of beetroot and miso soup brought on a hell of nightmares and weird thinking at the end of which I was pain, welt and arthritis-free enough to climb Kilimanjaro and five other of the world’s highest ranges for charity.

touching the void

But here in deepest, darkest Amazonia, I had plunged back into a hell much worse than the first. It was an ER doctor, a veteran from a Boston hospital, who pleaded with me to find a jungle healer.

“What Western medicine knows about what you have is the equivalent of a bucket’s worth of ocean,” he said.


“Get yourself to a shaman.  Bring back something useful.”

So I set out to find a shaman. In Iquitos. Which is a bit like looking for a raindrop in a river.


They call it zombie-fever. Bleary-eyed ayahuasca tourists; the sick, the lame, the lost and confused who have descended on Iquitos these last ten years in search of healing or of a new career in shamanism.

Most locals shy away, but hordes of gringo healers, jungle side-winders and scouts prey on the tide of incoming, just like most of them were preyed upon when they first set out to taste the medicine.


It’s an ugly scene. There are deaths and rapes, fakes and all manner of weirdness in the circus that has been conjured up around the promise of ayahuasca.

I hunted for a healer in this city of dealers for more than a month and come across every breed of charlatan, con man, gringo wannabe and naysayer as I got sicker and sicker and weaker and more desperate to believe that the legends of great cures and wisdom in the jungle were not a hoax.

The greatest name around Iquitos is Rivas. The Banco.

He is one of the Grandfathers of plant medicine and a very wealthy man, by all accounts. It was exactly due to his Big Reputation that I had struck Rivas off my list. I wasn’t interested in anybody famous, I wanted the real thing. Somebody genuine, authentic,remote and exotic. As a result, I ended up with Rosa, who had a lot of stuffed toys, some fascinating stories, and no idea at all what to do with me.

She had plied me with the toxic juice of a rubber plant to help cure me of parasites and was taking me to her jungle camp for further ‘healing’ when, an hour down the Amazon, she apparently had a sudden change of heart. She made a pretty loop in the speedboat, pulled up beside a muddy verge, and shoved me out with no instructions, food or even a goodbye. Then she fled into the jungle steam.

It was not a great start to my ayahuasa healing adventure.But it was no worse really than things had been in general. So I sat there, sweating and inflaming, listening to the water lapping on the bank and the howl of far off monkeys.

About an hour later a tall, slim man and with remarkably white tennis socks turned up in a rickety dinghy. He was an ambassador for the Maestro, the said.

The who?

The Maestro. Vamos!”


And so it was that I found my wretched self before none other than the Banco. Himself.

It was his cigarette smoke that hootchy kootched around me as his sweat wilted the flowers on his Hawaiian shirt.

The Maestro, I knew, was a legend in Peru. He was feared and adored in his region and quietly famous around the world for his power with the plants. He guarded the dignity of the medicina with a ferocious respect, and had openly declared that we are in a time of great war on Earth – over nature, over power, over everything.

He was on the side of the plants. And an enemy of those who either destroyed their habitat or offended their honour.

The Maestro was credited with cures for aches, pains, indigestion, infertility, snakebite, depression, cancer, arthritis, warts and every complaint of the soul. He was to be admired for his drumming, respected for his temper, and the only man to go to in Iquitos for advice on how to fix both motorbikes and photo copiers.

His patients came from simple villages along the chocolate-coloured  jungle rivers and all the wealthy continents. And occasionally, apparently, stumbled in as orphans – like me.

I was in no condition, really, to be meeting a legend. I could fairly be described at that time as scruffy and irritable.

I offered a scowl and a floppy, swollen handful of hideously deformed fingers by way of introduction. He shoved my hand aside to crush me in a wet and fragrant embrace.

Now! How are you?” he asked in melodic jungle Spanish, pulling up his wooden stool. “Come! Sit here. Relax, smoke de cigarette?

I want to know de  ev-e-ry-theeng!


How you in de heart?

How you in de feelings?

How you in de self?”

And so began a journey you will likely never take either in classic Western medicine, or in the circles hosted by gringo entrepreneurs who have recently got hold of the medicine and market ayahuasca tourism.

You cannot sell this sort of a thing. And you cannot buy it in a pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all ‘retreat’ setting. It does not bless any one night stand flirtation which might involve a ‘dose’ of so-called ayahuasca, and cannot abide even the slightest sniff of hippy thinking, according to the Maestro.


To know ayahuasca – or any other plant – requires that sort of wisdom you cannot serve in a cup.

What true ayahuascaroes cultivate is an ancient process of diagnosis, treatment, care and insight strongly based on relationship – primarily to nature. Many died in keeping this alive during the persecutions of the Conquistadors. Many were exiled as they kept the covenants of their lineage through the carnage of the rubber boom.

Those who were passed the rites cultivate their intimacy with the plants through long, solo pilgrimages in the jungle dieting specific species, meeting with the blessings and terrors they keep, to earn the right to give ceremony.

Many are declaring, now the fad has hit the mainstream, that appropriation or abuse of the ‘medicines’ are acts of war to be avenged.


It takes a lot more than knowledge of the recipes, a few icaros and a splattering of shipibo artwork here and there to suppose the role of currandaro – let alone of shaman.

A true ayahuasca journey is conceived by a sort of fate, conducted down a river deeper than it appears, in a craft made of fear and trust.

When you active the bonds of chemistry that cause ayahuasca to appear before you, you have conjured a genie even the most powerful healers do well to treat with awe.

“She is the wise one,” says Viejo, adoring the little leaves of  stems we are going to cook with.

“She be the beautiful one.

The empress of all the plants, of de everything.

But Ooooo, she be  the terrible, terrible  jealous one.

The vengeful one.

She be not be liking to be fucked with.

Not de one de little tiny bit.

For my recovery I was apparently to live in Viejo’s camp for as long as it was going to take. “You be live here, in my paradise,” he beamed. “Maybe two weeks, maybe three months.. we be see what the plants, she’s saying”

The camp, far from what you may be ‘shopping’ for now, if you are considering buying a pre-paid, web-marketed, $2000-a-week ‘authentic shaman experience’ in the Amazon – was slightly lacking in mmm… charm.

It was a sort of  ramshackle jungle squat with hungry-looking chickens, a dubious-coloured bog and a slightly worse than average rat issue. My home would be wooden yurt with a moldy single bed and an even more moldy pillow, which were to become my heaven as the healing journey began.

On the second day he told me, after a long diagnostic massage in his plywood temple, examination of my rash and conduct, evocations of deities from the jungle university and lots of poking about;

“You have de poison in de blood and de heart-ache long time.

You have de blockages in de love, and de many hurting not go away.

You must have take out de metals here –  in de teeth.

You must be cleaning de liver and de whole body.

You live here.

With me.

We play de bongos

and talk with de nature.


And so it was.

Every day for 8 weeks I slouched about camp in bare feet, listening to Viejo on his bongo, or vomiting in buckets, or preparing to vomit in buckets, and running a constant dialogue of wonder and irritability that my life had come to this.

There was Viejo, greeting the dawn with a Marboro dangling from his lips and a bongo on his belly, singing like mad to the quivering garden.

There was Viejo, preparing me another concoction of leaf medicine, ordering me wrapped in honey, buried up to my neck in dirt, asking me to sing to the plants, drawing me a picture of the 13 chakras, holding my hand as a jungle dentist drilled the amalgam from my teeth and watching me puke my miserable guts up about three times a week due to one ‘medicine’ or another.

There was no ‘between’ the medicine. There was only the medicine.

And I don’t mean ayahuasca. I mean everything. Everything was medicine: the screaming whistle of the jungle bugs, the twisting heat, the soggy bed, the starlight, dripping off banana leaves, the hideous shit and puke and spit we lovingly poured into Pacha Mumma, who would know what to do with it.

And Viejo… singing as he tenderly stripped down his Yamaha. Viejo, caught in rapture at the tinkling of motorbike parts as they sun-dried on the washing line. Viejo, offering me a litre of pure tobacco juice, saying only ‘Drink. All. Vamos!‘.

And there were my own miserable thoughts as I wrestled with an inner dialogue that was variously unhappy with my body, my life, my circumstances, my pain, the heat or my diet of salt-less rice, fish guts, steamed plantain and vile or psychotropic juices.

I was prepared fresh medicines from turmeric, passionfruit leaves, resins and slimy things served in recycled jam jars by the doctor himself, and or by his friendly staff who sat with me while I drank tinDSC_0028ctures, hideous goop and poisons that did things unmentionable by a lady.

The mechanic held my hand when their effects were diabolical.

He enthusiastically inspected buckets-full of my vomit, searching for signs and clues and bubbles which would lead him to either frown deeply or throw out his arms in joyful rapture when he found de something that he was looking to get out of my body.

These triumphs were usually a puddle of froth or an asymmetrical slime blob that I had troweled the depths of my being to wring out in misery over a bucket. They were sometimes fragments of dreams.

The maestro played the harp when his plants were ruthless.I often begged him to stop because his presence seemed to amplify the agony of the process.

Then he would sit close by, gently de-greasing bits of motor bike.

He never once left me alone. He never once refused my questions. He called me Princessa, and was as concerned with my psychological journey as he was with my physical ones.

After he made me hallucDSC_0039inate, shiver and puke for a full day to get de bad liqueed out of my gall bladder he took me on the back of the bike on a day trip to a spring and restored my joy for life.

When he thought he had squeezed a good puddle of de bad out of me, he had me scrubbed raw with a laundry brush and commercial bleach, then wrapped in mud for a full afternoon before we drank the ayahuasca – which seemed mild in comparison to the other plants.

In the Western model this would all, I know, be considered quite ridiculous. Such a level of personal involvement with a patient would be frowned upon for sure, and if one were to be so indulged – just imagine the cost!

In the tourist model, there’s nobody can give you even half the actual experience.

But in the larger part of the world, and in the oldest medical traditions – the Chinese, Tibetan, the curranderos of the Amazon, the Australian Aborigine – from whom the pharmaceutical industry still takes it cues for synthesising medicines – what’s being offered by doctors and ‘healers’ would be equally unthinkable.

Listening, connecting, sharing the experience are as much part of the cure as the treatments.

In fact, any treatment or remedy that has not been made and blessed by the healer is considered next to useless.

Which is why I warn you –

beware who you drink with, where your plants come from, and how much faith you give to the new gringo market in ayahuasca.


The power of the bond between healer and patient is equal to the power of the cure – without trust and confidence, says the maestro, an illness can only be cut at the stem, it cannot be removed at the root.

A cure cannot come from a person who is ‘dabbling’ with the medicines. “Ayahuasca, she is dangersousssss. Oh, very she be danger. When you play with her, like with any strong woman, she can seduce you, she can be suck you into a very very bad world of delusions.”

Likewise, he says, a cure cannot come from a bottle, but only from a living dialogue between the patient and the healer, the healer and the Mother. He spent hours of his day caressing, listening, adoring his gardens, the clouds, birdsong and moonlight.


Since this adventure I have been free of my illness and interested in the doctor/patient relationship which in indigenous medicine is not without its challenges.

When a shaman asks you to drink his deadly medicines he is well aware he causes fear – and it is this he wants to work with. The disorientation and surrender in a patient who is put in a threatening curing situation is the very means by which a shaman finds a gap in the ego wide enough for him to create change.

But not all shamans are equal. And many you will find are not shamans at all – despite their feathers and their pretty websites. So tread this path with care…


The Beautiful Suffering


Could the wounded human love story be the tearing open of the bud to a truly Divine Romance?

Huge, hard, kinky, tantra, boots and whips and puppies. Ice creams, gags, wax and weird conjugations of the kundalini…. since when did sensuality form this venomous helix with suffering? And where, on our wounded Earth, is all this going to end?


Is it a secret to say that for so many of us those precious, early tones of longing for love got warped somewhere: on the dating scene, in marriage, in the loneliness of this modern three-way hi-way adventure in the bad, bad honeylands of craving? And if so, what next?

Out here in expat-land, on the frontiers of the new, ‘unshackled’ humanity, there’s plenty of talk about finding Love, but not much time for making it. Meanwhile, we bud into tribes of vegans, yogis, crusaders for animal rights, poets, ayahuasca junkies, singers and yes – ecstatic, sexy dancers.

The love-scene here’s as sad and demented as it is at your place. A hit and run sexuality spiced by fetish, lust and lonliness leaves its blue fingerprints on throats and hearts among us – just like everywhere else!

Tantra, Tinder, a wild imbalance of the genders, and this so-called ‘adult’ sex scene, which dabbles in the, errr… quixotic, leads to all manner of cringe.


There’s no topic more deeply poured over in Ubud, anyway, as love. Or the lack of. Except maybe sex – and the unreliability of.

Beyond the norms of our home towns, ex-patriots everywhere explore free-range landscapes for new ideas in relationship, food, sex, money, health and spirit. But love – where to look? And beyond the luscious orgies of superfoods and smoothies, body oil and massage – how to nourish our longing for sensuality?

If they are honest, the free-rangers can report that changes of scenery and of lovers do nothing, actually, for a humanity deep in the lairs of depression. Erotica, gluttony, porn, lust and tantra promise a ‘purer’ exchange of the ecstatic, but more often mix a bitter cocktail.

I’m all for erotica… I’m cautiously for Sex San Frontiers, but does that really mean cocks and racks and candle wax? Does it mean that blokes really marry bitches, and women need to date like a man, and that adultery, one night highs and the grotesque, deformed expression of sexuality portrayed today in advertising are actually even satisfying?

burger   fashion

In the void of Love,it looks to me like delight and suffering have formed a most treacherous alliance.

On the churning seas of erotica, the lighthouse of sensuality is terribly eclipsed. Our boats of tenderness are adrift in a sea of chemistry and propaganda – so, where, oh where, is that safe harbour of the intimate?

Monogamy? Monogamy only recently received an exit visa from the wastelands of ‘old-fashioned’.

marriage egg

Marriage, of course, is recovering from a stab to the liver.

On this note, imagine if you will, marriage as the creation of a third living entity – a wedded ‘us’ as Joseph Campbell writes about. If this is so, then the recent destruction of so many unions through an orgy of divorce was one of the greatest recent acts of symbolic genocide on Earth. As we sought our individual power, and freedom from unholy unions, the sacred bond of marriage – laid open for refining in the 1960’s, was filleted by ‘progress’.

Marriage didn’t fail, it was hunted down at a delicate moment and slaughtered by economics, politics, Nestle, Ford and Unilever, who used it to enslave us all to suds and Saabs and sugar.

All this instilled a bitterness toward love that wept down three generations. And still, the casualties from millions of unions fear the fields of love are mined.

sad marriage

Yet we make this epic migration, beyond the golden band toward lasting human tenderness, don’t we? And perhaps this is our triumph.

Along the way, we find in casual liaisons a cortisone for longing.

We find in a bent erotics the claws to scratch our itch.

We discover, in our precarious courtships, that the seas of love are muddy.

Men blame women. Women blame men. We all blame social constructs and ‘stress and pressure’. Our confusion is irritated constantly as porn exploits this rift throubeer mangh fashion, ‘art’, music, cinema – everything!

Our own ideas of the erotic? Of sensuality? Of love? They are warped every day by a vile collage of images hurled out by a society deeply estranged from tenderness.

Romance? She hardly dares produce a single rose.

Sensuality, I’ve been told, is  ‘needy’.

Intimacy, her clingy cousin.

Together they are accused of setting traps in the pleasurelands – traps which glitter magically when exposed to that special light given off by perceived attempts at ‘commitment’.

And while the notion of the beloved has come under deep suspicion, except in the most poetic terms, along that squinted eye a profound and lovely teardrop trembles.


Here in Ubud, and in so many places, men hunt women openly, and rack them up as ‘friends with benefits’, or friends whose benefits are in decline. People craving love, but suspicious of its demands instead stalk ‘encounters’ – leaving 52 shades of misery across the fields of our desire.

Women? Women crave to be chosen, to know they are chosen, and also to be craved. In these strange hunting grounds the rites of intimacy have shriveled into a mutual feast of predator and prey.

All of which, as we know, only sharpens the scythe of loneliness.

One balm for this, and evidence of our seeking, is the extraordinary new bond so many have found with animals.

There is en mass, across the world a deep wail issuing from all humanity about the suffering of animals. In them we have – at last – found a mirror for our souls, the true and living symbol of our grief, and our love and tenderness. In their stories we have found the call to scream our heartfelt  Noooooo!

orangutan   chicken   bull  dog

Animals are the excruciating image of the faces we dare not show. They are the image of our own innocence, loyalty, tenderness – of the love we had forgotten.

In pets we have found companionship beyond our hopes for marriage. And in the cruelty we do dogs, and elephants, whales and dolphins – even cattle, sheep and chickens, we see the reflection of our own wounds, and the urgent call to make amends.

sad elephant

And in so doing, we find in ourselves this deep and healing wail. This agony of guilt and sorrow and rage for all we have done in our conquering of Earth, to ourselves, and each other – through which we are crucified and raised up a level in awareness.

And right here – don’t miss it – there is a widening of compassion, a re-connection to nature, a chance for humanity, again, to feel the sentience of all souls. There is a magic beyond logic, beyond judgement – a truly holy eclipse of ‘I’.

Where we have lost each other, we may yet find a truly divine romance.




In the garden, wet with rain,

we went seeking a balm for our longing.

There, folded in the petals of a flower,

trembling in the heart of every leaf –

the letters of a poem from the beloved.

*    *    *    *


find yourself humbled
by a petal….

wet with rain.


 begin to express

 what you think it means

   – this   erotica.


Through the window


I hit the boy in a daydream. He strolled his motorbike straight out onto the highway where my 50km an hour cruise in flipflops and sun dress was abruptly confused into a squall of bent metal, shredded petals and grating skin. It was a bright morning, the scent of papaya and grass smoke on the wind.

The impact caused two broken ribs, a concussion, knee wounds to the bone, a torn ankle and a wonky side mirror.

It made a tear in the fabric of things that let my dying lover find me, and gave me this poem.

Through the window

wet with rain

we linger together,

–  my broken bones and a galaxy in stillness –

you, winged creature,

bespangled with light.



quivers once

and lends me her eye.


Through the fineprint

in raindrops

silver maps appear,

and poems


assembled in fractions,

held still on the brink

of this long moment

across the liquid veil.


I see her fractal universe

spinning with flying cities,

a geometry of rice paddies,

hoola palms,

and shaggy clocks, swinging aerial time.


The big-winged banana trees

tear their leaves into feathers.


Hibiscus flowers,

those cherry bells,

stir tincture of raindrop,

with essence of cloud

for the sunbaths of songbirds tomorrow.


All of this, repeating, repeating…


as the view reaches out

an invisible trapeze

on our exhalation.


and all of this, repeating, repeating…


as the fall of mirrors

rushes in – glittering and spinning

prickling and singing…


This moment!

This moment!


On glossy flutes.


The Bali postcard

explodes into splendour,

implodes into silence,

and swells with the beauty

of the excruciatingly untouched.


Bali, tosses her head and anoints her full belly.


In this most raucous of quietude

she pulls a shroud of monsoon wetness

across herself,

lets wild rain

tease at her nipples, fill her breasts

and coax her flesh into ripples

and eddies, burst edges and rivulets of

living mud.


She breathes hot

into the chamber of her storm.


She arches her back and presses her curves

into the swelling edge of puddles,

across flooding paddies,

and into cups

that reach

an aching fullness





of liquid mirror

drive on

in fleets

their chariots


flying to earth in explosions of ecstatic math.


Through the dragonfly’s eye

I see them ride their exquisite parachutes

in from Himalayan adventures

to burst

all their stories

into rivers.


To write them down the backs of cuddling ducks

to draw them in  haikus

upon the tendrils of a passionfruit vine.




The curves of their perfect orbs




as they take upon themselves

the caress of the wind,

the cool cheek of sky,

the frenzied swirl of the spinning palm

and a shrapnel of flight

from their abseiling sisters.


Red leaves, orange berries

A lost bird.

Gardenia flowers

and the tiny things that swoon in their skirts.


All these drawn on their bodies,

tearing mud-bound in crystal,

as battalions of sweet ammunition

fall and explode




and create the world

all over.


Write of Passage: a 3-day journey to the heart of your writing in Denmark, West Australia July, 2015

Denmark write of passage july 2015b

July 11, 12 & 15th, (with a writing assignment between meetings) – 3.30pm in beautiful Denmark, WA, $350

Specific focus on your writing idea, personal feedback on work in progress,  guidance on genre, structure, voice & key skills for powerful writing. This is a course for those with a burning idea.

Limited places.

writing19Stories have a living architecture which the writer must discover.

When your story reveals its’ innate design, the genre, voice, structure and style begin to flow with ease.

This 3-day course is a lighthouse for those with a writing project to bring home. It will guide you to clarity about your project and inspire you to write with enthusiasm.

You will connect to the genius behind your idea, discover the heart of your project, clarify its genre, structure and find the right voice to write in.

Using your own new work, and focusing on your specific idea, you will deepen your connection to your writing project, be able to name it and see it unfold on the page. You will learn to harness creative energy, polish skills in creative technique and write with eloquence in flow.

This is a vibrant and empowering journey for those on the brink of a new work, or looking for a creative shove into the beautiful ride of loving the writing.

Only Four Places Left.

Contact me at