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MY BRAZILIAN (… and a kombi named Betty)

102 days, 6 countries, 3 girls, x boys & 1 kombi named Betty.

So I’ve mentioned “my book” a million and one times, the travel memoir I’ve been working on every since my trip to South America some three years ago now. Think Eat Pray Love with a twist. As described in one of my proposals:

“Beginning by following others, and chasing love, Juliet finds herself travelling down a long and winding road to Brazil — through Paris, Japan and Christianity — the so-called “first world” that sits as a background to her first-hand experiences of South America. Wrapped around this tale of travel, food and (unrequited) love, is a deeper story about the narratives that construct our sense of self, and our world. The book uses unconventional, highly reflective storytelling techniques, partially inspired by French philosophy, as it toggles between breathtaking natural beauty, romance, meditation, and long, ramshackle bus rides.”


Well in May 2010 I finished my first draft (250,000 words) and in December 2011 I finished editing it down to my ninth draft (97,000 words – a typical book size). It took a HUGE amount of time, dedication, and help from a number of friends including “my American” (– words fail).

I haven’t yet had much luck with the literary agent who liked my proposal back in 2010, nor a publisher I submitted to a few weeks ago. And, well, in short I’m impatient. So I think I’m going to try the e-book thing which pretty much relies on one’s own ability to do PR and catch reader’s attention. No idea yet how I’ll do that. First step is to design a cover. Either something along the lines of the one above, or this one:

Blurb for the back:

This could be a story of love, fulfilment and self-discovery. It’s not. Surrounded and engulfed by raging, clapping, endless cascades… His blog was her obsession. They were living her dream. A planet of falls, lush forest, spray and rainbows… A South American odyssey. Fractals. Conscientization. What does love mean? Just fucking go. Perspective. Whirlwind. Water tumbled 80 meters down, so powerfully that it came back up again as mist, lingering everywhere… Co-authorship. Brazil. Freedom. Awe, turmoil, and transcendence. A white dove flew fearlessly along the edge…


Prologue: Stories

Chapter 1: Time (Sydney)
Chapter 2: Live Earth (Buenos Aires)
Chapter 3: Jesús Calling (The Gringo Trail)
Chapter 4: Enchanted Isles (Galapágos)
Chapter 5: Enough Edgar (The Gringo Trail)

Chapter 6: Enferma de Amor (Cusco)
Chapter 7: Nunca Say Nunca (Bolivia)
Chapter 8: Serenity, or not (Chile)
Chapter 9: ‘Doing a Bariloche’ (Argentina)
Chapter 10: The Fall (Iguazú & São Paulo)

Chapter 11: Does Size Matter? (Southeast Coast)
Chapter 12: All’s Fair… (Arraial d’Ajuda)
Chapter 13.1: Living Naked (Salvador)
Chapter 13.2: Yes and No
Chapter 13.3: Alone, with Others
Chapter 14: The Dénouement (Rio de Janeiro)

Epilogue: Death and Rebirth


What do you want out of life? Love? Money? Children? Adventure? Do you ever think about why you want these things? Do you think they’ll make you happy? What if they don’t? What if this idea is a just a story? Do you ever question the story? Do you wonder where these stories come from? Do you ever wonder if there’s more to the story?

I do. I think about these things a lot.

Maybe it’s because some stories I believed in my youth proved to be false. Like the one about Jesus being the only path to God, and like the one about modelling making me feel beautiful. Losing trust in these stories makes me wonder what other things I tell myself may prove to be false. Out of distrust grew doubt, out of doubt grew curiosity. The slow tantalizing process of striping away layers, plucking apart stories and moving closer to the “Truth”. It was a process that started long before the story that I’m about to tell you, and sure to continue long after it.

In South America I plunged into a whirlwind of stories that make up cultures, history and identity. Somewhere between New York and Rio I was hoping reignite the flame and live out my dream. What followed was richer and more meaningful than I ever expected. Years’ worth of life experiences packed into 102 days, spread across six countries. It was a search for freedom, for happiness, for love — and one beautiful beaten-up kombi named Betty.

Any thoughts?

Shall I publish as an e-book? Which cover? Is it something you’d buy? How much should I price it? Some recommend putting it on there for $1. But is that de-valueing my work? Or will it help it get out there? Shall I keep trying for the traditional publishing? If you have any connections to publishers or literary agents around the world… or any thoughts on the above… I’d love love love to hear!

The Very Short Life and Times of Me and Kombi Xee

Love is blind. It makes you do crazy things. Spontaneous things. Fun things. And sometimes really stupid things. I think when it hits you you know the pain that lies ahead, yet you jump in anyway. The first time I laid eyes on her I knew. Maybe it was her bright orange skin, maybe it was the way she popped her top on cue, or maybe it was her cute button nose. It was love at first sight. Like the trajectory of most love stories I figured this relationship would come to an end. But what I didn’t know was how fast it would happen.

This is a story of false hope and empty promises. This is a story about living with intensity and adventure. This is a story of loving fully and learning to let go if one’s life’s optimal trajectory calls for it. This is the story of the very short life and times of me and Kombi Xee.

I had been looking for a kombi for a couple of months, but none were like her. Mirroring my taste in men the kombi’s I was interested in lived too far away or were already taken, until I met Xee. She was perfect. She needed a little work on the body, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed. Most importantly, so the seller assured me, she was mechanically healthy with an recently reconditioned motor, no oil leaks, good brakes and new tyres. She would easily pass rego in March. The pressure of competition bid me to jump in. “I’ll take her.” I said, offering the asked price.

Like the beginning of most relationships, the honeymoon period was wonderful. As I learned how she worked, exactly where to let the clutch out and work her gears, things only got better. I projected images of our glorious future together: long coastal drives, sleeping anywhere, early morning swims, weekend getaways, lots of time to read and write and reflect and keep inspired.

Our first trip to Jervis Bay was everything I dreamed. She made driving fun. I sailed by day, and slept by the waters-edge at night.

Ahimsa Sailing Klub Inc

It was only two nights, but it could have been weeks.

Xee slowed life down a notch. Time didn’t matter with her. I couldn’t go anywhere fast so I no longer tried. Chugging along we strived out way up hills, and sped at full speed back down the other side. The hippy inside me lit up as I embraced the things the 70s stood for like peace and freedom and all those ideals I think too much. Now I wasn’t thinking about them – I was feeling them. I was them.

Kangeroos in our backyard!

An afternoon at Murrays Beach

After one night back at home we left for our second trip: the Northern Beaches.

After a day’s work in Belrose I parked Xee in Mona Vale, up on the headland with a magic view of the golf course, beach, ocean, horizon and beyond. I went for a twilight swim, had a cold shower, read a bedtime story, and fell into a blissful sleep. At sunrise I repeated the above, and drove back to work. Work would now become a weekly holiday, or so I thought…

Men, women, kombis… who knows what causes them to crack. But when a relationship goes to hell, there’s no knowing what’s going to happen next. I’d been with Xee for less than a week when the romantic bliss came to an earth-shattering end.

In the space of one hour, my side mirror fell off doors, the drivers windows refused to close, at red lights on hills she stalled, spat, spluttered, and died. I powered her back up. Without a mirror I was scared to change lanes, I missed turn offs, and every slight hill she got worse.

People around us stopped and stared.

“Come-on baby, don’t give up on us yet!” I pleaded. But this wasn’t your ordinary domestic fit.

Xee delivered me home and took her last breath.

That night and the following two weeks were filled with doctor visits and hospital stays – from NRMA dudes telling me she was only running on two cylinders through to tow truck drivers and finally a kombi-specialist who delivered the final blast of bad news: it was fatal.

“Try to fix the cylinders and you’ll open a Pandora’s Box of problems.” Steve the mechanic shook his head. “She needs a new motor. I’m sorry to say but you bought a lemon.”

As if stealing my heart and my dreams wasn’t enough.

So here I am. In love with a kombi that just doesn’t want to love me in return.

“The timing just isn’t right for us,” she whispers to me, shedding a tear.

I could spend another $5k on her to get her back on the road, but that’s scraping the bottom of the barrel, using up money I need for trips to conferences and universities in Europe and the US later this year. Part of me wants to stay in Australia, but I know that’s not my path. And so, sad as it is to say, I know it’s time to part ways.

Some relationships last a long time, and some only a short time, but all relationships must eventually come to an end. The trick is to know when to say yes and give it your all, and when understand it’s best for both parties to let go.

Xee needs someone who can invest the time and money that will get her back to health. She needs to be in a relationship with someone who can give her the love she deserves.


Is there something that can be learned from this story, about loving without attachment?

Might this apply to love for a friend, boy/girlfriend, and even for material things like houses and kombis?

Is it possible to love without selfish motive? To love another in a way that puts whatever is best for the other before one’s own desire to be with them?

As I look back over our beautiful week together I know I will always remember the life and times I shared with Kombi Xee.

These moments of the past that will remain present, just a thought away, for the rest of my life.

The best human relationships are like that too. Relationships where moments of the past were lived so fully present that simply the thought of it brings the moments back to life. No matter how long or short a relationship, the best one’s live on forever: continuing to inspire, energise and make you smile.

The last month – the one week of highs and three weeks of lows that followed – are a reminder of life’s roller coaster. It might be exciting at times, scary at other times, and a little dull as you wait in line to do it again. But you can’t have one without the other. The lows are what makes the highs so great. The closeness of death makes life so exhilarating.

Kombi Xee has reminded me of the important things in my life: she reminded me to slow down, to allow time to reflect, to value experiences over money and things (even kombis), to be able to shrug my shoulders when frustrations occur, to have faith in the universe, and that if you follow it’s “signs” guiding you intuitively toward your “optimal trajectory”, the universe will take care of the rest.

Xee reminded me of the importance of letting go: letting go of fear, letting go of the things I tell myself I “need”, and to remember that you never know what new adventure lies beyond the horizon.

Me in Kombi Xee

Photos: most taken by my talented friend Melissa McCullough, and a couple from Sveinug Kiplesund (who’s a pretty good photographer too 😉 ).


I am going to put Xee on ebay, so if you feel you’re up for the challenge of this exciting but exhausting lover, then check it out:

More details about her:

This is the original ad I responded to off Gumtree:

And this is the mechanic report I got last week:

Murphy’s Law Day and a Couple of Lifesavers

Have you ever had “one of those days”, where everything that can go wrong, does? There’s a name for it. Murphy’s Law. Today was one of those days… but thanks to a couple of lifesavers, a Jacuzzi and a taxi driver, it ended on a high note. Let me tell you the story of five lows, six highs and how everything turned out ok.


It started out a typical Saturday morning: sleep in till 830am, espresso and Brazil nuts, walk, breaky, yoga. I was ready to scoot to Bondi for a quick dip and read a book in the sun when suddenly the wind changed..

LOW #1

I had arranged to check out a Kombi at midday, my latest little dream. The seller was having a Murphy’s Law day like mine would turn out to be. For the first hour I sipped a poorly made coffee with a British dude who also wanted the kombi. We agreed it was a good price, sounded like it was in good mechanical condition, and underneath the niceties we both knew only one of us would get it. The seller messaged again: “Just another 20 minutes…”


I decided to scrap my swim, scooted home, and got ready for the evening ahead, leaving Jo to look at the kombi first. A dangerous move I know. I then scooted back to finally check out the bright orange 1974 kombi. I took Xee for a drive, and fell in love. I’ve never driven a big car, especially one with a long pole for a clutch and ridiculously huge steering wheel. Geez it was fun! Jo had made an offer, inside my head the pressure was on. Not one for thinking first, I acted: “consider her sold,” I told him. I called my sister to tell her the good news that my Festiva would now be hers, and agreed to meet her and my mum at circular key for a celebratory drink.

LOW #2

Just one problem: my scoot keys were nowhere to be seen. I emptied my pockets, my bag, and the kombi’s interior. “It has to be here!” I exclaimed helplessly. A vision of an expensive locksmith coming out was making me desperate (No, I don’t have a spare). I called my sister and cancelled, then I said a little prayer.


In desperation I checked the street, under leaves on the road and footpath. What do you know, there it was: my key, on the street, where I’d first met Xee. I hugged the kombi seller. By now it was 4pm, the time I was supposed to be at a friend’s birthday drinks on the other side of Sydney.

LOW #3

My mum called with sensible words about checking the price of the kombi, having my uncle check the mechanics, all that blah blah blah (that I do appreciate and know is important, but can’t be bothered to do..) Anyway when she called for a second time I had just arrived home, and after two coffees and not enough food my hands were so jittery that as I answered the phone, I dropped it in the sink. It wasn’t full, thank goodness, but a saucepan full of water fell on top of it.

Now if I had one of those sturdy old Nokias, all would be fine. But these temperamental iPhones are not so forgiving.

“Cough cough, splutter splutter.” It said. “I do not recognize whatever you are doing to me”. Or some weird error message along those lines appeared.

“Please come back to me!” I cried, followed by another little prayer.

I opened it up (as much as an iphone can be opened, i.e. took off it’s cover) and tried to revive it with a hairdryer. At first the speakers refused to breathe.


In time, with a lot of love, my recovered back to it’s good ol’ self. I called mum to apologise for being short.

LOW #4

I made it to my friend’s b’day drinks in Manly, only one and a half hour late. First problem was finding a park. Then there was a sound. A strange sound. “Is that my car?” I thought, turning my music of. Then, at a traffic light, “You have a flat”, a dude across the road pointed. SHIT.


“A beer will fix everything,” I said to myself. I found a park, downed a couple of icy cold ones, and contemplated my tyre. Basically a new tyre too, two days after my car had been serviced. How depressing.

I sweet-talked a couple of the boys at the party, and went to double-park the car somewhere closer. On second thought not to tear boys away from their beer, I decided to go to the petrol station.

“I’m going to figure out how to do it myself,” I said optimistically, asking the guy behind the counter for a little direction. He showed me how the jack worked, and with a set of pliers I started to lift the car.

Enter my lifesavers: two elderly men walking by.

“Do you need a hand?” they asked, “do you have a jack handle?”

My face must have said it all. Before I’d said a word they had some long handle thing joined to the jack, my car was lifted, hubcap off, bolts undone, spare tyre on. Done and dusted.

“You guys are lifesavers!” I exclaimed a few minutes later.

“Actually we are,” they laughed, pointing to the Manly Surf Lifesaver logo on their shirts.

LOW #5

Hoping in my car, the next heart pounding moment was the breath tester.

“Have you had anything to drink?” The copper asked.

“Yes.” I gulped. I was pretty sure I wasn’t over the limit, but you can never be too sure.

“Count to ten,” he ordered.


“One, two, three, four…” BEEP. “Your ok, good to go.”

I thanked God for the sixth time that day.

“A bad day makes for a good night,” a friend said at the pub. And it did. Back in the city my friend picked me and, dressed in a Brazilian flag, we went to a United Nations themed party.

So you wanna know what the funniest part to this whole long winded story is? Well, in my opinion it’s actually not the fact that I ended up swimming in an indoor pool and sitting in a hot bubbling Jacuzzi at 1am, but the taxi driver who at 2am delivered me safely to my door.

He (the taxi driver) was Pakistani, had done more degrees than me – from computer science to commerce and another couple I can’t remember – and was telling me about his dreams to go back and do engineering. “The problem is jobs.” He said.

After my last entry about the gap between education and real-life, that point really hit home. I can criticize the education system all I like but it’s not going to change the nature of the jobs that are available, which is ultimately the priority of education: survival.

In tribal society education must teach children to hunt and build huts. In our society education must teach us to survive within the system: to fit into a boxed up job that gives us money to buy our pre-killed meat and pay for our pre-made houses.

If we are lucky enough to find a job we can survive from and enjoy, then kudos to us. And if there’s a way of surviving, enjoying, and helping improve our survival system so it’s less destructive to our mental states, to the 4 billion people condemned to poverty from it, and to the planetary ecosystem that future generations need to survive on, then even better.

Murphy’s Law may say that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”, but Juliet’s Law (as this day’s high notes and low notes exemplified) says that “whatever can go wrong can be fixed”. Now all the world needs is a couple of lifesavers.


Xee, the kombi I’m about to buy!!! (XEE is her number plate, if I remember correctly).