Tag Archives: Byron Bay

The etiquette of staying with friends

I was spending over a month living with friends and their children in Suffolk Park near Byron Bay, avoiding nits, going for runs on a beautiful, wide sandy beach and getting in the water whenever the mood took me. I was also rather unsuccessfully searching for work.

I made friends with other backpackers, people I hitchhiked with and via CouchSurfing. I went climbing and met a good little crew of mixed souls, friends of my friends took me out (out of pity or novelty, I’m not sure), and I drank and danced and hung out on the beach until the early hours with groups of lovely locals and traveller types.

It was when I realised that it was the third time in less than a week that I was sneaking into a dark, quiet house that I thought: I need to be a bit careful. Comments had been made about my love of sleeping in. How it was like living with a teenager. And although I just needed to let go, have some fun, I knew that I also needed to better fit with where I was staying.

Last year, apart from a stint in Lima where a great-aunt kindly opened her doors to me and a travel buddy, I hostelled it through Ecuador and Peru. Since I arrived into Australasia, however, I had been incredibly lucky to predominantly stay with a host of wonderful, familiar people. It was a much needed change from hostel life and the constant stream of strangers.

In a hostel, you can do whatever the hell you like: go to bed at 04:00am, miss breakfast, wake up at midday, sleep in the afternoon. Your bed even gets made for you. You can cook if you like, eat out when the fancy takes you. In short, it’s quite a selfish existence.

When staying with family and friends, their routines are already set. In order to stay on good terms, it’s pretty essential to be considerate and not treat their place as a hotel.

My friends in Byron are some of the most relaxed people I know. They wanted me to have fun, to enjoy myself. They were glad that I was making friends and socialising and seeing the area. They were grateful when I did the washing up, happy when I got involved with family stuff.

We came up with some agreements about what I could do to earn my keep. I picked the kids up from school every now and then, stocked up on groceries, cooked at least once a week. I did some babysitting, insisted the couple went out on a date or two whilst I kept the kids entertained.

It didn’t feel enough. From my point of view. Here I was, staying with people who knew me better than most I’d met on my journeying, chatting about things other than my next destination. I had my own space, somewhere to hang up my clothes. And a warm welcome to help me relax into stopping for a moment.

So I made sure to do little additional tasks: washing up, hanging up the laundry, little jobs around the house. I tried to be aware and helpful. I kept my room tidy, replaced toilet paper when it ran out. Small things to keep the cogs of the family machine running smoothly.

And then I realised: when I’m next settled somewhere, I’ll be in a position to do this for someone else. Maybe that’s what it’s all about. Being considerate in the now, but passing on the welcome in the future. Book in now for your bed.

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The bicycle thieves of Byron

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Love her, lock her up and be happy if you see her again

Oh, Byron. You are beautiful and when the sun shines, everyone smiles and warmth radiates out of your core. You attract so many different people with your immense energy: lost souls, surfaholics, backpackers, yogis, hedonists, spiritualists, and everything in between.

But unfortunately you also attract some bad people. People who think nothing of cutting apart a chain and lock, bundling yet another bike into the back of a truck and then trying to make a quick sale further up the coast.

The police are polite and take details but don’t expect to see the bikes again. It’s sad to hear how common it is to get cycles stolen. One girl I chatted to was onto her fourth bike in three months.

And then there’s the case of my bike helmet. Why steal a helmet from next to a bike with a baby seat? Where’s your conscience? My friends, the owners of the bike and helmet were understanding, but it soured my feelings towards you a little. Broke some of the trust.

And my friend Julie. She loved her set of wheels. I mean really adored them. Her bike wasn’t a fancy thing. In all honesty, it was a bit of an old and battered city cruiser but she found it to be beautiful. And she relied on it to get her to work every day. And then one night, some of your bad citizens snuck out whilst she worked her second job of the day and whisked her beautiful bike far away, leaving Julie stranded at midnight, six kilometres from home. Feel good?

Ah, Byron. Whilst I like so much about you, I am holding back from letting myself be fully seduced. I have loved cycling your paths every day and really appreciate the respect given to cyclists on the road. Maybe your bad sides help to accentuate your positives, but seriously, do you really want to make more people like Julie sad and frustrated? Thought not.

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Guest Session: The Spirit Festival liberates more than just the yogi

Featured writer: Chad Kolcze

Whatever your perception of the Spirit Festival, whatever your inhibitions or expectations were, the weekend long multi-venue event in Mullumbimby left spirits high for all involved.

As your common Byron Shire surfer, teacher and beer drinker, I wouldn’t class myself as a devoted spiritual guru or devoted yogi by any means. And as a regular guy, that includes the odd yoga class every now and then. I was pleasantly surprised and grateful for experiences I was offered and the diversity of classes that made me look inward rather than out for a change.

There were 22 different sessions offered on the half day Friday (not including the high-spirited good times had during the evening concerts). Plus, 43 sessions on the programme for Saturday and equal number on the Sunday. A third in attendance were beautiful men and the rest were radiating females exploring their divine feminine.

Filled with caring compassionate everyday people, I was amazed at the lack of hippy-trippy patchouli oil smelling folk I thought I would see there. Instead it was genuine, bright-eyed, smiling faces dressed in modern colourful sport wear and talking excitedly about the experience they just had at one of the many sessions on offer. Mix in the colour of the peace flags, the Tee-Pee’s, the colour of the graceful skies and the opposing healthy green grass or the many rugs and cushions that were on offer for all and I found a truly well decorated and catered for event.

Of course the expectations of great tasting, super nutritious food was met. There were also stall holders selling their products, others offering various therapies or spiritual readings etc. However they weren’t the focus. The focus was very much on the programmed sessions, the entertainment and the gurus who made them a reality. The level of professionalism and knowledge shown by these teachers/spiritual practitioners was very deep, very much like a university professor or TED speaker. They offered very informative and well lead journeys for the punter to embrace through mind, body and consciousness.

I was one for one, after experiencing Darpan’s ‘Shamanic Sound Journey’ class. This was the very first class I under took and I had my first positive journey for the weekend. He was able to tap into this body that I carry around day-to-day and predominately use only for external use, looking, seeing, touching and so forth. And open me up to expose the beauty of looking inside my exo-skeleton and the senses/ power/ energy within. And since doing so, it may have helped me find the love in my heart that’s been missing for many years.

Another highlight for many who packed the venue, beyond its capacity, was ‘The Future Sound of Yoga’. A modern yoga delivery that combines a DJ  like character offering wicked symphonic and electro sounds, combined with the gorgeous passionate smiling Angel as facilitator. They offered yoga poses and dance steps to be conducted with free expression yet offering a basis of directed movement. And so the list of amazing classes went on; the renowned yoga guru’s educated in ancient languages such as Sanskrit doing their bit, Tigress yoga aimed at empowering the feminine, Women’s only Tantra or mixed Tantra sessions,  yoga in the public pool, belly dancing in the Drill Hall, Kirtan in the open, Goyto Monks humming their mantras and chai tea everywhere.

However, it was the Mullum High School Hall that was the focal point once the sun went down. Saturday’s headlining act, Deva Premal, exposed me to Kirtan and the empowerment of vocalizing mantras. All good stuff, but the more familiar all out dance sessions on Friday and Sunday nights was more my cup of tea. Thanks to OKA, Deya Dova and Future Sound of Yoga, the transformed school hall was alive with a packed house moving like perfect swell hitting a reef break. Perhaps high on chai tea, or whatever, undisputedly the dance floor was absolutely pumping yet no one was inebriated.

The Spirit Festival, as participated by a regular Byron local like myself, was one of the best festivals I have experienced in my life. I met so many genuinely gorgeous people, experienced new things, expanded my perceptions and explored my conscious being.

I also spoke with the festival organizers and they indicated it was a successful first year, on many levels. They were exceptionally pleased that they could offer several volunteer performers, part of proceeds that were raised from high ticket sales after all.

The Spirit Festival was a positive result for more than just the yoga community it perceived to target. It offered an abundance of joy and experience to the broader community for all walks of life who bought a ticket, the teachers and performers, the organizers and the town of  Mullumbimby itself…

Namaste!

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Chad is a keen surfer and skater and a good guy all the way. And open minded enough to open up to the Spirit Festival. Chad is also an Australian writer and the founder of Active Kids Books. He draws inspiration from his interesting and varied life as a sponsored snowboarder, footballer, fitness instructor, business owner, PDHPE teacher and father. His books aim to challenge the lack of sports related picture books for children. Currently available: Skate Session and Surf Safari. Check out the website and video on the front page for more info.

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Why you could fall in love with the Byron Bay bubble

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Stretch and surf: that which epitomises Byron Bay

Although I arrived into Ballina-Byron airport to late January sunshine, I spent the next three days a prisoner indoors, rain refusing to run out. My early impressions of Byron were therefore not great.

We live in a rainforest area’, said my good friend Sariya, ‘it rains a lot here’. And over the next weeks, her words rang true. Hot, humid days with a piercing sun and big, blue skies were interspersed with grey days of torrential downpour. It took a while to acclimatise to the heat, the spores or whatever in the air made me feel congested much of the time and I found sleeping difficult, tossing and turning, uncomfortable.

So when was I going to fall for this place? It wasn’t love at first sight (mostly because I couldn’t see a damn thing through the heavy blanket of rain). But things got better. I discovered many of the things that draw in the crowds to this small surf town.

Among other things, Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia is:

Beachy. Byron life revolves around the beaches and the surf, although surprisingly, a lot of locals don’t actually surf. There are some strong rips and some seriously dangerous areas along this stretch of coastline where swimming is not recommended, but places like The Pass are ever popular spots for people learning to surf (the first day that I went out it wasn’t so great and I smashed up my friend’s board. Not a good moment). Groups gather on the beach in matching tops, practise their pop-ups on the sand before taking to the water. Families hang out in the shade of the trees that fringe the beach and hot, young things wander by giving each other the eye. Out by Main Beach, evenings offer up regular dusk drumming sessions and the opportunity to mix, mingle and party as the hillside fills with small groups of travellers, language students, locals and musicians in the making.

Randomly eventful. Whilst I was in Byron, the place was winding down from the busy summer holiday season but there was still plenty going on including Buddhist teaching workshops, the Sex & Consciousness Conference with its Masked Lovers Ball, Tribal Fusion Belly Dancing performances, and the yoga-focused Spirit Festival. March and April promised even more with popular events such as Bluesfest and Byron Bay International Film Festival.

Aesthetic and beautiful. I sat down for a few minutes at the Sunday Byron Market with a friend whilst her kids played on a bouncy castle slide, and I did some serious people watching. I was a bit intimidated. ‘Those people’, said a local guy when I aired my insecurities, ‘are probably holiday makers and they’re in happy, confident holiday mode, far away from their usual worries’. People were slender, toned, and beautifully and stylishly clothed. They walked tall, perfect posture. Market asides, there just seemed to be so much cool and confidence in Byron, and in my experience that’s the locals and tourists alike. Maybe more so the locals, actually.

Postive-energied. I couldn’t help but feel some of that magical energy that is regularly commented on. Warm people, some pretty out-there experiences, lots of stuff about intuition and energy and vibes. And lots of genuine smiles and hellos from strangers (or friends you have yet to meet, if you subscribe to that philosophy!). People come here for all that, for the way-out opportunities, for the laid-back lifestyle and of course, for the surf (just don’t come thinking you’ll easily score a job). And some people come to find themselves and their Zen and to feed off the energy of this place.

Independently minded. This is evident by the many individual clothing, gift, craft and jewellery shops that line the main streets, the quirky coffee bars and book shops and restaurants. Whilst a few big brands have tried to muscle in, Byron has managed to maintain a feeling of individuality.

Healing and spiritual. In Byron, there are many ways to retune one’s mind, body and soul, from the expected hypnotherapy, massage, tarot, zumba, and of course every type of yoga imaginable (Byron is yoga central) right through to the more curious soul wound healing, kinesiology, iridology, happiness coaching and kahuna bodywork. There is even support for men who want ‘Wild Man’ to help guide them to live ‘a masculine life of integrity, authenticity and freedom’. I almost wish that I was a guy, just so I could try it out.

Healthy and active. The climate and the setting make for some great time spent outdoors doing active stuff. I swam and surfed in a warm sea and shared smiles with other joggers out on dusk runs. I often cycled into town from where I was staying in Suffolk Park along sun speckled bike tracks and through the Arakwal National Park. On my way I would pass by hoards of kids skateboarding to school and join a stream of cycling commuters as I got closer to Byron itself. There does seem to be a complete contrast between the full on healthy, non-drinking, non-smoking puritans and the party pleasure-seekers with their alcohol, drug fuelled fun. Because I don’t totally subscribe to either scene, I did at times feel a bit a bit out of the loop and looked down on. Don’t give me a label. I’ll have a bit of it all, thank you. Let me and others enjoy the healthy lifestyle options available in Byron without being judged on the odd indulgence.

Hedonistic. Alongside the healthy are the hedonists: predominantly the backpacker scene of party people. Byron may be a place of clear complexions and body awareness but it is also the place for some messy, messy nights. Whilst there are places in town to cater for all sorts of tastes, ages and people, the party crowd in the main spots is on the whole pretty young, think late teens early twenties. And they want to indulge: in alcohol, in each other, in the heady atmosphere. But there is more to Byron nightlife too, including a whole range of musicians who busk their hearts out and street performers who keep the post-pub crowds entertained (although you won’t see fire poi or juggling as flames were supposedly banned from Byron’s streets a good few years back).

Coffee loving. I hung out in comfy, cosy coffee shops making use of free WiFi. When I was looking for work, one of the main questions was ‘Can you make coffee?’ Of course I can make coffee, I thought, but until I said it with some conviction, I didn’t even get a look-in. As it turns out,  Byronians love their coffee (well, Australians in general love their coffee, I think it’s fair to say) . I met a good few self-proclaimed coffee connoisseurs. Bad coffee could ruin a business. I got it. And I did have some great coffees in friendly, smiley places such as Why Not?, one of many coffee bars scattered around the town. 

Social and familiar. Compared to other places that I’ve been based, making friends in Byron was a fairly easy process, providing you made some effort. And I met people who were keen to get out and do stuff, and up for chats and beers and music and dancing. Nearly everyone that I met, local or otherwise, were welcoming, happy to share their space. And with Byron being quite small, it wasn’t long before I was bumping into people I knew, hellos on the street, that sort of thing. Felt good.  Note: Don’t park your van outside someone’s house and leave rubbish and beer bottles kicking around. You’ll make friends with no-one but the police who are doing a clampdown on ‘vanpackers’.

In short, Byron has a lot going on. ‘It’s its own little bubble’, said a local, ‘It’s not really representative of the rest of Australia’. Some things are truly bizarre, other stuff more conventional. The beauty is that there is something for every taste. And more than enough energy kicking around to soothe any lost souls.

Residents may bemoan the changes and increasing commercialisation that has taken place in the past ten years, but Byron Bay does still hold considerable charm. It’s still a bit of a hippy town, even if Subway and Sportsgirl have made an appearance. It’s small enough to be cosy, but there’s enough going on to keep it vibrant. I’ll be back before too long.

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