2017 Travel Log – Return to Amchara. Day One. The Journey

And so it begins again…

Last September I blogged my epic adventure in all things bowel-and-soul-cleansing related on my trip to the luxurious detox retreat of Amchara on the beautiful Maltese island of Gozo. Those of you who followed my wheatgrass odyssey will remember how life changing it was for me and how I promised myself I would come back as soon as possible bringing my family with me.

My son, Jude, nearly 19, decided he had much better things to do with his time and teenage body than juice-fast for a week whilst having his anus hosed out by a complete stranger (weird child!) but my partner, André, was simply given no choice in the matter. I started saving for the trip from the day I came back to England and a few weeks ago I booked us both in and confirmed the flights. Today is the day…

To be fair, André has been completely supportive of the changes I made on my return from Gozo, probably because like everyone else he could see that I came back so much happier, healthier, more confident and grounded and like any sane human he wants a piece of that. He’s tolerated the fact I completely gave up meat (I only really ate chicken anyway, having a ‘nothing with nipples’ rule about what I put in my stomach). But he was more surprised that I could no longer face the idea of eating shellfish, a former favourite of ours, turned my nose up at most sweet things for the bulk of this year (more on that later) and wouldn’t drink anything much other than water, coconut water and herbal tea. Various middle class hippy nonsense, from quinoa to coconut oil, has made its way into our diet as staple food these days, and old die hards such as white potatoes, bread and pasta are almost entirely absent. We even took up yoga for a bit, before my dodgy hip (source still a bit of a mystery) put pay to any and all attempts at regular exercise.

What I missed most about the Amchara feeling I came back with was the lovely peace and silence in my head that it gave me. Not being allowed to say mean things to and about yourself for a week, in a lovely supportive atmosphere, sent me home with a delicious sense of calm without the constant negative banter of self-loathing in my head that I’ve pretty much had on full volume all my life. However, over the months the negative voices crept back in. If I’m honest, I know exactly how that happened. It happened through listening to my girl friends be mean to themselves, put themselves down about their weight, their skin, their hair, their age. That shit is catching. And before too long the old meany in my head was back to telling myself I wasn’t good enough. Not good enough to be pretty any more, not good enough to be lovable or desirable. That inner voice is a right bitch. She’s such a bitch to me that I’m actually going to give her a bitchy name. Let’s call her Letitia. Letitia is a bitch. But Letitia’s voice can drown out any positive voices even with a whisper. Letitia hates me and all my clothes and especially my hair. Letitia is the reason that an invitation to a party or other social event is fraught with anxiety beforehand that is almost entirely unnecessary.

What I didn’t expect is for Letitia’s disease of self-hatred to be contagious to boys and during this year, for the first time really, I started to hear Andre’s inner bastard come to the surface too. He’s acquired a tiny little belly for the first time this year. It’s actually darn cute. When he’s feeling kind to himself he calls it his Bakery Possum Belly (you NEED to see the bakery possum photo if you don’t know what this refers to). When his inner bastard is on heat he calls himself far worse. And that makes me sad that he can’t see how beautiful he is through my eyes. And I wonder if I’ve made him feel sad with my own self-hating comments all these years too? Why do we humans do it to ourselves? Anyway, as my inner bitch has a name, Andre deserves one too. His is called Dennis. Letitia and Dennis – a right pair of nasty little shits. You can just imagine them conspiratorially whispering about you now, can’t you? They are probably laughing at your shoes, or your teeth or your hairline. Which is completely hypocritical because Dennis lives inside a man who is as bald as an egg and Patricia lives inside a woman who wears espadrilles.

So…the hope is that the healing nature of this beautiful retreat will diminish the power of the bitchy twins and send us home with our heads held high. Any weightloss/detox/physical rebooting is in many ways secondary to this. Nothing is more precious than self-esteem and self-respect and if I could bottle that to bring home with me and hand out to my friends and clients I would make a fortune (and make a lot of people happy).

Having avidly read my daily travel blog last year, André has a good idea of what he’s in for over the next week. There are some parts he’s looking forward to less than others. It seems strange that a man who has jumped out of an aeroplane (not today’s one), cuddled a live lion and survived my cooking the last six years could be quite so scared of an enema…but he is. I told him it’s a good thing. And while they are up there they might even flush out the stick that’s up his arse.   (He lets me get away with that joke because it’s so good).

Back on the plane, our takeoff has been delayed. Someone genuinely left a hatch open on the toilet emptying tank and they have to get them to come back to sort it out so we don’t strew excrement across Kent on takeoff.

Before we boarded we saw a smart young pilot going through our departure gate and walking the wrong way, with stewardesses shouting after him ‘right, not left.’  We laughed at the time that we hoped that wasn’t our pilot as we didn’t fancy his chances navigating Europe if he couldn’t turn the right way out of the airport doors. As we boarded the plane at the front I peered into the window of the cockpit to see our pilots. The dozy pilot was in there grinning like a kid who had just got the latest X Box for Christmas from beneath his rather brand new looking pilot’s cap. It didn’t help that he looked about 15 years old. I wondered if we had in fact come to the airport on ‘take your son/daughter to work day’.

His takeoff was as clumsy and uncomfortable as a teenager’s first attempts at foreplay. He veered all over the runway in a way that made me imagine him with crazy eyes and maniacal laughter, gripping the plane version of the steering wheel (steery stick thing?) and making loud vroom noises with his mouth as he played with our lives. Once airborne he seemed unable to get it up straight and smooth for quite some time, kind of ‘kangarooing’ ominously through the sky in the same way that I use a sewing machine (very poor control according to the school report my school needlework teacher gave me, in case you’re wondering). All previous smugness at me remaining a cool, calm, sophisticated looking flier went out the window. I gripped Andre with my left hand and had to consciously try not to grab the complete stranger sitting to the right of me with my other hand. I tried to focus on my breathing and between the panting, puffing and terrified moans ended up sounding like I was giving birth. I am now trying to avoid eye contact with the guy to my right, who was peacefully trying to read a Greek novel before I enlisted him as my unwitting second birthing partner.

01_Leaving England

Up above the clouds it thankfully feels like Captain NewPubes has got the hang of his joystick. I suspect his co-pilot might have stepped in to show him how to hold it gently and firmly and not waggle it around till we get over the Alps when it will be more fun to scare the shit out of the nervous flyers again. I want to go up to the front and shout through the door ‘It’s not fucking Pokemon Go you know! It’s a plane full of people with lives and families!’  I am not looking forward to landing. Well I am and I’m not. I look forward to being landed (safely) but I do not look forward to being practice for a Captain who has fewer whiskers on his chin than I do.

André, bless him, has fallen asleep. This was my plan too before my adrenal gland and clenched anus decided that between them THEY were actually in charge of magically keeping the plane in the air. Now I dare not relax either one in case I inadvertently kill everyone on the plane by not concentrating hard and invoking stomach muscles that haven’t been used since I did pilates 4 years ago.

An hour into flight we have already got bored and started eating our lunch.

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Healthy sensible lunch deliciousness

As usual we bought a nice carry on meal to avoid filthsome overpriced plane food. It consisted of Pret a Manger salady stuff, some fresh fruit, sparkling water and a bag of coconut chips that weirdly inflated up like it was about to explode, leading to me to worry that the cabin was depressurising or that my coconut chips were indeed going to go BANG at some point, causing the plane passengers to think the plane was under attack whilst simultaneously mysteriously covering them in fragments of healthy overpriced snacks.

So…mostly good stuff to eat but I’m not gonna lie, we did have cheesy croissants for breakfast. André said he felt a bit guilty because yesterday I had finally got around to filling in the health questionnaire for Amchara that was meant to be filled in weeks ago and had been sent in receipt a ‘how to prepare for your detox’ instruction email. Too late did I read we were supposed to have prepared our body with a dairy free, sugar free, alcohol and caffeine free week of near purity so the juice fasting process didn’t come as too much of a shock to the system. However, hearing the day before we were going that we should abstain from treats had the opposite effect on our collective psyche with André trying to polish off the remaining beers in the house and me opting for cheese toasties and ice cream. But really…what do they expect? It’s like telling a sailor off to sea for 8 months that he should abstain from hanging out with those friendly ladies down at the docks.  And besides…I don’t feel guilty about the croissant. Croissants are French and all things French are by their nature cool, sophisticated and slimming. This is why they can eat white bread, wheels of Brie, pain au chocolat and vats of red wine every day without gaining a pound.

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Cheesy, fatty, salty, processed deliciousness. Take a good look at this, it’s the last cheese you’ll see in this blog for a long time.

 

Finally I nodded off about half an hour before landing. Which was a testament to how tired I am, certainly not how relaxed I am. And despite dreading Captain Dougie Howser’s (possibly) first attempt at landing this plane, he did better on re-entry than he did on takeoff. We survived, I was able to finally unclench my buttocks for the first time in over two hours, the coconut chips didn’t cause a bomb scare, and all the other things I’d been worrying about didn’t happen either. As usual.

03_Arriving in Malta

Collecting our hire car we decided to pay the exorbitant Vodafone roaming charge to use Google Maps to navigate us to the ferry port the other side of the island. Despite a few missed turns on hairpin bends, we made it across land OK. We’d read a few online warnings about Maltese drivers. The best one describing the use of roundabouts in Malta as being rather…’free of rules’, with people sometimes reversing round them, or even double parking on them to have a chat. We were warned to expect the unexpected at every single junction, to not expect indication or lack of it to bear any relation to the direction a car might move, and to not waste energy getting angry about any of this. It was good advice, and before too long we found ourselves heading nose to nose with a big truck in a narrow lane who was simultaneously beckoning us to come forward and past him whilst also accelerating towards us at speed leaving no space to move to. There were many moments where I just shut my eyes and prayed for survival. André somehow got us to the ferry port in one piece, with fairly minimal swearing compared to usual, which I was impressed by and we came to a stop in the queue for the ferry behind a large open-backed truck carrying the world’s loudest sound system, bedecked with large red flags covered in writing we didn’t understand, and a gaggle of marauding dancing young people who seemed very happy indeed.

In fact, throughout the island during our trip from the airport, we had seen (and heard) quite a few similar trucks of happy, incredibly loud young people. We wondered if it was the tail end of the music festival, or if they were to do with something political. But as they ramped their sound system louder and louder to the point where we (now trapped directly next to them in the ferry queue with no escape for 40 minutes) could actually feel our teeth vibrate in our skulls from the noise. I’m not sure I would have minded, but their choice in music veered between something that sounded like a murderous children’s party classic (imagine the Maltese equivalent of ‘The Hokey Cokey’ at 180 decibels), a song that sounded like a rallying call for the Hitler Youth, and worst of all, the kind of thumping club tune of no melodic merit whatsoever that only high young people with no life experience of real music (i.e. like people who lived through the 60s, 70s and 80s have).

We started to feel our patience waning very rapidly when we realised that these three ‘songs’ (I use that description loosely) were the only tracks they owned and were being played on repeat, the only variant being the volume which they kept tweaking increasingly louder until I was ready to stuff anything (Tampons! Dry crusty bread!) in my ears to protect them. What were these NOISY people doing coming to lovely quiet serene Gozo? It just didn’t compute. I considered…just for a moment..pushing them off the ferry. But a swift Whatsapp exchange with my sister, Nay, who lives on the island, explained that the young people of Malta are jubilant right now because their equivalent of the Labour Party has just won the election here. Knowing that, I instantly forgave them their terrible taste in music and desire to inflict tinnitus on everyone else. Their red flag waving immediately reminded me of the happier scenes in the musical ‘Les Miserable’ when a bunch of young people get all enthusiastic about changing the politics of the land (we’ll ignore the part where they also get slaughtered by soldiers later in the story).

Landing on Gozo, I felt a part of my heart restored. The noise of Malta and the politics of both Malta and England, were left behind us and it was like the whole place just oozed the wonderful sunny calm I had missed and remembered so well. We liaised with Nay and her boyfriend, George, a natural born Gozotan who had come to meet us in their truck and then took a much more relaxed pootling drive to the harbour town of Xlendi where I must admit we were very bad indeed.

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Beautiful Xlendi Harbour

Like two condemned men on death row we have been eating ALL the things, ordering treats aplenty at a lovely open air restaurant overlooking the beautiful sea, with the boats bobbing about. We ordered a massive supper of fresh fish (me) and pork something or other (Andre) followed by the most gobsmackingly good ice-cream. All downed with an Apertol Spritz. My naughty drink of choice since our trip to Venice in February.

Tomorrow we will be good. Tomorrow the yoga/fasting/being lovely starts in earnest. Tonight we are two very bad things. Bakery Possum and Mrs Baker Possum. It was utterly worth it. Sorry/Not sorry. Actually, really NOT sorry.

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One comment

  1. […] My tan has faded, I’m not drinking as much water as I should, I’m a bit worn out from work and late nights, but the spirit of my trip lives onwards in me. I have even given up meat completely, strangely have gone off seafood, and found out how truly delicious vegetables are…even the ugly ones. I watched the guys from BBC’s ‘DIY SOS’ go through a similar experience in Thailand on the show ‘The Retreat’ this month which had me in tears and laughter throughout. And I miss Gozo, Amchara and my sister so much it hurts. I measure the time lapsed since I left them by the new toenail regrowth sprouting through without the sparkly nail polish on that my sister put on me the last night we were together. I’ve started saving for my next trip back. This time I’m taking André with me. […]

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