Why We Should All Get Robbed At Least Once In Our Lives

24 hours to squeeze as much into a quick Barcelona stopover as possible. We weren’t really expecting to spend most of it chasing criminals and filing a police report but that’s exactly what went down. That’s right, over 30 years travel experience between us, and Benny and I still managed to get robbed by a couple of punk street kids. It was the next day though when we were enjoying a couple of cold ones together, recalling our accounts of the night when we both agreed it was actually pretty fun. The more we chatted about the times we’d been robbed (my 8 times grossly overshadowed by Benny’s 14) the more we agreed there was actually a whole lot to be gained from the experience.  Maybe not necessary for it to happen as regularly as Benny and I but we agreed, having it happen to you at least once in your life might actually be a good thing… Read on if you want to hear how the robbery went down.

Barcelona Street Kids

 We were on our way to bar number 5 (it could’ve been 6… or 7) when we stopped on the corner of a street in the Ciutat Vella District to check Google maps. Even though Benny had mentioned earlier that this wasn’t the friendliest part of Barcelona for tourists, the Cervezas, Vermouths, and Gin cocktails had worked their magic and our inhibitions and street smarts were somewhat on vacation for the next 12 hours or so.

 

And so begins lesson #1 in why we should all get robbed at least once:

Complacency is a traveller’s biggest enemy, not the shady character walking towards you on the street. I’m not saying we all need to be on edge the entire time we’re walking the streets but there’s things you should do when you’re out and about that may prevent you from getting in trouble. Like for example, if I’m walking home alone from a night out and I see someone coming the other way who looks big enough to do some damage (we’re not talking that big either) then I cross the road and walk on the other side and I do this regardless whether I’m in Burleigh, Berlin or Barcelona. To me the definition of complacency is not considering these type of things when you start to get comfortable in your environment. Granted the drinks were playing a big part in the complacency the night we got robbed but that’s a lesson in itself.

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Which brings us to lesson #2 If you’re going to get drunk and walk the streets be prepared to find yourself in a sticky situation because you’ve got a big ol’ target painted on you. You’re a target for thieves, a target for aggressive horny lady-boys and a target for people just looking for trouble. Sometimes the police can be  your biggest trouble, like the ones who fined Benny and I for drinking in public on the way home the same night we were were robbed, or the ones  who held a gun to my head in Santa Marta, or maybe the ones who tried to rob me in on a beach in Mexico. I’ll be honest, most times I’ve been robbed I’ve been drinking. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop drinking but does mean I’ll own my consequences if I continue to find myself in these situations when out on the beers.


So back to the robbery and those mischievous little street kids. Yep there were two of them. Confidence in numbers I think as the act they pulled was pretty ballsy to say the least. I felt a figure come into that space  where thousands of years of evolution has told the hairs on my neck to stand up, the blood from stomach to rush to the muscles in my limbs and my heart to start pumping a little faster. Welcome to your stress zone, fight or flight, where anything could happen in the next couple of seconds; a gun to the head maybe, a fist to the face, or it could just be a friendly tap on the shoulder to tell you that you just dropped 5 euros from your pocket.  In mine and Benny’s case it was a swipe of the phone from the hand and the inevitable chain of events to follow.

 

And they’re off and racing. I got the jump on Benny as he was more the horse that jumps too early from the gates and pushes itself straight in the metal barrier before it’s even opened. Benny claims he lost his footing but I think it’s more the case that his brains were already galloping but the vermouth cocktails had delayed the message to his legs, either way I was in a steady second place, El Bastardito Rapido (The Quick Little Bastard) had a good lead headed down the first straight, Benny was in third place still on his knees at this stage and the fourth runner was yet to even make it to the barriers but had plans for a late surge.

 

Lesson #3 embracing stress

Stress is such a dirty word these days. Humans spend so much time in states of stress that we fear it, avoid it, and spend billions of dollars a year on a wellness industry designed to recover from it. What if I told you that stress is actually a  good thing and if delivered in small amounts over time can actually be a lot of fun and should be embraced.

Some would argue that the best thing to do when faced with our situation would’ve been to let the little buggers run off into the night and let the  insurance look after it from here. In fact this is the advice I give fellow travellers all the time but my body had other plans and before I knew it I was off in hot pursuit of the quickly disappearing mobile phone.

 

Even though I was a little tipsy I still clearly remember the thoughts that went through my head:

1.     This guy is young and skinny and doesn’t present too much of an immediate threat

2.     I’ve got Benny with me and he’s clearly the easier target and I’m better a patching knife wounds so hopefully he’s attacked first. Sorry Benny.

3.     There were a few people around and they weren’t all bad guys so surely one will jump in on Team Robbed rather than Team Bastardito Rapido

4.     My legs were kinda just moving in that direction and I didn’t want to waste this little adrenaline rush

 

Ok, back to the race. I mentioned a late starter. With Benny’s stumble at the start it gave  Rapido’s little friend the chance to get into third place, about 1 length off me. I feel like this wasn’t his first rodeo and he was quite crafty in dealing with blokes like us who actually give chase when robbed. The good news for Benny was that he was in a perfect position to have the next scene forever embedded in his memories. Like a lion waiting for his baby elephant to become vulnerable and tire, the kid waited until he had me in perfect gait, side by side and sat next to me until the timing was just right. There’re already lots of questions being raise; how’d he match your incredible speed Rusty? Why didn’t Benny call out to you? Why didn’t you take him out before he took you out. Well the first question still baffles me. Benny didn’t call out because he was either  A, too breathless from his first 50 metre sprint in  10 years or B, he knew what was about to happen and couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to stand back and watch the spectacle unfold. The reason I didn’t take the kid out was because as unrealistic as it may be, I actually thought Benny had caught me and was overtaking me. I know, ridiculous right.

 

So with impeccable timing, as one foot glided past the other, the accomplice nudged me in the side of the head, destroying my perfect gait and sending me flying into a metal roller door followed by what can only be described as a superbly crafted commando roll down the road. If Benny had any spare air in his lungs I’m sure he would’ve let out one of his famous laughs with a “Wizard move street-kid” thrown in for good measure as he hurdled over the top of me, continuing the race in what had now unfairly turned into a steeple chase.  

 

Barcelona at night

With that comes lesson #4 in getting robbed

Keep yourself conditioned because you never know when you’ll end up in a real life Jason Bourne film and a well executed bounce off a roller door followed by a neatly tucked commando roll may save you from severe injury. I always wondered how Bourne jumped out of 2 story buildings and continued to beat the living shit out of the bad guy when he gets to his feet. Plenty of Yoga and stretching, lots of time spent surfing and a bit of high intensity conditioning thrown in the mix means  I’ve got the confidence that my body will hold up ok when battered unexpectedly from a 60kg 17 year old Spanish “Thug”.

 

At this stage I could’ve given up but I felt like while I’d been beaten physically in the exchange thus far, my years of travel, street smarts and having watched entire Jason Bourne movie set, had taught me the good guys are supposed to win and the baddies always loop back around. It had nothing to do with not really wanting to follow the three of them into a labyrinth of dark alleys and I had no idea what would be waiting for me around the corner. Benny wasn’t as concerned and took the first bend of the race off into the dark narrow streets.

I on the other hand, are better suited to the straights as my agility in and out of laneways, I’m sorry to say it, can’t match that of the professional juvenile criminals we were chasing. With some quick trigonometry and Pythagoras’s theory I decided it was best to just keep jogging in a straight line and that they’d eventually make a loop back around to find their next victim. Low and behold, about 3 or 4 mins later, tweedledee and tweedledum come power walking at the end of my street, like Kel and Kim, both dressed in tracksuits so it was even more appropriate. There was no blood on their hands so I just assumed Benny hadn’t been stabbed and had just given up on the chase (now on his way to the bar to start telling stories of my vertical trampolining off the roller door). I yelled out to the pair in my best  Australian accent “Oi Fuckers! Oh yeah, you blokes are fucked now. I’ve got fresh legs”. I thought I’d throw a little drama into it  just in case anyone was actually paying attention. “Holt thieves” just wasn’t exciting enough for me. In hindsight I now realise they would’ve had no idea  what I was screaming at them as I ran down the street chasing them like a crazy gringo. It still felt pretty good running down the street telling them I was getting closer and I could see their legs slowing up.

 

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I’m pretty sure they could tell I was actually getting closer to both of them and this is when I was fooled. One started to fall behind the other and I thought this was a perfect opportunity to take down at least one the fuckers. Little did I know that the reason there were two of them was not because the other one was just up for midnight jog, he was there as decoy, and it worked a treat. So like a bear to a  honey pot I took the bait. I caught the slower of the two and confronted him. Not sure if he was carrying a knife or anything that could do a bit of damage, I kept a bit of distance and started talking to him relatively calmly. “Just give me the fucking phone you puta” “dame el telefono you little prick” I kept mixing up my Spanish and English to keep him on his toes. He actually looked pretty scared and just kept saying “yo no tenerlo” (I don’t have it). “Mi amigo ha lo” (my friend has it). “solo fui corriendo”( I was just running)… yeah at midnight, in the same direction as Bastardito Rapido

 

By this stage we’d drawn a bit of a crowd and the next thing I heard was people yelling, “policia, policia”. Perfect recruitments for Team Rusty and Benny, or so I thought. Long story short the police patted the kid down and there was no phone. They explained to me that without a phone there was nothing they could do and asked if I was 100% certain it was him that took it, which I wasn’t.

 

This next bit’s gold. I was so confused as to whether it was even him in the first place that I was kind of starting to feel sorry for this kid I had cornered in the street and was now accusing of stealing my mate’s phone. And then it happened, I stuck out my hand and  offered to shake  hands as some kind of truce. Hah, what the fuck was I thinking. The police were confused as hell. The kid was confused as as hell. I  shook his hand and went on my way and now  I was confused as hell as to why I just shook the hand of the criminal who pushed me into a roller door and led me and Benny on a foot race into one of the most dangerous parts of central Barcelona. I think part of me was impressed at the fact that the decoy move had worked a so well, part of me saw some desperation in his face when the police came and part of me just wanted to get on with life and track down Benny for recovery beers and a proper warm down from our unplanned 2km sprint.

 

Lesson #5 when facing your robber maybe a handshake’s not the best way to leave things but it’s better than a gun to your head or knife to the belly.

 

Firstly, I understand that some people may read this and have had a much different outcome in their own story so I want to say I mean no disrespect to these people. I’m one of the lucky ones though and there has been a lot of life long lessons learned from the experience.

 

We spend our lives doing everything we can to mitigate risk and even attempt to eliminate risk. Education departments in Australia do this by banning all activities associated with perceived risk. Councils do it by putting up safety barriers so people don’t do stupid shit and fall off cliffs. Parents do this by wrapping their little darlings up in cotton wool and blaming everyone except their children when they make mistakes. How do we learn from risky or confronting situations if someone’s always removing them from our lives? How do we expect people to accept responsibility for their actions if they’ve been told their whole lives it’s because of someone else that they’re uncomfortable, challenged, or failing at their task?

 

Our human make-up it is designed to deal with stress, we have it wired into our genome but how do we ever expect our bodies and instinct to tap into this wiring if we’re never training it? If we’re never allowed to walk close to the edge, if we’re never pushed over by someone, if we don’t understand why we made the mistake and why being responsible for it is ok and actually a good thing. This is not a justification for all the stupid shit I’ve done and in fact there are couple of things I’d have done differently looking back but that’s the point. I’d rather not do something again because I found out through experience that there’s a better way than have someone tell me everything and experience nothing.

 

I was robbed and I was lucky enough to not get seriously injured but in that encounter I was reminded not to become too complacent in dodgy parts of town, that stress can make the body do some pretty incredible things, that criminals, regardless how young, can outsmart someone who considers themselves pretty up to speed in the act of being robbed, that getting drunk and walking the streets makes you an easy target (I feel I’ve learnt this one before but nothing like a friendly little reminder), and finally, that it’s weird if you shake your robber’s hand.

Random Acts of Kindness; Sally Marshall

Sally Marshall. She’s 40-something, doesn’t work, but is EXTREMELY busy.

She looks great in her Lululemon leggings while she sips skinny soy lattes after the kid drop-off at school, before heading off to the 10am yoga class.

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A mate and I were tasked with rolling out a little market research for a company we were working for and this was the demographic we were given (or chose, I can’t actually remember). We thought rather than defaulting to the typical, sometimes derogatory, names given to these ladies - yummy mummies, Volvo driving soccer mums, MILFs; we’d give her a real name, and so Sally Marshall was born.

 

So what on earth has this got to do with random acts of kindness I hear you ask? Well, given my job lands me in cafes all over Australia as my remote office for the day, it’s no surprise that my encounters with Sally are fairly regular. The interactions are often nothing more than a moment of sonder, as she stands in front of me and orders her $17 smashed avo with gluten-free toast, however, on one occasion it was much more than that and it was then, that ‘Sally’ really came to life.

I’d chosen one of my favourite cafes on Darby Street in Newcastle and picked a quiet table next to the power point to load the laptop up on juice before my next presentation. I was tucked away in the corner, headphones in, working away on emails, when every remote worker’s nightmare started to unfold in front of me. 

 

An onslaught of the Marshall clan had just entered the café and of course they’d chosen the table directly next to me to sit and catch up on life. Now when I say “Marshall Clan” obviously I’m talking about Sally’s daughter, Sophia (day off from University today) who had decided to join mum for some quality girl time; and Sandra Marshall, Sally’s mum, crochet equipment on the standby, needles poking out of the top of her Jimmy Choo handbag.

 

The conversation was in full swing at the Marshall Jamboree. Sophia was teaching Grandma Sandra how to post happy birthday on Beryl’s wall without updating it on her own status; Sally had just read something from an Instagram influencer about how hanging upside down in the shower and washing your hair with yak milk while eating Himalayan rock moss was great for lifting your libido; and me, well, I was taking notes, possibly a little inaccurately.

 

As more Sallys and Sandras entered the café they’d politely approach my table, ask if they could use a chair, then get stuck into whatever the hot topic was at that stage. Within 30 minutes there must have been 8 of them all squished in around the 4-seater table, raw kale and quinoa salads stacked on top of each other as the ladies maneuvered their way around the toast and each other’s elbows like dainty, lycra-clad contortionists.

 

Realising the distraction, the group must have been causing to my work, Sally leaned over and apologised for the noise they were causing and explained that it’d been a while since they’d all been together in the same room. I politely brushed it off with a “don’t be silly” wave of the arm and a friendly smile, then popped my earphones back in and continued trying to work through the excited laughter from the group, cackling at the news of Sally’s personal trainer unknowingly letting one of his balls slip out of his shorts as he crouched over her spotting her form on the swiss ball chest press this morning.

 

Surprisingly, after the initial dread that ensued with the arrival of the group it actually wasn’t that bad working next to them, perhaps even entertaining at times. In fact, aside from when Sandra Marshall accidentally Moon Landed me (when your arse touches another person’s arse) when she sat back down after her third toilet break, I barely noticed them. It was actually a very pleasant morning and over the three hours I was there I was able to get loads of work done; tipped in four coffees, knocked off some delicious scrambled eggs with all the trimmings and racked up a pretty hefty bill, probably around the mark of $45. I even managed to outstay the Marshalls as they’d all progressively said their goodbyes and toddled off to their various appointments at the organic farmer’s market, volunteers day at the animal shelter and the check-up with the Naturopath to get that rash checked out (probably from the yak’s milk).

 

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The café had fallen all but silent since the Marshalls had left and here was I, full-belly and ready to take on the rest of the day! I gathered my things and headed over to the counter where the waitress stood, grinning with a massive, almost mischievous smile on her face. My first thought was that maybe she’s into me, except that never happens, and that thought was quickly followed by a cheeky - maybe there’s something in my teeth? I asked for the bill strategically ensuring my teeth were hidden behind my lips, when to my delight the lovely grinning waitress replied, “It’s been taken care of. The lady at the table next to you said they must have been so distracting and that you were really good about it, so she wanted to pay for breakfast.”

“Huh. Seriously? 

What an awesome human being. I didn’t even get a chance to thank her.”

So there you go, Sally Marshall, you absolute sweetheart! That random act of kindness happened to me two years ago and still today, as I reflect on this story, it brings a joy and happiness with it.

A simple act of kindness that was performed without the need for a thank you, shows you that there are people in the world that are just good people, and on this day, her name was Sally Marshall.

 

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Random Acts of Kindness; Trapped Between a Turtle Rock and Hard Place

An offshore spray off in the distance, just over the sand dunes. It was kind of like putting on a pair of jeans you haven’t worn in 6 months, reaching into the pocket and discovering a $50 note. You had no idea it was there, you definitely weren’t looking for it and you already know how you’re going to spend it. I spotted what looked like a beautiful wave somewhere between Al Ashkharah and Al Hadd on the Oman Coast and I wasn’t going to let my inexperience four-wheel driving and 500 metres of sand dunes stop me from taking a closer look.

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Having already stopped three times to film a donkey, a camel and what I thought was turtle but turned out to be a rock, I was conscious of the time and wanted to get to the next spot on the surf map before the sun went down but if this spray was real and not just another “rock turtle” then a four-wheel-drive  adventure over the sand dunes was definitely worth another detour.

 

Turns out I was right and the waves were super fun, about 4 foot, breaking cleanly on a nice sandy bottom and not another human within kilometres. I surfed it for a couple of hours then decided it’d be safer to drive while there was still a little light so threw the board in the back of the Prado and headed back over the dunes towards the highway.

 

What a perfect afternoon, sun setting over the desert, the Prado effortlessly floating its way across the sand and Xavier Rudd playing on the stereo; I felt like I was in a Corona ad (a weird Middle Eastern Corona ad where alcohol is essentially illegal and instead of hot girls in bikinis it’s just donkeys and men wearing robes). Then disaster hit. That fifty dollars in my jeans pocket was great, until I realised fifty bucks is fucking useless when your top of the range four-wheel drive can’t even drive itself out of some sand and now I’m trapped halfway between the beach and the highway, tyres only sinking deeper as I try desperately to drive my way out because surely the more you accelerate the better it’ll make the situation.

 

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I’m fucked now. I hadn’t told anyone where I was going other than on a surf trip from Dubai. I’ll be lucky to make the Australian news with everyone back home probably assuming I’m just locked up in Dubai, arrested for being drunk and naked in public. I was five minutes trapped and weighing up my options for setting up camp or trying to get help from the highway when a guy wearing full Arabic dress, dishdasha, head scarf and all, appears at the top of one of the dunes, like a scene out of Lawrence of Arabia. My Arabic was about as good as his english but I’m pretty sure he was saying he’d spotted my car from the highway and came to see whether I needed help. Now instead of remembering all of the amazing people I’d met in Oman to date, like the sunset tea drinking sessions I’d had with some of the friendliest Omani men ever, all I can seem to think about was 9/11, the war in Yemen and just about every other Islamophobic bullshit media report that’s been fed to me for the last 20 years. Trapped in the sand dunes, on my own and this guy who has a striking resemblance to Osama Bin Laden wants me to give him the keys to my $80,000 hire car so he can drive it out of the sand while I push. Fuck it. What have I got to lose. I mean besides my dignity when I explain to the Omani policeman that I gave the nice man my keys then pushed him free so he could drive off into the sunset.

 

I handed my new robed friend the keys and he jumps in and starts manoeuvring the Prado, forward then reverse, forward then reverse, sand spraying 10 metres into the air. As I pushed from the side I could feel the car start gain traction and breathed a little sigh of relief as it slowly crept further and further forward. Within seconds though relief turned to panic as I gestured for the guy to stop so we could change places and instead of stopping his eyes lit up and his foot hit the floor, accelerating as fast as he could. By this stage I was clinging to the driver’s side window in what I can only imagine was an instinctive reaction to watching the entire Bourne series at least 3 times. Unlike Bourne though, instead of ripping the assailant from the vehicle and taking the steering wheel in one clean swoop, I screamed at the guy, “what the fuck are you doing?” as I was flung from the side step into the dunes where I sat and watched the car being driven off through the dunes.

 

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“Fuck, my favourite board was in there” was actually the first thought, followed by, my passport, followed by, I’ve just been robbed in an Omani desert and I’ve got no idea how the fuck I’m going to get out of here. There was no point in hanging in the desert, I needed to get to the highway to try and hitchhike to the closest town and begin the work on my acceptance speech for the Omani Police Force’s “Best Stupid Tourists” award. I could see the award ceremony announcement already. “And the award goes to… The Aussie who pushed his robber to freedom from the sand dunes- Rusty”.

 

I trudged my way across the sand feeling sorry for myself, trying to understand how after travelling the world for so long giving strangers benefit of the doubt I had finally been duped, then something amazing happened. As I reached the high point of one of the bigger dunes, there off in the distance, the Prado was parked next to the highway with my Omani rescuer standing proudly next to it, waving his arms like a crazy man. Not the kind of crazy man I’ve been told to expect of anyone wearing a headscarf and of Middle Eastern appearance, the kind who blow themselves up or fly planes into buildings. This guy was the kind of man crazy enough to walk into the sand dunes to check on a complete stranger to see if they needed help. Because the reality is that the majority of people from these parts of the world are like the latter, capable of spreading love and kindness and helping other humans when they look like they're in need of help. We shook hands and hugged and said our goodbyes, never to see each other again. If only I had a spare fifty to hand him as a thank you for his troubles.

 

 

 

 

 

This One's For My Homies

I freaked out the first time I came back from a trip to Australia and the grinder had been moved from the left hand side to the right side of the machine; it was as though Lior had murdered my own mother (slight overreaction?). This was my café, what the fuck’s this bloke doing changing my grinder. Oh, it actually works a little better this way. Huh. Oh he’s made a sugar syrup as well and keeps it bottled in the fridge. Good thinking.

Some of Madz Creations

There’s barely a day that goes by without Lily messaging me, asking if she can try to sell a new snack or build something to improve the café and if shit needs getting done, Lil gets it done. Madi’s responsible for covering most of General Luna to Cloud 9 in beautiful art pieces and the café didn’t miss out with a new one going up every week; not to mention the beauty extending to her “to-die-for” cappuccinos and lattes.  Danni’s coffee skills have come a long way since the first time she drenched herself with hot milk after removing the steaming wand from the milk and I’ve even seen her knock out a couple of leaves and love hearts in her latte art. Lorenzo brought a huge amount of energy to the café and had the customers in sticthes regardless of which side of the counter he was on. Ines was a massive help during the festive season when I was either too hungover or drunk to work and Jase… Um… Jase has a great 6-pack. Kidding. Without Jase we would never have stayed open and our Female clientele tripled in the time he was there when they found out a Tom Cruise lookalike was making coffees.

Ines with a little spillage

Ines with a little spillage

A good friend of mine once said “train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to”. Ok so Richard Branson isn’t exactly a good friend of mine but I did see him at the opening to the Brisbane Airport Virgin Lounge so I feel like he’d add me on Facebook if he knew who I was. Everyone will have their own interpretation on this but what I’ve taken from it is to give your staff purpose and value and give them a reason to want to turn up every day and give their best efforts. Fili Beans Espresso doesn’t get the reputation for best coffee in Siargao because I’m there weighing every shot, measuring milk temperature or timing every drop. In fact the last time I turned up and started making coffees Lily asked me to leave because I was doing shit wrong. We got our reputation because over the last six months we’ve had a bunch of absolute legends each with their own ideas, skills and input that has contributed to the premium product we serve up time and time again.

Unlike my old mate Richo, I’m not running several billion dollar companies, but I feel the formula stays the same whether you’re running an airline or serving up coffees in a beach shack. There was something that made you want to have these people helping you out when you first met them so you’d be crazy not to listen to them and trial their ideas, put them in charge and entrust them with decision making. Ensure they want to stay there because you value them and without them the business would be worse off. The nature of the Island will see a lot of transient folk come and go but everyone who does has left a little piece themselves a part of the café.

The crew and Tom (Jase)

So this a massive thank you to everyone who’s stood on the other side of the counter at some stage because it’s you guys that has people in Manila talking about our coffee.  I said in one of my first blogs that I wanted to bring a coffee culture to Siargao and I honestly feel it’s happening. Just don’t touch my f***ing grinder.

How To Blow Your Money On The Best Experiential Course You’ll Ever Sign Up For

Ever thought to yourself, hey I’ve got some spare cash sitting in my bank I think I’ll take said savings and buy something I have no idea how to use then send it to a country that I know nothing about and spend my days figuring out how I’m going to survive here? Nope? Welcome to Fili Beans Espresso, the biggest self-experiment of my life.

Step one- Fall in love

Travel to a place that captures your heart then forget anything your financial planner, year 12 economics teacher or family accountant ever told you about being “sensible” with your money and make the decision to move there. If you want to go all out pick an island that takes two days to reach, is prone to typhoons, earthquakes, black outs, ferry break downs, airport closures and one of the most resistant strains of staph in the world.

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Step two- The more challenging the better

You don’t have enough money to simply live here without the inevitable dodging of debt collectors for the maxed out credit cards you’ve compiled so you’ll need to do something that covers your living expenses and a trip home to visit the family every once in a while. Best you don’t pick something you know loads about though, you want to come up with an idea that not only you know very little about but you want to make sure that the factors in step one make whatever you chose a logistical nightmare. Jobs to avoid for their ease and sensibility:

-        Anything online that you can earn you a strong currency and spend it in a much cheaper country.

-        Twisting string and selling it to travelers. Unless you’re Argentinean and wear fisherman pants and have dreadlocks, in which case this would actually be a feasible source of income

-        Use your artistic talents and play music, DJ, trade murals at hostels for accommodation and food.

-        Sell organs.

Any of these would’ve made more sense than trying to bring a coffee machine, grinder and premium grade coffee to a remote island but remember we’re not going for the sensible option. Come up with an idea that’s going to be really difficult to establish and to maintain, this way you’ll always have things to keep you occupied. Like when customs destroys 20kg of your coffee because you didn’t have a form that you didn’t know existed because the last two times you sent coffee the form didn’t exist.

Step three- Who me, prepared? Ha  

Now that you’ve decided on how you’re going to fill your days in on the remote island paradise go out and spend all your money on the necessary equipment and get rid of any of your possessions that won’t be of use where you’re moving.

From most important to least important. Stickers? Check! Facebook Page? Check! Expensive machine that will have more setting that you don’t know how to use than ones you will know how to use? Check! Training and experience? Ahh come back to me on that one.

Step four- Jump in the deep end

If you’ve made it this far there’s no turning back. Well that’s a lie actually, you can pull out at any stage but you’ve done the hard work already so why pull out now. Moving day. Take a mate, it’s more fun that way and they can carry stuff. You’ll be bringing lots of stuff so bring a strong mate. Once you arrive however long you’d planned to get things up and running, triple it, quadruple it, add a couple of months. You chose a remote location that means when you’re missing an important valve for a piece of equipment you’ve got you can’t just run to Bunnings Warehouse, no, you need to take 3 ferries, a taxi, and bus and caribou to pick up another one, this takes time.

Step five- Learn to swim

Start winging it. You’ve heard the expression fake till you make it, well you’re in the thick of it now. You’ve got your machine, you’ve got your coffee beans, you’ve made the epic two day return journey into the City to buy everything you forget to pack or your poor selection of travel buddy wasn’t strong enough to carry 4 surfboards, 30kg of coffee, all of your clothes and 20 coffee cup… useless. There’s nothing like learning on the fly, though perhaps making more than a total of 10 coffees prior to opening a cafe wouldn’t have been such a bad idea but whatever, I’m pouring love hearts in my coffees now (with the occasional phallic looking shape... accidentally)   

Step six- Find your island family

Find amazing people to help you out. Three months into this experiment I was thrown a bit of a curve ball. I got an opportunity to head back to Australia and take on a role that has me travel around the east coast and present to teenagers, encouraging them to get out of their comfort zones, travel to challenging but inspiring parts of the world and start doing things for themselves that they’re a little unsure they’ll actually have the ability to do. Sounds like a familiar story. Essentially I’m telling kids to go out start their own Fili Beans Espresso. Well not exactly but I do ask them to spend their hard earned money one of the most challenging though equally beneficial experiential learning courses they’ll ever experience at that age.  

The thing is I need to spend a fair bit of time in Australia to be able to do this; I’m just not convincing enough presenting to a thousand kids over Siargao’s 3G skype link. Luckily for me one of the islands charms is that it’s full of great people willing to jump into the cafe and lend a helping hand when I have to head back to Australia and without the support of these superstars and the guys down at Harana I would’ve had to pass up on the opportunity in Australia.

So there you have it. If you've been wondering why I've been posting so many photos from Aus or why you haven't seen me down at Fili Beans for a little while, that's the reason. The coffees are still flowing, the vibes are still awesome around the bar and the Espresso Martinis nights (now Saturday) are still a hit. The last 6 months have been an absolute adventure with so much to be gained from the experience and so much still to learn and while hindsight would have me do some things a little differently next time around, there's no way I'd want to have missed out on the roller-coaster that got me to where I am today.

*Anyone who read this and took everything as legitimate advice please disregard steps 1-5.

 

Here’s a little bonus section of things I’ve learnt moving to Siargao. Enjoy

1.      When choosing what to do on an island that parties every single night, keep in mind what time you’ll be starting in the morning. 6am starts after waking up for the 3rd night in row on the bar at Barrel Chicken is not ideal. Luckily we make great coffee to get me started.

2.      Glitter face profiles are the best, tee-bagging profiles are not.

3.      There’s a reason setting up a life in a developing world country is cheaper, ease and convenience are not the reasons.

4.      People who drink coffee are the best. I love my coffee bar chats.

5.      Buying things in a country like Australia to be served up on a remote island is not the most economic way of doing things. Luckily I get hooked up with the legends at Social Espresso and the payoff is we serve up what's fast becoming known as the best tasting coffee in the Philippines (according to our fans on TripAdvisor).

6.      Coffee brings in people from all over the world to sit and share their stories. 

7.      Sometimes fulfilling the role of Barista has you venturing into other professions; psychologist, mediator, match-maker, life coach, tour guide or travel agent just to name a few.

8.      Before you agree to take home a retarded abandoned puppy from the bar you were drinking at all night you should sleep on it first and not at the bar.

9.      Wet seasons are like German Sausages… the Wurst. Although rainy weather is good coffee weather.

10.   It’s not unusual to be sat at a table and there’re 5 different conversations going on in 5 different languages.

11.   Work Place Health and Safety… Ha, good one.

12.   If you have a mozzie bite, infected hair follicle, scratch or reef cut below your knees, 3-4 months is standard healing time, if you don’t lose the limb.

13.   If you pass out at a party 1 of 4 things will happen- you’ll wake up to an entertaining profile pic, you’ll have a lot of new male matches on tinder, you’ll be dropped in a pool, there’ll be photos circulating of close encounters with other islanders’ genitals.

14.   Optional clothing items include shoes, flipflops, undies, shirts, shorts, all at the same time. Only non-optional is a hat.

15.   Going with your gut feeling good way to make judgement calls.

16.   Living on an island with about 20 surf breaks heightens happiness exponentially

17.   Philippines has some of the most spectacular sunsets around the world. Capturing one of these while returning from a sunset surf will fill you with elation

18.   The encounters with people in these destinations is more often than not the reason for our attachment to it.

19.   Doesn’t matter where in the world I live, take away my ability to jump on a plane and travel anywhere I want at any time and I can guarantee you I won’t stay there long.

20.   Espresso Martini nights are the best. Whoever decided to mix an espresso shot with Kahlua and vodka then call it a martini even though it doesn’t resemble a martini in any way was an absolute genius.

A Day In The Life

Pouring Coffee.jpg

5:00am- This where the day normally starts. Well this is where the intention lies with beginning every day. I’ll be honest though, most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays I fail to drag my arse out of bed and instead allow last night’s poison to rein supreme causing a quick little swipe of the alarm and another 90 minutes of some much needed beauty sleep. On the remaining four mornings a week, provided there’s a little swell about, it’s time to get up, grab the board and head off for surf check at one the three breaks that can be paddled out to without a boat ride eating into my surfing time.

 

7:00am- A quick outdoor shower in the gardens of Harana and a change into some fresh threads to begin the day of a café owner, which is predominantly consumed by drinking way too much coffee, talking way too much shit with customers and spending way too much time looking as relaxed as possible.

 

7:10am- Dora’s (my Nuova Simonelli coffee machine) been known to take a little time to warm up in the morning (much like many previous female companions in my life), so first thing’s first, flick on her switches and give her about 20 minutes to slowly wake up while I head down to the market to pick up supplies for the day’s brewing.

 

7:30am- After a quick bite at the neighbour’s house (a little outdoor eatery with a selection of meat dishes, veggie dishes, fried eggs and an array of other fresh fish and tasty bites that make for the perfect breakfast and costs about 60php) it’s back to the café to start pulling the first shots of the day. It’s usually the smiley faces of the Harana guests that appear at the counter first. They’ve seen me switch Dora on 30 minutes earlier, only to then be left in the land of confusion, depression, and disappointment, otherwise known as “The Land of No Coffee”, so it’s understandable that they set upon me like wild dogs to lonesome gazelle, yelling their orders with a quiver of desperation in their voice, all insisting there’s no rush and to take my time.

Regulars.jpg

8:00am- Once we’ve got through the morning rush, which on a busy day can be upwards of 15 coffees (don’t judge me Australian café owners), it’s time to sit back, relax and wait for the regulars to start flowing in for the rest of the morning. The familiar faces start rolling up on motorbikes for their morning brew, ready to share the stories about anything and everything; the wankers that were dropping in on them during their surf, discussing the book or the blog they’re currently writing, telling stories of growing up in foreign lands or filling me in on what it was that brought them to call Siargao home. Of course it’s not all one sided and I get asked to share my stories which I’m more than happy to accommodate, a mix of all the usual questions; where are you from, where have you travelled, was that you that dropped in on me yesterday, what’s it like being ginger? People come to Fili Beans for all sorts of reasons; some just come for the amazing tasting coffee, others to order the usual, have a quick five minute catch up then head up to Harana for brekky and then there’s the ones who will stay and chat for hours, yes literally hours, and the longer they stay the more I like it. 

 

11:00am- Yep three hours ought to do it. The “Gone surfing” sign comes out and Dora’s given a little lunchtime siesta while I head off for a surf with some mates. There’s nothing like closing your business for a few hours during the day so you can get out into the saltwater and the sunshine, get a little exercise and get that feeling that only comes with sliding down the face of a perfect reef-break.

 

2ish or 3ish or 4ish- Back at it for the arvo crew. Forget your “café hours”, they don’t exist on the island. Patterns don’t exist here and instead the customers visit the cafe dependent on the swell, the rain, the heat or the party the night before. In the first couple of days of trading I tried to keep the café open as long as possible to get an understanding of when people were most likely to turn up and quickly realised that the best option was to work around the hours that suited me. We’ve got a pretty simple system now; if the Fili Beans Espresso sign’s out the front it means we’re open, if it’s not, we’re closed (or I came in still a little battered from last night’s party and have just forgotten to put it out). That’s the beauty of island life, people appreciate this, they understand I’m here to surf, meet people and make the most of this tropical paradise, not to sell as many coffees as possible. 

 

5:00pm- Knock off time, unless there’s bit of crowd and I’ll stay open until people stop buying coffees. Thursday’s the exception and around this time people will start floating in for the island’s tastiest Espresso Martini (sorry Sam at Viento if you’re reading this but when you write your own blog you can make claims like this). This night all started with a couple of customers requesting the cocktail as a special send-off gift as they were leaving the island the next day. I agreed that I’d happily buy the necessary ingredients and knock out a few drinks if they invited their mates and drew a bit of crowd to make it worth my while. They agreed and I invited a couple of my mates along as well and threw a little notice up on Facebook. Who’d have thought we’d have about 50 people turn up and create a little history with Espresso Martini night running strong into its 6 week and numbers growing every week. 

6:00pm- most other nights of the week it’s either a quick bite to eat with some mates on my way home to an early night in bed or home for a quick a shower then onto whichever venue is hosting the party that night. It takes a lot of self-control (which I’m still on the search for) to remind yourself in a place like this that you’re not on holiday and partying 6 nights a week is not conducive to a healthy life. It’s tricky though when after two months of living on Siargao I’m yet to encounter an evening where there’s not someone’s leaving party, arriving party, birthday party, lay day party, it’s Wednesday let’s party party. It’s for this reason that sometimes you need to slip in ninja mode and just sneak away without being noticed, head home, chill for the night and prepare to do it all again at 5:00am the next day.

The Melting Pot

 
 

Breakfast with a Filipino, coffee with a Lithuanian, and dinner with a group legends from across the globe, each with their own cultures, traditions, languages, and stories to tell from their respective motherlands. Did you know that in Sweden they don’t use one word for “fart" Instead each type of fart has its own separate word (Prutt, Smygare and Brakare just to name a few). What about asking anyone except for an Aussie to pass your sunnies (sunglasses)? You’ll be met with a gaze of confusion while you go through and explain every word in the Australian version of the English dictionary (bottle-o or liquor store, servo or gas station, Maccas or McDonalds). Imagine if every single day you had the opportunity to sit down with a different person from one of the 196 countries on this globe (I’m including Taiwan- Soz China), and through simply engaging in conversation, you were able to learn about history, economics, science, language, religion and a whole array of other useful (and not so useful) facts and skills.

I left Australia 20 days ago and today I sat down and wrote a list of everyone who I’ve hung out with since arriving and had a meaningful conversation with, as well as the countries they were from. Any guesses how many countries were on that list? 20 different countries; in just under three weeks!

 
 

Now I know eventually the rate will begin to slow and I hardly expect that on day 196 a Tuvaluan village chief will walk into Fili Beans Espresso chasing a piccolo latte with almond milk (although that’d be so cool if he did, and totally worth the effort) but I’m excited that the travelers will continue to float into Siargao and when they come in to sample some of the best tasting coffee in the Philippines, I can’t wait to sit down and hear their story.

People come from all over the world, as well as from all over the Philippines to get a taste of life on this tropical island paradise and that’s a massive part of the island’s charm, but it’s hard to believe that a destination that up until a short time go, barely had a sealed road and now plays host to one of highest concentrated mix of international and Filipino visitors I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve travelled on some of the most saturated gringo trails on this planet from the surfer route through Central & South America, to the backpacker hangouts of Europe, and just about every corner of South East Asia but never have I experienced such a fusion of cultures, surfing together, partying together and forming lifetime friendships.

 
 

Maybe the reason attributing to this melting pot of travelers is that Siargao attracts a certain kind of person, whether it be surfers chasing epic waves or intrepid travelers looking to get off the beaten track; or perhaps it’s just more the case that this is one the most amazing, friendliest and pristine parts of the world and it’s simply just worth the visit. Regardless of the reason just know that it doesn’t really matter where in the world you’re from, if you end up here, you’ll have a plethora of likeminded travelers ready to hear your stories and keen to share theirs, and what better place than the beautiful tranquil grounds of Harana Resort, sipping on tasty Fili Beans Espresso coffee. 

Just Relax

 
 

This next blog needs to be prefaced with a slight warning because anyone wanting to read funny stories about me killing it at Fili Beans Espresso, knocking out awesome coffees or following stories of the amazing Philippines adventures I’ve been having on Siargao Island, this one’s not for you. The idea of this blog is to give my personal and honest insight into transitioning from life in Australia to life in the Philippines and while I know it’ll be full of amazing stories down the track this next one taps into my inner hippy a little.

I woke up sick this morning. Not sick. I woke up with a sick feeling in my stomach. For the first time since setting foot on this island I woke up with a feeling of unsureness; was I actually going to be able to make this work? The plan was to surf as much as possible and meet people from all over the world, trading travel stories while making some of the best coffee on Siargao Island. So still with no coffee machine after two weeks and an injured leg keeping me out of the water it’s no surprise that a little self-doubt was beginning to sink in.

 
 

After a quick self-assessment, it didn’t take long to realise why someone who normally deals quite well with stress or slow times, was starting to feel the pressure and struggling. 31 years on this planet has taught me a lot but one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that we need coping mechanisms for when things aren’t going to plan.

When the surf’s flat, we go kayaking, when we’re sick or injured, we get comfort from family and friends, or when the pressure starts to build, we take a step back, head for nature and remind ourselves that we’re the ones in control and have the ability to alter the amount of pressure we’re under. The problem was that the environment has changed and I hadn’t adapted yet… until this morning.

 
 

After hearing her praises sung all week from a group of friends, this morning I headed along to Kayla’s class at Yoga Dojo. Even though I was nervous at the thought of reopening my propeller wound with a little too much gusto on the Half Pigeon, I took the chance and had my first crack at seeking mindfulness on the Island and am extremely thankful for doing so.

In what was undoubtedly my most positive and enjoyable yoga session ever, I was finally able to clear the cloudiness of the previous two weeks and not only focus on what I’d come to Siargao in search of, but why I’d woken up this morning feeling so far from it. The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t surf or that I wasn’t making coffee yet, the problem was how I’d been approaching these challenges and the coping mechanisms with which I’d employed; which long story short, was to try and party it all away. This isn’t to say I haven’t been enjoying my time here on the Island, quite the contrary in fact, but what it had meant is that rather than focusing on the issues, I was simply ignoring them in the hope that eventually I’d be back in the water, the machine would be here and I’d be doing what I came here for and life would back on track; I guess it was just taking too long.

 
 

So what’s all of this taught me? Well for starters, meditation, mindfulness and yoga are a great place to start as a way to deal with stress, or the pressures of life when things aren’t quite going to plan. As well as this I understand that when we change our environments there may also be cause to change the way in which we approach our times of stress or inactivity and boredom. What it also means is that once again I’m feeling super positive about the whole experience and can’t wait to get my Simonelli T3 (my machine) and start knocking out some of the best coffees on Siargao Island, get back in the surf and feel the saltwater on my skin again and keep riding the good vibes that come from living amongst one of the friendliest tropical Island communities in the world.