Australia · Day Trips · Travel Reviews

Hunter Valley Wine Tour

The first sighting of European settlers in the Hunter Valley was in 1798 when a lieutenant drifted into the Hunter River in search of escaped convicts.

While it is said that the region was named after Captain John Hunter, I’d say there’s a good chance the colonists chose the name for how well it reflected their motives in the valley.

Regardless, the region continues to attract hunters from around the world searching for some its finest fruity intoxicants.

Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tours

Today’s tour took us to four cellar doors in the Hunter Valley and one chocolatier.

With pickup scheduled at 6:55 near Sydney Central Station and some road closures due to a gas leak in the city, we were on our way to Pokolbin around 7:30 and arrived at our first stop twenty minutes later than the planned 10 am arrival.

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I’ve seen the sunset over the Harbour Bridge numerous times but catching its rise this morning already made the day worth getting up for–that early, I mean.

The two-to-three-hour drive up to Hunter Valley was both scenic and informative, with our driver and tour guide occasionally popping up with interesting facts about the area.

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For example, as we crossed the Hawkesbury River on the Pacific Highway, he explained that the area was named Brooklyn because a New-York based company won the bid to build the bridge with their then-leading underwater welding technology.

More interesting still is how the bridge divides the fresh water of the river on one side from the salt water bay on the other–a perfect environment for bull shark, apparently.

Having arrived in Hunter Valley, we received more information about the winemaking region itself. For example, we were told that the area was home first to a penal colony and only to vineyards after the penitentiary was relocated to Port Macquarie.

Another change in the Hunter region with an equally monumental impact on its winemaking history was a Sydney hand surgeon’s decision to buy up over two dozen hectares of vine territory.

As winemaking in the valley had begun to whither, Dr. Max Lake’s brassy purchase brought new life to the region when the first boutique vineyard was planted in 1963.

Though the land changed hands at the turn of the century, this gutsy buy is reflected ironically on its wine label. Lake’s Folly is now one of 150 wineries peppering the Hunter hills.

On to our first tasting stop:

McGuigan Wines

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Although McGuigan only planted its first vineyards in 1992, it is now Australia’s largest wine producer and four-time international winemaker of the year.

If you are a lover of full-bodied white wines, a trip to Hunter Valley won’t disappoint. As the Bordeaux region is to its wine, so Hunter Valley is becoming to Semillon.

Though this French grape hails from Bordeaux, it is McGuigan Wines that has produced the best Semillon in the world for seven years straight. You’ll indubitably get a taste of their Semillon on your Hunter Valley wine tasting tour, along with sips of Portuguese Verdelho and German Gewürztraminer whites.

Tastings flow from whites–and sometimes roses–to reds and end with tawny-colored dessert wines.

Our wine of the day–since we’re both red drinkers–was McGuigan’s 2015 The Farms Shiraz, a limited new release provided for tasting at the cellar door.

Besides pouring the first glasses to quell the thirst of our drive from Sydney, the McGuigan tasting also provided some curious information on such things as Australian wine regions, the difference between American and French oak barrels, and the impact on local wines.

Hunter Valley Resort

At the Hunter Valley Resort, our wines were paired with cheese. At such occasions, one is reminded never to venture to the moon without crackers. Additionally, a Pinot Gris might not be a bad addition.

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At the cellar door, we tried a pleasant variety of wines, each paired with a different cheese–from labna to feta and cheddar to brie.

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These tasty bites of milk and yogurt curds certainly whet our appetites for lunch, which was also served at the Hunter Valley Resort.

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The meal was enjoyed by a blazing fireplace and the warmth was a more than welcome respite from chilling winds.

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Hunter’s Dream

After lunch and a cup of tea, we were ready to resume the sampling of inebriants.

Next on the tasting tour was Hunter’s Dream, a small vineyard now owned by Nature’s Care–a manufacturer of health food and skin care products.

This gorgeous, small-scale winery had a wonderful appeal to it but unfortunately its bottled goods were somewhat lacking compared to earlier tastings.

Mistletoe Wines

Our last wine stop on the tour was a true Aussie-family-owned vineyard with a defiant and somewhat loud overture into the winemaking world.

Mistletoe was certainly the most generous of the wineries, providing nearly a dozen wines for tasting. In addition to whites, reds, and tawnys, Mistletoe offered us our first and only rosé of the day.

As the third-generation daughter of this family-owned estate prepared tables for the tasting, her grandmother explained considered rosé to be old-fashioned. However, her husband–in his seemingly stubborn nature–chose to make it regardless.

I’m not sure where this idea comes from, by the way, but back in Europe, we love our rosés–especially on a picnic or a midday terrace stop.

My only complaint about the Mistletoe experience was that is was very text heavy, with signs, posters, and pamphlets filled corner-to-corner with black ink. It’s not that I don’t respect the choice to use refrain from the environmentally unsustainable use of cork or to give your Muscat the Aussie “Mozcato” twang, but why not let the wine speak for itself?

Hunter Valley Chocolate Company

After drinking our fill of Hunter Valley wines, a chocolate stop was well in order.

At the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company, Peter the chocolatier gave us a sampling of the fine Belgian chocolates used to make their tasty treats and we had a few bites of their fudge as well.

Remarkably, in the last moments of the day, as we stood near the van waiting for our return to Sydney, rain began to fall from a sky that had been otherwise perfectly blue since sunrise.

Just as all the members of our group were fastened in and the driver revved us on our way, the downpour began and we fell into a blissfully inebriated sleep.

Just after sunset, we found ourselves back in the center of Sydney.

In all honesty, after an entire day tasting wine, my man and I were ready for a beer. Having been dropped off on the outskirts of Chinatown just after 7 pm, we were minutes away from Chinese Noodle House–a favorite stop for dumplings.

The cold, crisp brew we picked up along the way paired fantastically with dumplings, braised eggplant, mapo tofu, and more.

So yet another beautiful day was concluded.

Signing off, with gratitude.

Cheers.

Australia · My MMA Journey

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 17: A Trial Class at myBJJ

And we’re rolling! I’ve been back in Sydney for a few weeks now and earlier this month I took a trial class at myBJJ, an international Brazilian jiu-jitsu school founded by Mario Yokoyama and headquartered in Camperdown.
I had been referred here by Petros Menelaou, a fellow patron of Darkside Gym and an instructor in MMA and BJJ, after joining one of his myBJJ Sydenham classes on the Darkside mats.

(If you’re out of the BJJ loop, here’s a post that sorts out some jiu-jitsu jargon)
Darkside, where I go to punch people, is primarily a boxing gym with a number of Muay Thai and mixed-martial arts classes–all of which I tried and reviewed earlier in the year.
Recently, they brought in three instructors from myBJJ to teach jiu-jitsu, no-gi, and MMA all throughout the week.
Loving the session Petros invited me to join in Sydenham some time ago, I was eager to check out the myBJJ headquarters upon my return to Australia earlier this month.

myBrazilian Jiu-Jitsu Team

What strikes me time and again about martial arts schools is the overriding spirit of family and this self-defense school was no exception.

It can be challenging to walk through a new set of gym doors as a stranger–much less as a beginner–and get on the mats with unfamiliar faces.

However, from the warm welcome I received at the door of the myBJJ Camperdown Headquarters to the friendly salute at the start of the class, it didn’t take long at all for me to feel entirely at ease in this new environment.

My Trial Class Experience

I made an appointment to try Fundamental BJJ and was given a gi to use for the class. Before the lesson began, I was pointed to the code of conduct, which outlines the school’s etiquette and facilitates the respectful and harmonious environment I’ve come to love in martial arts schools.
The fundamentals session was geared toward beginners and took a very practical self-defense based approach to the art of jiu-jitsu. The instructor did explain that the focus shifts to the competitive side of the sport as students advance to higher levels.

Salvador, the instructor for this lesson, was wonderfully friendly and did an excellent job explaining each of the moves in an approachable and engaging way. Learning and practicing them was a lot of fun but arguably what made the strongest impression was witnessing head instructor Mario present Salvador with his black belt at the end of the lesson.

It would be futile to attempt describing the significance of an event such as this but suffice to say it was a beautiful and intimate moment to share with the class.

On another note, I was somewhat surprised that there was no whipping involved as my first experience watching a BJJ class at B.A.M.F. in Manila when I started this journey about a year ago ended with two students being whipped multiple times by everyone else’s before being awarded their newly earned blue belts. Needless to say, it made an impression–as did this distinctly different experience.

What You’ll Learn in a Fundamental BJJ Lesson

The fundamental jiu-jitsu classes at myBJJ begin by teaching you how to defend yourself in practical situations.
For example, you might begin standing across from an opponent who is swinging at you and learn how to get them on the ground and bring them to submission via an easily executed lapel choke.
The instructor will teach you how to handle this opponent, not by running away or swinging back but by covering your head, stepping in toward their chest, and neutralizing your attacker’s ability to swing at you. From there, you’ll go to takedowns and submissions.

Other moves will take you from lying on the ground to sweeping, gaining mount, and submitting an attacker.

In one such sequence, you’ll start with your back on the ground and an attacker standing over you. From there, you learn how to defend yourself and control the assailant with your legs and feet, grab hold of their sleeves, and sweep them so that you can gain a dominant position and once again submit them–possibly with a forearm choke or a kimura chicken wing. (I’m improvising a little with the names here.)

Anyone can try a free class with the myBJJ Team; book it on their website, get in touch, or check them out on Facebook.

Australia · Interviews · My MMA Journey

Things to Know About Martial Arts in Sydney

Back in Sydney after two months of travel, I’ve finally found time to sit down and write up an interview I held back in April with Darkside founder and head coach Uro Pavi.

“Maybe it’s inside human nature: no matter how civilized we get, there’s always that animalistic urge to at least explore our aggressive side.”

I’ve taken a lengthy intermission from my MMA journey to focus my attention elsewhere. Despite aspirations to try judo and kickboxing in the Netherlands and catch some jiu-jitsu classes at my gym in Manila, my time has been entirely occupied by travel, family, the enjoyment of good company, and keeping up with work. One must be realistic, after all, of how much they can expect of themselves.

That being said, I’m excited to be in Sydney again and eager to jump back into the fighting world. As a first step in that direction, I’m excited to share some of what I’ve learned from the man behind Darkside Gym.

As far as my own background is concerned, I’m still very new to the combat sports scene and there is a lot that I don’t know. Though I have developed a recent fascination with boxing and mixed martial arts, I’d never watched UFC and only caught a few boxing fights in my lifetime–mainly Pacquiao’s while in the Philippines because they were such national events.

I hadn’t heard of Muay Thai until I got into it from boxing (my arms were getting muscular and my legs felt left out) and although I went to high school in the Netherlands it wasn’t until recently that I learned how famous the Dutch are for their kickboxing style. I knew kids who did judo and Dutch athletes who won medals but can’t say I had more than a vague idea of what the sport was.

Since I first slipped into boxing gloves nearly two years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to practice Muay Thai, yaw-yan, grappling, jiu-jitsu, a bit of wushu, and MMA at an array of gyms. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with lots of different coaches and I’m starting to better understand how fighting styles differ and come together in various combat sports.

Certainly, the gym that has provided me with some of my most valuable learning experiences to date is Darkside. Therefore, with no further ado, may I present the passion, stories, and insights of the gym’s very own Uro Pavi:

How did you first get into combat sports?
I started when I was a kid in Yugoslavia and then we came to Australia and there was boxing at the local PCYC. I started boxing and progressed into MMA.

PCYC, is that like the YMCA?
Yeah, very similar. It’s the Police Citizens Youth Club. I went there to do some wrestling and the coach, he was praising me a lot, [saying] “Hey, good job, good job!” and I thought, this guy is really being nice to me! Because the coaches I had in Yugoslavia used to beat us. So I found it really strange that he was really nice. So I went into the boxing gym [here] and it was a brutal first session but I fell in love.

“We’re one of those gyms that does a lot of physical application of the theory.”

That was in Yugoslavia or here?
Here. The boxers were very, very rough and I thought, wow, this is normal.

So you did wrestling in Yugoslavia?
Yeah, wrestling, as a kid.

Boxing and wrestling were popular sports here in Australia?
It was just more what was available at the time. Australian boxing, we’ve had Lionel Rose; we’ve had the homegrown guys–Jeff Fenech. At the time, Jeff Fenech was boxing and he was winning so it was exciting to watch. We had Kotsya Tszyu. [He] was Russian and he came to Australia to pursue his professional career so he wasn’t really a native Australian but there was a lot of buzz around boxing at the time.

Around what time?
Ah, 20, 25 years ago. Wow.

Can you tell me a bit about how the fight scene has developed in Australia? (“How did boxing get started, or fights in general, in Australia?”
This is a sporting nation so we’ve had boxing for a long time. I think Lionel Rose won the [1968 world cup] and sort of put Australian boxing on the map. (Lionel Rose was the first indigenous Australian world champion boxer.)

“I think everyone in Australia went, ‘Wow, what the hell just happened?’ and that spurred on the next generation of fighters.”

We also had one of the biggest fights in the world here at the turn of the century in 1908. Look it up; it’s a fascinating fact. We had a young champion as well around 1920 or 1930 so boxing has always been a part of the sporting culture in Australia; it really has.

As far as wrestling or martial arts, I think the biggest influence Australia had was through kickboxing and then Muay Thai–us being so close to Thailand.

So that came from South-East Asia?
Yeah, from Thailand! I remember watching, what’s his name, “the hurricane”, Paul Briggs. I remember he was a kickboxing champion and they brought in two Thai fighters to fight our best guys in kickboxing. Briggs was saying, “As soon as he comes, in I’ll work my hands because I know his kicks are great.”

I would have been 15 or 16 at the time; I was watching and thinking, yeah, we’ll win by knockout, we’re better boxers; we should win, right. And then this Thai guy came in and chopped his leg down; in less than one round the fight was over and I thought, wow. I think everyone in Australia kind of went, wow, what the hell just happened?

That spurred on the next generation of fighters. In Australia, especially in Queensland, the Muay Thai community is quite big; I don’t know about New South Wales so much. I know in the 90s there weren’t any Muay Thai gyms.

My coach back in the Philippines was telling me that Queensland is known for Muay Thai.
Yeah, they’re very, very good. [In the] Gold Coast you have one of the best Muay Thai practitioners in the world, John Wayne Parr; he trains out of Boonchu in Queensland and he’s still fighting. He’s got his own promotions there but he was in the Muay Thai Contender series. He lost to [Yodsaenklai Fairtex in the finale]. I watched the whole Contender series; I think that community grew from there.

As far as MMA’s concerned, I think Larry Papadopoulos [of] Boxing Works was a pioneer. He used to do the Shooto contest in Japan; when I was younger, I used to go and watch.

Judo?
Not judo, Shooto: no-holds-barred fighting. And [there is] also Pancrase. He was the king of Pancrase, which [comes from Pankration] a Greek MMA fighting style I suppose you could say, from the ancient Greeks.

I’ve noticed that there are a couple of Greek gyms and trainers here in Sydney.
There are; there’s one just down the road [with] a bit of a legend. He’ll tell you how much of a legend he is; he’s very good at saying that. But he’s very good; he’s a good coach at what he does, and that is Pancrase, so they win a lot of tournaments. I think he’s one of the most decorated masters in the world I think; I’m pretty sure, and he’s 55.

So Pancrase is like MMA?
There are no strikes to the head you but it’s very close to MMA.

Sambo is probably more aggressive–the Russian style–but my experience with Pancrase has been [that] there are trainers who really teach brutality in terms of what you would expect, and there are others that stick to the traditional Greek warrior sort of mentality.

Is it in any way related to, for example, Krav Maga, where it’s about doing serious damage and not fighting for sport?
You know, it’s funny. I met Itay Gil, the Krav Maga guy–he came upstairs. I was actually hiring space off a guy who ran Krav Maga upstairs at the time. Itay, he’s a legend; I remember watching him on Fight Quest. He’s like the grandfather of Krav Maga.

“Ultimately, a violent encounter is more emotionally scarring than physically. So, I feel, if you’re not getting that first emotional rush of being brutally hit and punched and kicked, you kind of miss the point.”

He comes up to me on the bag and he goes, “I see you; I watched you sparring: very good! Very good kicks, very good punches, very good elbows and knees. Very, very good, but I specialize in knife and [live breech?]. If you come down to Israel, I’ll run you through a two-week…” He was a scary man. I’m like, “Listen, this is what I do, I do a sport.”

Was that when you started Darkside?
That was when I started hiring space, which would have been 8 years ago now. Upstairs, yeah. I met Itay and he ran it differently from a lot of Krav Maga schools. It was very brutal; it really was.

What’s the difference between self-defense and fighting for sport?
You know how I feel about self-defense? I feel about self-defense in two ways:
It’s good to get self-defense; it is very good to go and do it with anybody because that introduces you to a flow of what might happen. But ultimately, a violent encounter is more emotionally scarring than physically. So, I feel, if you’re not getting that first emotional rush of being brutally hit and punched and kicked, you kind of miss the point, you know? You’re not really getting the full self-defense [experience].

You mean, for example, what you’ll get with sparring?
Yeah, exactly. Sometimes you go to a Krav Maga school and they’ll go, “Alright, now eyes.” or “Hit to the throat.” but you’re not really getting hit; nothing’s really happening.

And Itay had the guys get dressed in full gear, [from] one side of the cage to the other. They had a nice fake knife each; he’d say, “Alright, go!” and they’d run at each other, literally, and start stabbing each other.

Like a battlefield?
Literally. It was amazing.

And he’s training them for what?
Self-defense. What they were doing was Krav Maga in terms of how he would teach it in Israel to the special forces.

It certainly doesn’t sound like a casual class.
No, it was pretty full on. I was like, “Wow, this is what Krav Maga is.”

What I was experiencing at the time was that Krav Maga was a little bit of “Well, I grab the throat here and do this.” Then I saw Itay run [a class] and I thought, “Wow, this is what I saw on Fight Quest. This guy is crazy.”

And you know he had these small women that I’ve seen do the Krav Maga. He’d get them in there and get a big guy and go, “You’d better attack them.” He’d say, “See, it’s not what you think! It’s not what you think. Get up!”

But you’re paying for something: you’re paying to at least be woken up. After that class I remember a few girls were sitting there–a few guys too–[with] tears in their eyes [from] that confrontation.

It can be quite shocking.
I was really impressed with that Krav Maga.

Let’s go back to Pancrase and MMA. The trainers have different approaches?
[In] Pancrase, some trainers. But again, it’s the same thing with MMA. I’ve been to some MMA gyms where it’s a lot of theory, a lot of technical stuff. A lot of technical stuff. And they’ll teach you a particular move or a way of doing things. Then you’ll go to other gyms where they’re just like, you know, bash each other, and you figure out that most of the stuff you learned is rubbish. Just to perfect the spinning back heel kick takes years and years. You’re not going to [use] it.

At some gyms, I’ve noticed they do a lot of theory and at other gyms, I’ve noticed they do a lot of physical application of the theory. I think we’re one of those gyms that does a lot of physical application of the theory.

I think you have a pretty good balance here. You’ll learn a new move and start using it right away.
You have to. Obviously, there are tiers. With the guys here, especially. They’ve been with me for two or three years; they understand [the] sequencing they have to do and it takes a long time; it’s not quick. It takes a couple of years to develop that sense of when to throw a round-house kick; when to counter with a certain something.

It takes getting it wrong in a fight–in an actual fight. You get it wrong and then you walk out saying, “Yeah, I saw it! I know what you were saying!” And I know, going into the fight, their weakness–especially for my fighters. I’ve had fighters go into a fight and I’ve seen their weaknesses and I go, “Hopefully, this guy isn’t going to exploit that.” And they go to exploit that and I’m sitting there and I’ll laugh in the corner; there’s nothing else I can do: it has to click.

I remembered Andy saying you don’t really have roots in MMA here so whatever comes is from different cultures.
A hundred percent. And with MMA, if you take Brazil out of it, there are not a whole lot of grassroots. It’s just a new thing; it’s just been happening over the course of the last fifteen years with the UFC. Then gyms started to teach MMA specifically and that started to flourish. For young fighters, they could become good at something. But in reality, there’s not a lot of background in it. You’ll do one sport and then you’ll do a bit of another sport and before you know it you’ve combined them.

I suppose any MMA gym would use different influences. It’s not just the standard boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, but it might be judo or jiu-jitsu?
A hundred percent! You know, to date I’ve had probably about a hundred black belts come to the gym and train with us. Whenever I ask them, “Have you done any martial arts?” they’ll say “I did Kyokushin (Karate).” and I’ll say: “You must be a black belt?” “Ah, yeah, but it’s not fighting.” Yeah, it is! Not all that they do is going to be effective but there’s going to be stuff that they do that is amazing.

Or with Taekwondo?
A hundred percent! With Taekwondo, even with Kung Fu. I’ve noticed that Kung Fu guys punch really hard when you teach them how to throw a right cross; their hands are like rocks. Just a slight modification and you get an amazing result. So, yes, there are a lot of backgrounds that come into martial arts.

Do you have wushu here?
Yeah, we do. If you can think of a sport, we’ve got it. In Sydney, the martial arts community that’s not MMA is huge: Karate, Kung Fu, it’s huge. Almost every kid has done some sort of martial arts. I think parents recognize–in Australia in particular–the need for their child to do martial arts, to build their self-esteem and to build confidence. They just shy away from the combat side of it [and stick to] the more traditional stuff.

For example, a mother would come in–this isn’t a mother’s type of gym–[and say] “I’ve got a son who wants to do boxing; I don’t want him to get beat up.” It’s like taking your son rock climbing and then saying to the instructor, “I don’t want him climbing Everest.” There are a lot of steps to get to that point.

The idea then, for a lot of mothers, is to put their children in a traditional martial arts [school] where they’re very uniform, rather than a gym like this which is obviously very confronting for a lot of people.

Not that it isn’t a respectful environment.
No, not at all. But it’s a perception. Anybody that watches boxing [has it]–I don’t single out mothers; it’s just that I’ve found it with mothers predominantly, but there are fathers out there who don’t like it at all.

What compelled you to open this gym?
(Laughs) I ask myself every day. You know what, when I was younger I was OK at boxing and there was an opportunity for me but I realized how little I knew in terms of martial arts. We didn’t have YouTube; the internet was just a fledgling thing so for a young [person] who wanted to be a boxer, you had to find the right coach and that was, in itself, an absolutely painful experience.

And then on top of that, I think WBA or WBC or PBA, any organization would issue you a book that you had to actually pay for; I don’t know what it was, 1500 per year. Promoters would have these books and match up certain fighters. [They] would be printed once a year. It was just such a long, drawn-out process.

I remember when I was 19 I thought, “You know what, I can’t ask my coaches anything.” Either they don’t know or they don’t want to talk about it or they don’t want to tell you. My thought process was, perhaps maybe they don’t know enough so they don’t want to discuss it. [They had] limited access too. But I figured what I see and what they tell me are two different things.

[I thought] I would like to have a gym one day where the actual students can ask anything and if they want to achieve the highest level of the sport. I want, at least, to be able to facilitate the ability for them to be able to go to that level. I didn’t have the skill, but if a kid comes along [that’s what I want to be able to do].

“I do not foster an environment where the ego takes over. A fighter had to walk through the gym doors at some stage as a fresh-faced beginner. Somebody took the time and the care to show him things–spent time with him even though they didn’t think they were going be anything special. I think that’s something they’ve got to pay forward.”

And I love doing this; I love martial arts; I just love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

When you set up fights, who is your main competition?
If you ask any promoter, you will get the same thing: 99 percent of the time, I do not pick and choose our opponents. Honestly, I’ll put my guys in the ring with anyone; sometimes we lose, sometimes we win. That’s just normal; it doesn’t bother me when we lose just like I’m not overly celebrating when we win.

It’s nice to get a victory, but in reality, at the end of the day, it’s not my win or my loss; it’s the fighter’s. So I can’t claim their victories and then blame them when they lose. And it happens a lot; you’d be surprised how often that happens.

But at the end of the day, that part of it is pretty much for fun?
Well, it depends. People take it very seriously. Like there’s an ego element to it.

But not too many careers being made or broken?
Not for the fighters but for the coaches.

I don’t know what it is. I mean you think about it, right, we’re in a sporting country that does have a huge boxing background in terms of [our] history. If you look it up, Australia and boxing, you’ll see it. We have never won a gold, silver, or bronze in the world games. Which tells you that there’s something wrong with our boxing program at an amateur level.

We’re world champs in rugby union, cricket. There are nations that are much bigger than we are, yet we’re one of the superpowers. At some point, a kid will come through and should be good enough to be a world champ but they seem to rob the kids.

I’ve met a lot of the people that are responsible for boxing and there’s a huge war going on right now between the official ones and the new system that’s sort of set up and I’ve found that the ego that’s involved is just, it’s breathtaking.

And that’s on the coaches’ part?
The coaches; not the fighters.

Are there a couple of major gyms here that train most of the fighters or lots of little gyms?
Lots of little gyms. There are a few main gyms–Bondi Boxing is one of them. I’d say they would have to be one of the most successful ones. There’s Bodypunch at Lakemba, as a boxing gym they’re also very good. Muay Thai gyms: you’ve got Luis Regis, he’s not far from here and there are a plethora of other gyms.

For MMA, there’s really only Australian Top Team, Perosh, and a few others that are quite good–as far as training competitive fighters. For every amateur fighter that you coach, you’re looking at ten, fifteen, before you get one professional. So a lot of it is just people having a go, doing a sport that they love or trying to test themselves and compete.

“The most damage you can achieve in  a grappling sense is picking somebody up and slamming them. That’s more than a kick, more than a knee, more than a punch: more than anything else.”

Over the years, what sort of people have been coming here to train and what tends to be the greatest motivation to learn a fight sport?
I ask myself [that] a lot. Sometimes they come just to get fit or because they watch boxing or they don’t like going to a [regular] gym, or they just want to try something different. The ones who do want to compete–and I have a lot–I don’t know what it is. Why do you do it?

(Now I’m nervous because I’ve been put on the spot) Haha. Uh, lots of reasons?
You know what I mean? I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s just inside human nature: no matter how civilized we get, there’s always that animalistic urge to at least explore our aggressive side.

It’s a curiosity: what would it be like to actually do it.
Yeah, to go in there and fight and get punched in the face for real. You know what I mean? It’s a real feeling when you’re fighting. People are watching; you see different faces in the crowd and there is a–I don’t know how to explain it–there’s a very primitive feel to it when you’re in there and you’re fighting and I can see how a lot of fighters fall in love with that concept. Even when they lose, they don’t mind.

I think MMA, unlike boxing–well Muay Thai was actually the original one–there’s no disrespect if you lose. Your career is not ruined; if anything, it means that you fought someone. Now you’ve got a loss on your record: that means you fought somebody good; that’s taught you a lesson. Boxing is a bit different: as soon as you lose all of a sudden you’re no good; it’s absurd. Boxing has never been like that. Maybe it’s a Mayweather era; I don’t know.

Even Mayweather: there’s been one particular fight where he definitely lost; there’s no doubt about it. I mean, he came back and he beat the guy pretty badly. But Castillo, in that first match, he definitely beat him. You could see it in Mayweather’s face: he was running; he barely landed any punches; he got beaten up pretty bad. Bob Arum was the promoter and they gave it to [Mayweather]. I remember thinking, “My god, that’s pretty bad.” but then he rematched Castillo and he beat him real good.

I guess it’s also that boxing is a money game?
A hundred percent: the oldest combat one. There’s money in so it matters.

Most gyms I’ve been to have separate classes for advanced fighters and casual practitioners. This is the only place I’ve been where you can walk in as a beginner and train and spar regularly with serious fighters. I’ve been quite curious as to why that is.
Because I do not foster an environment where the ego takes over. I know people say “no egos” but it’s bullshit most of the time: “I’m a fighter; why do I have to put up with beginners? Why do I have to teach a beginner something?” That is an ego already. The thought process: “I am a fighter thus I can’t be bothered” is an absolute ego trip, automatically.

The idea is, a fighter had to walk through the gym doors at some stage as a fresh-faced beginner. Somebody took the time and the care to show him things–spent time with him even though they didn’t think they were going be anything special. I think that’s something they’ve got to pay forward. I think that’s the most important thing, that a fighter should pay that forward. And if they have an issue with it, they can go somewhere else. I don’t need that.

It’s one of the things I like about training here.
And another thing: you get a beginner and they start a class and they’re moving around with a fighter; “Oh my god, you’re really good!” and the fighter goes “Yeah, you better keep your hands up!” and this and that and you go “Yeah, I’d better listen!” and before you know it, six months down the track, nobody can tell it’s only been months.

It’s interesting when you’re sparring: you’ll go with someone new and you’ll think yeah, I’m pretty good and then you’ll go with someone who makes you feel like an absolute beginner.
I’ve also found when people rehash what they’ve learned by teaching somebody new it reinforces in their own head. If they say, “You’ve got to keep your hand up when you jab!” they’re thinking “Why am I not doing that?”

“It starts standing up; it starts at striking range. Striking has to occur; you cannot be afraid of the striking.”

And you have to remember what you’ve learned in case you need to explain it to somebody else.
Exactly.

It’s going to sound funny but I find that for coaches who have a very high ego, the fountain of knowledge for their sport resides in them: all the answers come from them.

Everybody coaches a little bit differently here and I’m fine with that because sometimes they might be wrong in what they say, but that’s their interpretation; I’m alright with it. As long as it’s effective for them, it might be effective for the next person. I can’t have that mindset where everything that I do is right and everything that everybody else does is wrong.

It does get confusing if you go to different gyms that have different trainers and one person will say “Absolutely, this is the way to do it” while another says “Absolutely, that is the way to do it.”
I know, it’s so confusing!

You know, Andy would come here and teach a Muay Thai kick after he came back from Thailand. It was very rigid and upright. And doing the practice with some people, [say you’re] coming back with a left hook, [and a student says], “Yeah but Andy showed me how to do a kick like this or do a switch kick like that.” Yeah, OK, that’s not wrong, but I don’t want you to do a kick like that for this class.

The way the Thais throw a kick is not wrong but there are different kicks; there are different ways of kicking. I’m not flexible at all; I can kick you in the head, no problem, but if I try to do it Thai style, I can barely get passed your hip.

So it’s about finding what works for you?
Exactly right; that’s the most important point. I would prefer that people …my philosophy is defense first. And then offensively, Jesus Christ. Basically, I’m a teacher here teaching people how to be artists. So I show them the canvas, I explain the colors and I say these are the sort of rules how you mix the colors and then there you go, do your thing. Once they’ve reached that next level, you see it in them; the things they do are just magic.

Watching Ty (“the Trigger” Telford), he’s one of the only guys I’ve ever turned pro, watching Ty do what he does in the ring, it’s like watching… And everyone says “Good job, Uro!” I can tell him anything, I can say whatever I want to, “you should’ve done this.” It’s not me that’s doing it, it’s him. He’s absorbed his lessons well and now, just, boom! It’s amazing. Watching him, [he’s] flawlessly defensive and offensive; it’s just amazing.

Even Eden, who is now fighting again: hopefully, it all clicks in but if it doesn’t that’s fine. We’ll go again and again. (Eden Fordham is fighting on July 8 in Hurstville; check it out!)

But if it clicks in, I know I’ll just love watching it. She’ll come to the corner and I’ll [say] “Hey, that was great! Just throw the jab, alright! Anyway, see ya!” That’s what I’d love to do. Not “Oh, you’ve gotta do it this way; she’s coming at you, sprawl here, do that.”

A lot of the coaches that do that. It’s fine, I don’t criticize them–that’s their mentality–but I prefer to be calm in the corner. I prefer to talk to my fighter; to be a skill set and not an emotional thing.

I’ve had to get worked up over certain fighters. I’ve had to yell at them and get angry but it’s usually when I haven’t worked with them closely enough. So [with fighters like Ty and Eden] I’m not worried.

I have sent a few guys to other gyms. I’ve said, “I don’t want to coach you anymore. Good luck to you.” They’ve won titles, they’ve done things as professionals–one guy signed up with the UFC but he didn’t want to go do it. It’s just not on me to coach them anymore; I realize we didn’t have that bond.

“Have we really won? Sure, we won because you managed to pull it off but it was her aggression that caused you to win, not your skill set.”

I’ve heard you say that you’d rather someone lose a fight than win by submission. When you train a fighter, why do you so strongly emphasize winning by knockout?
When I do grappling here, we do a lot of standing stuff because it starts standing up.

There’s no analogy you can use. Some people go, “What if it was a fight and I could kill you.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but if I pick you up and I suplex you on the head, on cement, you’re dead.” That’s the end of it. The reason you can suplex somebody on the mat and they survive is because it’s soft.

In a grappling sense, if you know your submissions, you win, but you’ve got to get to that point. You have to get on the ground; you have to get in that situation; you have to work for that. The mats are designed to be soft so you don’t break your spine but the hardest thing you can do in a grappling sense is picking somebody up and slamming them. That’s literally the most damage you can achieve. That’s more than a kick, more than a knee, more than a punch, more than anything else.

If you look at it from that point of view, what’s the most important thing in grappling? It is the standup phase. The standup phase of grappling is making sure you can work pummeling; sprawl; get a single leg, look for a takedown; control the top position. Not scramble on your back, hoping [for the best]. I’m just talking strategy: if you take me down and you’re on top of me, I have to start working for an armbar. You have to make a mistake for me to catch you in that armbar.

Now there are systems being used that force you to make that mistake. So I can learn how to do mission control with Kempo and Jiu-Jitsu; then I start to work that arm and trap that shoulder. There are systems out there that work like that; but why be in that positions in the first place?

There’s no better explanation than this: You get a freestyle wrestler walking in here. A world champion freestyle wrestler goes to a no-gi grappling tournament, picks a dude up, slams him on his head, walks away. He’s won. So your grappling doesn’t work if that’s the issue.

So you emphasize being in the dominant position where you’re getting the takedown and you’re on top?
Always. Now [let’s say] you get into a situation where you’re doing an MMA bout and I’m like, “Oh, you’re great at submissions, Flo. You’re amazing at submissions, right. So when you get in there, work, and then go for a takedown.” So you’re like, “OK, I’ll go in there.”

She’s really good at striking. You go in there and she starts jabbing you; you try and grab her. She hits you with the right hand; you go “Oh, Jesus, I’ve got to get ahold of her.” You start to get more and more desperate; she’s beating the shit out of you, she drops you. You hit on your back; she’s on top, hitting you. You’re working, working. She’s over-committed to an elbow; you manage to get that elbow; you get the arms, legs over, all of a sudden you’ve got an armbar: “Oh my god, I’ve won!”

Have we really won? Sure, we won because you managed to pull it off but it was her aggression that caused you to win, not your skill set.

“With boxing, after six months of training steadily, I let my guys go into a fight. Even if they’re not ready,”

Yeah, I get it. You’re just surviving.
Surviving and hoping that at some point she’s going to make a mistake.

Now there are guys that are taking it to the highest level in the UFC and they’re amazing. But then they go up against an average or a good wrestler and if they can’t take him down, all their Jiu Jitsu, all their game, everything they’ve spent ten, fifteen years developing, is gone. And it comes back to the striking; it always comes back to the striking.

So I want a mentality in this gym that is striking based. I’m gonna stand there; I’m gonna trade. That doesn’t mean that we can’t go for the takedown–we drill takedowns, we drill groundwork; we’ve got BJJ here. This is all important; I’m not saying that it’s not but when you are talking strategy and the anatomy of a fight, it starts standing up; it starts at striking range.

Striking has to occur; you cannot be afraid of the striking. So if I drill it into people’s heads over here that they have to be excellent strikers then that’s step one to our advantage, automatically. It’s the same thing on the ground: first, we get up, we try and sweep; then the submission.

How long would you say it takes, on average, to get a beginner ready for their first bout and how does it differ from boxing to Muay Thai and MMA?
It’s hard. I had one guy: he went with us for nine months before he got his first fight. He got his first two wins by knockout against guys from great gyms–guys who were more experienced than him and very good. He got two knockouts very quickly.

Other people have been doing it for five years and they’re still not ready. On average, I’d say about two years: consistently training for two years, at least three times a week. But you know we’ve got back-to-back classes here so it’s not like you do one and piss off; you can do all of them. So you can do three, three times a week, a couple of sessions each time and you should be alright.

It depends on what [you’re doing]. Boxing fights: very easy. I’m not taking anything away from boxing. Actually, boxing is the hardest sport to coach but very easy on your body; very easy physically. Then it goes kickboxing, very tough on your body; Muay Thai is very tough and then MMA is the most brutal of all. But I do notice that Muay Thai fighters or kickboxers tend to get more brutalized than any other ones so, with kickboxing, it takes a bit longer than it does with boxing.

“We’ve got a rivalry but one thing I love is that all the coaching staff and all the gyms are one big family. “

With boxing, after six months of training steadily, I let my guys go into a fight. Even if they’re not ready, it doesn’t matter. If they know their defense I know I can put them in and not worry.

Because you can’t do that much damage? And the amateur fights they’ll use the headgear as well?
Yeah, all amateur fights–unless they’re MMA. But boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai, are all with headgear. In wrestling, obviously, there’s no headgear.

So I’d say about two years, on average. And then there’s the rest of your life.

Out of all the pros that have come through here, most of them quit. They stayed with me for two or three weeks and then they quit altogether. There is a high demand [as far as] what I expect. I figure, if a person is ready to turn professional, they should be ready to mix in with the best in the world. [That’s why] I turned Ty pro.

And if they’re falling short, we’re just kidding ourselves. People go, “They’ll develop in time.” Of course, they will; I’m not saying that they [have to be] mentally ready to fight the best in the world; I’m saying that they should be, physically and skill-wise at least, ready to take on the best in the world. Mentality can be built over time, that’s fine. That’s how I feel; I turn somebody pro, that’s how I would do it.

You have a pretty high standard, then?
Yeah, it’s funny that you should say that but I never thought of it that way until I spoke to Ty about it. And I was thinking, of all the [fighters] I’ve coached, how many have actually turned pro? Only one. I’ve only ended up turning one person pro and that’s Ty.

Eden is going for pro?
Amateur. She’s going to have to get a license. This is one fight that has to go well for us in terms of, I’ve got to see where she’s at. She’s such a lightweight fighter; there aren’t many girls (in that weight class) in the world so we might have to turn her pro for her next one.

I want her physically ready and mentally ready, which she is. But whether she switches on or not, that’s up to her. Skill-wise, I love watching her sparring here with James and the other fighters; I mean it looks amazing. I’m ecstatic just watching.

What’s one thing you love and one thing you hate about competitive fighting in Sydney?
One thing I love is that in most cases–take boxing out of it but for the rest–we’re one big family. All the coaching staff and all the gyms, we’ve got a rivalry but we’re all [in it together].

There are not enough students to go around [because] we’ve got so many different sports. And I think anybody who’s coaching in Sydney–whether that’s martial arts, fighting, or any sport–is doing it for the love of it. We’re doing it for the passion; I think I like that part of it.

There are very few people like myself who can actually make a fulltime living out of it.

The part that I don’t like–same issue: there are not enough people. That’s the positive and negative. If there were more people, there would be more fights; there would be more interest in professional fights.

In Ty’s weight division, there are only 39 registered boxers in New South Wales. That’s not many. To get somebody to fight Ty is almost impossible. These guys keep pulling out; they don’t want to touch him.

With MMA it’s a bit different; MMA fighters will fight anybody but even then I’ve had an issue matching up James with some of the best fighters from other gyms [because they] would say no. Even though he lost one fight, it’s the way he lost. He didn’t lose getting by getting knocked out or anything; he got stopped but it was four rounds of [pure] brutality and he was fine at the end of it.

“We’re doing it for the passion; I think I like that part of it.”

Day Trips · Luxembourg · Travel Tips

The ABCs of a Child-Friendly Weekend in Luxembourg

Animals at Parc Merveilleux

Parc Merveilleux is a wonderful place for children and adults alike in the way it bring wildlife and nature to your fingertips.

In this case, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Come face to face with animals big and small, enjoy a walk through nature–or a train ride, have a picnic along the way or perhaps a relaxing drink at the cafe while kids go wild at one of the many exciting playgrounds.

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Brunch at Le Paris

Le Paris in Mondorf is another place for everyone, with a fine-dining feel, (some) affordable food, and an outdoor play area for children.

Their menu is reasonably varied and has at least a few vegetarian items on it; by holding the cheese, they can easily be turned vegan as well.

Celts at Bealtaine

On May 19 and 20, the Bealtaine Festival was in Luxembourg town.

Whether you’re a medieval nerd, a sword fanatic, a leather head, a metal head, a child, or none of the above, you’re certain to find entertainment among the various stalls, activities, and shows at this Celtic-themed festival.

At Bealtaine, you can converse with the craftsmen and women on their trade, take your child  from activity to activity, drink local brews, and watch scantily clad grown men play at being gladiators–don’t worry, it’s child appropriate (enough).

If you’re willing to wait until the woods darken, you might catch a fire show as well.

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Check out their website to see if you can spot these traveling Celts in your neck of the woods this year.

 

Day Trips · Netherlands · Travel Tips

Dagje Amsterdam

Amsterdam map
Suggestions on how to spend 24 hours in Amsterdam

09:00 Centraal Station to Oud-West

In under an hour, you can walk casually from Central Station to the most fabulous brunch in Amsterdam. You can pass the Dam, enjoy lots of canal scenery, and work up a solid appetite on your entirely doable 4 kilometer stroll. (My four-year-old daughter can do it and so can you.)

10:00 Brunch at Staring at Jacob

Get here when they open at ten and you’re guaranteed a table; any later and they might be packed. This American-owned brunch bar serves what they like to call “funky classics and daring dishes”.

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From the menu, we ordered Rasco (that’s fried chicken, waffles, soft scrambled eggs, maple syrup, and butter) and Fuckin Everything (that’s tons of vegetarian stuff with a fried egg on top). For the little one, a side of fried chicken, a side of waffles with syrup, and ketchup.

Besides an inventive menu and delicious food, I loved how every server who came to our table had a different accent, from Italian to British and Dutch to American. The staff were warm, friendly, and entirely accommodating.

11:00 Drinks at Cafe Lennep

While it’s lovely to catch an outside table for brunch along the canal, Staring at Jacob is on the shaded side of the street at this time of day.

Not to worry, walk to the other side of the canal and directly across from the brunch bar you’ll find Cafe Lennep, with benches literally along the water and in full sun.

Another reason to come here: they have an excellent selection of beers.

12:00 Shopping and tramming at Ten Kate Markt

Walk to the Ten Katestraat tram stop on the corner of Kinker and Ten Katestraat and, if it’s a Saturday, enjoy a typically Dutch markt with such treats as Hollands Nieuwe (fresh, raw haring), other fishes, poffertjes, and fried snacks to the tune of de hooiwagen (a street music wagon).

When you’ve had your fill of market goods, catch a tram to Nemo.

13:00 Exploring the Nemo Science Museum

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Nemo–Amsterdam’s big green boat–is a favorite spot in the city for all ages.

With six levels, each dedicated to its own area of science–elementa, fenomena, technium, elementa, humania, and energtica up on the roof–this hands-on museum has something to fascinate anyone.

Nemo is a place where babies and toddlers can perform their first scientific experiments and adults can learn new and amusing things about themselves and their world. I visited once at the age of six, once around sixteen, and again at twenty-six with my own daughter in tow; each experience stood out in its own way.

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17:00 An oasis in the city: Amsterdam Roest

Tired of the touristy bars in the city center? Head east along IJ (the waterfront separating Amsterdam Centraal from Amsterdam Noord) to Oostenburg and you’ll find Roest.

Inside, you can raid the coolers for drinks and snacks and simply pay at the bar. Not that you can’t order food and drinks as you would at any bar, but grabbing a bottle for yourself is certainly a cheaper and more convenient option.

When you are ready to order food, this is an excellent spot for dinner with great options for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Outside, you can chill at tables and hammocks in the sand along the canal until the sun sets and you’re ready to leave or head back to the bar and check out the nights’ lineup.

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22:00 Waterkant: the tropical canal experience

Whether the sun has set or not, this another place to be in Amsterdam. However, if you show up too late on the weekend, you might not get in–which exactly what happened to us on Kingsday. It is a fun spot and worth checking out though and only a 30-minute walk from Central Station.

00:00 Highschool nostalgia at De School

There are of course all sorts of bars and clubs in Amsterdam but if you’re serious about pulling an all-nighter, this may very well be the place: a high-school-turned-night-club that stays open until 6 AM on the weekend. It’s is more than just a club and live music venue, too; besides the basement and concert room, they have a fine dining restaurant, a casual cafe, art exhibits, and a gym.

Arriving before midnight at De School will save you a potentially hour-or-longer wait at Amsterdam’s most popular alternative nightclub. People line up around the block to go to school but if they don’t look the part they can just as quickly be turned away. Standards for who gets in maybe not be what you’d expect.

Fun fact: once a month, De School hosts Het Weekend and keeps its doors open from Friday night to Sunday morning. With such a wide range of facilities, they say everything you need to last that out is right there.

06:00

Good question.

I would say: enjoy a quiet walk along the canals until you find something that’s open for breakfast.

As far as what’s open at 6 am in Amsterdam, I can’t say that I know. Any suggestions?

Day Trips · Netherlands · Travel Reviews

A Brisk Day at Burgers’ Zoo

Standing on a riverbank inside Burgers’ Zoo, it feels as though you’ve stepped right up to the edge of an African safari.

Not long along, the zoo announced the birth of a baby rhino and from here we watched the stout little creature chase giraffes ten times its size: quite a spectacle for a random passerby to take part in.

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A generational zoo with a myriad of ecosystems and Europe’s largest live coral reef, Burgers’ is unique for being managed by the same family since its meager beginnings as not more than a petting zoo over a century ago.

My daughter–who had never been here before–insisted that she had a number of secret places to lead us to as she mock followed the map and picked random directions. When we stumbled into a beautiful aquarium, she announced that this was it: her secret place at last.

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There’s a restaurant in “the bush”–a domed section mimicking the hot and sticky topics–where you can grab a terrasje even in winter. Coming from Manila, I found the humidity almost comforting on this otherwise chilly day.

(As Dutch as een terrasje pakken is–enjoying food and drink in the outdoor seating area of a cafe or restaurant–the wait for warm or at least sunny weather can be long.)

Besides the safari, tropical bush, and aquarium, there is a reptile area, a dessert zone and a vast expanse of outdoor enclosures with lions and tigers, no bears (oh my) but lots of other animals.

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There is a massive apenkooien playground, another smaller outdoor one, and an indoor playground by the restaurant as well.

(Literally, apenkooien translates to “monkey cages” and refers to an obstacle-course style play area where kids can climb, swing, and jump around.)

The zoo is a beautiful place where unexpected things can happen and when you’re watching animals in near enough their natural habitat every visit provides a new experience. We watch animals do crazy like be born, chase each other around, and get into fights, yelling matches, and displays of power.

But we people do crazy things there too. Maybe we carry to our day out ordinary worries and fears and maybe our time there is so otherworldly that it brings us to tears. We see the bond between human and animal and our mutual dependence on nature. We see children and parents and couples and maybe even proposals.

Burgers’ Zoo is a wonderful place for all of this because it is respectful to all: people, animals, and nature.

While I’ve only discussed snippets of Burgers’ here, I would strongly encourage making a zoo trip of your own if you find yourself near Arnhem.

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International · Interviews · Philippines · Travel Tips

Things to Know About Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing.

Sure, I’ve heard the word before and known such a thing existed, but it wasn’t until about a month ago that I took a serious look at it.

Although I no longer have a permanent home in the Philippines, I have been returning to the islands frequently and just last week I was there again before flying to the Netherlands.

With four days in Manila to sort out some business, run errands, and repack, I was looking into budget-friendly hotel and Airbnb options. Hoping to book a place with a reliable internet connection so I could still do my classes and online work, I was disappointed to find that nothing could guarantee that within the location and price range I was after.

On that account, I realized I might have to cancel or reschedule some of my classes and see what I could manage from some of the coffee shops in the area that I know have good connections such as Carpe Diem and Exchange Alley Coffee House.

It was then that Couchsurfing popped into my head: what if I could find a place to stay and make a friend along the way? It would certainly make the stay in Manila a little less lonely since I have, for better or for worse, cut most ties with my old life here.

I signed up on Couchsurfing.com through my Facebook account and seeing a number of my friends were users gave me more faith in the idea. Browsing through a few profiles of potential hosts in Metro Manila, I quickly thought: these are my people.

The surfers I encountered were world travelers and world learners, swapping stories, exchanging languages, and sharing jamming sessions. I got in touch with both locals and foreigners staying in Manila and soon made friends with Rhylie Villoria, a Dutch-speaking Filipina with six (seven if the Amsterdammer who popped in for a visit counts them) rescue dogs and a drum kit living in the exact part of the city I needed to base of during my stay. She offered to host me and my first Couchsurf was made official.

To be honest, I didn’t put much into my profile–other than a few short lines and a link to my blog–nor did I bother making the payment to verify my identity. I simply sent our a number of messages and requests and posted a “public trip” requesting a host, which other surfers can see.

I felt blessed to have found such a wonderful person as Rhylie and after staying with her, she took some time to answer a few of my questions about the Couchsurfing community.

How did you discover Couchsurfing?

My Norwegian brother-in-law mentioned it; that was a year before I started hosting.

How long have you been surfing and how many people have you hosted?

I’ve been on Couchsurfing since March 2015 and I’ve hosted 21 people so far.

Why do you host?

When I started hosting, my intention was so I’d have a diversion or distraction because I’d just gone through a breakup. But after hosting a few people, I realized it was fun and I was learning more about other people’s country and culture so I began hosting as much. Also, it’s my way of paying it forward since I’ve Couchsurfed at some hosts’ places too. Another reason is that I’m raised to be kind to people in need, so whenever I see couch requests, I do my best to help out.

Tell me about your most memorable Couchsurfing experience.

When I was in Genk, Belgium, I got hosted by a middle-aged man whom later became my “uncle Dave”. He gave me shelter for three days during my first visit to Europe–Belgium being the first country. He toured me around and drove me wherever I wanted to go; I saw things and places not a bunch of tourists have seen around Genk. The hosting didn’t end there because whenever I come to Genk, his house remains open to me and he even let me celebrate Christmas with his family when I had no one to celebrate it with while abroad. When you Couchsurf, you can gain lifetime friends.

Do you feel safe Couchsurfing alone?

I feel safe given the circumstances that I take time to get to know my host and listen to my gut feelings. I don’t just choose a host; I talk to them for a while, read their references, and do a little background check on what’s available online. Being careful has a lot to do with feeling safe so I make sure I take precautionary measures as well, but yeah, once I’ve assured trust toward the host, I feel safe.

What should everyone know about Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing isn’t just a free place to substitute pricey hotel rooms whenever you travel around a new place; it’s a community of people who are willing to help out yet not to have their kindness abused. It is a place where hospitality and kindness are the currencies and exchange rates are dependent on your faith in humanity. There are bad stories alongside the good ones every now and then but there will always be a huge percentage of people who keep upholding the true purpose of this community.