Tuesday 17th May 2022

Women Of Courage Series. #41 Johanna Castro. 43/2020.

Women Of Courage Series. #41 Johanna Castro. 43/2020.

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week until the series concludes in 2020.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.

So good to welcome Johanna (I know her as Jo!)  to share her story here this week. Jo, who is 62, is a regular blogger and writer who has been part of the international and Australian travel and writing scene for a long time. I am pretty sure Jo and I met (or at least saw each other in passing!) at Digital Parents Conference for Bloggers in Melbourne in 2012. So many people at that one and so many are no longer blogging but I have made many on-line and off-line friends thanks to occasions such as those – sadly none like them anymore- conferences and am always grateful for those connections made. Now it’s Jo who is sharing her story today.

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?


Courage is a funny thing.

  • As the ability to do something that frightens you, I think it presents itself in both big life changing ways and in small everyday incidents.
  • For some people it’s finding the courage to face life in the most warrior-like way when halted by heartbreaking or frightening setbacks.
  • For others it’s being able to summon up courage at points in their lives when if they didn’t they would surely spiral downwards and not recover from the problem.

And for some, courage has to be summonsed every day just to keep living.


Have I been courageous?  I would say no, not really.

Although in the overall scheme of things perhaps some people might disagree.

  • Was I courageous when I set off from England for the Continent aged 18 with a rucksack on my back and a guitar slung over my shoulder, waving the White Cliffs of Dover goodbye knowing not what to expect as I headed off to be a groom for a showjumping family in Belgium?

Was this in itself courageous?

  • Well, yes because I was young and shy and emotionally insecure and I was acting out of character and defying the status quo of what was expected of me.
  • But also, no not really, because many young people have set off on similar Dick Whittington quests to travel and see the world.
  • I was also deep down reaching for a new life to escape a situation that was beyond my control because domestic abuse tainted an otherwise idyllic childhood.
  • And this leap of faith into the unknown leaving privilege and fear behind, set the course for the rest of my life when moving countries became the status quo, through necessity rather than choice.



Some years later I met a geologist from South Africa when we were both backpacking in South East Asia.

When we married I half expected to always be adorned with pretty and priceless pieces of rock that he picked up during the course of his geological hammerings, and that we would be safely settled in England by the age of 40.

How wrong I was. The reality was that we would always be on the move. Project to project. Internationally. And geologists often go in at ground zero level when nothing, not even the houses to live in, have been built.

We’ve lived in the most remote situations.

  • A tiny caravan trawled to a spot high in the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho next to a river which soon came down in flood. Here the mountain road was termed as ‘the road to hell and back’, the big wigs were helicoptered in, we drove.
  • I almost got away with swapping the outdoor Porta Loo they gave us for a palomino pony that a Basutho horseman brought by one day. At least until Dave and the village chief intervened.
  • On another occasion we went from the wide open spaces of South Africa, and a house with a large garden, to a flat the size of a postage stamp on the 22d floor of a high rise building in Hong Kong where I home schooled our children for a year because there were there was a two year waiting list for a place in schools on Lantau Island where we lived.
  • My wild African toddlers were not impressed with the tiny balcony or our tiny flat, but we learnt to love Hong Kong with a vengeance.

In the very early years of our marriage Dave was offered a job as a geologist in the foothills of the Himalayas and I was pregnant with our first child. Six months pregnant and we had an auction on the lawn. All our worldly possessions and furniture went up for sale – bar what we could fit in our suitcases.

Sam was just 5 weeks old when we set off to live at a remote project site between Kathmandu and Pokhara, reached along treacherous roads, where we were without a phone, 3 hours from the nearest Doctor, and where food supplies were scarce. We had to put water through a 5 point purification process in our tiny kitchen before it was drinkable, and our diet consisted mostly of dhal, bhat, tarkari (lentil, rice and vegetable curry.)

I ended up breastfeeding Sam for 21 months, Dave became very sick from combined dysentery and hepatitis, and I was desperately tired, worried and home sick most of the time – though baby Sam thankfully survived in a robust way!

So I guess I have been courageous, and although people might say I’m lucky (of course) I have also had to sacrifice geographical safety and family stability for a life of constant change. We’ve moved 21 times, 11 times internationally. A rolling stone gathers no moss, and I can definitely vouch for that.


How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

Having the courage to leave your roots, your family and friends and continuously jump off a proverbial cliff into the unknown has changed me because in time I realised that I didn’t have to live constrained by the limitations of other people’s expectations, or the chains that society places on us.

I also learnt that leaping into the unknown with courage and energy will always throw up fantastic opportunities and exciting new horizons along with lovely new friendships.


Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

Don’t be afraid to change direction.

There is no wrong direction.

Go boldly and you will find pots of gold that you never even expected.

You have to remember that your heart and your head can put up all sorts of obstructions if you dare to reach beyond your comfort zone, but sometimes you just can’t look at the possible problems that lie ahead, you just have to go for it – don’t question – just go with it.

“I can do this. I’ve got this. Let’s do it.”

It might be a fleeting thought, you might not even believe it when it first appears, but you have to hang onto it, expand it, and nurture it without putting up tons of obstacles.


Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

Yes, definitely. And I hope so! But I guess it also depends on the sort of courage that’s required in the future.

When I had a melanoma on my back I fainted before the surgeon had even made his first cut, and blood tests of any sort always send my heart straight to my boots, and my head longing to reach down between my knees!


Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

You are stronger and more resourceful than you imagine.


Wow. What a traveller and story-teller from real life living you are Jo! I thought we had lived in some remote teaching spots in New South Wales but your experiences are winners “hands down”. What a ride you have had…and come up for air and can see the courage within too. As for procedures involving nasties like melanomas…you are entitled to deal with that in the way you did. Thank you so much for sharing an amazing story of LIFE lived by you.

Jo has a number of social media connections and they are all listed below for your investigation and following.


Social Media:

Blog/Website: https://lifestylefifty.com and https://zigazag.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/johannaAcastro

Facebook Page (not personal account): https://facebook.com/lifestylefifty and https://facebook.com/thezigazagmag

Instagram: https://instagram.com/lifestylefifty


Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends.

Copyright © 2020 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.












  1. Hi Jo, what an exciting, adventurous life you’ve led! My own ife has given me a couple of similar adventures – leaving the safety of home in New Zealand at 19 to backpack around Australia with my sister, and spending a year in the remote outback of Australia with two small children to be a nurse in a tiny hospital. I still regard those periods in my life as being among my very best experiences. I hope I have the courage to do this again when I retire because I would love to leave the ratrace for a smaller, quieter location. Regards Christina Henry

    • Thanks Christina 🙂 I agree that periods of isolation from the world as we know it can be very character building and provide some of the very best memories. Your experiences in a tiny hospital in outback Australia must have been amazing. I wonder where you were. I have great memories of working in Alice Springs in the early 80s and at night singing in a bar with a Maori guitarist who befriended me 🙂 I used to think that when Dave and I retire I’d like to go and do something out of the ordinary again, or spend time in another country, but as I get older (and after coronavirus) I’m not so sure that I want to be far away from our (grown up) children.

      • Lovely to read of the similarities and connections. I also think we do change as we get older….and I understand that too. Thank you Christina and Jo.


  2. Hi Jo thank you for sharing your story with us. I was enthralled because I didn’t really know much about your backgroud but what an interesting and adventurous life you have led. Moving regularly and to places out of your comfort zone is very courageous. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and thanks Denyse for sharing with us at #MLSTL. xx

    • Thanks Sue. I know it’s funny how we all interact online or even in real life, and know each other on a day to day basis but not really about the past or life stories. I guess it just doesn’t come up all that often. Thanks for reading 🙂 Have a lovely week xx

      • Thanks Sue and Jo,

        How good this series has been for us to get to know more of the people we follow on line. So many great stories to share.

        Most fortunate to have shared stories from you both.

        Thanks so much,


  3. Hi Jo – when I first met you online and in person I thought you had lived the perfect cruisy life of an expat (I’ve known a few others who have) and then the Africa and Nepal stories appeared over time and my admiration for you grew in leaps and bounds (now the Hong Kong apartment gets added to my list!) I can see where your innate calm and self-confidence springs from and I admire how you’ve navigated your way through it all with so much grace and charm.
    Denyse, thanks for linking Jo’s post up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM

    • Thanks so much Leanne. Reading Jo’s story is one way of realising just how much one person can undertake and achieve with a sense of adventure and some youthful aspirations.

      However, Jo’s story goes even further into life living as a partner and mother and so much there that I am glad she chose to share as a Woman of Courage.


    • Hi Leanne, thank you for your lovely words which were very touching x I think much of my life has been lived like a duck – calm on the surface and paddling like fury underneath. I’ve been very fortunate to have lived a life with much adventure, but I’m very glad and very privileged to now be in SWA.

  4. Jo – yes what you’ve done IS courageous! I don’t know that I could’ve done half the things you’ve done. I mean going to a remote part of the Himalayas with a 5 week old baby! But wow – what a life and what wonderful experiences you’ve had. I do admire your courage Jo and kind envy your exciting adventures somewhat! You should write a book – truly! xo

    • I think a book would be in order for Jo too, Min!

      I agree, so much I did not know either, but have known Jo as a fellow Aussie blogger for quite some time.

      Thank you,


    • Hi Min, Thanks so much! I keep thinking ‘book’ but then think who on earth would read it. When I approached a publisher some years ago with the idea of a memoir, she said “So What?” and I kind of got that! Her other advice was I’d be better off researching and writing a book about a topical subject like bullying! It dented my ambitions somewhat! Thanks for your support x

  5. What an amazing life adventure, Jo. I had no idea. Your willingness to jump into the unknown, first by yourself and then with a baby, definitely sound courageous to me. What experiences you’ve had and memories you’ve built! It was a pleasure getting to know you better.

    Thank you Denyse for sharing Jo’s interview with us!

    • Jo certainly took quite a few leaps of courage didn’t she?

      Thank you so much Christie.

      This series is such a great way to get to know others in our world of blogging.


    • Hi Christie, Thanks for your reply and affirmation. Yes, I’ve been very very fortunate that our travelling life has resulted in lots of strange, scary, amazing and beautiful experiences.

  6. What a great story of courage Jo and adventure and life….all things that can be exciting but also very scary. You seem to have coped amazingly well with all your travels and I don’t blame you for now anting to be closer to your children in your retirement years. I have fond memories of being in Pokhara for a week but can’t imagine living there with a brand new baby! I really enjoyed reading more about Jo, so many thanks denyse for sharing her story as woman of courage. #mlstl

    • This series keeps on giving us so many interesting stories and shows us worlds of women and their lives we may never have quite understood till they shared.

      I am so in awe too of what Jo did as a younger woman.

      Thanks so much Debbie.


    • Thank you Debbie. Ahh so lovely to hear of someone who has been to Pokhara. I can imagine for a week’s holiday it was lovely. Did you do any trekking? It was a stunning but very remote spot back in the 80s.

  7. Jo you have definitely lived a courageous life. I can’t imagine setting off with a six week old baby, not knowing what is ahead. I loved reading about your adventures. Thankyou for sharing here

    • Jennifer, I wonder if our older selves become more cautious for a built-in reason.

      I know I look back at an adventure we had teaching in a very remote NSW school in our mid 20s and wonder why I was not worried about it.

      Yes, I too agree Jo has lived a life with much courage and a sense of adventure.

      Thank you.


    • Hi Jennifer, thanks for reading! It’s been an amazing ride, and I think back then we were much more gung-ho than we are now.

  8. Don’t be afraid to change direction.

    There is no wrong direction

    Those are two fantastic pieces of advice!

  9. I love the whole “there is no wrong direction”. What strikes me with this story Jo, is the possibility – always the possibility – and optimism. I can see the girl with the guitar over her back. Because seriously, how hard can it be?

    • It’s a good philosophy Jo has there!

      Thank you,


    • Hi Jo, absolutely, you are right. My life has mostly been governed by optimism and jumping at the chance of new opportunities without putting any obstacles or doubts in the way. Together with Dave, we have been lucky to have had good health, a lust for adventure and a solid partnership to rely on.

  10. Thanks so much Denyse for sharing my story. I’m overwhelmed by the lovely comments and support from your community. I really wasn’t sure if it was a story worth telling, so the positive and affirmative replies have been absolutely heartening xx

    • Ah, Jo, I am very glad you believed me when I said your story would be worth sharing…and moreso now as others have said.

      Thanks for your time spent in reading and responding to commenters. It really does make the blogging world go round!


  11. Wow! Jo for you to say that you’re not really courageous I find hard to fathom. I think following your husband around the world, uprooting your family and moving to remote locations around the world is extremely courageous. I’ve also wondered what it would be like living away from family and friends, but you’ve obviously learnt to handle this successfully. I really admire you Jo for what you have achieved. Thank you so much for sharing your story of courage.

    • Thank you Kathy for such resounding belief in the story I put forward. Definitely the driver for leaving England initially was what was going on at home, and I had no influence to change that. But later, over the years the tempting lure of adventure and opportunity became the driving forces. Thanks so much for popping by.

  12. Incredible resilience – I’m in awe! It sounds like you’ve had to dig really deep on more than one occasion, (living in a remote, foreign country with a five month old sounds terrifying to me) while working through those challenges with determination. Thank you for sharing. Sandra Xx

  13. Leaving your homeland at 18 with nothing but a backpack. So courageous. So much here to be proud of. You truly are a woman of courage Jo!