Would you like sprinkles with that?

Living in the tropics we often have problems we couldn’t have imagined from the comfort of more temperate climes. Things like roads being washed away in rainy season, or our overwhelming joy upon discovering that our cats love to kill cockroaches (and then eat them, which we were less happy about).

Last week, a perfect example presented itself when Chris’ boss walked into the staff room and said, “Hey guys, I’m not sure how to tell you this, but I think a gecko just pooed in my coffee.”

Tropical problems.

Pretty Deadly

We found this little dude/dudette in our yard this week and thought “well isn’t it crazy pretty!?” Yes, yes it is. But it is also employs one of the creepiest hunting strategies I’ve ever heard of. Check it out!

Episode 16: One Year In

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Chris and Noelle took a road trip and pondered the prospect of pursuing their plans in the Possibly Perfect Place.

Well if you can believe it I’ve officially been in the PPP for one whole year now. Crazy! This time last year I gave you a summary of my thoughts after my first week, so I thought it fitting to elaborate on what a year here has taught me (and where we hope the next year will take us).

As a jumping off point, I thought I would start by briefly reflecting on 2018 Me’s sentiments to see if she had any sense of the place yet. So in answer to this post from last year, I will now give the floor to Present Me to give her two cents.

A Quick Reflection

It’s a new country: It’s still a new place with a lot to figure out (but what country has all its shit together? Certainly not my motherland!). Having a job in development now, I have been very lucky to see some of the incredible work people are doing at every level to push things forward, despite some very challenging circumstances. It is frustrating and difficult to know it will be a slow march, but it is also comforting to have seen so much improvement in only the year I have been here. I have a lot of hope for what the country and people are capable of. Go team!

No good Mexican food: It is usually possible to get tortillas and sometimes possible to get tortilla chips (at exceptionally high prices), but Mexican food options are thin on the ground. We have one Mexican restaurant, but as their nacho base is Cool Ranch Doritos I visit only in emergencies. I make Mexican at home as best I can, but with cilantro/coriander being terribly hard to come by, my fresh salsa is suffering (with mango season upon us, however, we have some new opportunities). We did try to grow our own coriander/cilantro but it was eaten by our landlord’s dog. We will try again when the wounds aren’t so fresh.

G&Ts: We still drink a fair number of G&Ts, although I have veered deeply into fresh coconut with rum territory the last few months. Some twists on the standard G&T this year have included: elder flower cordial, fresh passion fruit and orange juice. We shall continue to experiment.

It’s pretty isolated: People here talk about flights the way Brits talk about weather. It’s a solid way to start any conversation and it’s safe to bet that your listener will be equally opinionated about the current conditions. Since last November one route was closed and then reopened and another that was closed in 2018 also reopened. So now we have four whole options for getting out of the country (or for getting ya’ll in). It’s better than the two options we had for most of 2018 though, so progress! The outrageous prices for the one flight (which skyrocketed this time last year) have not come down, but we have more options for boycotting that asshole airline now, so that feels nice.

Connectivity: The internet is still not strong, but at least it’s expensive.

COLOR!: I still love the colors and can’t get enough of them. Flame trees and garishly painted buses and street art and shockingly bright outfits…bring them on.

Animal friends: We have traded in one large (and getting larger every time I see him) dog for four small (and getting larger every time I see them) cats. Long story short I adopted a mama cat that I had hoped would not be a mama but, well, that happened. She had four (four!) kittens and we now have all of them. We moved to a new house to be able to take them in (as the fat dog doesn’t like cats). Very sadly the mama died after surgery to fix her (so she could live a happy life without making babies every three months). I really miss her. She was a very sweet kitty. But because of her we now have a house that we really love and are very happy in, so at least we will always remember her for bringing us here. The little ones are now six months old and the two girls are going to be spayed in the next couple of weeks. I’m super nervous and I hate that we have to do it, but it for sure needs to be done because good Lord can cats make more cats quickly!

Piglets: In other small animal news, there are no more pigs in the city at the moment. A wave of African Swine Flu tore through the town a couple of months ago and killed almost everyone’s pigs. It was very sad. We miss our beach pigs. Hopefully they will start to come back soon.

Good friends, good times: We still love the social scene here. It is so lovely to be somewhere where we run into friends all the time and we know we have a huge network of people who have our backs if we run into any problems. We help each other all the time to navigate the crazy things that can happen here and knowing that we’re in it together infuses hope and optimism into even the hardest days.

Right! Thanks, Present Me! It seems 2018 Me wasn’t too terribly off in her one-week-in observations. She’s pretty clever though, so I suppose it’s not much of a surprise.

The last year has been one of the best I’ve (and we’ve) had in a long time, and I think that a big part of that is due to where we are and the people who are here with us. We’ve had a lot of fun with our friends (cribbage nights, birthday trips to fancy hotels, a million nights watching movies on the beach…) and as a newly married couple (choosing paint colors for our new house, nurturing seedlings into a mini forest in our sun room, jumping hand-in-hand into the frigid waters of a crystal clear river…).

We feel very relaxed and at home here. We love the pace of life and the fact that most of our decisions on evenings and weekends are about the optimal way to chill out (should we go to the pool or read in the hammock? Do we prefer pizza night out or movie night in – or maybe a little of both?)

That’s not to say that we don’t have shitty days or feel stressed out. We do. We really, really do. This week, in fact, has been a particularly hard one for Chris at work. In case you are on the brink of thinking that we are “living the dream”, I would also remind you that:

  • Our electricity can be frantic, fickle or downright lazy
  • The garbage situation here can feel pretty dire at times
  • Ditto for the sewage
  • We live with four young, curious, meant-to-live-outside-but-can’t-until-the-garden-is-finished-and-their-baby-factories-are-turned-off cats
  • There is no good Mexican food

But our lovely home, our friends and our enjoyment of the culture and way of life more than make up for all of the above.

So What’s Next?

Henry Wellcome once said “Never tell anyone what you propose to do until you have done it.” Having previously announced many plans that never materialized (but managed to cause me ample stress anyway), I tend to agree and try to live by this philosophy, so I hesitate to share our very tentative and undeveloped plans for the next year. Setting any kind of expectation can be a recipe for disappointment and/or unnecessary pressure (both mainly from myself). However, as you have been with us from the beginning and know that we do have some big hopes and dreams for our time here, it feels only fitting to whisper some secrets into your loyal and trustworthy ear (if you pinky promise not to tell anyone else).

So sidle up close, get cozy and lean on in (and maybe bring some tea and biscuits while you’re at it?)

All settled? Ok. So……*leans in closely, preparing her best secretive tone; clears throat* It’s starting to feel like we might be able to breathe some life into this little dive shop dream of ours in 2020. *covers your ear for a moment while she squeals; uncovers your ear again* In fact, we have already started dipping our toes in the water, so to speak. I’ve now taught a couple of Discovery Dives here (people trying diving for the very first time), while Chris has completed one Advanced Open Water course for some friends and is in the middle of an Open Water course for some others.

In that process, we’ve thought about what we need in order to do things more independently and professionally. For example, right now all of the money we receive goes to other shops where we rent our equipment *acknowledges your kind indignation at this state of affairs with a quiet, what-can-you-do shrug*. We’ve also thought about the angle we might want to take if we start running this as a for-real business. With that in mind, we have set a rough goal of when we would want to be up and running *faces you with an excited but slightly apologetic smile* Of course, I can’t tell you what the date is because that is far too much pressure (baby steps to the dive shop).

Ok, you look like you’re getting a neck ache from leaning in so long. Feel free to relax and have a sip of that tea. These secrets are all yours to keep now. What a weight off my shoulders!

This is pretty crazy territory for us. Terrifying, of course, but also really exciting. We know we want to take a crack at this and see where it goes. We know there are opportunities to succeed if we take it slowly and let it grow naturally. We know that it will be a big investment of time and energy and patience and money.

We also know we want to be here a while, that we love the diving and that we love getting other people excited about it. So why not do as much diving as we can while we have the chance and make a little dosh while sharing our ocean love with others?

With our new house and new cats and new garden and new plans, it feels like we have made the decision to stay here for a few more years at least. Who knows what the future will bring and how we will feel this time next year, but for now we’re happy here. We’re very happy here. I just wish there were better nachos.

Episode 15: Joyeux anniversaire!

Last time on Mobilis Divers: We brought you with us on our holiday to New Zealand. The rich aroma of creamy blue cheese still lingered in the air.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve been here six months already. Happy six month anniversary to me!

I’ve now witnessed one full rainy season, with its regular afternoon downpours, and am currently enjoying the cool evening breezes the dry season has to offer. I’ve seen many of the famously beautiful sunsets while sipping many gin & tonics on the beach. I’ve been swimming with many melon headed whales, listening to them chat and watching them play under the water. I’ve gone to many early morning tai chi sessions and have worked may days my new job (though I still don’t know what I’m doing).

It’s been quite a fabulous experience so far.

We have a pretty ordinary existence really (we get up, go to work, come home, make dinner) – except we don’t. We drive home on a road full of cows and pigs and dogs and children. We buy our electricity from an electricity store (if they have any on the shelves, that is), and we often don’t have electricity, even after stocking up at the shop. We regularly drink fresh coconuts we’ve bought on the side of the road. Every weekend we watch movies on the beach, surrounded by friends (and beach dogs chasing beach pigs). We can dive and snorkel in some of the richest oceans on earth within spitting distance of our house.

We’re a little bit in love with the place. It’s weird and quirky and unpredictable and fun and full of fabulously interesting and endlessly supportive people.

It has its problems, of course, and those get old sometimes, but all in all it’s a very charming place to live. Neither of us want to leave any time soon. But, as was the case with us coming here in the first place, we’re at the whim of the universe. Both of our jobs are not guaranteed after the end of the year. The project Chris works on is contracted until December and the floor has been opened for other bidders to come in and place their offers for the next contract period. My job falls within an awkward organizational structure that is being reconsidered by the powers that be this September. It is possible I could be out of a job as a result of their decision before January.

In some ways, we wonder if that is the perfect sign that we should change gears and jump into our real dream of opening a dive center here. I mean, if we’re both out of jobs but want to stay here, it makes perfect sense to start our own thing instead, right?

Well, there are some fairly big things to consider.

Firstly, this place is expensive. Living here without any income would be rough. And a dive resort isn’t the cheapest of pursuits to get off the ground in any location. Then there is the very real concern that we wouldn’t have any customers. The flight situation is *still* not sorted out. In fact, it keeps feeling more dire by the day. With one route cancelled and another cutting back its services (a flight that is also, per mile, the most expensive in the world), we are left with only one route serviced by three airlines, all of which are owned by the same company. When Chris first arrived last January, ticket prices were around $120 each way (under $250 for a return). Now they are nearly $800 roundtrip.

This is a huge problem for people living here, but an even bigger one when you think about the tourism that it stops. Flights to the other side of the same island (in a different country) are about $70 each way. Go that little bit farther (20 minutes more by air) and you’re paying $400 for almost the same flight. Why oh why would anyone come here then, when they can get a very similar experience, both on land and in the sea, by cutting their trip a few miles short?

That’s all to say: if we do start a business, we have to be able to sustain it with a customer base already living in the country instead of depending on tourists. One risk there is that the country is on the verge of losing a fair bit of aid funding in the next year or so. As a result, the staff that would be here to implement those projects will no longer be in the country.

Put all these risk factors together and it starts to feel like there is no way we would break even on our investment.

So, start or not start? We aren’t sure yet. We made a choice after I first arrived here that we won’t jump into anything just because we *want* it to be possible. We want to wait for a moment when it feels right, when it makes sense and we can see some kind of possibility for it. We want to start small, take it slowly and build it up rather than throw our whole life savings at it in a financial hail mary. Perhaps that timing will line up with our current job cycles and perhaps it won’t. All we can do is wait and see (and keep you updated as we go, of course)!

In the meantime, we’ve been enjoying the fact that, in addition to cool evening breezes, dry season provides us with a chance to explore the country a little more. Now that the roads aren’t being washed away every other week, it’s actually possible to get out of the city. Over a recent public holiday, we ventured south for the long weekend. Nearly every minute of every day we kept looking at each other and saying “well isn’t this just wonderful!??”

Ok so we weren’t looking *at* each other all the time.

Our adventures took us all the way across the country – along the rivers, over the mountains and down to the opposite coast. It was a weekend of contrasts. We swapped north for south. White sand for black. A busy, dirty city for clean, idyllic villages. Crunchy, dry plants for lush tropical ones. Dried out river beds for raging waterfalls. And our gravely backyard for the most wonderful swimming pool ever imagined.

This was a kid (and kid-at-heart)’s dream. Three pools with climbable rocks all around it, a water slide and water falls to hide under. Seriously. Whoever designed this had a hell of a lot of fun.
We only see rivers like this after major rains in the city. The southern mountains seemed to send down an endless supply here though!

Probably my favorite part of an already fabulous weekend was our stop at a simple roadside attraction. One village had the brilliant idea of walling in a mountain river to create a stunningly beautiful infinity pool just off the main drag. The water was cool, crisp and perfectly clear. We dangled our feet in the chilly water to cool off and, after my feet went numb, the rest of my body – hot from the tropical sun – was desperate for its turn. It took some convincing to get Chris to join me (he’s not a fan of cold), but we eventually jumped in and, much to our surprise, managed to stay for quite a while. Floating in the fresh water, surrounded by dragonflies, listening to the birds and the leaves, it is not an experience I will forget any time soon.

Chris’ dragonfly friend.

You may have noticed in that last photo that Chris is sporting a new piece of gear (one that I’m still getting used to seeing!). That’s right, folks. Since the last time we talked, we also managed to sneak in a quick trip to America where we officially tied the knot (more about that next time)!

Although we’ve been together for about seven years, this is the first time we’ve had a meaningful date to celebrate (as there isn’t really a day when that we officially “met” or started dating – it’s a long story). So this week, our one month anniversary was a perfect excuse to pop open some champagne, walk to the fancy restaurant on the beach by our house and gorge ourselves on delicious curries and even more incredible cheesecake (a homemade one with fresh passion fruit compote)!

It’s nights like that where we both get to pause and really appreciate how fortunate we are to be here. If you had asked me five years ago where I thought I’d be at this point, there is not a chance I would have said “living in an island paradise where things don’t always work as you’d want or expect but whose raw beauty and sincere humanity often blow you away in truly spectacular ways”. But that’s *is* where we live and where we are very much enjoying spending our days. Who knows how long we will be able to call it home, but for now we’ll keep soaking up every champagne-y drop.

A Warm Welcome

After a long journey home and some unexpected clean-up projects when we arrived (one shattered wine bottle in our suitcase and a fridge we had accidentally switched off before we left three weeks ago – with a freezer full of meat, of course), we weren’t sure we could muster the energy for beachside cinema, our favorite weekly tradition.

We’d purposefully avoided watching the movie on our long plane ride so we could enjoy it at the beach (a real challenge with so much time at our disposal!), but when it started to rain about the time we would need to leave the house for the show, we figured it stood good chance of being cancelled anyway. Without any food left in our fridge, however, we decided to at least head over for dinner and some fresh air before we called it a night. 

We were very pleasantly rewarded with not only a full screening of the fabulous Bohemian Rhapsody and an absolutely stunning sunset, but the warm welcome of too many friends to count. We soaked up all the hugs and congratulations along with our Bintangs and the soft sprinkle of warm rain that waxed and waned throughout the evening. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect homecoming. 

Episode 14: Land of the Tangy Blue Cheese

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Noelle moped about her broken laptop while Chris happily settled into his new job. Both still dreamed of New Zealand.

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This week, we’re going all the way back in time to the Christmas holidays. For Chris’ winter break, we spent three summer weeks in Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud – aka New Zealand for us uninitiated). It was not even close to enough time. Three *months* might have let us start to scratch the surface.

I suppose if I could find one word to summarize New Zealand it would be: green. And spacious. And clean. And endlessly beautiful in every direction.

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Yeah, it really isn’t a one-word kind of place. But if you forced me to sum up a whole nation in two syllables, I would have to go with: nature.

Nature. Nature. Nature. All we did for three weeks was revel in the magnificence that is the New Zealand landscape. We lingered in botanical gardens, gawked in wonder at glow worms, watched dolphins play lazily in the bay and walked our feet off over the rivers and through the fjords.

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A little glow worm waiting for a fly to bump into his sticky trap. Please watch this video. It conveys the magic of these creatures in a way words never could.

Nature wasn’t the only good part of the trip, though. We also met some wonderful Kiwis who welcomed us into their homes with world-class hospitality and damn fine food and wine.

Sharing the highlights with you is somewhat challenging as there were no lowlights to speak of. I am racking my brain trying to remember the not-so-wonderful parts of the trip, and all I can come up with is that the cherries were unreasonably expensive.

If you are planning a trip to NZ and have the financial means to keep yourself in cherries, by all means, do so. I’m sure they are delicious, as everything there seemed to be. If, however, you are one of the 99%, don’t worry. You can still have a (relatively) good time on your visit. Here are some of the ways we distracted ourselves from our cherry-free existence

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Walking is always my favorite way to take in the country and learn how it all fits together (stopping to take pictures of birds and bugs is always an added bonus). Chris and I actually met walking in the mountains, but our dive holidays have outweighed our walking holidays by a fairly significant margin since then. So we opted to explore the Queen Charlotte Track for part of our trip.

We were not disappointed. I am sure our cameras got bored of seeing nothing but brilliant green and dazzling blue for five days, but we certainly did not. It is some of the most stunning country I have ever had the pleasure of exploring.

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Lochmara Lodge was undoubtedly my favorite spot on the trail. Along with hidden art installations, a night sky observatory, a hammock nook, beehives, llamas, glow worms and a bird sanctuary, they also had the divine inspiration to build the Bath House – a small building with a balcony overlooking the bay, where individuals or couples can spend an hour soaking their weary feet while drinking wine and chatting with passing birds. It was an absolutely decadent experience.

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Even this exquisite bath and its restorative sea salts, however, could not save my feet from some gnarly blisters that had hobbled me the day before. So we decided to split up for the final day of the hike and meet up back in Picton (the small tourist town everyone starts and ends the trip from). It gave Chris a day on the trail by himself and me a morning alone at Lochmara. It’s an experience I will not soon forget.

Chris set out in the early morning hours that day, and I went outside to see him off. The water in the bay was completely calm and still, and there wasn’t a person was in sight (a happy reprieve from some large and hectic families around the place the evening before). I jumped at the chance to take one of the resort’s kayaks and poodle around, basking in the alone-ness of it all.

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I spent about an hour or so slowly gliding over the glassy water, and I adored every minute of it. Solo time is one of my favorite things. Friends and family and fiancés are great and all, but I find endless joy in spending time on my own. I always end up doing the littlest things that make me immensely happy, and I soak them up with no rush or worry about what other people would rather be doing.

As I have taken to doing in moments I do not want to quickly forget, I spent some time paying attention to each sense in turn, developing the full experience into a living image I can return to later. Dozens of eagle rays floated around below me before settling in to their morning sun spots for a nap; small boats passed by in the distance, waves from their wake eventually clapping against my little orange kayak; a cargo ship melted into a cloud that was forming over the mouth of the inlet; the morning breeze gave me a chill as it moved across my wet legs; a cheeky seal jolted me from my zenned out bliss as it popped up to breathe a few inches from my hand.

I finally forced myself to go back to the hotel, where I sat for hours at the window overlooking the bay. I ate a massive fry up, played solitaire and did the crossword puzzle – all blissfully alone.

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Although I revel in these solo moments, I am immensely social and also love spending time with other people, especially my parents. They joined up with Chris and me for half of the trip, and we had a grand ole time exploring what the North Island has to offer. In Auckland, I even persuaded them to partake into the electric scooter trend sweeping the globe. With one of them now currently suffering from a bad back and the other a broken wrist (unrelated to said scooter), I feel retrospectively lucky we all survived unscathed and intact.

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My dad, ever the seafood fan, spent much of the trip drooling over New Zealand’s famous green muscles.

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My mom discovered giant carrots and potatoes, while admiring the athletic tush of a nearby parsnip.

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And we all ate an ungodly amount of this cheese.

Kapiti blue cheese
From the Kapiti dairy, makers of heavenly cheeses and delectable ice creams.

Every time we went to the store we thought it may be our last chance to get more of this blue beauty, so we stockpiled it for the next visit. Problem was: we went to the store most days, so we had to get rid of the previous package to make room for the next. Ah, cruel fate!

New Zealand is also known for its quality white wines and we did our best to make a dent in the overwhelming supply while we were there. Although I am sure many Kiwis are bored of the Lord of the Rings association by now, I was nerdily pleased with vineyards such as Lothlorien, who embrace fans wholeheartedly. Chris and I are a big fans.

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Big enough fans that, before our trip to New Zealand, the one thing I was most looking forward to was our visit to Hobbiton movie set. It was as beautiful as I expected, but also much more magical than I could have foreseen. Movie sets are usually fun and interesting to visit, but this one is in another ballpark. It is alive with flowers, vegetable gardens, birds and breezes. It genuinely feels like you are in the Shire, walking around among homes you’ve known for years.

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We booked a hobbit-style feast after our walking tour, and it did not disappoint. Every detail was designed to make the experience authentic (as authentic as a fictional place can be). I fully felt I was in the Shire, so much so that I would not have been surprised if I’d seen Merry and Pippin sneak in to steal a leg of lamb from the banquet table.

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It is a testament to the consistent beauty of the country and its glorious landscapes that none of these experiences stand out as the one thing that we most enjoyed on the trip. Each place was unique and delightful in its own way. Each one revealed more of the country’s geographical variety and the depth of its culture and heritage. Each day I found myself wanting to stay there longer, to see more of the countryside, to drink more of the wine and to eat more of their tasty morsels.

Except for the cherries, of course.

kiwi to be continued

In memory of the comrades we lost on this journey. May they rest in peace.

Episode 13: Quick Catch Up

Last time on Mobilis Divers: I shared my initial impressions of the PPP while Chris and I prepared for our Christmas trip to New Zealand.

Today, I am writing to you from Chris’ laptop. Mine, sadly, is in America undergoing surgery.  Yep, it managed to make it all the way through New Zealand (where Apple mechanics abound) only to die two days after we arrived back here (where the expert in town looked at it and advised that I “take it to America”, casually overlooking the fact it is 8,000+ miles away). Sigh. Considering the prices of flights at the moment, I’d be better off buying a new computer – except I can’t get it delivered here since there is no postal system. Double sigh.

After an initial meltdown at this state of affairs (more so the financial fear of fixing an Apple product), I assessed my available resources and took advantage of the fact that my parents were still here and could carry the sickly creature back to America for me. As we’re going back for our wedding in April, I will already be there to pick it up post-op, so it will get a free round-trip journey (if only we were all so lucky!).

And so it came to pass that we parted ways…

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Dramatic re-enactment: (this is not me, but this actress is clearly drawing from personal experience).

It’s been an inconvenience, but not the life-shattering loss it felt like it would be the day it stopped working. Most everything is backed up already, I just can’t access any of it for three months.

Much like the crap you don’t really use but can’t bear to get rid of (shoved in a drawer, under a bed or in your parents’ attic), I have lived fairly happily the last few weeks without most of the things on there. And while I was slightly devastated to lose access to ALL the movies and shows I downloaded prior to getting here (see Internet not strong in my last post), it has given us an opportunity to dig into Frasier, which we downloaded in its entirety over two years ago before getting sidetracked by other favorites (we have a fairly luxurious habit of watching with a bottle of Portugeuese wine, as the Crane boys would appreciate).

What I can say is that not having my laptop/workspace has made writing a lot harder. It’s silly really, but I had a system on that machine and I don’t on this one. On mine, I know where things are, I know how I organize (ha!) my process, and I don’t accidentally highlight and delete entire paragraphs mid-flow.

Nonetheless, I will use this beast to the best of my abilities and catch you up on all the happenings this side of the globe.

Last time we talked, I shared some of my initial thoughts on my new home. Two more months on the ground has taught me that I was right about some things and wrong about others. So let me quickly set the record straight on a couple things and update you on others:

I said there were no bugs… There are bugs. Once the rains came – and come they have! – the mozzies and flies and flying ants starting making regular appearances. They are still FAR fewer in number than I anticipated, but they are around. Good news for me though, Chris seems to have much more delicious blood, so as long as I stay near him they don’t bother me much. As for him, well, it’s a bummer.

I predicted there would come a day when I would want nachos – REAL nachos – and I would be sad when I couldn’t get them. That day has come, my friends. You can only deprive a Utahn of her Mexican food for so long! For those of you who know what true nachos look, feel and taste like, you may want to skip the next sentence lest you faint. We recently went to the Mexican restaurant in town and, while I admit the burritos will do in a pinch, the nachos are blasphemously Dorito-based (gasp! shock! horror!)! It looks like this does, however, give me an opportunity to unlock Life Skill Number 40 on my bucket list: learn how to make my own tortillas (then Life Skill Number 41: learn how to fry them into decent chips). I am currently recruiting for taste testers.

It is hot, but not as hot as it was in November. That was a little crazy. It’s still humid but totally bearable. It’s even been pleasantly cool a couple of evenings recently. Happy days! We’ve also had a couple previews of those dry-season sunsets Chris so rudely taunted me with last year.

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The flight price deadlock I mentioned last time is, annoyingly, still on. What was a $250 return ticket this time last year is now $700. Ouch. It’s getting ridiculous and the whole country is bored of it. No one can afford to leave and no one can afford to go. People are resorting to 12-hour bus journeys across the entire island and into another country so they can fly to a destination that is 1.5 hours by air from here. It’s craziness. I hope I can give you a happy update about this one someday soon.

I have not rescued any more piglets, but I did retrieve two chicks from an irrigation ditch, much to the amusement of the villagers watching/helping me.

Right! So that should set the record straight on a couple of things, at least. And now for new news!

Chris is really enjoying his new Senior Teacher role. It’s been a little busier than we might have imagined, but he loves some of the projects he is working on. I won’t bore you with the nerdy details, but let’s just say the student exams are looking pretty sparkly these days.

I have been looking for work and *may* (insh’allah) have a job lined up. It’s proving a little more complicated than I expected to get that started, but I hope I can share more about it officially with you soon. I had a lot of things fall apart last minute in Muscat, so it is hard not to feel a little concerned that it will do the same, but I suppose there isn’t much I can do about it. Fingers crossed!

While I wait for word on that, I have been doing my best to learn the local language. The job I *may* (insha’allah) have, asked that I learn either that or Portuguese, so I chose the former (aka much easier) option. I don’t know why, but speaking another language in an office setting just seems to me like the epitome of being a grown up. I would be pretty proud of myself if I was able to converse at that level in a second language. Chris has also been studying it the last year, so the not-so-grown-up part of me is excited to have a secret language we can speak outside of the country.  It’s a win-win all around, really.

secret

I’ve also recently started attending a Tai Chi/Qigong class in the mornings, which has been really fun. It’s a lovely way to start the day and get out of the house for a little while. I’m constantly surprised to learn about the different classes/groups/events going on around town and am impressed by the breadth of options, considering the size of the city. The more I’m here, the more I feel lucky to have the opportunity. There seems to be a lot more to this city than meets the eye, and I find myself getting the feeling I did in London that I want to experience all it has to offer. I’m not sure I would walk all the streets, but I’ve been thinking of some ways I could document the experience a little more systematically. Watch this space!

Last but not least, although it seems a little backward to talk about our Christmas holidays in February, I have had a lot of people ask about our time in New Zealand. The trip has come and gone, as the best things do, but I would be remiss to throw up only a few photos and consider it enough to give you a taste of our adventure. Therefore, next time I shall briefly depart from tales of the Possibly Perfect Place and shift the focus instead to New Zealand, the Absolutely Perfect Place…

See you then!

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Episode 12: First Impressions

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Chris was packing up and moving into the new flat while waiting for Noelle to arrive via London and Singapore.  

I have officially been in the Possibly Perfect Place for a week now! A lot of people have been asking about my first impressions, so I figured I would jump right in and tell you some of my thoughts so far.

As a basic summary: this is a new country. A really new country. To put it in terms of those who aren’t super into history (such as I), imagine you are in America at a time when it is totally normal to see a retired George Washington hanging out at the local saloon. It’s that level of new. The man who led the resistance movement that brought about the country’s independence (it’s second independence, actually) and became its first President still lives in town and is often seen kicking about. So, that’s kind of bizarre and trippy.

Being in such a fresh-out-of-the-oven place feels both exciting and chaotic. As in the early days of America, they’re still trying to figure it all out. They’re constructing their foundational laws, their forms of government, their political parties, and their infrastructure. They have very little money to do this all with, so there is a lot of prioritizing going on. Is it more essential to have garbage collectors or teachers? Is it better to invest in agriculture or tourism?  Even their driving system is in flux. A new one-way system was recently implemented, but the road markings haven’t changed as quickly, so you don’t always know if you are on a two-way street or a one-way street or which way the one-way goes. Couple that with driving on the left and you are in for quite an adventure!

All that to say, there are some significant challenges I have seen so far and certainly more to come. But there are also some pretty sweet rewards. I will enumerate a few below and let you decide to which category they belong.

Market limitations: This isn’t the type of place where you decide what you want to make for dinner then go get the things and make it. You go to the market, get what they have then put your imagination to the test. It makes for more creative cooking, that’s for sure. It’s kind of fun for now, though I can see there being a day when all I want is the perfect nacho and there are no tortilla chips in the whole country. That will be a sad day, but in the words of Aragorn, “it is not this day!” (I’m reading Lord of the Rings in preparation for our New Zealand trip and Hobbiton visit, obviously).

Regular G&Ts – Speaking of market limitations, a few weeks ago Chris tried to get tonic water for us to make gin and tonics, but no shops had it. The week after that it was back in stock, but you could only buy it by the flat. So we now have 24 cans we’re working our way through (using the very adorable bamboo straws he also acquired). Our first night here we also went to a beautiful beachside restaurant where we watched the sunset and drank our new signature drink. Bliss.

Airline Drama: The need for antitrust legislation came to light last week when an airline started essentially holding the country at ransom. There are three cities you can fly to from here, only one of which is really a useful connection for the majority of people. That route is served by two airlines across four flights a day. It is the country’s lifeline to the outside world in many ways. People use that for their visa runs, for long weekends, for buying things they can’t get here, and for going back to wherever they call home. Last week, one of those two airlines bought the other one and more than doubled the prices overnight. It’s a been a problem, to say the least.

It has affected us personally as my parents are trying to plan a trip to visit and now have to pay a hell of a lot more to get here. And it has had huge ramifications for NGOs who have to frequently fly people around and for tourist-based businesses who will see a massive drop in their clientele. As such a new country, however, there isn’t a lot of bargaining power to fix this with. The Ministry of Transportation is doing its best to stand up to the airline by imposing sanctions, or bringing in a new airline for the route, or increasing the national airline’s current routes from zero to one to fill the gap, but this could take a lot of time. Until then, no one can stop this company from charging extortionate prices with no consequence.

Internet not strong: Chris set my phone up with internet a couple of days after I got here and it’s sort of decent-ish (some things work and others have no prayer). It feels like we went back to the 90s a bit, but I am also kind of enjoying it. I have a lot more time to do things because I can’t be bothered to sit around waiting for pages to load. It makes banking pretty annoying (and I can’t imagine how long it would take to reset a password with all the emails and temporary codes and yada yada yada), but it means I don’t waste time with pointless crap online, so that’s nice.

Not many bugs: This one has surprised me a lot. I haven’t had one mosquito bite yet. I have seen one sort-of-chunky-but-by-no-means-huge cockroach, but nothing else gross in the house (or outside of the house for that matter). I really expected to have bites all over after a week and I don’t, so that’s a win!

Color!!!: They are not afraid of color here. There are gorgeous tropical flowers everywhere (long live bougainvillea!) and the local tapestry craft uses some incredibly bold and beautiful color palettes. I love it mucho.

Protests: A few protests took place this week over decisions made by Parliament and the police. This does belong somewhat in the “challenges” section as it causes minor concerns over safety, but it also feels like good thing. We recently lived in a place where this would simply never happen. I was hard pressed to find anyone there who said anything against the government in the privacy of their own home, let alone proclaim it on the streets with their feet and their voices and their signs. While I intend to steer well clear of these situations when they occur, the fact that they have the right to protest and to speak their minds publicly is quite significant to me. They are doing something right there, in my books.

It’s hot: It is only really in the high-80s F/ mid-20s C, but the 70-80% humidity really adds a whole new level of fun. It is not as hot as Arabia was, of course, but it’s more of a daily presence. In Muscat, if I wanted to run the AC all day every day, at the end of the month we’d have a bill of about $15 for electricity. Here, we have spent double that in a week with it on only some of the time. Because utilities are so much more expensive, we try to get by with a fan if we can, which means we are often pretty sweaty.  It *is* the beginning of the rainy season, though, so I don’t think it will always be so muggy. On the bright side, my skin and hair are really feeling great!

Cold showers on hot days: In Muscat, our water tanks were on the roof, which meant that in the heat of the day (when you most wanted a cold shower) the water was scorching hot. Here they have quite cleverly put a roof over the water. Hot afternoon? Cold shower. Fantastic.

We’re social butterflies: In the week I’ve been here, I have already: attended a really lovely yoga class with our really lovely neighbour, gone on a splendid walk with a hiking group (then to a party with them that night where I met more new friends) and been to the beachside cinema where I made friends with a beach dog who can shake hands. In short, we’re very busy and important people, so do be sure to have your people reach out early if you want to schedule a time with us.

Kingboy: I’ve also made friends with the dog who lives at our house. His name is Kingboy, and he is, admittedly, pretty stupid. He likes to chew on rocks and plastic bowls and rags and arms and anything he can get his mouth around. I am in love with him already.

Piglet Rescue: Kingboy had an exciting moment this week when a piglet happened to wander through our gate accidentally. While he looked at it curiously to see if it was worth chewing (the mama pick snarling and cursing at him from the other side), I had the pleasure of distracting him long enough for the little one to get back to its (very angry) mama. It took all my strength not to try and cuddle it.

Chris is here: Last but not least, not only are Chris and I now on the same continent, we’re in the same country, same city and, if you can believe it, same house. We ride in the same car to shop at the same grocery store and watch the same movies on the same tv. In a couple of days we’ll go on the same boat to swim by each other on the same dive. It’s been delightful to simply share the same spaces without a screen between us.

So there you have it, a few observations from my first week in a brand new place. In the time it has taken me to write and post this (see: “internet not strong” section above), I have had even more interesting experiences and made more notes of more tales of woe and wonder to share with you soon. Can’t wait to see what the next week holds!

Episode 11: 5…4…3…2…1…

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Noelle was a few days away from short-term retirement, while Chris was breaking in our new car, packing up for our new flat and getting ready to announce his other big news. 

Since we talked last, quite a lot has happened! I quit my job, packed up my life, had a quick trip to Mexico (where I went diving in eerie caves, climbed crumbling ruins and laughed heartily with great friends) and flew to London, where I have spent the last two weeks catching up with more friends, family and favourite foods.

Diving in Angelita Cenote. It was as creepy as it looks.

A healthy sheen of jungle sweat on three lovely faces after we climbed to the top of the ruins in Coba.

The gorgeous courtyard at our guest house.

Matilda, the feisty kitty that let me harass her with endless cuddles and play sessions for a couple of days.

A perfect rainbow over the Dunstable Downs.

Cream tea, of course!

My favourite Tiffany. Another sassy cat I miss terribly when I am not in London.

Chris has also had some excitement in his life the last few weeks! We are finally free to share the big news I mentioned last time: he has officially been promoted to Senior Teacher, starting in January! He’s already begun doing some curriculum planning and other bigger picture duties for his new role and is genuinely loving it. He derives immense joy from designing good courses and materials for his students (nerds are the best), so it is a perfect position for him. It’s wonderfully uplifting to see him enjoying his work so much.

Although he’s been quite busy getting ready for his new job, he has managed to get in some good adventures too. Between his diving weekends and hiking days, he’s seen some gorgeous parts of the country lately. On his last trip across the channel, he saw a pod of 10 or so sperm whales and a super pod of 200+ dolphins!

Suspiciously whale-shaped bumps.

Not a bad cameraman! I shall keep him.

The view from his home-away-from-home on the island. Hammock, beach, sunset…it’s been hard for him.

He also witnessed an event (sadly without a camera) that illustrates quite clearly how life will be much different in our new home. A restaurant recently opened about a ten-minute walk from our house, and every Friday they set up a big screen on the beach while the standard, wildly colourful sunset blooms across the sand and sky. After darkness falls, everyone sits around sipping beers, watching a movie together. It all sounds desperately romantic until I receive messages like this:

Five days from now, I’ll be setting foot in this strange, beautiful, messy, hilarious, romantic, chaotic place. It will be a relief to be with Chris again and a joy and pleasure to learn what makes the country tick. It is also certain to be frustrating and irritating at times, and I may have to dodge the occasionally charging pig or skittering scorpion. It’s a real place, with some real beauty and some real complexity. Only time will tell what our lives will look like there and how we will fit into the scene. All I know is that it will be delightful to finally be figuring it all out hand in hand with my favourite adventure buddy.

Grey Reef Shark/carcharrhinus Perezi

 

Episode 10: Let the Countdown Begin

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Chris was getting chased by pigs and stung by scorpions between sunset visits to the beach, while Noelle made some changes to our end-of-year schedule to accommodate our upcoming nuptials!

Hello again!

All kinds of exciting news to share this month. First and foremost, we have purchased my tickets, and I officially have 62 days until I land in the Possibly Perfect Place!!! Yay!!! I can’t wait to get there. I’m getting bored of Chris sending me amazing photos of beachside sunsets and telling me about all the fabulous nights out he’s having with friends without me being able to join him. I am quite ready to be there so I can start exploring our new home.

sunset in again

sunset on beach

Good news for me on that front: I only have 13 workings days left in Utah!

Now that I’ve officially given my notice at work I am feeling quite ready to be done and move on to our new adventures. I did have a few pangs of sadness when I turned in my notice, though. It’s been exactly the job I needed in a lot of ways; I’ve had a regular schedule (for the first time in about six years) and have been doing work that is relatively easy but still requires some mental with-it-ness. It’s helped me get back on my feet mentally and has introduced me to several really good new friends. And, my favorite part, it’s been stress-free enough that I don’t think about work for a second when I am not there. There’s a lot I have learned from this job the last few months, and some important skills and lessons I will take with me into the next phase of my life. Fare thee well, WGU!

My new job will be somewhere down in that pretty little city.

On my last day, I will be leaving the office with my backpack in tow and heading straight for the airport to start my Mexican diving adventure! I’m getting really excited about the cenotes and jungles and ruins and margaritas on the beach (or by the private pool of the villa I’m staying at with my wonderful friends). It is going to be fabulous. It’s been a year (a YEAR!) since I’ve been diving for real. My pool dives just haven’t aroused quite the same level of excitement these past few months. I can’t wait to get back out to play with my fishy friends and explore some new puddles.

Chris + frogfish. Can you see his little face? The frogfish, I mean.

In other diving holiday news, Chris recently had a week away as well, investigating an area where we are interested in setting up shop. I say a week away, but really it’s about an hour boat ride from our house. This island off the mainland is surrounded by some incredibly healthy reef full of creatures big and small. Chris was as excited about the pipefish as he was about the grey reef sharks. From the accounts I got of his time there (jealousy-inducing photos of his logbook), it sounds like a pretty special place.

A mushroom coral pipefish in soft coral. I love how its face looks like a little dragon

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A funky nudi (but aren’t they all?)

Not only is the diving fabulous there, but after his reccy, our dream is starting to feel like it might be a real possibility. The tourist industry is definitely still developing, but the whole time he was there it was full of visiting divers, which bodes well for an up-and-coming dive centre (the coolest up-and-coming dive centre, obviously). I definitely cannot wait to see it myself and do some exploratory dives with him. Who knows, maybe this time next year I’ll be writing to you from the comfort of our own beachfront property!

Here are a few more shots from his visit, for your viewing pleasure:

Market time on the island.

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I didn’t know Ferrari did a line in boats!

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The island airport: Terminal in the distance, runway and a plane small enough it is almost hidden by bushes.

A couple of other developments this week: we have a new car! and a new flat! and some news we can’t yet reveal!*

New Car

Firstly, the car: Isn’t she cute?! From what it sounds like, she quite comfortably seats 3.5 people, which could lead to some interesting negotiations. We’re in the process of choosing her name, so bring on the suggestions!

Secondly, the flat: It happens to work out pretty splendidly that a 2-bedroom place is opening up in the same complex just as I am arriving with Chris’ mum for her visit. Chris will shuffle our stuff next door before we get there and I will put up all the decorations to make it nice and homey after I arrive. Teamwork!

Thirdly, the rest: We have another bit of good news that, unfortunately, is not public yet. You will be the first (in a series of people) to know once it is though!

While I can’t promise this level of excitement and good news in every update. I can say that as I get closer to arriving and am learning more and more about the PPP, I find so much more I want to tell you about. It’s a fascinating country with some really interesting things going on. I’ll do my best to share it all with you along the way!

pygmy seahorse

*Before you ask the question you’re thinking of there, consider Chris and my relative proximity and try again.