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.

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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.

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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.

Episode 9: Pigs at Sunset

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Noelle was anxiously awaiting Chris’ arrival in Utah, while the two of them cobbled together some exciting plans for the rest of the year.

Summer is officially here in Utah. Triple digits are a far cry from the weekly snowstorms we were getting last time I wrote! My parents chose to escape the heat with a multi-month road trip around the country and a quick nip over to the UK. In the meantime, I’ve been tending to our yard and our Airbnb guests. I’m proud to say that this week I harvested my first crop of tomatoes from the vine! Nothing beats the flavour of a sun-drenched tomato. With my basil plant flourishing as well, all I need is a free-range buffalo and I could have all the caprese my Italian-at-heart heart desires!

We’ve had a few notable changes on the agenda since our last update. Perhaps the most significant is that our diving trip over Chris’ winter holidays is now going to be our honeymoon! I’m happy to announce that we got engaged on our fabulous trip to Arches in April (two and a half months ago already, if you can believe it!). While I think a proposal at Delicate Arch would be quite special any time, we got particularly lucky and had the place all to ourselves for the better part of an hour. It was a pretty spectacular morning.

For those in the know, this is not taken at Delicate Arch. I don’t really get the whole selfie-during-an-intimate-life-changing-moment thing. That whole episode is just for the two of us.

In true Chris and Noelle fashion, we’ve chosen to eat our dessert first. We’re honeymooning this December, but not getting married until next April back in Utah. Due to some complicated bureaucratic requirements, we can’t get married in the UK, but we will have a party there next August. With all that accounted for, we wouldn’t have time for a honeymoon until December 2019. Far too long for impatient travellers!

Also, now that we’re adding one major event to the coming year, we’re removing another. I have decided not to take the diving Instructor course this year after all. Chris has attempted to do some teaching in the Possibly Perfect Place and the dive centres there charge a preposterous amount for access to their boats and gear. It doesn’t make much sense to pay for the course and license if I can’t do anything with it. We’ll wait to see when it makes more sense for our business plans for me to go ahead with it (more on that shortly).

Putting off the course until a more useful time also means I will get to settle into my new home with my new fiancé a little sooner than planned. I’m eager to be with Chris again, get a job and have a normal life there. Plus it looks pretty beautiful, right?

Before you assume the Possibly Perfect Place is the divine paradise those photos suggest, please note the following disclosures:

  • Behind the photo taker, a family of pigs is wandering around scavenging for dinner
  • Chris got charged by a (probably) different pig a couple of weeks ago while gathering his laundry. Said pig then charged the landlady (while the guard dog dove under the car for cover). She beat the beast off with an ironing board and climbed the tree to get away. Cleaning ladies there are badass.
  • Chris also rolled over one evening to find a crab staring him down from the hallway and was stung by a scorpion while packing up his bag this morning.

Still, they know how to do sunsets, eh?!

It’s definitely going to be an adventure there, to say the least. I must admit, despite all the animal encounters, the anxiety that has started bubbling up recently is mainly around not finding a job and being home bored and lonely again all day. I never understood the meaning of being “bored out of one’s mind” until I found myself having lengthy discussions with my potted plants in Muscat. Although I am sure the plants in the PPP are equally friendly and have many tales to tell, I’d rather they’re not my main source of company. While I can’t predict how the job hunt will go, I can say that Chris has got quite a cool group of friends around him already. Having a soft landing into an instant community of cool and caring people certainly eases some of my worries.

If I don’t find a job, however, perhaps it means it’s time for us to dive into this whole dive centre thing after all. We are starting to feel like we might be maybe at a point of perhaps thinking about getting this thing going…possibly…theoretically. It’s a big deal, guys! We’re totally freaked out but also really excited.

The first step will be getting the business registered. Chris’ boss has his own business on the side there, so it’s been really helpful to get a better idea of what is involved in that (Stamps, basically. Lots of stamps – as per usual). We’ll likely have to hire someone to help us get that going, and it’s a nice start to get recommendations from others who have gone before us on who to trust with that kind of thing.

Once the official stuff is out of the way, we’ve got some ideas for how we can start pretty small and run some dives or courses on the weekends when Chris isn’t working. It’ll be an investment, but not a fortune, and it will, hopefully, allow us to get a better idea of how viable the whole idea actually is.

When we start talking about our plans, we (I say “we”, but obviously I mean “I”) quickly go from the practical discussions of how many tanks and sets of gear we’ll need, to where we will hide all the nudis for everyone to find. I mean really, how cool would it be for guests to hunt for these around the shop??

In case you are as interested in buying these as I am, here’s the link!

Anyway. I digress. Sort of. It’s the little touches that make me most excited – like figuring out how to make cool starfish bean bags and how to best to stock the log book decorating supplies. I know those are a lower priority than getting a compressor, for example, but they’re also kind of not. Lots of people run dive centres and lots of them feel pretty much the same. I am excited about making ours a reflection of the things we love, particularly if that means it’s a cool, comfy place full of nerdy divers poring over fishy reference books to find the one obscure creature they found that morning. I sincerely hope you can come visit us there one day!

Episode 8: Looking Forward

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Chris and Noelle tried to console each other from a distance over the loss of their sweet little kitten. It didn’t work very well. Noelle made a promise to appreciate life’s small joys in honor of her sun-basking, tree-scratching, bird-watching friend. 

Only 9 days until Chris is here!

We’ve got a few things planned, but bringing him to southern Utah is probably the one I’m most excited about. I’ve made a list of all my favorite places to take him, and while most of them I’m keeping a secret (mostly to annoy him), I cannot hide the fact that I am so ready to share Delicate Arch with him. I spent so much of my childhood playing around this epic masterpiece. When I’m having a bad day, I often imagine myself there – basking in the sun, the red sandstone warming my back, lizards darting in and out of rocks nearby. I could really do with some of its restorative magic right about now. I can’t wait to get there. And I can’t wait for Chris to see it in person.

He is pretty ready for a break from his developing-nation life, too. This week’s Third World problem? He went to the store to buy some electricity (yeah, you read that right) and they told him, “No have electricity. Electricity finished. Tomorrow maybe electricity.” The power wasn’t out, mind you, they just did not have any electricity to sell. They also “no had” eggs, despite the fact that there are chickens literally all around you all the time. Oh Asia.

Good news though: this weekend, he’s moving out of the ghetto (with it’s yapping dogs, crowing roosters, screaming kids and booming music) and over to the other side of town, near the beach. It sounds like a great setup. He’s already got friends who live in the same complex, which is fabulous, and it’s a less hectic part of town. It’ll be a little more effort to get to the pubs and dive shops when he wants to, but it’ll be worth the tradeoff to have a place that feels a little more like a home.

Also he’ll be closer to this beach, which he’s been telling me about for years.

Speaking of moving…drum roll please…it looks likely I’ll be moving to the Possibly Perfect Place in January!! That’s right, folks. The next phase of Operation: Let’s Get This Party Started is just around the corner.

I’ve thought about joining him sooner (the more snow we get here, the more jealous I get of him being on a gorgeous, tropical island without me), but I’m really looking forward to spending the summer with my friends and family here. There’s nothing quite like BBQ season in America. Plus I’ve got art festivals and first birthdays and weekend visits out-of-state I’m very excited about. Once I’ve had my summer fun and the leaves and snow have started to fall, I’ll pack up my bags and head out for the next adventure. As per usual, however, with our silly way of doing things, I’ll have to make a few quick stops in Mexico, London, and Bali (and maybe New Zealand and Fiji, of course) along the way.

Why all the hopping around? Well, I’d really like to have the scuba diving Instructor course finished before I settle into the new place. I was originally thinking of doing it here in Utah, but it’s really expensive (nearly $4000!). We have friends at two shops in Bali where we know the instruction will be top-notch and they both have courses starting in mid-November for about a thousand dollars less. It’s the perfect time for me to get the course done before Chris’ winter break starts but before I potentially start working and have to worry about getting a month off to study (side note: we’ve been looking a lot at jobs for me there – too early, but still fun to do – and it looks like there’s some great potential! More on that as we get closer.)

As for his winter holidays, he has about a month off, so we’re thinking of hopping over to New Zealand to see Hobbiton, visit a friend, do some hiking and maybe meet my parents for Christmas as they’d already been planning to visit about that time. And, you know, with Fiji being so close by…well we’re definitely tempted, to say the least.

A glimpse at Fijian waters

Before I leave the Americas, though, I’d really love to dive the cenotes in Mexico. It seems a shame to be so close and not get to them before I go. A few friends and I are trying to get a little trip together in October, which I’m really excited about. I’m looking forward to the Angelita cenote, in particular. It’s a strange place with fresh water on top, salt water below and a cloud of white sulphur between. Because of the color difference and the small island that peeks up just above the sulphur, it looks like an underwater lake.

It’s felt good to see our plans for the rest of the year slowly take shape. We’re excited about the fact that we might both be able to work, which would make starting our own place a lot less stressful financially. We’re excited about the new place Chris is moving to, which is likely to be our next home together. We’re excited about the store having more electricity to sell now, which means we can carry on Skyping. But mostly we’re excited for nine days from now when we’ll both be on the same continent!

Episode 7: My Kitten Caboodle

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Chris and Noelle accepted the reality that there is no Perfect Place. They started to see some obstacles on the road ahead but remembered that even though living their dream might not be easy, the adventure will be worth it.

Four weeks from today, Chris will be in Utah. And not a moment too soon. It’s been a really hard week for us. Our sweet little kitty passed away in a heartbreaking accident a few days ago and it’s been impossibly difficult for me to deal with on my own. It’s been awful and shocking and insanely painful. He was my constant companion and playmate for the last couple of years. I miss him terribly. All I want to do was put my head on Chris’ shoulder and cry on the couch. Instead, we are forced to sit face to face, a glass wall between us, trying to console each other with words at a time where there aren’t any that matter at all. We do the best we can, but Skype hugs just aren’t the same as real hugs, and the distance has felt all too real.

Original art by Maoboo

I’ve seriously contemplated packing up my stuff, getting on a plane and fleeing from the constant reminders of my beautiful kitten that are still scattered around the house. But it’s better, I guess, to be in a place where we were together every day and where I loved him endlessly as I come to terms with my new reality. It’s still too raw for me to work through right now, and, to be honest, I am not particularly interested in getting over it at the moment. Getting over it feels like letting him slip from my memory, and that is my biggest fear of all. All I want to do is cry in the shower and hug his toys as if touching something he touched will let me feel him again.

It’s ironic really, I came home to heal. I came home to be surrounded by family and friends, to bask in their love and affection, to feel the joy of belonging, to regroup, recover and get ready for the next adventure. I did not expect to experience a fresh new pain. I suppose, though, there is no better place to be when you find yourself in the midst of a profound loss. My parents have been deeply comforting, allowing me to be messy and raw and snotty as much as I need to. My friends have surrounded me with love, consolation, kindness and photos of their babies being adorable to distract me, even if it’s just for a moment.IMG_3855.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of one of Carl Sagan’s philosophies: living creatures are made of the same matter as the universe and are, therefore, the cosmos way of experiencing itself. There’s no soul I know who took this purpose to heart more than my cat. The world was his playground and everything was his toy. He scratched every tree, chased every bird, watched every squirrel, basked in every ray of sun. If there was something to climb, he climbed it. If there was a door he could open, he opened it. If there was a yoga mat to shred, he shredded it. He lived so fully, so presently, all day every day. And he lapped up joy wherever he could find it, whether it was on a sun-drenched bed or in a cuddle under the blankets.

Although I don’t feel up to it right this moment – and I don’t think I will for a while – the only way I feel I can truly honor his spirit and the joy he brought to my life is to try to live like he did. To embody his constant playfulness. To embrace his shameless indulgence in life’s smallest pleasures. To be cautious but brave. To be curious and experimental. To be endlessly sweet and comforting. To be choosy about who I love, but to love the ones I do with all I’ve got. And to live every day with the sole purpose of experiencing the world as deeply and thoroughly as I can in the time I have.

HG Wells once said, “Losing your way on a journey is unfortunate. But losing your reason for the journey is a fate more cruel.” I came here to heal and get ready for our next adventure. It’s awful that I’ve had to take a step back in that process to grieve the loss of a companion I loved so deeply. But Chris will be here soon and we have all kinds of adventures planned. And this fall, I will quit my job and move across the world to explore a new country, meet new friends, hike up new mountains and dive into new waters. Along the way, I’ll be sure to roll in the grass, splash in the puddles and bask in the rays of sun, because that’s what my sweet kitty would have done.

Child Dugong Calm Baby Peaceful Mood Underwater Images Of Cute Animals
Mama Manatee and her playful pup

Episode 6: The Real World

Last time on Mobilis Divers: On one hemisphere, Chris was looking forward to Bintangs on the beaches of Bali before flying to his brand new abode. On the other, Noelle was getting ready for the first day of her new job. Both were dreaming of fish.

dreaming of fish
Original art by Cyril Rolando

Now that I’ve finally got my head around what it means to have a full-time job again, and Chris and I have figured out the time zone calculations enough to be able to talk somewhat regularly, it’s time to share some updates!

As you’ve likely gathered, step one of our plan for world domination has officially taken place: Chris is now living in the Possibly Perfect Place (PPP). That’s right, things are starting to get real, my friends. We’ve learned quite a lot about life on the ground there already – the good, the bad and the origin story. It’s definitely an interesting place!

But first, the Utah news.

I officially worked a 5-day, 40-hour week for the first time in years (you can send your gold stars via post or sms). I’ve started settling into the routine of having a job again and, surprise, surprise, it takes up a lot of the free time I used to have in abundance. On the other hand, I am getting paid to sit at home and write this because it is already a bank holiday! Swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

I also had the opportunity to pop into the dive center where I did my little trial run last month and make some more definitive plans about what I want to do there. As it stands now, it looks like we’re aiming to get me on an instructor course near the end of the summer. Woot! I’m hoping to run as many DSD courses as possible before then (people trying diving for the very first time). It should teach me some good tricks of the trade before I work my way up to the next level (side note: If you happen to be in Utah and want to try it out, let me know! It’s always more fun for you and less intimidating for me to work with friends while I hone my skills).

Hint: If this photo looks perfectly fine to you, a DSD course might be enlightening.

On the other side of the world, Chris has also been settling into a new job while simultaneously experiencing the ups and downs of moving to a new country. After a less-relaxing-than-anticipated two days in Bali, he was relieved to finally land in the PPP. We happen to have a friend living there, so on his very first night he was already having drinks with a bunch of divers at the dive centre that also happened to be his hotel. What better entrance could you ask for?

For the first couple of days, he basked in the lush tropical greenery, the bright flowers in bloom, the pedestrian-friendly streets and the variety of dining options (there’s even Mexican!). He got excited about the eating, exploring, hiking and, of course, diving we would do there. That initial tourist perspective was pretty thrilling. I was ready to jump on a plane to go wander around with him. Then he tried to live there.

cart
Art by Urban Sketchers Singapore

As it turns out, the Possibly Perfect Place is not just an idyllic wonderland we constructed in our minds, but an earthy, complex, full-bodied city. In other words: it’s a real place. We knew this, of course, but now that he’s on the ground we can no longer remain in our one-dimensional fantasy land. Like I said, things are starting to get real.

The biggest obstacle we can see for our business plans there is the cost. Although it’s a typical Asian country, the prices are very much not. A day of diving is more than double the rate of the surrounding areas, and we’re not entirely sure why. It’s the biggest mystery for us right now. For example, he can get a bottle of wine from Portugal (over 14,000 miles away) for about $8, but he can’t seem to find a saucepan (from probably less than 500 miles away) for less than $25. It’s bizarre.

His house hunt was also a little dispiriting. He thought he had a sweet little place lined up right by the beach with all the amenities you could hope for, but when he saw it in person the beach was not one you’d want to stroll down in the evenings after dinner. Sadly it was covered in plastic rubbish – like many beaches these days. Sigh. Unable to bear that, he ended up paying what feels like unnecessarily high rent to basically live in the ghetto.

Despite the bad stuff, though, there has definitely been some good. His ghetto is full of really friendly families who have warmly welcomed him into their neighbourhood. He’s already made friends with his co-workers and is going to BBQs and pub nights with them. He’s going for his first dive this weekend at one of the most highly acclaimed muck diving sites. And he’s met some people who are running their own businesses there – even one focused on sustainable tourism, which is truly exciting for us.

Through all the dirty beaches, burning plastic and corrugated tin huts, we are still intrigued by the potential of the PPP. When I was in Muscat, I met a few people who had been there a long time and were deeply in love with the city in a way that took me a long time to understand. Eventually, I figured it out though: they were there from the beginning.

They saw the country go from this…

Qurum, Muscat 1969

…to this…

Qurum, Muscat 2017

….in the time they lived there. They were a part of that. They taught in the schools, giving the new generation opportunities their grandparents never dreamed of. They built the roads and ports, giving more people access to better careers. And they started their own businesses, creating jobs for locals and contributing to the growth of a fledgeling nation.

The way we see it right now is this: we would feel immensely lucky to make a living doing what we love, but there’s a bigger picture for us too. While living in a brand new country may not always be ideal, or romantic, or easy, we’re fascinated by the thought of being there at the beginning, watching the country develop over the years and being part of that in whatever small way we can. It is a truly exhilarating thought for both of us, and the PPP might be our chance to do that. Only time will tell! Whale shark