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!

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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

Episode 5: Best Fishes for the New Year!

Last time on Mobilis DiversNoelle learned that Utah is – quite unexpectedly – a sort of interesting place to dive, so she jumped in the water immediately. 

Happy New Year to you, your family, friends and fish!

Our 2018 is already starting out with some pretty big news. In just a couple of days, Chris heads to Bali, where, for the better part of two days, he’ll sit by the pool reading books while he drinks Bintangs and eats nasi goreng until he bursts. He’s looking forward to it immensely. Then on January 8th (less than a week from today!), once he’s sufficiently relaxed and in full tropical island mode, he’ll fly to his (and maybe our!) new home: The Possibly Perfect Place!!

That’s right, folks! This is actually happening!!

For the first week, he’ll be staying basically right on the beach where there are a bunch of restaurants and bars that look out over the ocean – an ocean full of whales, dolphins and all sorts of hidden small stuff. I am SO jealous he’ll be diving there soon. I can’t wait to hear all about it! I’m also silly excited for the lively, social, full-of-music-and-art beach scene there. It’s a very welcome change from the quiet, reserved, monochromatic seaside life of Muscat, and one we’re eager to embrace with open arms.

While it won’t all be fun and games – he does start a new job on January 15th and he’ll have to find a place to live pretty quickly after he arrives – he’s incredibly excited to launch the next phase our plans. He’s been doing all sorts of research into cool places to explore (I’m particularly excited about the mountain hiking) and tasty places to eat (there’s pho!! – we lived for three years without it in Muscat). He’s even gone so far as to see what we might need to do to open a business there. We might be slightly ahead of ourselves, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn that they are putting real effort into making it easier for businesses to start up and stay running. This plan might be able to take flight sooner than we thought!

Also on January 8th, but on the other side of the world (almost exactly), I’ll be starting a new job! I got a gig at a nearby university and will be helping students with financial aid stuff. I’m pretty excited to have a job again (it’s been just shy of six years) both for the paycheck and for the structure it brings to the day. It’s also nice to get back in the business world and remember what it takes to keep a place running since we might have our own to manage pretty soon.

As I mentioned last time, in December I started doing some diving in Utah! Most of it has been in the pool helping with courses, which has been pretty fun. I particularly liked the DSD students – those trying diving for the first time ever. Once they get past the initial weirdness of breathing underwater (and it is weird!!) you get to see them experience a totally alien sensation for the first time, and everyone loves it. As both a means of distraction and a way to give them practice, we set up hula hoops for them to swim through, a machine that makes bubble rings and little torpedos they can throw at each other. I had a particularly fun night when we had about 13 teenage boys in the pool together. They had a grand old time and I really enjoyed goofing around with them.

I did also get the chance to check out the crater hot spring (sneak peek above), which was definitely a unique experience. The only way I can really think to describe the atmosphere there is eerie. Light doesn’t make it very far into the murky water, so it gets dark quickly once you drop below the surface. Because it is mainly used as a training site – where students need to practice their skills underwater – they have floated several layers of PVC pipe structures that you can hold onto while you wait for everyone to get through their tasks. Because there is no fish or plant life to entertain you while you wait, they have added some…let’s go with creepy…additions to the structures. Scattered down the ropes of the frames and on bits of old wood attached to the sides, they’ve added all sorts of strange props: dinosaur skeleton models, plastic marine animals and – most creepy for me – baby dolls.

Not actually from the crater, but an equally unsettling representation.

According to the video below, there’s also a (plastic) human skeleton at the bottom along with some other palaeontology style artefacts. I definitely enjoyed the weirdness of the place and now that I’ve seen this video I want to go all the way to the bottom next time and see the hot water actually bubbling up from the mud (see the 2:00 mark).

What else is happening in 2018? I’m glad you asked! As if moving across the world, getting new jobs and trying to start our own business while we’re on opposite sides of the globe isn’t enough for one year, I’m also planning to get more diving in here (still waiting to see those sharks!), complete my instructor course and hopefully make a trip to Mexico to explore their famous cenotes (more bizarre versions of the Homestead Crater).

There’s a lot to do, but I’m excited for all we’ve got going on and to share it with you along the way. I hope your 2018 is full of adventure and excitement too!

 

More about molas here!

 

Episode 4: Desert Diving

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Noelle and Chris realised they had to go to opposite sides of the world for an unknown amount of time. It made them sad. Now they’re working on pushing their dream forward together while they’re apart. 

Salt Lake City, Utah

Despite coming to a landlocked, desert state (in the winter), I always planned to carry on diving while I’m here (ideally for free). My ultimate goal is to finish the Instructor course before we try to start our own place. It’s the next step on the professional ladder and it would be helpful for both of us to be at that level when our shop is up and running (Chris already has his certification). There are two catches though a) it’s very expensive and b) it’s something I feel under-qualified for, since I’ve mainly been guiding – not teaching – in the water.

Don’t worry though. I have a plan! I want to start assisting with classes so I can get more practice with that while I save up enough to take the course. Ideally, I would even get paid while I am helping out (I’m over this whole working for free malarky).

Good news is, it looks like that all might be happening – soon! Until this summer I had no idea there were thriving scuba centers here. I knew people did some diving in the mountain lakes or down in the desert, but that’s about it. Turns out there are four dive shops in town (who take people not only all over the state for fun dives but all over the world on diving trips). One of these plainly stood out as the best, so when I got back to Utah in November the first thing I did was pop in there and tell them I wanted to be friends.

The conversation that ensued totally blew my mind for two reasons:

1) Did you know the only warm water diving destination in the continental US (according to their site) is in Heber, Utah? The Homestead Ranch has a hot spring that is a constant 96°F/35°C. People literally ski all morning just around the corner then come here to warm up again. In January, when the temperatures can reach -18°F/-28°C outside, I could come here and dive in a t-shirt and shorts. How nuts is that!

Homestead-crater-natural-wonder
The Homestead Ranch hot spring

2) More bizarrely, did you know there is a mini ocean in Grantsville, Utah? Really! No, seriously! With sharks and angelfish and all that jazz. I know! I had no idea either. I’ve called this state home my whole life and I knew nothing about this, but it’s real. At Sea Base, there’s another hot spring (not quite so hot as the first) that joins up with part of the Great Salt Lake. The resulting salinity is roughly that of the sea. So someone dug out four big pools and filled them with this oceany water and a bunch of rescued aquarium fish (along with both nurse and bamboo sharks!). Really!

When I planned to do some diving in Utah, I figured I would be spending my time in a tepid swimming pool or a freezing lake with crap visibility. I had no idea there was the possibility of t-shirt diving and bamboo sharks! I seriously can’t get over it.

Ok, they aren’t all tiny babies, but I would die of happiness to see this.

Needless to say, at the end of this chat I immediately asked where I could sign up. And I’m happy to announce I will be diving with them starting tomorrow! This first few times will be an “I’ll check you out while you check me out” kind of situation with them, but I’m pretty confident it will be the start of a fun time exploring what there is to see around here – while also getting myself ready for this next big step. I’m pretty excited!

There is one part, however, I am not excited for: the Americanisms. Out of the 265 dives I’ve done, 263 of them have been outside of America. That means as a diver I was raised in the metric system – and let me just say, as a user of both, metric is SO much better! It really is. Not because of any scientific relevance or improved accuracy, but because it is designed for lazy people. Europeans couldn’t be asked to spend their time working out 12ths and 7ths and crap like that! They had beaches to sit on, wine to drink and women to seduce. So they invented a system that made math a small and simple part of their life. America should consider doing the same.

Alas, as we are not there yet I will have to learn the conversions from metres to feet, bar to psi, Celsius to Fahrenheit, and litres to cubic feet (as well as metres to meters, and litres to liters). Sigh. I’ll also have to shift my perspective from sea level to altitude. Lots to learn! Luckily, I like any excuse to play in Excel, so I whipped up a few cheat sheets yesterday so it’s easier for me to remember. (Side note: Because I couldn’t find anything as clear and simple as what I made, I uploaded them to a new Resources page here in case they’re useful for anyone else!)

not a nurse shark
Taken at Sea Base. Not a nurse shark, as the site claims, but one of my dear leopard shark friends!

I’m really looking forward to getting my feet wet again this week. I’ve been out of the water more than a month – something I don’t think I’ve done since I started diving. I’ve really been missing my fishy friends from Muscat lately. But, if the internet can be believed, I might be able to visit one of their cousins right here in Utah!

Leafy-Sea-Dragon---Rapid-Bay-Smaller_WEB 2

 

 

 

Episode 3: Strange Dreams

Last time on Mobilis Divers: The Possibly Perfect Place started to look like it could be a real thing, but with some challenges. Noelle got anxious about the challenges. We modified the plans. The universe ignored us completely. 

“Some people get a strange dream, then that dream opens a new future or new life or new connections with other people” – Dalai Lama

So there we were, making plans to take a little breather in Utah before jumping head first into this strange dream of ours. I was busy selling things off, packing what was left and getting the cat ready to go. My friends and family at home were busy finding spare rooms for us to live in, looking for job opportunities, and planning holiday parties.

Then Chris got an email.

You see, the first day after we returned from our Summer of Three Places, we started talking to people about our interest in the Possibly Perfect Place. We wanted to get a feel for it from those who have actually spent time on the ground, so we reached out to people who live there and people who have travelled and dived there. In the process, one of Chris’s co-workers casually said, “You’ll never find a job there!”

The idea of either of us getting a job hadn’t really crossed our minds. We were always focused on the idea of starting our own business, not working for someone else. But the suggestion of it made Chris curious. It could help us out a lot with some of the challenges we felt like we were facing. For example, getting a job would mean earning money instead of spending it while we check the place out. It would also give us more time to explore it in depth: looking into the logistics of setting up the business, finding potential sites, making contacts and getting a really good lay of the land before we jump into anything.

Chris hopped online to see if his colleague was right about jobs being so rare, and what would you know but a position had been posted that day in exactly his area of expertise? We certainly didn’t expect that! In a mad dash, he updated his resume and sent off his application. Then we heard nothing. For weeks.

I can’t say I was totally heartbroken that they hadn’t replied. The opportunity sounded great and all (you can’t deny the freakishly good timing), but I was really looking forward to us having some time together for a few low-stress months, something I don’t know if we’ve ever really had before. I knew he was probably the most qualified person applying for the job, but as the weeks rolled by without a peep, I relaxed more and more into the reality of our Utah plans.

When he got the email requesting an interview. I was not wholly enthusiastic. To put it truthfully, I dissolved into a snotty, teary heap. It felt like once again the plans we made were being ripped up in front of our eyes. I knew I could not go with him, I just didn’t have it in me. I still needed rest and that still needed to be in Utah because it’s simply the easiest place for me to go. A small, annoyingly excited voice inside of me did keep twittering that, despite my anger and frustration over the timing, this job presented a really great opportunity for us and our future. I wanted to punch that voice, but I was forced to give it the stink eye it instead.

freaks-geeks-stink-eye

When he got the email offering him the job, I would like to say I was prepared and excited and ready to accept this crazy twist of fate. But no, I dissolved into a snotty, teary heap. Now that it was a real possibility, I started thinking about how our day-to-day lives would look, and I didn’t love it. The Possibly Perfect Place is far from Utah, so far it is actually nearly an antipode. With the time difference (if we’re both working typical hours) one will be working while the other is sleeping, which means we’ll probably only be able to talk to each other on the weekends. And knowing the American system, I was keenly aware that once I got a job I would not be able to go visit him because I simply would not have the time to. His job offer felt like the last nail in the coffin of our relaxing, refreshing time together. Because it was. And it totally sucked.

On the other hand, when the emotions subsided and I let that small, annoyingly excited voice actually say its piece, I couldn’t deny the coincidence. What are the chances that we would say “Let’s go check out this place in January” and a job in that exact place (a pretty remote and unknown one) at that exact time would magically appear? Although it will be really hard for us to be 8,000+ miles apart (for we don’t know how long), in terms of our big-picture hopes it certainly makes more sense for Chris to be there, checking out the possibilities, than in Utah spending his days doing crossword puzzles while I’m at work. Plus, every relationship needs a time where you have to communicate through long-form letters in lieu of face-to-face time, right?

Once we accepted the new state of affairs, things continued to slot into place without us doing much. We managed to sell off nearly all of the things in our house and one of our cars without actually trying. And Chris got a surprise week off, which he was able to use to go back to the UK to visit his family (he had planned to in January but wouldn’t be able to with the new job starting then). All too easy… It feels like, after so many years of trying to land somewhere and make things work, this opportunity is simply – and tenaciously – presenting itself to us on a silver platter.

very-good-sir

 

I suppose the Dalai Lama is the renowned and respected man he is because he happens to understand how the world works. He simply accepts that strange dreams can lead to new futures, new lives and new people. We, on the other hand, didn’t have His Holiness’ wisdom to recognise that once we voiced our dream it might take on a life of its own and we’d just be along for the ride.