Episode 15: Joyeux anniversaire!

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

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

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

It’s been quite a fabulous experience so far.

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

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

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

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

Well, there are some fairly big things to consider.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris’ dragonfly friend.

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

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

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

A Warm Welcome

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

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

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

Episode 14: Land of the Tangy Blue Cheese

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

IMG_1543.JPG

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.

IMG_1319.JPG

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.

IMG_1648.JPG
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

IMG_1469.JPG

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.

20190102_115827

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.

2019-03-03 17.20.27.jpg

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.

20190101_101847

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.

20190102_094750.jpg

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.

IMG_1253.JPG

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

20181220_131440.jpg

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

20181224_162910

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.

20181217_165204

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.

IMG_1372

IMG_1406

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.

IMG_1403

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…

Dramatic Reenactment
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.

20190208_191505

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

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

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

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

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

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

secret

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

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

See you then!

image

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