Great Barrier Reef & Shark Experience

We signed up with Deep Sea Diving Den to sit on a fast boat to the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns knowing it would take an hour and a half. During the journey, the guide Dan asked the certified divers to gather on the second deck of the boat next to where the captain sits to discuss the dive site. He asked us if we wanted to go with a dive guide (instructor or divemaster) or with a buddy. Giovanni and I nervously stated that we would be each other’s buddies. We had never dived just the two of us before without a guide. Staring outside the boat window, I still couldn’t believe the reef is 2000 km long. And I wondered if we would be disappointed here in Australia after having dived in Indonesia and Thailand.

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The secret of happiness

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.” ~ Thucydides

Free yourself from thoughts of what you should be doing, other people’s expectations of you, and that your life exists solely for work. Live a life true to yourself, your values, and your dreams. It does take a lot of courage and reflection to step back a minute, and look at your life from another perspective farther away maybe outside of your neighborhood or even the city in which you live.

A hospice nurse named Bonnie Ware interviewed palliative care patients and she spent with them the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. She wrote an article listing the top five regrets of the dying:

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In search of the perfect beach

Giovanni and I started our trip with a promise to each other. We both love the ocean and island life, so we decided to set on this trip around the world in search of the perfect beach. We imagined this beach to have white sand of course, no rocks, turquoise water, not too crowded with tourists, bungalows on the beach, inexpensive local restaurants with ocean views, and not many insects. Good luck right!

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Tsunami Warning: Part 1

I sat on the beach in a plastic chair in front of massage bungalow #9. Giovanni sat next to me. We were planning on getting oil massages in a few hours so the massage shack let us use their white plastic chairs shielded from the sun by trees on the beach. But for now we felt relaxed watching the aqua ocean and each small wave go back and forth.

Giovanni’s mom, Sandra, was lying on a beach mat in front of the sea with a multicolored umbrella keeping her shaded. The wind blew in our faces, but I wasn’t sure the breeze was the cause of my chair vibrating. Giovanni said he felt a small earthquake, but I continued to feel the vibration and small movements of my plastic chair. Giovanni’s mom turned and looked toward us and asked if we felt the earthquake. We confirmed and then looked at the girls sitting behind us who also felt the shake for a few minutes.

Sandra looked quite anxious as she had watched all the 2004 tsunami videos on YouTube before departing to Thailand, and quickly gathered her belongings on the beach. Giovanni went to inform the massage people that we would return the following day since we were worried about the earthquake. And then the news; there had just been an 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra.

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So I admit it though I’m embarrassed. Sometimes I must challenge my own stereotypes. We were arriving in Malaysia and our friend introduced to a girl from Michigan she had met living in Kuala Lumpur. She happened to be a final-year medical student doing a program abroad for a year.

She and I had a lot in common…we both love to travel and learn about new cultures, we both love food, we both wanted to be doctors, and we were both raised in the US with immigrant Muslim parents. But we differ in that she wears a hijab to cover her hair and is more religious than I. In Kuala Lumpur, she fits in quite nicely. Many Malay women covered their hair. In fact, when being placed in Asia, she stated that she wanted to live anywhere she can work in a medical clinic. But it seemed like her religion took precedence in deciding where she would be placed, and the program felt it would be safer for her to be in a predominantly Muslim country. Ironically, she has lived in the US all her life, a predominantly non-Muslim country and she functions quite well.

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Visiting Mai’s village

After some debate about whether or not to go due to our limited time in Luang Prabang, Giovanni and I decided to accompany Mai to his village 3 hours away. Since the idea had arose, Mai was very excited and told us he wanted to show us his village. Also, he hadn’t been back to his village for a few years so he was curious to see how things had changed. He asked us multiple times if we could go and helped arrange our transport.

The plan was that I would ride behind Mai and we would pay another motorbike driver for the day to transport Giovanni behind him. The motorbikes were manual in Laos and Giovanni didn’t want to take the risks of driving a manual motorbike across dirt roads with potholes and rocks through the mountains. In hindsight, getting on the motorcycles of two Laotian men without helmets to go to a remote village was probably not the best idea.

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Meet May, 22 year-old male college student in Luang Prabang, Laos

Meet Som May (nicknamed May pronounced Mai). He’s a 22 year old trying to make a “base” for himself by going to school and working as hard as he can. May moved to Luang Prabang to go to college 4 years ago and hasn’t returned home to his village for the past 2 years. He is alone here with no family support. He barely has time to hang out with friends because he works 7 days a week at the guesthouse we’re staying at, sleeps on the floor behind the reception desk, and gets paid $80 a month (600,000 kip), just enough to pay for college which is $700/year.

His parents are sticky rice farmers in a village 3 hours from Luang Prabang in Laos, one of the poorest countries in South East Asia. Their village has no electricity and gets water from wells with no bathrooms anywhere in the village. Their only source of income, rice, is sometimes hard to sell because the village is so remote and far from any city. He’s the youngest child of 3, with 2 older sisters that are already married and still living in the village.

Regardless of all this, he speaks the best English of anyone we have met here in Laos, and amazingly enough, has learned it all from YouTube videos online on how to speak English (Let’s talk podcasts)! He also practices with visitors staying here at the guesthouse.

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Cambodia’s Beach Mosquitos

Cambodian mosquitos are just plain rude! Or maybe they’ve just evolved to be super mosquitos. I’ve never seen anything like this species. My lower legs, feet, both arms and hands are covered with bites with a few sprinkled on my chest and abdomen. I have bites in places I didn’t think are biologically possible…last night I killed a mosquito on the sole of my foot filled with blood. I guess the stinger can even penetrate thick skin. I also have bites in places covered by clothing, so either the mosquitos sneak their way up my leg in the crevice between the pants and my leg or they bite through my clothes. Unbelievable! I have to say the worst bite I have is the pinky toe of my left foot. The reason it’s so bad is that my entire toe is red and inflamed, slightly painful, yet still itchy as hell. And this is all with two daily applications of OFF with DEET. Continue reading “Cambodia’s Beach Mosquitos”

Otres Beach, Cambodia

You know you’re in beach paradise when an elderly 70-something old man walks to the edge of the beach, takes one look at the sunset, and starts to peel off his clothes layer by layer. And no I don’t mean I was in beach paradise watching him strip! 🙂 I wondered what went through his mind as he took off his pants and shirt and finally finished when he was wearing only his blue underpants. And then I looked at the water and it was breathtaking. Continue reading “Otres Beach, Cambodia”