2019 in the Rearview

Writing a look back on the past year hadn’t crossed my mind this time, not to mention my complete overlooking of the fact that another decade had just flashed by. I only realized this after the deluge of posts by friends online, listing their accomplishments, highlights and lowlights.

Photographically speaking (since this is technically a photo blog), 2019 was a year I spent capturing my experiences, vs. actively seeking out sceneries to photograph. There’s an important distinction here. I focused on the latter in 2016 and 2017, where I joined photography Meetup groups to visit beaches along the Sydney coast every weekend at sunrise, and later on with Sydney by Kayak every morning in Lavender Bay. My goal then was to learn to see, capture, and appreciate the same environments in the different seasons, clouds and light.

Here in Singapore, the beach-scape hasn’t inspired me to the same extent, though I admit it would be a good challenge to take up, to try capture the different essence that is Singapore. In any case, my motivation to consciously and actively seek out scenes to photograph has waned, and accordingly my DSLR and various lenses has for the most part, stayed in my cabinets.

So, 2019 was the year of documentation, of recording our numerous journeys and adventures around the world, and of little moments with friends.

We rung in 2019 while still on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, where we learnt that at those altitudes where the air is so thin, it’s safer to stow away our cameras and focus literally on just placing a foot in front at a time.

When Jeff went to Shanghai for work in January, we also made a weekend trip out of it, and spent long hours walking around the town, delighting in the clean streets and charming old school architecture.

In March we joined a friend for a weekend in Yangon. It was like stepping back in time, into a Singapore in the 1950s.

We also did our first week long kayaking and camping trip in Coron and Palawan in the Philippines. There, we got a first real taste of ocean kayaking, where wild waves and currents freaked us out just a tad. But the food, freshly delivered each evening on long tail boats, was heavenly, as was dips in the crystal clear waters at our lunch and camping spots.

We also spent a long weekend in Bali, where we dove at Manta Point and Crystal Bay, and also visited some padi fields.

Over the Labour Day long weekend, we visited Hoi An in Vietnam. We may have spent one too many days in that little tourist town, but had did enjoy visiting the Champa temples in My Son.

Mid-May, we went to Sydney for work, and made most of the weekends visiting with friends.

Over the Vesak Day long weekend in May, we went to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Even though the weather was unforgiving, we thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the different temples. Apart from the main Bayon temple, which was crawling with tourists, most of the other temples were quiet and serene.

Natalie visited for two weekends in June, so we went to Langkawi in Malaysia for one of the weekends. We were a little disappointed that none of the beaches had kayak or SUP a rentals because of the (small) surf, but we still had a relaxing weekend splashing about in the sea and pool.

August saw us visiting Copenhagen and Greenland for the first time. The food in Copenhagen was stunningly expensive but delicious, and the kayaking in Greenland was addictive.

In September, we spent another long weekend in Sydney, this time for our friends’ Garry and Linh’s wedding.

When we got back, I found that I had an extra week and a half before I started my new job, so I booked myself on a week long trip to Nusa Penida in Bali.

October saw me travel back to the States, the first time in almost five years, to San Francisco for onboarding. I made most of my weekend there, meeting up with various old friends.

Over the Deepavali long weekend in November, we went to Yogyajarkta with a friend. We weren’t blown away by the Royal Palace or Ratu Boko, but Borobudur itself is grand and worth a visit.

In December, we did the Raja Ampat liveaboard, and so thoroughly enjoyed the diversity and richness of live in these Indonesian waters, we are seriously considering jettisoning our plans to kayak in Greece this September for another liveaboard aboard the Blue Manta to Komodo Islands.

Jeff’s family visited over the Christmas break, and after a few fun and relaxing days touring Singapore’s attractions and lounging in our pools, we spent a couple days in Bangkok.

2019 was definitely a good year travel-wise. It turned out fantastic career-wise too. So I’m stoked for the many more adventures 2020 will bring!

A week diving in Nusa Penida

On schedule, the nearby mosque blares their prayers at 4 am. At least I’m up already; I usually bolt upright around this time anyway. I drift back to sleep after the prayer ends, and rouse the next time my alarm pings, which varies depending on the tide times.

I’ve been in Nusa Penida, an island off Bali, this past week. With an additional week off before the start of my new job, and having just come off an awesome vacation in Greenland and Copenhagen plus a side trip to Sydney, I jumped at the opportunity to come here to take my dive rescue certification. I’ve been wanting to do this course for a while, but I was reluctant to use precious vacation time to do it.

It’s also my first time traveling alone for this long; it’s different. Then again, I’m not really traveling per se. I’ve just parked myself for a week here in Nusa Penida, where I spend my days at the dive shop or in the ocean, and come back straight to the guest inn where I’m holed up. While on my rescue course, I didn’t really have time anyway to explore in between, as I would be reading up on the theory in the evenings after class. I did have a couple afternoons where I could have hired a scooter to explore (or more precisely, hire a guy to drive me around, since I’m not confident I can ride one safely on my own), but I’ve elected to chill in the cool shaded comfort of my air conditioned room. It’s much too hot to go hiking. 

I’m very happy I took the rescue course, along with the emergency first responder course. It’s a great refresher on safe diving techniques and skills, and I’ve gained more awareness in the different scenarios that could occur on a dive trip, as well as confidence of what I can do to help, both myself and others. My goal for this course was to become a much more self reliant diver, and I feel that I’ve definitely achieved that. Hopefully I won’t forget these lessons in a hurry!

My rescue course mate, Krystal, a nurse from Minneapolis. It was really good to have someone else take the course with me, since that afforded us more opportunities and scenarios to practice, not to mention someone else to commiserate with!
Krystal and I with our course instructors, Suna and Nick, and dive master candidates aka “rescue victims” Cut and Tess

My secondary goal was to spot some mola molas, lol, given that this is the season for it. Alas, it wasn’t to be. The others saw some on the days I was doing the rescue course – we did shallower dives then, and were mostly focused on skills. Oh well. But I had some really awesome dives, both during the course and for leisure: spotted lots of manta rays at Manta Point (the one dive spot so named where I’ve reliably seen them each of the three times I’ve been there); green and hawksbill turtles, orangutan crab, mantis shrimp, Napoleon wrasse, a banded sea snake, two snowflake morays, a bamboo shark, three thresher sharks, and a hammerhead shark.

Enroute to Crystal Bay, back from Manta Point. The cliffs here are stunning

It’s a good simple life, this kind of island life. No wonder there are so many foreign divemasters and instructors at Blue Corner, my dive school here on Nusa Penida. Some, like my instructors Nick and Suna, have been living and working permanently as dive guides on islands in South East Asia. While others come for a few months, to take their divemaster certification or to freelance as dive guides while getting dives in. Maybe that’s something I could think about, the next opportunity I have time off in between jobs… Hmm.

For now though, I’m grateful for this past week, for the incredible sights underwater, and for the opportunity to use my brain again and stretch myself.

This is primarily a photo blog, but unfortunately I don’t have any underwater photos this trip: I lugged my camera and strobe all the way here before I realized I forgot my housing. Lesson learnt, and hopefully remembered!

Weekend getaway to Bali

We recently spent a weekend in Bali, staying down in Nusa Dua.

Highlight of the trip? Hands down the diving at Manta Point and at Crystal Bay in Nusa Penida. While we were cautiously optimistic of spotting some mantas at Manta Point, we did not dare to get our hopes too up, given our relatively dismal luck diving on recent trips. But the moment we plunged into the waters, we saw dozens of these enormous creatures gracefully swooping beneath us. It was glorious. We also spotted dozens of blue spotted stingrays on that same dive. There might have been macro creatures to gawk at, but our attentions were fixated on the mantas.

It was macro heaven though, at Crystal Bay. We swam in and out of startlingly cold thermoclines, but saw so much: a squid, flounders, a wobbegone shark, hairy crabs, decorator crabs, two leatherback turtles, and schools and schools of colourful fish. I kind of regretted not having brought my underwater camera along (it’d seemed like too much work to lug all that gear along for just two dives).

We also spent one day signed up to tour the major attractions of Bali – Ulun Danu Beratan Temple on the shores of Lake Bratan, Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, and Tanah Lot Temple. To be honest, while the rice paddies were gorgeous to look at, we were very underwhelmed with the temples. They took forever to get to – our visits to the three sites took up the entire day, and we spent more time on the road than walking around the temples. To start with, we couldn’t even go into the temples themselves, so there wasn’t much to do except snap a few pictures. That said, I was grateful for the long cart ride, because I’d come down with a bad case of food poisoning the day before, and so felt pretty much out of it the whole day.

Still, food poisoning notwithstanding, we had a lovely short respite in Bali, and are very much looking forward to returning during Mola Mola season to see those astounding sun fishes!