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 kayaking in Greenland

I’d been anticipating our Greenland kayaking trip all year (we’d put down deposits last December), but as we made the circuitous travel to Greenland via London and Copenhagen, I tried not to set my expectations too high. Would the group be a great bunch? Would the weather turn out fair? Would we get to see the northern lights and also enjoy spectacular sunsets? Would we get to see tons of icebergs?

It was everything I expected and then some. 

We had an amazing bunch of people. All super helpful, proactive, and hilarious with their odd British witticisms and slangs (and oof, the copious amount of tea they drank at every opportunity!). With the exception of two Canadian brothers in university, everyone else lived in the UK, including a transplanted Kiwi and Aussie. It was awesome to chat with like-minded folks who shared a similar love for exploration and travel.

First day on the water
Camp site 1 – I didn’t spot the auroras that night, but our east facing view afforded the perfect viewing of the milky way

The weather for the most part held up as well. Days were between 3 and 10 degrees Celcius, and felt pleasantly warm in the sun. I didn’t need to use my pogies (mittens that went over the paddles for kayaking) at all paddling, and only pulled out my gloves for the glacial hike. We were only rained out one night / day, when the wind howled and slapped against our tent so violently the entire night that we slept in fits and starts. The Canadian boys’ tent pole broke under the relentless assault. We were quite relieved, thus, when at 630am, our guide came by to tell us that we weren’t going to have to pack up camp and kayak to our next spot after all. I’d already finished packing my loose gear and about to embark on the tedious process of pulling on my dry suit, but happily unrolled my sleeping bag again for a lie in. That day, a third of the group, hardier souls, ventured out into the elements for some hiking. I preferred the comfort of the dining tepee, where I camped out literally the entire day playing my new favourite game of Monopoly Deal.

A reindeer skull that Malcolm picked up on his early morning jaunt around the campsite. We did spot plenty of live reindeers too, which was super neat, considering our failed attempts in Norway a few years ago. We also saw a couple of eagles tending to their young in a nest on the side of the mountains, a couple of seals, and a whale.
Hereafter known as the fig roll stop. Where we stopped for a brief break to relieve our bladders on our longest day on the water – 6 hours. And enjoy some fig rolls of course

We did see the northern lights. Our first night in Greenland, we stayed in a hostel in the tiny town of Narsaq. Everyone was feeling a bit jet lagged and no one stayed up, but according to our guides there was a display that night. Our first night camping, I couldn’t see anything when I got up in the middle of the night to shoot some pictures, though when Jeff woke up to pee he thought he saw a faint glow on the horizon. It was not only till the second night camping, when I took a test shot on my camera at 11pm that we realised the faint glow on the horizon – what we mistook for city lights, even though there wasn’t a town for miles – was in fact the green-purple glow of northern lights. But on night 3, just after sunset, the spectacle was so clear and active that we couldn’t mistake the scene. This time, everyone was still awake, and we spent easily a half hour in the deepening chill, gazing awestruck at the dancing display above head.

People in the tents waking up and putting on their layers, ready to step out to see the northern lights display
Our west facing camp 2
Our dining tent which comfortably held our group of 14 for daily evening meals
Camp 3 – optimal aurora viewing time, right after dinner and before bed

With that incredible display of northern lights, I wasn’t terribly disappointed thus that we never got the vivid colours of pink purple at sunrises or sunsets. Still, we couldn’t complain with the beautiful warm days, paddling through mostly flat water, traversing through broken pieces of melting icebergs. Some of the icebergs were small enough pieces that we didn’t bother slaloming around, and instead paddle right on top and through them. Others were taller, dripping structures fifteen feet high from water level. We stayed a respectful distance from these.

Grabbing lunch in the sun, with the view of the gorgeous Sermilik Glacier a deceivingly close 2km away. We stayed at this campsite 3 nights, one more than originally planned, because of the weather

So yes, we had a most fantastic trip. Our visit seemed most timely, right in the middle as it was of Trump’s outlandish offer to purchase Greenland, and at the tail end of a season with a heartbreaking record heat wave. The BBC article that was published right at the end of our expedition showed in stark detail just how much the Sermilik glacier (the very one we were camped across for 3 nights) has receded in the last 15 years.

Fun by the water. It was bracing and refreshing after 3 days of not showering. Honestly, the anticipation of the cold was much much worse than the actual sensation
Huge chunks of ice constantly calved from the glacier, and the shifting tides and winds moved the icebergs about, such that the waters were ever changing
Our merry group on our glacier hike. We met 2 other groups on the ice that day, before and after our 1.5 hour tour. It felt a little jarring to encounter other people in the otherwise remote wilderness that was our home for the week
Navigating the ice soup was the best highlight of the trip for me
Final paddle to our pick up point, sniff

Catching the Northern Lights in Greenland

We’re from our epic trip kayaking and camping in Greenland (plus a few days’ stopover in Copenhagen, where we got to meet with old Sydney-sider friends and feast in some of the best restaurants in the world.

Anyway, I’ve finally downloaded the photos to the large screen and I’m starting to look through some now. This picture brought me right back to camping night 2 of our Greenland trip, in this quiet little bay. I woke up at 11pm to try my luck spotting northern lights, and initially, couldn’t spot anything with my naked eye. But a quick look at the test shot I took on my camera yielded this. As I stared back into the night sky, the lights grew stronger and more active, so I woke the others up and we spent some glorious 20 minutes stamping our feet in the frozen ground, mesmerized by the dancing display above.

Postcard from Greenland

Back to civilization in Copenhagen after the most incredible week kayaking and camping in Greenland. It was hands down my most favorite and epic kayaking trip ever!

I will need to sit back at the computer to download the photos onto the big screen to fully revel in the experience.