Weekly Photo Challenge: Oceans ~ The South Pacific

Swaying Palm Trees in the South Pacific

As my toes touch the refreshing water line, my body instantly begins to chill from the oppressive tropical heat. The salty air rejuvenates my mind as the body begins to respond to the swaying of the palm trees.  White fluffy clouds march across the cobalt sky reflecting on the cerulean sea waves. The South Pacific Ocean is legendary in poetry, music, film and photography as humans try to translate its beauty into art. The South Pacific Ocean cannot be replicated as it is an art form in itself.

Marriage of the Sea and Sky at Gem

Boracay Blue

Dining at the Oceanfront

Boys Frolicking Off Boats in The Philippines

Save the Earth’s oceans for the generations to come to enjoy.

Thanks to http://wheresmybackpack.com/ for another great Travel Challenge! S

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Friendship is a Gem on Gem Island

Friends Looking at the South China Sea

The beauty of friendship is what makes life worth living. Traveling with friends just makes life perfect! For the years we have spent in SE Asia we have been fortunate to make lifelong friendships and share special vacation travels with them. One of our favorite spots is Gem Island on the East Coast of Malaysia. It is a tiny island with only one resort right off of Kapas Island. The snorkeling is gorgeous, the turtle sanctuary is uplifting and the peace and quiet is priceless. We laze in the sea snorkeling or frolicking in the gentle waves, comb the beaches for turtle eggs and shells, swing in a hammock and eat picnic lunches in the cabanas. After a nap and a shower in the garden inspired outdoorsy bathroom we head to dinner in the quaint dining room overlooking the ocean. It is a perfect family getaway and a great chance to unwind and rejuvenate with family and friends.

Frisbee on the Beach at Gem

Cocktail Hour by the Sea

Friends on the Dock at Gem

Gorgeous Gem

Dinner After a Perfect Day

Travel Theme: Rhythm ~ Cambodia

This week’s travel challenge is “Rhythm” thanks to Alisa at  http://wheresmybackpack.com/ 

Monk Reading Under a Tree

Monk In Temple

South East Asia has a slow rhythm that is rich with cultural heritage.  Each country has a distinct flow and Cambodia is peppered with forgiveness, reverence, patience and contemplation. The pace of the country is laid back and peaceful yet exciting and exotic. The first two photos reflect the rhythm of daily life in Cambodia~ Monks in quiet reflection.

Child in a Cooking Pot “Boat”

This photo reveals the rhythm of the Mekong River. After spending a day exploring a floating river village, we had a line of chattering children following us in cooking pots. Towards the end of the day, their mothers called out to them and the children paddled home so the evening meal could be cooked!

Land Mine Victim Music Group

The land mine victims in Cambodia were a heart-wrenching vision! And yet true to the humbleness of the culture the victims gathered in musical groups to play at many of the temple sites playing melodic rhythm on local instruments. The music set the tone of the historical sites which deserve to be honored and respected as some of the greatest pieces of architecture and history.

Bali Stone Carvings

Bali is paradise with lush green rice paddies, fabulous culture, steaming volcanoes, beautiful beaches, friendly people and the most amazing stone carvings. The statues are lurking around every corner, tucked into nooks and crannies where ever possible.

The statue styles vary as much as the landscape of this tropical island. The forms range from artful to creepy or obscene to spiritual. Mold and moss cover the statues adding to their character as they stand guard outside of temples or in gardens. I took hundreds of pictures of the cold gray pieces of stone carved into lifelike works of art.  These are just a few of my favorites.

Travel Theme: Street Markets

Travel Theme: Street Markets.
I am reblogging an old post of mine because I saw an interesting travel theme from http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/05/25/street-markets/

Global Anni

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Sunday night in our neighborhood is the Pasar Malam or the local night market.  Traffic is impossible and people are wandering everywhere with bags, trolleys, small carts, back packs.  A road is closed off and in the middle of the road are stalls with rickety tables, portable awnings, and a massive throng of people.  Smells of fresh fish, flowers, and cooking food waft through the air and your mouth begins to water.  You brace yourself and push headlong into the crowd to begin bargaining. 

 

Every Sunday I have a rendezvous with the nut man at the Bangsar Pasar Malam!  He and his wife and son run the first nut stall on the street with giant 10 kilogram bags of nuts that are loosely covered with old plates.  Nuts are my favorite snack and these are the best nuts in the…

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Chiling Out at Chiling Waterfall

The heat, the smog, the buildings, the people, the noise! When I just gotta get out of  Kuala Lumpur, I head for my favorite place in Malaysia, Sungai Chiling Waterfall with my favorite hiking buddy, Kathleen. The easy drive up to the mountains takes about an hour and a half with gorgeous views of the rain forest and a reservoir.

Sungai Chiling Waterfall, Malaysia

Hiking to the falls takes about one hour on mostly flat ground but with enough hills, roots and rain forest trails to keep you on your toes. It is an easy and peaceful hike where you will see many varieties of carnivorous pitcher plants, wild orchids, and lots of wild life such as monkeys, colorful butterflies and tropical birds.

Wild Orchid

Carnivorous Pitcher Plan

The real adventure begins when the trail ends suddenly at the river and starts again on the other side! You must traverse the river 6 times to get to the falls. Depending on the rainfall, the river can be as high as your ankles in some places or up to your waist in other places. The adults make long chains and pass the children along. Sometimes there are ropes to hold or we grab long bamboo poles to keep upright.

Crossing in Waist Deep Water

Crossing the River~ Using Bamboo Poles

After an hour you come out of a bamboo patch to the roaring of the falls. The mist hits your face as you gaze out at the rushing water.

A glimpse of the falls and 3 monkeys!

Once you reach the falls you can swim, picnic and relax at the foot of the spectacular falls. The surrounding rainforest, river and small pools are tranquil and the silence is a soothing welcome after the bustling city.

Anni and kids enjoying the cool pool at the foot of the falls

Kathleen and I usually head up to Chiling with a large group of people and make a daylong outing. The children love this hike with the ease of walking and the adventurous river crossings.

Hiking Pals cooling off

My favorite hiking buddy and her family are leaving Malaysia this year so it won’t be the same without her when I go next year.

My favorite hiking buddies, Kathleen and Derald

Fish in the clear mountain water

Hiking to the falls along the trail

Weekly Photo Challenge: Hands ~ Kecak Dance in Bali

Kecak Dance in Bali

The Kecak (Ramayana Monkey Chant) is performed by 100+ bare-chested men with checked cloths tied around their waists. The men line up in concentric circles around a fire as they sway, throw their arms up, wave their hands, lay prone and even create the illusion of a giant snake as the story progresses. This performance does not use any music except for the cacophony of synchronized chanting, “Ke, cak, cak, cak”. The backdrop of the dance we saw was an ancient temple and the central fire was the only lighting for the stage. As the story unfolds the rhythmic chanting sets a trance-like atmosphere as the audience sits transfixed watching the swaying of hands in the firelight. Pure Magic!

Learning to Breathe…. Underwater

“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” James Stephens

I started to learn how to SCUBA dive as a teenager in the Middle East but it was not a happy ending. I will spare you the details of the real life horror story involving a death and a shark during our Open Water Dive test and just state that it has taken 35 years to complete that course. Three friends and I flew to the Perhentian Islands in Eastern Malaysia nestled in the South China Sea. The island is a feast for the eyes with palm fringed white coral sandy beaches and crystalline water. We would complete our open water dives while on the tropical island at Watercolours Resort and Dive Center with Sharon, our fabulous dive instructor.

View from Watercolours Dive Center in the Perhentians

On the first dive we suited up and sped in a motorboat to a small lagoon. As soon as I hit the water I began to look for sharks, but luckily there were none to be spotted. As my head went under the water and my brain began to scream, “STOP IT! Get out! You can’t breathe underwater. There could be sharks here!!  Are you insane!?!” My body started to respond to the commands with panic, but luckily I was able to prevail over my shark terror and ignore my claustrophobia so that I could begin the descent under the water.

Anni Getting Ready to Dive

Once I was under the water, my sensibility returned, my breathing steadied and the dazzling clear blue water and the world of wildlife below astounded me. After completing our skills on each dive, Sharon led us on our fun dives where we were able to see some remarkable sea life. Blue spotted rays floated by while the spikes of lionfish poked out of crevices in the coral. Tiny translucent feeder shrimp pecked at our fingers and a batfish frolicked with my yellow fins. Moray eels snapped their jaws, as hundreds of fish lazily drifted by like a rainbow.  It was a magical scene that we were able to experience four times that weekend. After passing our tests and completing our open water dives, the boat pulled up to the resort where a sign was waiting to congratulate us all on our success. It took 35 years, but I was finally able to conquer my fear of sharks. Another “Mind over Matter” accomplishment! Another bucket list item checked!

Gorgeous Perhentians! Our first dive spot.

Sharon, Angie, Ann and Alexis

Sharon, Angie, Ann and Alexis

It wasn’t until later that day, while snorkeling, that I finally spied a shark. The meter long black-tip reef shark glided in front of me, camouflaged with the white sandy bottom. To my surprise and delight the shark instilled wonder instead of alarm in me. Instead of turning and swimming away in fright, I grabbed my friend by the arm and swam as fast as I could after it, trying to get a better look. He was breathtaking, free and peaceful. Conquering my fear was as magnificent as he was! Anticipation of disappearing below the surface sits in the back of my mind as I return to mundane everyday life. I have spent a lifetime in appreciation and awe of the beach and ocean, but it has been heightened to an elevated level of understanding now that I can breathe under water!

Anni Looking Fearless

Have you overcome a fear?

Laos for the New Year

Our family arrived in Vientiane, Laos anticipating a quiet laid back city in South East Asia. Well we got the SE Asia part correct. Vientiane is a vibrant dusty city with lots of traffic. It is an easy city to navigate and explore on foot or in open-air tuk-tuks. There are plenty of fabulous Buddhist temples to explore in the old city. Our favorite was the Wat Si Saket, which houses over 6,400 Buddha statues. We puttered around the city with a helpful tuk-tuk driver who refused to pull over when we got a flat tire until the rubber came completely off the rim. He had to flag down another driver and take his spare tire. We finally reached the temple at Pha That and it left me speechless. The blinding gold stupa stretched up to the heavens in the crystal blue sky.

The next day we left the capital and flew up to Luang Prabang. Our initial vision of Laos unfolded before us as we entered the “city” along the meandering Mekong River. In our travels we have previously crossed the mighty Mekong in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, but here in Luang Prabang it appeared especially magical. The charming old town is built right up to the banks with cafés overhanging the slopes. The pace was effortlessly slow and easygoing. The only transportation needed was a bicycle and your feet.

The temples are too numerous to count and the amount of saffron clad monks is staggering. We awoke pre-dawn to watch the procession of monks receiving alms from the people in the town.  The mist rose over the road and hills as barefoot monks padded in lines with outstretched baskets to accept their daily offering of sticky rice. The market place slowly came to life with coffee brewed by the cup and the smell of fresh croissants filling the misty morning. Locals quietly move about their business among the tourists snapping photos and resting in cafés drinking cheap local beer and eating sandwiches on fresh baguettes.

While sitting in a quiet café on the edge of the market, Brian and I watched the local and touristy scene. A blind man was lead by a woman and we watched in amazement as some of the tourist deliberately crossed away from him. The man approached the food stalls along the side of the road and without ever asking, each vendor offered him small change or food. He would respond with a beautiful wai and back away. The generous attitude and genuine smiles made this town my new favorite place in SE Asia.

 

On New Year’s Eve there were not any boisterous fireworks to ring in 2012. However thousands of candle lit lanterns floated peacefully into the night sky creating a magical tone to match the Laotian style. Local families roasted whole pigs and danced in the streets to celebrate the New Year. Luang Prabang will be etched in my memory for a long time.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

“Hey, we are going to climb Mount Kinabalu!  Wanna come?” 

“Sure, why not!”

Little did I know this would change my attitude and my life!  My athletic marathon-running buddy invited me to come along with 4 other friends of varying degrees of fitness to climb the tallest mountain in South East Asia. I was 60 pounds overweight and extremely unfit. When I voiced second thoughts everyone stated, “You can do it! You have a year to get in shape!”

The climbers in our group were inexperienced, but it was my physical condition that worried me. I began to train and change my attitude. Self doubt and terror often plagued me for a year. I told myself over and over that I could actually do this climb and determination began to develop! Working with a personal trainer three days a week and walking or hiking many weekends got me into shape. My work place had a “Biggest Loser” contest and I came in fourth place by losing almost 30 pounds.

Mount Kinabalu is on the island of Borneo in Eastern Malaysia. It is 4,095 meters (13,435 ft) tall. It is a “technically” easy climb because special climbing equipment or gear is not needed. However that does not mean it is an easy climb because of the severe change in altitude at the summit. There are unsteady rocky trails, naked granite rock surfaces, shoddy ropes to climb up and drastic weather conditions at times.

Mount Kinabalu Shrouded in Mist

We hired a reputable guide, Marius, who planned our three days at the mountain. We flew to Kota Kinabalu with a group of six positive excited people determined to reach the peak and have fun.

Day One-  Friday

A small tour bus picked up our climbing group and we sped past local villages, water buffalo and outdoor markets while we talked excitedly about our upcoming challenge. The mountain, shrouded in clouds, loomed in front of us as reality set in. The weather was atrocious with torrential tropical rain that had been coming down for ten days. We ate dinner at a small cafe and tried to keep warm in the damp misty night air. Our bodies began to adjust to the higher altitude. We got into our bunks at the small hostel with anticipation of the climb early the next morning. The sleep was restless since the sounds of the rain forest and the teeming rain penetrated the thin walls mixing with our excitement and expectation.

Day Two-  Saturday

Rolling out of bed early, we tried not to let the morning weather dampen our spirits. I had pictured a hot humid climb through the gorgeous rain forest, but the hammering downpour had not let up over night. We donned our rain ponchos and strapped on our gear after a hearty breakfast and then checked in at the trail head. The adventure had begun at 1800 meters (5905 ft). Hiking through the rain on muddy steep steps quickly took a toll on our feet. We would have to climb eight kilometers up to Laban Rata at 3273 meters (10,738) this morning.

After the first kilometer, I took off the poncho and trudged on in just shorts and a t-shirt. I was soaked from sweating under the plastic poncho and the shower on my skin and clothes was a relief! We soon began to see hikers coming down off of the mountain. Many of them were disappointed because they had not reached the peak. The rainfall had made the trails too dangerous to climb and their guides had not allowed them to climb any further than Laban Rata. This was a huge shock because I had not anticipated the weather stopping us.

As the terrain changed from dense rain forest to sparser trees, so did our group. Four of our group members had gained a significant lead and my climbing buddy, Judy, and I were quite a ways behind. This was not a surprise and Marius stayed with the two of us as the others went ahead at their speedy pace. Our mantra became “Slow And Steady!” (SAS) Judy and I dubbed each other the “SASSY Girls” for our slow and steady pace! We met numerous groups of climbers and had fun chatting and joking along the way whenever we merged on the trail or at the rest huts along the way.

We continued to talk to everyone we met, laugh and have a good time for the six hours we scaled the mountain that day despite the difficult terrain, exhaustion and weather. There were many groups that came up the trails past us or hurried down the paths with wishes of good luck. Some of the guides would look at Judy and I, shake their heads and rapidly gesture to Marius. He told us that the other guides did not believe that we would ever make it up to the summit!  Marius told the other guides that “His Girls” would make it because they had great attitudes and determination!

The Sassy Girls went at a steady pace and enjoyed the flora and fauna we discovered on the mountain; pitcher plants, civet cats, enormous centipedes and huge Borneo Blue Worms. The last kilometer and a half was especially steep with rough, uneven steps and slippery wet rocks. Our path had become more of a stream bed than a hiking trail. The exhausted SASSY girls reached Laban Rata in about 6 hours and when our muddy soaked bodies passed through the door of the guest house, our group as well as many of the other climbers and guides cheered for us. We collapsed with a hot mug of tea and an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment! Many other climbing parties came in hours later after dark and we realized that we had made the trek in a reasonable amount of time.

"Waterfalls" where paths should be!

Looking out the window caused immense heartache and severe disappointment. Waterfalls were splashing rapidly down the sheer cliffs past the guest house. These waterfalls were actually the trails we were meant to climb at 2:00 am. The view was extremely limited due to the tropical downpour which refused to end. Only 70 percent of the climbers had made the summit that morning and our chances were not looking any better for our ascent the next morning. In our hostel room for the six of us, bedtime came early to the sounds of pitter-patter on the roof and the creaking sounds of anxious people in old metal bunks!

Day Three-  Sunday

A quick night of freaking out, dozing, freezing and self-psyching up passed all too fast as the noise of climbers waking had me on alert. At around 1:00 a.m., I crept down the stairs to hear news of the weather and the fate of our summit ascent. Early risers were having breakfast and buzzing with the miraculous news that the rain had stopped an hour before and we would be able to finish our climb! We dressed in our cold weather gear, strapped on head lamps and waited to be called to begin the most difficult and longest part of the climb in the pitch dark.

Marius had Judy and I begin before the others in our group with the goal of making the summit by sunrise. Climbers must brave steep uneven steps formed from tree roots, uneven rickety ladders and trails surrounded by shrubs. I could not see two feet in front of my face so I was thrilled when the ground seemed to open up. This illusion soon gave way to sheer, slippery, wet, steep naked granite rock. After about two hours we reached the last check point of Sayat-Sayat at 3810 meters (12,500 feet).

Ann and Judy~ SO CLOSE! Almost there!

We were climbing in complete darkness and I was grateful for the headlamp as both hands had to hold onto ropes to pull ourselves up and steady our bodies. The trail was treacherous and as steep as 75 degree angles. I was grateful that I could not see down at this point. The last kilometer to the summit was the hardest challenge to face. The lack of oxygen due to the altitude was taking its toll on my exhausted body. One step – one breath was repeated with pure determination. We watched the sun rise over Donkey Ear Peak and finally made a rendezvous with our climbing party!

Ann, Jay, Judy, Kathleen, Jim and Lori at the summit peak of Mount Kinabalu!!!

Judy and I had made the summit to join our four other friends!  Hugs and congratulations flew over the mountain top as we realized the achievement we had made! We posed for photos and savored the accomplishment. The sense of pride was overwhelming and tears flowed freely down my face. I was overcome with emotion when I realized what I had done! This elation was short lived as Marius reminded us that now we had to get off the mountain and soon. The weather was turning again.

With a few glances over my shoulder, I began the descent back into the mist. Shock and fear took over as we reached the edges of the rock faces we had climbed up in the utter darkness. The blackness hid the shoddy ropes, unsound ladders, sheer drop offs and the unimaginable height of the mighty mountain. Judy and I slowly and steadily made our way back to the rest house at Laban Rata at the same time as the returning tropical rains. Our friends were already there and after a short rest, we began the treacherous descent.

The descent! How did we get OVER that ridge in the dark?

The rains were so heavy at times that we could barely see in front of us. The trails were not visible through the two feet of water rushing over them and into our ankle high boots. We were climbing down a vertical river! We met climbers coming up the mountain and maintained an amazing attitude despite our exhaustion and discomfort. Only once did we fall into despair and question how we would make it down, but the Sassy Girls quickly rallied. We met others along the climb down who were not as fortunate as us to have made it up to the peak so our triumph kept us moving. We met our friends at the foot of the mountain in the same café we began three nights before. Cheers, tears and a sense of elation greeted us as we were finally able to say, “WE DID IT!”

It has been a year since I left the mountain and the sense of pride has not passed yet. Whenever I am feeling a bit down or unsure, I transport myself back to Mount Kinabalu and remember how I had persevered ~ slow and steady. I conquered the mountain and the weather, but more importantly, I conquered my own self doubt!

How I still feel... "I am on top of the world!"

What can you do today that you didn’t know you were capable of doing last year?

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