Weekly Photo Challenge: Purple Skies at the Lake

Sunset at the Lake House

Each summer we are lucky enough to spend time at my sister-in-law’s lake house in New Jersey.  Sunsets here are incredible almost every night especially after a summer storm.  The cool breezes coming off the lake, the chirping of the insects and the peacefulness here keeps us coming back year after year.

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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?

Break-Bone Fever? The Dreaded Dengue!

The peace of the gorgeous tropical day has been shattered. Sitting quietly by the pool, I suddenly feel the presence of a predator. I try to nonchalantly peer into the bushes to see what is making my hair stand on end. There he is, in his gray-striped pants, but he is unaware that he has been exposed. I shudder as he inches closer to me holding his weapon out in front of him as he looks for the best place to strike. It is now or never; kill or be killed. He doesn’t sense my awareness as he boldly makes his move. I am quicker! I am ready! I swiftly make my blow and blood splatters across my arm! His body lays crushed on the pool deck as I lie back down to try and enjoy my reading again. Another mosquito bites the dust! Since that fateful day in September, I am now always aware of the dreaded Dengue carrying mosquitoes.

Dengue Fever is a viral disease, spread by the Aedes mosquito, which infects 50-100 million people and kills about 25,000 yearly. It is a virus similar to Yellow Fever and West Nile Virus and has symptoms like Malaria. The mosquitoes which carry Dengue are active in the daytime and can be identified by their ugly little gray stripes which I can now spot from miles away! Symptoms include high fever, flu-like symptoms, vomiting, severe joint and muscle pain, and a ruthless headache between the eyes. It is a tropical illness that is more prevalent in cities where mosquitoes can breed in stagnant water.

As soon as we moved to Malaysia we heard the horror stories of Dengue Fever. Most people described it as a fever and illness so intense that your bones feel like they are on fire and are cracking into pieces. That description was enough to strike terror in my family, but apparently not enough to take full precautions. After avoiding the mosquito carrying virus for seven years, one bite was all it took.

I awoke one Friday morning in early September to go for my morning swim before school. I felt a splitting headache coming on so I took two Motrin and headed for the door. As I put on my flip flops I realized this was not an ordinary headache so I slipped back into bed after popping two Tylenol for good measure. Although I had a relentless headache and felt terrible, I made it through work by taking a ridiculous amount of pain medicine throughout the day. At 3:00 as the bell rang, I achingly plodded home and crawled into my bed as my head felt ready to be cracked apart and the mere act of opening my eyes was painful. By 6:00, I could barely lift my head or move and my clothes and sheets were soaked in gross yellow sweat. I had a 104 °F fever and my joints hurt so badly that the shaking from the fever sent excruciating pain shooting through my body. I knew I had the dreaded Dengue Fever.

The doctors confirmed my fears on Saturday morning with a blood test and suggested that I get admitted to the hospital right away. I was feeling a bit smug, thinking I could beat this, so I opted for my comfy bed, bad sit-coms, and People magazines. On Sunday and Monday I felt a lot better if you can call flulike symptoms “feeling better.” I went to my local doctor each day to have my blood drawn and to check my platelet count. The doctors were concerned because my platelet count was rapidly dropping and I was having a hard time staying hydrated despite drinking tons of water constantly. I knew the stories had been exaggerated, this wasn’t so bad….HA!  Nobody told me about the “honeymoon phase!”

When I awoke on Tuesday, I was convinced that I was going to die. The only problem was that I didn’t have enough energy to actually die and I could barely move. After the doctor insisted, my husband took me to the hospital where I proceeded to collapse in the waiting room. I got two bags of IV fluids in the ER since I was severely dehydrated, delirious and fainting. The pain in my head, joints, muscles, and bones was unbearable. The ER doctor admitted me to the hospital and I was hooked up to an IV bag for six days.

During this time I would be faked into believing that I was getting better only to have the fever and pain return again and again like that bad top-ten song on the radio. Finally I broke out in a rash that lasted for weeks and needed to be scratched to the point of bleeding. To top off all of the torture, a pleasant smiling nurse would prance in and jab a needle into my arm to draw blood for the platelet count three times a day. Every day it dropped a little bit more. Luckily I was too ill to care! I slept my way through the week with painkillers, sleeping pills and an IV bag as my constant companions. Finally the doctor released me on Sunday since my platelet count was stable, but I was still sick in bed for a few more days and the rash was worse than ever!

For weeks I realized why it is called break bone fever! My joints and muscles continued to hurt at the slightest effort and were swollen like they had been during my pregnancies. Eventually I felt better, the joint pain subsided and the rash finally faded. However all these months later there is one long lasting effect; I am seized with panic when I see a gray stripped mosquito flying around me. I am frantically swatting one right now as I sit at the pool writing this. Insect repellent and insect killer are never far from my reach. My family looks at me like I have three heads as I chase down a single mosquito like it is a murderer in a bad horror flick! Better to be safe than sorry. One bite is all it takes!

Pangkor Island, Malaysia

I just got back from a much needed rest in Pangkor Island, Malaysia.  This was my sixth trip to the Pangkor Island Beach Resort and I am still in love with it!  Pangkor Island is on the west coast of Malaysia and just a three hour drive from KL.  Of course everyone says that all of the beautiful pristine beaches with the gorgeous blue water are on the east coast.  We have been to Redang and many other east coast beaches in Terengganu and Pahang, but we keep returning to Pangkor.

 

Pangkor Island was my first glimpse of a Malaysian beach.  The drive there is easy and scenic.  Travel the superhighway for half of the trip and then enter the back roads for about an hour.  Buffalo, palm trees, plantations, local villages and rice paddies are common sights on the route up to the island.  After a twenty minute ferry ride, you board a bus and are at the resort in two minutes.  As you step into the gorgeous open wooden lobby, the senses are alive with the smell of the ocean, the white sandy beaches with lazy swaying palm trees and the gentle lapping of the waves.  The rooms are bright and cheery, the staff is sooooo friendly and the food is good. 

 

 

There are two pools with a pool bar and a kiddie pool.  The pools are right on the edge of the beach.  A small strip of grass separates the pool area from the white clean 1.2 kilometer secluded beach.  I love this because I can watch one of my children in the ocean and the other child in the pool at the same time!  There is plenty of shade from the gorgeous palm and tropical trees lining the beach.  At the ends of the beach, the rain forest just falls right in to the sea.  They clean the beach all the time, but there are plenty of shells to collect daily. Hornbill birds swoop in and out of the trees all day with their eerie cry and their alien looking faces! 

 

Our day begins with a walk either through the golf course, down to the small ponds, or along the beach.  We saw a huge 1.5 meter monitor lizard on the other side of the pond and he just slid silently into the jungle when he saw us.  Another monitor walked down the beach one day.  We head into the breakfast buffet and sit out on the wooden deck overlooking the beach.  The staff knows us now and they all welcome us with a hand over their heart and they are genuinely happy to see the diners every day.  After our leisurely breakfast we head down to a shady spot on the beach and unload our books, water, and supplies for the day. 

 

Some of our afternoon activities have been kayaking, bicycling down to the local village, snorkeling (not too great) golfing, tennis, banana boat or flying fish, and strolling along the beach.  On one of our trips, we went to town to see the sights.  It is a small island and there is not a lot to see for someone who lives in Malaysia.  Some of the sights may be more interesting for tourists though.  There is a small Buddhist temple with a small replica of the Great Wall of China. The fishing village is fun to look at and there is an old Dutch Fort.

 

The evening begins with another trip to the buffet line and a relaxing meal out on the beachfront deck.  Some nights we go to the other restaurant and order from their menu which is excellent.  When we are stuffed we head back down to the beach for our night time stroll with our flashlights.  We chase the crabs into their holes and enjoy the waves gently rolling up onto the shore.  A visit to the open lounge upstairs reveals a cheesy, but fun Pilipino band.  We sit and play cards there with the kids or head over to the pool and ping pong tables before crashing exhausted into bed.

 

Pangkor Island is the perfect place to take a few days off  to relax!  You won’t find a better place with the facilities, beautiful beach and great staff for the price!  If you want to dive or snorkel then take the time to go to the east coast or Sipadan.  However if you want a tranquil holiday to unwind, then Pangkor is the quickest, most convenient, and affordable place to go.