Cambodia is Much More than Temples

Now I could easily make this a blog post filled with photos of temples. I have hundreds of incredible images. What impacted me the most about Siem Reap, undoubtedly was the people.

 

First and foremost the most amazing person we met was our tour guide Mooni. He organized five days of sightseeing, and incredible experiences for us. He made this the best family trip we have experienced. Mooni shared with us the impact that the genocide Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge communists had on his family between 1975 and 1979, and beyond. Walking long distances in fear of their lives, eating whatever they could to survive: crickets, ants, snakes, and much more, his sister almost sitting on a land mine, the horror of waiting to be admitted into a refugee camp, and the struggles being reintroduced back into Cambodia. Our driver Mr Oun, although not able to speak much English, he brought so much joy to us with his big Buddha smile and warm, friendly presence.

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Our first insight to life in Cambodia was the floating village known as Chong Kneas. Mooni arranged our own small boat which took us through the crowded waterways. I had read that this trip was a scam, and that no one should do it. What I experienced was the opposite. It was an insight to a way of life for people, who have lived this way for years. Our eyes were opened. I must admit, I felt uncomfortable, as if I was a spectator looking in on someone’s personal and intimate life, for that reason I did not take many photos of people. Reactions of the people told me otherwise. Children waved, they smiled as they went about their business jumping in the water, or helping their parents with netting, cooking, fishing.

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We then enjoyed a relaxing trip through the mangrove trees. There was an eerie beauty. Once Amanda realized that this was not the crocodile farm, and that there were no crocodiles she relaxed and enjoyed as well.

 

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Biking through the countryside was another highlight. Huge thanks to the wonderful Lors from Indochine Exploration for a very special day. Riding our bikes on the rocky, uneven road was an adventure. We were greeted by village children running out of their small homes on stilts with big grins and hellos. Everyone we passed along the way had a huge welcoming smile. One lady in particular, who was very old had stopped beside her bicycle that was laden with wood. She had the hugest, most beautiful, warm and friendly smile I’ve seen, rotted teeth and all. There was no need for a picture, that breathtaking image is embedded in my heart.

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A day wouldn’t be complete without Mooni finding an insect to show us, this time a huge grasshopper. As usual, Amanda was as far away as possible.

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Our next stop was kayaking a barray, where we saw water buffalo roaming, and sweet children playing and bathing in the water.

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We then walked through forest to arrive at some old temple ruins where Mr Oun, Mooni and Lors set up a delightful picnic lunch.

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Our sweet smiling Buddha, Mr Oun

 

Our second last day in Cambodia was one that touched all of us deeply, and we all agreed at dinner that night that it was the most impactful day of our trip. We were headed to Beng Mealeal temple, with the intention of stopping at villages on the way. Our wonderful community in Kuala Lumpur had donated many items, and we had a suitcase full of books, pencils, toys, clothes, shoes, toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap to give away.

 

Mr Oun took us along the route rarely used by tourists. Along the way I had mentioned to Mooni that Miss T would like to try fishing. He was going to go home that night and make her a bamboo rod so she could try it the next day. As grateful as we were at his suggestion, we didn’t want him to go to any more effort. Next thing we know, we saw two ladies walking on the side of the road with fishing poles. We pulled up alongside them and Mooni asked if they knew where we could try fishing. With magnificent smiles, they told Mooni where we could go.

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What touched us so deeply was their smiles, their warmth, and friendliness. We decided to go back to them. Mr Oun pulled over and we got out of the van. The older lady kept saying to Mooni how beautiful our girls were. She even stated that she wanted to be Miss T’s mother-in-law. At 12 years of age, that was her first indirect marriage proposal. They mustn’t interact with tourists much, because they asked us how we got our skin so white. We were in laughter. After we took a group photo, and then showed them, the older lady laughed, and for some reason gave Amanda a little slap on the bottom.

 

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We ended up joining these ladies and walked to a small fishing hole in the rice fields. As we walked along some village children joined us.

 

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Under the scorching sun Miss A and Miss T fished with the ladies and the children.

 

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Five small fish were caught, enough to make one meal of fish soup.

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We gathered some gifts from the suitcase for the children, and for the ladies. They had gifted us so much in such a short time. Their gratitude was infectious.

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As we drove away, the children had their new clothes on, their Mom with a baby in hand, waved – I could feel her tremendous gratitude, tears stung my eyes.

 

Our next stop was the Beng Mealea temple. As we were about to head towards the temple I saw a large pig. Mooni and Miss T ventured over.

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Behind it I could see some children playing in the dirty water, a little boy naked, a little girl chasing him with laughter. I asked Mooni if he could find out about this family. He walked into their hut. The single lady was looking after many children, most were the children of relatives or friends who needed to journey far for work. Their conditions were some of the worst I’ve seen. Our next stop of giving would be right here.

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The older boy in blue had tears in his eyes

 

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Miss T’s smile says it all

 

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He would not let go of his scrapbook, don’t worry sweetheart I’m not going to take it away.

 

Our final stop for the day was The Cambodia Landmine Museum. This small museum details the horror caused by landmines in history and today. It was difficult seeing the pictures of so many people severely injured and killed from landmines.

 

While we were in the museum Mooni was asking about some local villagers. There were two families who were struggling. The other villagers were doing what they could to support them, providing them with some food. This would be our final act of giving for the day.

 

We were greeted by a sweet little girl serving her ailing grandmother (drip and all), with a thin soup. The grandmother waved her children in, and they all sat around her. Gratitude filled her eyes as we gifted the children with clothes, toys for the little ones, books, coloring pencils, and some hygiene items.

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We ventured over to the neighboring house. Two women sitting on the steps with little ones touched us all. Another older lady looked on with pure joy, as she smiled her teeth were black. One of the older girls was overjoyed when she was gifted Miss T’s purple glitter shoes. They were so polite, so grateful.

 

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More children appeared and we were able to give away everything we brought along.

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As we were leaving we were touched to see one of the girls show us her first entry into her scrapbook, and one of the little ones playing with his new toy.

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These beautiful people have nothing, or maybe they have everything.
Few have shoes on their feet, many struggle to find something to eat.
Maybe, just maybe, a family member will earn US$1 a day.
Teeth are rotted, bellies swollen, sickness threatens.
Yet here they are,
smiling,
grateful,
joyful,
loving,
kind,
welcoming.
They lift each other up
when another struggles.
Children play in the dirt,
go fishing,
play jacks with stones,
use a worn flip flop as a soccer ball.

What I’ve seen in this last week, has touched me deeply and will remain etched in my heart.

Towers, Temples, Markets and a Gunshot

It took having our first visitor to arrive to explore a little further outside of Kuala Lumpur. Amanda arrived at midnight last Thursday, and we’ve had so many wonderful adventures together. It warms my heart to know that our best friends daughter, who is like a daughter to us, chose to start her first time travelling abroad with us.

 

We didn’t wait to get started. Friday morning we were off on our first adventure – Batu Caves. I didn’t tell her too much, Amanda had read about Batu Caves, although whatever she read – didn’t prepare her for the monkeys! To see her face and her reaction at the first one she saw as we were climbing the 272 steps up to the caves was priceless, to say the least. And then our disbelief as we watched people try to pat or feed these wild animals. Witnessing her first time at being asked if she would be in a photo with someone was humorous. Seeing the caves through her young adventurous eyes, a blessing.

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Our next adventure took us to the Petronas Twin Towers. At 452 meters tall, they are the tallest twin towers in the world. The interior motifs are a reflection of local handicrafts and weaving patterns, while the 33,000 pieces of stainless steel and 55,000 pieces of glass panels on the exterior combine beautifully as Islamic patterns.

 

We had a couple of hours before our tour started, so we went for lunch, walked around KLCC and ventured five floors up to the book store in Suria KLCC.

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The tour took us to the Skybridge, the world’s highest double-decked bridge at 170 meters above the ground.

 

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The next stop was the observation deck on the 86th floor, 360 meters high! Although haze from the fires in Indonesia were obstructing much of what the view may have been, it was quite impressive to be this high up.

 

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Next on the adventure was a trip via the train system to China Town. Amanda was quite surprised when Neil told her to guide us to where we were going. Given she’ll be backpacking around Thailand soon, this was a little practice run. Much to her surprise, she managed pretty well, and off we went. On the train we giggled, especially at the station Dang Wangi.

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We ventured into Central market, a place filled with so many great little shops and even an opportunity to have all the dead skin eaten off your feet!

 

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There isn’t a whole lot that can prepare you walking along the streets in China Town. The sights, sounds and smells are something that can’t fully be explained in print. It’s an interesting experience to say the least.

 

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On Monday, Amanda and I ventured to Genting Highlands. With the Skyway Cable Car entered into the handy Waze App, we were on our way. We were in awe as we drove up the winding road, the thick lush forest surrounding us at every angle. We giggled as we came to a roundabout that had only one exit point – how that’s a roundabout not sure. Somehow we missed the Cable Car and ended up at the Chin Swee Caves Temple, which was a welcome change of plans. This place is magical in an eerie and peaceful kind of way. The clouds, and light rainfall made seeing all of this beautiful spot difficult, although it did make for beautiful images.

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And of course the day would not be complete without Amanda being asked to be in a picture or take a picture!

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After an unexpected tour around one of the large resort parking lots – thirteen floors of tight turns and corners, we decided to skip lunch and head back to Kuala Lumpur.

 

Tuesday’s adventure was Port Dickson. I really didn’t know what to expect, I did not do my due diligence with research. After a little investigating I found the Cape Rachado Lighthouse hike, and thought that would be a wonderful way to spend our day.

 

Driving into Port Dickson was surprising, I now know that it is known as an Army town. There are many training facilities, and a great deal of barbed wire.  My message to Tina (Amanda’s Mom) was this:

“From military camps, barbed wire everywhere, a gunshot where we were destined to go, to a surreal oppulent and over the top resort.”

We arrived at Cape Rachado and were deciding what to do when we heard a very loud gunshot nearby. Needless to say, we decided to get back in the car. As we were driving out we saw an over the top resort on the beachfront. We decided to head there, check it out and maybe have some lunch. As we drove into the Lexis Hibiscus we felt like we were entering Far Far Away from Shrek. It didn’t seem real. After a quick walk around, we decided this wasn’t the place and kept going.

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Image from Agoda.com

Image from Agoda.com

We found our way to the Thistle Resort & Spa. After an incredible 15 minute Head, Neck & Shoulder massage we enjoyed a lovely lunch before heading back to Kuala Lumpur.

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What a whirlwind adventure this has been this past five days. We are so grateful to have Amanda here with us. We couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful first guest! Next adventure – Cambodia in three sleeps!

 

Serenity in Koh Samui

“Why don’t you go to Bangkok for the weekend?!” Neil suggested.

 

Our daughters had gone on a three day Malaysian Studies school trip, and I had booked myself in for a rejuvenating three days at The Shorea. After a one and a half hour drive through dense haze I arrived at the Shorea. The property was everything I had hoped – quaint, secluded, and surrounded by nature. There was only one problem, the haze from the fires in Indonesia was suffocating me. With great disappointment I drove back to Kuala Lumpur. One saving grace is that the lovely Roza from The Shorea credited me for a future stay.

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Haze from my Villa Bougainvillea room

 

Neil’s suggestion of Bangkok didn’t appeal to me, I was looking forward to nature, beauty, and relaxation. After a quick search on Kayak and Trip Advisor, I booked a flight and accommodation at 7:00 pm on Wednesday for a 8.25 am flight the next morning. This is one of the many benefits of living the expat life, the ability to travel to exotic destinations quickly and cheaply.

 

My first time flying Bangkok Airways was a wonderful experience. The crew were so friendly and eager to please, the meal was delicious, and the flight was on time for our 9:25 am arrival into Koh Samui. My heart skipped a beat as I took in the view outside my window.

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After a quick 15 minute taxi ride I arrived at the Hansar Samui Resort & Spa. I smiled as I read that Hansar is taken from the ancient Sanskrit language and translates to mean happiness and joy. I felt that as soon as I waked into the open, uncluttered beauty of the foyer. Given that I booked last minute, I in no way expected to have, what I consider, the best room in the resort. Room 3201 (3+2+1=6, known in numerology as the most harmonious of all single numbers), greeted me with simple elegance and a breathtaking view.

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What better way to get this weekend of bliss started by a spa treatment. The Luxsa Spa at Hansar is peaceful, serene, tranquil, welcoming, and beautiful. The tough part – to pick a treatment. The Healing Body, Mind and Soul Shirodhara, two and a half hours of total bliss and deep relaxation was the choice. It definitely lived up to it’s divine write up. The therapists touch was gentle yet firm, calming yet invigorating. It was obvious that she loves what she does. I left feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, in the perfect state of mind and being for this solo weekend to myself.

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Hansars proximity to Fisherman’s Village is a definite bonus. Wandering through the quaint, yet lively street gave me a sense of exploration, amusement, and stillness. This wonderful first day in paradise finished with a stroll along the beach taking in the beautiful sights, and a delicious beachfront dinner at the Smile House Restaurant.

 

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What to do the next day? Another visit to Trip Advisor for suggestions, and Angthrong Marine Park was my choice. After reading many reviews I chose a full day trip with Boutique Yachting. The laid back cruise to the marine park appealed to me far more than an overcrowded speedboat to quickly get you to and from the island.

 

As soon as I was on deck I felt a sense of excitement rush over me. We were a diverse group of people – Germans, Russians, Americans, English, and then there was me, the only solo person, the Aussie who has lived in Canada for 20 years and now lives in Malaysia (try explaining that every time someone asks – great conversation starter!). Rob our guide was welcoming, comical, with an obvious love for what he does. With a somewhat dry sense of humor (which seemed to come out more when he spoke German, based on the laughs), he kept us entertained.

 

The two and a half hour cruise to the marine park was exhilarating. At first I had wished I brought my book or journal, this oversight provided me an opportunity to simply be.

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Our first stop was Ko Wua Ta Lap. Cruising into the beautiful park was breathtaking.

 

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The Baidee cast it’s anchor and we awaited the long boat to take us over.

 

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The trail to the top lookout is quite treacherous, and many people have injured themselves, so for safety reasons we were offloaded without any shoes, and given strict instructions not to go to the top – otherwise we’d be waving good bye as the Baidee sailed away. The resting point of the trail (which was recommended for us to do) was a 100m climb up slippery rocks, surrounded by lush greenery. Walking up barefoot was quite the little adventure. The view that laid before my eyes was well worth the slight scratch on my foot, and sweat dripping down my back.

 

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To cool down from the intense, humid heat, I took my camera and ventured along the shoreline where kayakers were coming in from their journey.

 

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Back on board the Baidee we were treated to an exquisite lunch cooked fresh and served with a smile.

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We continued on taking in the magnificent cliff faces and emerald green waters.

 

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Mae Koh Island provided one of the most spectacular sights. The climb up the Lagoon Trail to see the Green Lagoon is not for the faint hearted. The steep stairs are challenging, especially in the heat. The view though, was well worth the effort.

 

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And then it was down some more stairs to be at the base of the natural wonder and beauty.

 

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Back to the Baidee by longboat we went, and enjoyed a refreshing swim, and some entertaining jumps off the boat in the beautiful waters.

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We were trailed by a storm on our way back to Koh Samui. The sky was moody, dark and eerily beautiful.

 

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Ahead of us was a breathtaking rainbow. Along the way fishing boats were heading away from the storm.

 

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After a full day filled with majestic natural wonder we disembarked at 6:00 pm, and were whisked away to our hotels. I’m so grateful to Boutique Yachting, the crew (especially Rob), and the other guests for a remarkable day.

 

Fisherman’s Village comes alive for the Friday night market, so I ventured down to take it all in. Without camera, I just strolled along, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of this lively scene. I finished off this incredible day with an absolutely divine dinner of Fried White Snapper in Green Curry sauce at the lovely Krua Bophut Thai Restaurant. As I sat, I listened to the sweet laughter of children playing on the beach, watched the young bartenders practicing their ‘Cocktail’ skills and took in the calming sound of the waves rolling in.

 

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The rest of my trip, well that’s between me and Koh Samui. What I know is this – I am so deeply grateful for this remarkable and beautiful experience that I am so blessed to be able to experience and share.

The Perfect Getaway to the Maldives

Twenty five years ago I was a travel agent in Sydney, Australia. I introduced many engaged couples to the Maldives as their honeymoon destination. Most would come in asking for common honeymoon destinations like Fiji, Hawaii, Bali and the Cook Islands, and had never heard of the Maldives – over one thousand islands spread over 90,000 square kilometres, south west of India. All who trusted my passion and enthusiasm booked their trips and came back glowing with gratitude for the incredible experience they had. It was then that I dreamed, that I too, would honeymoon in the Maldives.

 

The honeymoon wasn’t meant to be, however here I was 25 years later stepping off the plane in Male, four days after our move to Malaysia with my husband and two daughters. Even though it was pitch black when we arrived, the excitement bubbled up as I looked at all the posters and maps around the airport.

 

Male airport is on it’s own island, there are no hotels there so we were shuttled over to the mainland by a water taxi in the darkness of night. When we arrived it seemed to be chaotic, and somehow we ended up in the vehicle with our luggage. The short trip to The Somerset Hotel was hair raising. The streets are narrow, just wide enough for a car to barely fit through, we giggled at the thought of our Suburban here – scooters and motor bikes were everywhere. At one point Miss T and I were tempted to touch the motorbike right next to us. It was almost midnight and the streets were teeming with people.

 

We arrived at the hotel and created a major traffic jam as we got out and the driver unloaded all the bags – we wondered if the other people knew their bags were safe. The room was small, yet very comfortable and pleasant. The service was fantastic. This was all we needed to rest our heads for five hours, until our departure to the island in the morning.

 

We woke up to beautiful blue skies, the streets were quiet, and the hustle and bustle of what we witnessed seven hours prior was non-existent. After a light breakfast we were driven back to the waterfront to catch another water taxi back to Male Airport.

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When we arrived we were warmly welcomed by a Four Seasons representative. From this point on, we were in the hands of luxurious first class service – something we’ve never experienced before. We were whisked to a beautiful lounge, where we awaited our seaplane transfer to Landaa Giraavaru.

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Flying across the turquoise waters dotted with islands and atolls is a sight that had us all mesmerized.

Spectacular.

Stunning.

Surreal.

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When we landed at Landaa Giraavaru we were welcomed by a group of staff members, and Azmie introduced himself to us. He had taken care of all our dinner arrangements, gave us suggestions and tips, gave the girls gifts and escorted us to our room. I’d always dreamed of staying in huts on stilts over the water, when we walked into our ‘hut’ our breath was taken away. It was Serene!

 

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Yes that’s a window to see the fish swim around while you about your business.

 

We were in heaven. We lazed around and soaked it all up. Of course our little mermaid was right in the water!

 

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We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon, and sat in peaceful silence as we watched the sun set.

 

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The following morning we embarked on a Dolphin Talk and Cruise. Sadly we didn’t see any dolphins, however the time spent lazing on the top of the boat was a gift.

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After a delicious lunch we decided to relax at the beach and do some shell finding.

 

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And then we enjoyed some time riding around the island to find fruit bats, lizards and birds, with a cool off at the pool bar.

 

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This spectacular day came to completion after a gorgeous sunset and a divine meal at Fuego Surf & Turf.

 

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The next day would have to be the most incredible days I’ve ever experienced. It was Miss T’s 12th birthday, and the island staff went above and beyond making this the highlight of her trip and the best birthday she’s ever had. At breakfast we were greeted with the table adorned with a birthday message, every staff member wished her a happy birthday. They brought us special glasses to toast to her birthday and brought out a fabulous breakfast dessert.

 

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For her birthday we decided to dedicate and build a reef in her name. We learned so much about how coral lives and dies, and how the impact of humans and the rising temperature of the water is having adverse effects. We can watch it grow at the Reefscapers website.

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Another afternoon spent doing what Miss T loves – searching for shells, finding some little friends, was followed up by her very own massage. The spa gifted her a flower petal bath in one of the huts over the water. Let’s just say Miss T came back in a blissful state!

 

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We had one more surprise in store for her, a sunset fishing cruise. Nobody on the boat was having much luck, two people caught colorful fish, and then Miss A pulled in a shark – on a handline! Secretly I was hoping and praying that Miss T would catch something, it was her birthday after all, and then – she did! The next day it was cooked up for us, and would have to be THE most delicious fish I’ve ever tasted.

 

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At dinner, once again Miss T was spoiled with attention and a wonderful sting ray cake. To her surprise when we got back to the room her bed was adorned with fresh flowers. Now that’s a birthday to remember!!!

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The next three days were filled with adventure, relaxation, discovery and beauty. One of the highlights for all of us was swimming with manta rays. To be so close to these large, graceful creatures was truly a blessing. They glide through the water effortlessly, at one point I looked back and right behind me was a large gaping mouth. I remembered what we were told and stayed calm, without missing a beat this docile creature turned slightly and glided right by me. So proud of Miss T and myself for facing some fears, and then all of us for getting back to the boat after the current became very strong.

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Our last evening we spent having fun with a family photo shoot, and then an incredible dinner at Blu – where the staff went above and beyond to celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary. We even came back to our bathroom lovingly transformed.

 

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One of my favourite parts of Landaa Giraavaru was riding around the island on bicycles, with personalized initials on the front. Everywhere we went friendly staff greeted us. Landaa Giraavaru is heaven on earth, a place I would go back to in a heartbeat. The service was second to none, the food was delicious, and the surroundings – perfection!

 

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Believe it or not, yes there’s more to come. I know, bare with me – it’s a long post.

 

The sky was gloomy as we boarded the seaplane headed for Kuda Huraa. Soon enough the skies opened up to gift us with more spectacular views from the plane.

 

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Four Seasons Kuda Huraa is a much smaller island than Landaa Giraavaru, and has a quaint island village and family feel to it. I was saddened to find out we didn’t have our black bikes to get around, although there was no need as the walking distance from the rooms was a lovely short stroll. The beds in our rooms were adorned with fresh flower petal messages and a delicious gift was left for us. Once again our little fish was in the pool before the front door was closed.

 

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The next morning I awoke early to capture the sunrise. My photography app had me up an hour early because the islands have a self imposed time change to the mainland so guests can enjoy an extra hour of sun. I enjoyed the peace and quiet and was witness to and captured a beautiful sunrise.

 

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Neil and Miss A went scuba diving in the morning, they were fortunate to see a baby whale shark from the boat. Miss T and I lazed around at the pool and beach taking in the beautiful clear blue sky day.

 

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Given it was monsoon season the weather can change quite quickly. The heavy downpour we experienced was refreshing and gifted us with a beautiful rainbow.

 

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The last few days of our getaway were filled with adventure and activities. We embarked on a Sunrise Cast Fishing trip in search of trevally, we didn’t have much luck finding or catching any, and realized this wasn’t our favourite form of fishing – it’s not as easy as it looks. We gave it a go, and got to see a beautiful sunrise, some dolphins and a beautiful rainbow.

 

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Later that afternoon we went on a Shark Snorkelling Safari. Both Miss T and I were anxious and scared. As we all jumped out of the boat I could feel my heart in my throat, Miss T stayed close to the guide and got to see the most sharks and turtles – needless to say, another example for her to remember that some of the best experiences come when we face our fears. My fear was of the dark water that loomed at the ledge of the coral reef drop off, there were a couple of times I had to breathe deeply, I did it and was so proud of myself. Witnessing these small reef sharks gliding through the water, turtles seemingly floating around and an endless array of multi-colored fish was like nothing I’ve seen. So mesmerizing, so peaceful, so beautiful.

 

That evening we relaxed, watched as they fed the sharks left over fish and I had a wonderful encounter with a hermit crab, before enjoying an incredible dinner by the water.

 

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Our last day in the Maldives was spent staging some fun photos for a friends wedding, and simply enjoying being together in this perfect place.

 

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Thank you Maldives, you were truly the perfect getaway!

 

 

Yukon Glory

Early 2013 I made a commitment to myself to embark on one photography workshop a year. In 2013 I was in awe and wonder on a Heli-hiking trip to the Bugaboos with Canadian Geographic and Conservation Photographer, Neil Ever Osborne. In 2014 I found myself deeply touched and forever changed by the amazing encounters with spirit bears and humpback whales with John E. Marriott on the Great Spirit Bear Rainforest and Whale Adventure. This year, I decided to venture even further north to the Yukon with Paul Zizka and Dave Brosha.

 

How can one succinctly share about an experience with so many incredible elements? I will do my best, although I have a feeling this will be a long one.

 

A three hour drive on the Alaska Highway and west of Whitehorse, Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada is a haven of natural wonders. One could spend days making this drive, so many hidden gems and places to explore. Our destination was Kluane B & B located on the shores of Kluane Lake at Silver City (you’ll get a kick out of this video about the history of Silver City).

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South end of Kluane Lake

Everyone gathered at 5.15pm, where we met our intrepid leaders Dave Brosha and Paul Zizka, as well as our Yukon guide Cathie Archbould. Viewing the incredible images that Dave, Paul and Cathie have captured as Professional Photographers was inspiration enough! I encourage you to view their websites – each of them unique in their craft, visions and approach.

 

“Shoot your passion!” both Dave and Cathie shared with us, encouraging everyone to find their own vision, and not get stuck in pre-conceived ideas. Which led into Dave’s presentation about ‘Finding Your Vision.” Dave shared something I have always believed, ‘get back to your basics,’ what inspires you, brings you joy, feeds your soul? Your vision lies there.

 

After Dave’s presentation dinner was served! Braised bison on a potato souffle with roasted carrots, beets and focacia, delighted my senses, and warmed my soul. There’s something to be said about food that is prepared from passion and love. Kari and Courtney of 14 Acre Farm Kluane Food Company fed us like Kings and Queens. Everything was enriched with natural ingredients and delightful flavours that tantalized the taste buds.

 

After dinner we ventured out on our first shoot, right outside of our accommodations – to the shoreline of Kluane Lake.

 

I had two techniques that I wanted to concentrate on at this workshop: composition and adding the human element to landscape photography.  Given that Paul Zizka introduces more often than not, himself or a willing friend to the majority of his photography, I knew I would gain valuable knowledge. Also, Dave Brosha has captured some of the most beautiful portraits I’ve ever seen. Needless to say I am deeply grateful for the incredible suggestions, help and support that both Dave and Paul provided me. You’ll see from my first couple of photos and then the photos that follow as the workshop progressed that I definitely learned a great deal about composition and played around a little bit with adding in a human element and using filters.

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“Springtime Spectacle” by Paul Zizka

 

Dave Brosha

One of the most stunning and unique wedding photos I’ve ever seen. Photo by Dave Brosha

An abandoned boat grabbed my attention immediately. As the majority of the group headed straight for the shoreline, I knew I had to somehow capture this boat in an image.

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As I walked along the shoreline I was in awe of the many different textures, from ripples of fine grain sand, to pebbles, and even a heart in the dried up mud.

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And of course introducing a human element to the composition. The master of being the human element was Aaron Von Hagen, whom I’m sure is in at least two photos of each of the 20 people in the group.

 

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Huge thank you to Dave Brosha for showing me this composition and how to create it. And Cathie for being the perfect model!

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When Dave let everyone know that it was 10.30pm I was in disbelief. Firstly I was enjoying myself so much that the time had flown by, and secondly how light it was. The sun didn’t fully set till just before midnight, and even then it was not pitch black.

 

After a three hour sleep it was time to head to Sheep Mountain bend to capture the morning light. One side of the Alaska highway was mud flats with tufts of grass and thin channels of water, the other side was seemingly sparse. The majority of people went to the mud flats side, I decided to venture to the seemingly ordinary side. It wasn’t long before my eyes were drawn to many compositions, yet I kept coming back to one shot – I had a vision, it came to me, how I wanted it to look. I tried different compositions, took photos in different light conditions. The result, I believe is one of the best photos I took this weekend.

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After the sun had risen, I ventured over to the other side of the highway, a completely different landscape lay before me.

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Here’s Aaron again!

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At 7.30am we returned to the B & B for breakfast. Thankfully after breakfast I fell into a heavy slumber from 9am till 1pm. Four us took a little road trip for a couple of hours, marvelling at the incredible scenery.

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Later in the afternoon, Paul did his presentation “Approaching a Scene.” In his opening line Paul said “Let the scene speak to you.” Paul, in my humble opinion, is one of the true masters of approaching a scene, and it is easily apparent that he is passionate about adventure photography. Everything Paul shared I took in with eagerness and excitement. Three of the most impactful suggestions from Paul for me were:

  1. Immerse yourself in the scene, look around and access it. Experience it with your eyes, not just your lens.
  2. What story do you want to tell?
  3. Simplify, eliminate, de-clutter, take out anything in the composition that doesn’t contribute to your story.

After Paul’s talk, Dave did a fantastic presentation on Lightroom. I learned so many simple tips that can take my photos from good to great.

 

After our delectable dinner of Arctic Charr stuffed with swiss chard and leek, served with quinoa, asparagus and a cranberry spruce tip sauce (is your tummy grumbling or your mouth watering yet?), we ventured off to our first of two stops for the evening – Boulder Bay.

 

I met my first creative and personal slump. Both Paul and Dave had warned us about being stuck in a vision of a particular composition. I knew our next location was Destruction Bay – where I had what I was hoping would be the image of the weekend for me. I was caught up in that vision, and didn’t have an open mind to what lay before me right now. I was also stuck in playing small and not good enough. The majority of participants in the workshop were experienced photographers and shared a lot of camera talk – fstops, aperture. After three years of learning I still struggle with the technical jargon (hmm similar story I shared in both my past workshops!).  I was beating myself up. I captured a few images.

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Dave Brosha demonstrated one of the many awkward positions it takes to capture an image.

As we got to the car I shared my frustrations with the ladies. Surprisingly all three could empathize and relate in some way. It was a relief and a release to share my feelings, be heard and understood.

 

At our next location – Destruction Bay, right at the beginning Dave spent time with me showing me how to utilize a neutral density filter, gave me some tips on composition and technical settings. The time he spent with me helped me immensely and couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. I spent more time at two spots and worked at creating the image I wanted – I almost got there, not quite – almost.

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Saturday morning was wet and cold, which equalled a welcomed sleep in!

 

In the afternoon we had a critiquing session. I always find these so beneficial. Everyone was asked to submit two of their photos for critiquing by Paul and Dave. All the images were anonymous, and it was definitely not like Dragons Den or Shark Tank. Paul and Dave were so helpful with what works in the image, and where improvement could happen. I find this to be such a valuable exercise, as I also got to see 38 other images filled with different perspectives, techniques, vision, and personality.

 

After dinner we went to our last evening location, a one hour drive to picturesque Kathleen Lake. What a sight for locals to see several vehicles pull in one after the other and 23 people pile out of the cars with loads of photography equipment. We were respectful and walked around to a less used part of the lake.

 

Walking through the surrounding forest was like venturing through a fairy garden, it was whimsical, playful, light, and airy. I decided to play around with macro for a little bit.

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And then I played around with slow shutter speeds, neutral density filters, hearts on a mountain and a sweet little boy fishing with his Dad.

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We got back to the B & B around 11.30pm, and even though we were starting at 4.30am everyone gathered for a drink. Let’s just say this image captures how we all felt – tired, goofy and happy.

Dave, Paul and Cathie goofing around. Captured by Aaron Von Hagen.

 

After a very brief sleep we were up bright and early for our final morning of shooting. One of the many things I’ve learned from this trip is to look closer. At first the scene seemed uncompelling and then…

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For a last hoorah Dave played around with Fish eye portraits and then we stopped for a group photo. Once again, amazing what can look like nothing special from the road can be so interesting.

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A behind the scenes shot of Paul modelling for us!

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Other than sleep deprivation, I am feeling super inspired and grateful. I am so grateful to Paul, Dave, Cathie and everyone who made this last four days a weekend to remember for a lifetime.

 

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