Saturday, April 30, 2011

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

With all the traveling Nick and I have done since moving to Guam, I can't believe we are just now taking our second trip together. This time our destination was somewhere I have wanted to go my entire life... Australia! I grew up hearing from Aussie friends about kookaburra sitting in the old gum tree and thought this Australia sounded like a fun place. And more recently, the Great Barrier Reef was added as a must for our SCUBA resume. So on Easter Sunday we flew to Cairns and began our down under dive vacation!

     Amazingly Cairns, Australia is only a four-hour nonstop flight from Guam. For once, we didn't even have to change time zones! To get the most out of our time there, we booked a three-day, two-night all-inclusive liveaboard cruise to the outer reef with a dive operator called Pro Dive Cairns. The main appeal of staying on the boat is that you don't have to spend three hours a day traveling to and from the reef. We did that trek once on the first day, once on the last day, and all the dive sites in between were small hops away. Once at the reef, all we had to do was eat, sleep, and dive.

Being late April, Australia is in the middle of its fall season, so we didn't have the most perfect weather. It was really windy, 20-30 knot winds all three days, which made for quite a bit of chop (10-12 foot surf!) on the ride out. The wind and chop also meant we didn't have the most amazing visibility on our dives. We soon came to realize how absolutely spoiled we are from diving in Guam.  We even chose to wear wetsuits in the 81 degree water because it felt cold to us. Yes, even Nick, who went through Hell Week in 60-degree San Diego ocean, wore a wetsuit!
When we weren't diving, we had delicious meals prepared by the on-board chef, and we took an abundance of naps in our cozy cabin (bunk beds!). This may be the first time I have ever taken three naps in one day. Diving, in addition to the sea, wind & sun, takes it out of you. There were 32 passengers on board from all over the world... Turkey, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Great Britain, and even Minnesota. Although, I think we were the most exotic, as nobody had ever heard of Guam or had any idea where it was. But ALL of them were jealous once we enlightened them about our equator home :)

The diving portion of the trip was truly fantastic. High quality dive gear was provided and set up for us. It was a bit of a pain having to wear full-body stinger suits to protect from the poisonous box jellyfish (we didn't see any of them). But we knocked out 10 dives in 48 hours, including two night dives. While we saw a number of things that are regulars on our Guam dives, the colors, varieties, sizes and quantities of these things were remarkable. In addition, there were so many new fish and sea creatures we'd never seen before, along with impressively huge versions of things we used to think were big in Guam. Nick took dozens of beautiful pictures, more than I can post here, but without further adieu, here are the highlights:

Unicorn Fish - So ridiculous looking!

Juvenile Sweetlips - These grow up to be black and white and look completely different (?)

Green turtle - We saw so many turtles! 

Macro shot of the inside of a huge clam

Spotted this yummy looking lobster on our night dive!
This Napoleon Wrasse is about five feet long!!! The ramora cleaning it is about 12".

One of many white tip reef sharks (they're harmless, Mom), this one about 6' long.

 Doesn't get much more goofy than a box fish!
 This flatworm is about the size of a quarter and it flutters through the water like a graceful slice of ribbon. One of the most unique sightings of the trip.
Clown Fish - We found Nemo on his way to P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney...
Beautiful corals

Jellyfish - Luckily not the one that causes anaphylactic shock 

In Guam we have clams that are the size of my hand. This giant clam is about four feet long!! Unbelievably massive!

Needless to say, we were so impressed with everything we saw. The amount of things to ogle on this massive reef system was just spectacular. So much creativity and humor under water, making each dive so entertaining. And yet, I couldn't help but feel so small and insignificant when surrounded by such an abundance of life. So grateful to share the sights and sounds of this experience with my favorite dive buddy. And best is all of this activity put us at only three days into our nine-day vacation! More to come :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter on Guam

Happy Easter everyone! I had a really interesting Holy Week so thought I would quickly share some stories and pictures. I say quickly because I only have about 30 more minutes of internet access before we leave the island :)

Our church's Holy Week festivities started on Thursday night for the Maundy Thursday service. Our church did an off-site service at the Governor's complex on Guam, which had a fabulous view. The location choice was supposed to simulate going to the Upper Room.
Once inside, we were seated on the floor at low tables decorated with candelabras and beautiful Middle Eastern tapestries. Scriptures were read from Exodus reminding us how the Passover feast came to be. The rest of the meal simulated what the Passover feast might have been like on that Maundy Thursday. We ate lamb, oranges, dates, parsley (from our herb garden!), and drank red wine. More scriptures were read from that night, the prediction of the denial and the betrayal. We then took communion, as the disciples would have done for the first time that night. This was followed by a foot washing.
Many of the young people of our church took their first communion that night :) The neatest thing about the evening was getting to place yourself in the shoes of the disciples as they tasted the lamb, took communion, and had their feet washed... and the symbolism of why this particular night was chosen to be the eve of the crucifixion, when the lamb would be slaughtered once again to save the Jews from death.
Good Friday I woke up early and met my hiking group to hike up Mt. LamLam, the highest point on Guam. This was actually my first boonie stomp here way back in September. At that point, I was told it was a Guam tradition for the locals to hike up it on Good Friday as a Holy Week pilgrimmage. As we pulled up, I could not believe the miles and miles of cars parked on the side of the usually empty lonely road on the south side of the island. There were literally thousands of people making this journey.

Different today than last time were the small numbered crosses along the way to the top. We joined up with my hiking buddy Renea and her kids, who were reading a scripture from the Good Friday story and a prayer at each stop along the way. I love that my friends pulled their kids out of school to participate in this cultural and religious experience.
At the last minute, my friend Kristen decided to make the long drive down from the north end of the island to come on the hike. She just moved here about six weeks ago, right after getting married, and she happens to be a graduate of the University of Florida! Go Gators! Her husband is a helicopter pilot. They are the only Navy squadron that is based up on the Air Force Base.
Rosary stop in the jungle along the way
And finally we made it to the top! I say finally, but it's really only a mile :)

Later that day, we played golf :) And then we went to our church's Good Friday service, which was held at the top of Nimitz Hill, a massive hill on Guam. This particular site overlooks where the Marines landed on Guam to liberate the Chamorros from the evil Japanese back in WWII (really accurate history lesson going on here). The speaker, one of our church members and a Guam history teacher at a local high school, tied in the death of Jesus with the historical gore that happened right on these very hills. Such a memorable evening, especially once the sun started to set :)

Such beauty... followed by such darkness.

Easter Sunday was a wonderful celebration to tie everything together. I was in charge of coordinating our Easter brunch, which was a fundraiser for the orphanage we are working at in Manila. Many church members pitched in food, plus we had a donation from the local Indian restaurant (yum!), so we had a fantastic spread.
Everyone had a great time hanging out after the services. And the best part was, we raised over $1,200 for the orphanage! My stretch goal was to get to four figures, so needless to say, I was thrilled to leave there on Easter knowing the impact of our mission trip will be even bigger because of the generous hearts of our congregation. Pretty awesome outcome of the day :) The service was great too. The church looked beautiful. I sang in the Hallellujah choir. And our pastor's message was so poignant. The gist of it was that Easter is the most practical of all of the holidays, because it helps us deal with the everyday difficulties---and even the once-in-a-lifetime Good Fridays in our lives. Because Jesus died, we too can be "Easterized," and death and hardship and heartache no longer have the last word. Hallellujah!

And now we're off on our next adventure, which means I have to jet :) Happy Easter everyone!

Monday, April 18, 2011

How To Open a Coconut

One of the fun things about having a boat is taking people out who would otherwise be stuck on land. Exhibit A - our neighbor's kids. To the left here, we have Angel, who I will go easy on and only call him a chatterbox. Angel is in 6th grade and if you've ever seen the TV show Modern Family, picture Manny and you've got our neighbor. He's a lot of talk... and completely terrified of just about everything under water.
 And to the right, we have Raul, the super quiet, hardworking but pretty shy high school sophomore who wants to go to the Naval Academy. Not long ago Raul came over one evening to interview Nick for a high school paper (cute!) about what he should do in high school to help his chances of getting into the Academy. And just last week, his JROTC class showed up at Nick's work, and Nick took them on a tour of their command, which to these guys was pretty much the coolest. thing. ever.
Angel & Raul were really excited when we spontaneously invited them to come out on our boat. We took them to usual snorkeling spots around Pete's Reef & Alutom Island (which we recently learned isn't really called that, but since I've called it that for nine months, I'm just going to go with it). We then sped over to the awesome beachfront of Sella Bay for a late afternoon snack. And here, my friends, begins the tutorial you've all been waiting for: How to open a coconut. Take good notes. You may need to know this one day if you are ever stranded on a deserted island.

 Step 1: Knock the perfect coconut down from a tree. It can't be too green or it won't be ripe enough. It can't be too brown or it may have started to grow into a tree already (some of the seeds start growing into palms before they even fall off the tree!). And any that have fallen off on their own are either already trees or have been devoured by a coconut crab.
 One way to get a coconut down is to throw a rock or another coconut at it.


And over.

And over again until it falls down.

And if you can't get it down by throwing rocks, stick a buddy on your shoulders and try to poke it down with a long piece of driftwood.



So close!
Some might say that getting a coconut down from the tree is the hardest part. Nick even tried climbing it, but his buddy may have freaked out a little once he got too high.

After much determination, we got the fresh one we were throwing stuff at and poking to fall of the tree. Woohoo!
 Step 2 - Wow! We are only on step 2?

Now that we have the coconut, we need to bust into that hairy, thick outer shell. One way to do that is to bash the coconut repeatedly against a pointy rock.
 And bash it some more.

And bash it some more.

Step 2 is pretty exhausting too. I was exhausted just watching and taking all these pictures.

Good thing coconuts are usually located near rocks.
I had to enlarge this one so you could fully appreciate the strength it takes to conquer Step 2. Go Nick!

He may even be enjoying himself out there! Go step 2!
Angel stepped into help with the rest of, yes, Step 2. We are still on Step 2, trying to free the seed from its casing. 
After some more rock bashing, we had success! The coconut seed was free from its casing.
Step 3: Nick broke into the seed (using yet another rock), and we gnawed at the freshest coconut you will ever eat. Definitely something to try when you make your way out to visit (ahem... you know who you are). Yum!