Baja Blue

Baja Blue
Bluetrue sky of the Korokoro Hills

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Reflections on a Ten Month Journey

I was sitting in my little Polynesian bungalow at the Hotel Kaveka, watching a slow-burning sunset after an afternoon of heavy rain, contemplating the pending conclusion of our more than ten month travel adventure, thinking: "Have I changed, as a result of all this?; Have place, and people, as P.K. Page asked, changed me?" And the answer, from a new, quiet, but knowing place, deep inside, that I discovered, (or perhaps rediscovered) while away, was "yes".

The hard-driving, Type A woman, who used to measure the day's success by the completed column on her to-do list, (and woke up one day on an ambulance gurney, as a result), had left the building; in her place was someone who was, and is, straining at a much deeper "to do" and, (especially) "to be".

The woman who felt an expanding sense of fear both for and about the world now has a heightened sense of the fragility of this world, but also a greater confidence in the unseen force guiding it, and the strength of the shared bond of love between us -- the "one love, one heart", as Bob Marley so aptly said.  And she has a renewed sense of beauty -- both the astonishing physical beauty that is all around us, but also the quiet beauty in each life, or "the light that can shine out of a life", as Mary Oliver so beautifully phrased it.

Thinking about that beautiful light, and the bonds of love that seem not only intact but growing stronger, while gazing out across Cook's Bay, was almost too much to bear. So I will just say this: We are all in it together in this beautiful, fragile world; we must make our way delicately, but with great purpose; with a deep, breathing respect for the world and all that is in it, and, (especially) with great Love, which in the end, is all there is.

Bora Bora: The Pearl of the Pacific

Bora Bora, the Pearl of the Pacific, is perhaps the bluest, truest dream of all.  On arriving at her small island airport, you are greeted by a most beautiful and unearthly site: the perfectly clear and, in places, milky aquamarine lagoon; and, just beyond, majestic, blue-green Mount Otemanu and Mount Pahia rising up to the sky; a scene that is so other-worldly that it feels, truly, like a waking dream.

Having heard of the tourist excess for which Bora Bora has also become known, I wondered what was to come.  But, with most of the tourists ensconced in over-water bungalows, and being blessed to stay at a small, family owned and operated hotel at which I was generally 1 of just 2 or 3 guests -- the lovely Hotel Eden Beach -- I experienced the Bora Bora of my dreams: peaceful, serene and exquisitely beautiful. I spent hours watching the changing colours of the magnificent lagoon, and radiant moon above the palms at night; and was overjoyed to one night see bioluminescent plankton throwing a slashing electric light along the shore as the waves rolled in.  But despite all this beauty, which was itself almost more than the heart could bear, it was once again the protective, lovingkindness of people and even animals that added love as well as beauty to my stay.

I was moved and astonished to have a couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary take me under their wing, and have the family dog stand guard outside my suite, all night, and thought: Who am I to deserve such lovingkindness?  And then, (thinking of my morning meditation): You are one of the "spiritual beings having a human experience", who is both worthy of such kindness, and capable of also extending it, in the same way, to others.  And wouldn't the world be a kinder and more loving place if we could all find ways to do that?  Here's to the extraordinarily beautiful places in the world that give us a glimpse of the love that created this world; and the lovingkindness and generosity that bring that beauty, and love, alive in our hearts.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Moorea: Heaven Must Look Like This

I was utterly entranced by beautiful Moorea: it is the place where I rediscovered joy, and felt the grace of genuine lovingkindness.

From the moment I arrived at the Hotel Kaveka, and gazed out, from beneath the palm fronds, across Cook's Bay at majestic Mount Rotui, I thought: "heaven must look like this"; the tropical fish swimming in the lagoon below only added to the magic.  When I got on one of the hotel bikes and started touring around the island -- into charming Maharepa, and then back the other way, past the magnificent lookout at Paopao and the Bali Hai Club -- I felt a free and easy joy that I haven't felt (in great measure) since childhood.

But it was once again the blessed blend of wildly beautiful place and gentle people that cemented my love for this new "home".  An American couple, there celebrating their 10th anniversary, noticed me on my own, (with my husband now home to spend time with his Dad and me to follow); and decided to take me under their wings, including me in some magical adventures, and cementing a new, deep and lovely friendship.  We hiked up past the magnificent lookout at the Belvedere (with one of the men who built the trail!), did an amazing snorkelling and paddling tour, and beautiful sunset tour through Cook and Opunohu Bays, and spent time visiting, talking and dining together.

I was blessed to meet many other lovely people in Moorea, and felt a kind of grace, and special, protective lovingkindness from all.  Here's to the magical places and loving people who bring us joy, and the moments of pure grace, whenever and wherever we find them.

French Polynesia: A Bluetrue Dream Awake

Though I'd never visited before and had only seen pictures and heard some of the legends, the 7-year-old boy adventurer still alive and well in me had sights firmly set on the final destination of the voyage: French Polynesia. And these spectacular islands, archipelagos and coral-reef fringed islets ("motu") in the beautiful South Pacific did not disappoint; instead, they were the culmination of all that I had dreamed about and hoped for, for the voyage: a bluetrue dream, awake.

We started our French Polynesian adventure as almost everyone does: in Tahiti. And, though Tahiti is the largest and most urbanized of the Society Islands -- indelible, unique images of French Polynesian life and culture were already, everywhere evident.  Women, young and old, really do wear flowers in their hair; hibiscus and other blossoms are abundant; the island's interior mountains are deep green, covered in tall palms and ferns; and beautiful black sand beaches, and the blue Pacific beyond, seem to encircle everything.

The Tahitian people we met were extraordinarily kind, and proud of their paradise; and seemed, at least to us, to live their lives more closely focused on the natural beauty that surrounds them.  So I thought: why can't I find ways of more regularly seeking out and savouring the beauty in my corner of the world, even if I don't live in beautiful Tahiti?

You've not seen greens and blues like this before/A canopy of palms, a riot of greens/splay upwards, faces open to the sun and blue blue sky beyond/Above them, a frothy white meringue of clouds spiral lazily upwards/The endless blue day.  Here's to seeking out and appreciating the world's beauty, wherever we can find it; and to finding, and savouring, the endless blue day.

New Zealand: Going Home to Middle Earth

Kiwis and Canadians who have travelled to each other's countries will tell you there is something vaguely familiar about each place for the other.  And so it was with us: going to New Zealand felt like going home -- (to a new, semi-tropical home, with better weather, the Tui's reed-flute song, and a heart-rending view of Wellington Harbour and the beautiful Korokoro Hills!)

Aspects of New Zealand's stunning, diverse landscapes -- her rolling hills, and deep blue lakes, and mountain fjords -- felt both familiar, and, at the same time, brand new. And we benefited from two other elements that make a place a home: meeting dear new friends (who reintroduced us to our old loves, music and poetry) and visiting with much-loved family.

We were blessed to see almost all of both the stunning North and South Islands, and do most of that ambitious journey with my 78-year-old Mom, (who awed us, once again, with her spirit, energy and vitality); and enjoyed a 2nd visit with family, and two children that hold a special place in our hearts.  We toured (gorgeous) Bay of Islands, took the Northern Explorer train from Auckland to Wellington, took the ferry from Wellington across Cook Strait to Picton, and visited Christchurch, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Fox Glacier and Nelson -- all in 1 epic road trip.  Mom navigated the trip with grace, good humour, and her always inspiring joie de vivre, despite the fact she spent most of it sitting cramped in the back seat of our little car, (so that I, with my fuzzy head, could ride shotgun, in the front). I thought: even now, she is still both inspiring me, and "taking care of me".  And then: what a blessing, to experience beautiful places like this with dear friends and family.

We will never forget our trip home, to Middle Earth. Here's to the beautiful places in this well-made world, and to the friends and family whose love and presence makes them "home", where the heart is.

Friday, 8 May 2015

New Caledonia's Bluetrue Marine World

New Caledonia is a place of astonishing physical beauty and marine beauty; but, for me, will always be "the place where we saw the tiger shark."  A stunningly pretty blue-green archipelago, it is situated on the largest coral reef lagoon in the world, that was in 2008 designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But that mattered little when we saw the tiger shark.  We had been snorkelling in a large group with three guides from a local agency.  As I had battled vertigo after my seizure and concussion, I was using a "noodle" (a decidedly uncool snorkelling accessory) to try to keep water out of my ears, a losing battle given the relatively high waves.

My husband saw him first, deep below us, and called to me to look; and then I saw him too, and felt my heart almost stop.  About 4 feet long, with the tiger markings that juveniles wear, he was searching for prey that fortunately did not seem to include us. For one brief moment, I felt calm, and proud of my calm.  Then, when we suddenly got caught in a large school of small fish, and I thought about the shark's likely preferred diet -- some ancient preservation system kicked in, and I frantically splashed my way back to the boat, noodle in tow and almost hyperventilating, as though propelled by a large motor.

My awe, amazement (and fear) kept me from participating in the next round of snorkelling, which was even more awe-inspiring (and likely safer -- involving only gentle, black-tipped reef sharks).  Still, the encounter left an indelible memory, as all such encounters with nature, truly raw and wild, do.  Here's to the wild beauty and amazing creatures of this remarkable world, to protecting and preserving them, and finding moments, when we can, to (safely) see, and be amazed.

Hawaii's Aloha Spirit and Beauty

When we set off on our voyage, we were tired, in need of rest and healing, and hungering for both wild places and gentle people.  So we said prayers of thanks, every day, that we were able to spend time in places like magnificent Hawaii.

Hawaii's wild beauty is well-known and indisputable.  We drove the length of Kona's gorgeous coast, and marvelled at the black and green sand beaches, miles and miles of black lava fields, and awe-inspiring volcanoes in Volcano National Park, which were actively erupting as we arrived -- nature, in all her raw, powerful magnificence.

After Kona, we moved on to beautiful Kauai, which presented an entirely different kind of wild, including the lush greens of Hanalei Bay, the ancient steppes of Waimea Canyon and the serene, sculpted beauty of the Napali Coast -- heaven.

But it was the combination of this wild beauty and Hawaii's gentle "aloha spirit" that was particularly alluring.  Everywhere we went, we met people for whom the aloha spirit is not simply a greeting, or term of affection, or even a cultural tradition; but rather an active and sacred way of life, that has a much deeper meaning, related to experiencing people at the soul or spirit level, and honouring that.

I thought: how much kinder and more loving the world would be if we could all bring a little aloha spirit into our way of being in the world.

Here's to Hawaii's wild beauty and aloha, and the wild places that soothe our spirits, and gentle people who see them, wherever they may be.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

St Thomas US Virgin Islands: A New Way Forward for Island Paradises?

We arrived in St. Thomas US Virgin Islands in the middle of the night in early December, after months of rain in beautiful Brazil, lacking both sleep and luggage.  In the morning, gazing out at the clam-shaped white sand beach and hundreds of miles of perfectly clear but also brilliantly turquoise Caribbean Sea, we found ourselves unable to do more than gaze at the beauty all around.

Finally, we ventured in to Charlotte Amalie; and, though some of locals pledge gratitude for the cruise ships and role they play in sustaining the local economy, were disturbed by the grotesque ways in which they have shaped the fabric of the city -- turning it into a kind of a luxury goods outlet mall for those voracious floating cities -- (a pattern, sadly, that we subsequently saw replicated in many other islands we visited).  Knowing they often now carry more than 5,000 passengers, generate 50 swimming pools of waste per week, dump that waste just 3 miles offshore (destroying precious marine life in the process); sometimes hit, damage or even destroy the coral reefs they should be seeking to protect, and are shaping local island environments, economies and culture in ways that benefit the tourists they serve but not necessarily the communities they exploit and transform -- we were concerned to hear that St Thomas was considering expanding its port to allow more ships, and even bigger ships (grotesque "mega ships") into port.  So we were relieved to hear that in March of this year, the West Indian Company suspended plans for Long Bay Pier, the proposed new $65 million cruise ship pier in St Thomas Harbour, citing "potential negative impacts on the quality of life of Virgin Islanders". We hope this decision will mark the first of many similar such decisions, that put the environments of these pristine and ecologically important parts of the world, and quality of life of their local residents first.

Here's to travelling lightly and with respect in this world, and to such new beginnings for the world's islands, and her plants, animals and people.