Paint it Anything but Black

Fruit is plentiful and cheap in Colombia.

There are delicious varieties of cheap and sweet tropical fruit from street vendors on every corner

Cartagena, Colombia 

June 18th – 21st

Far far away from Chicago, IL is a city painted in color.

Bright pink, yellow, orange, and green drench the walls of ancient colonial buildings. Bold is beautiful and better yet, it is charming. Cobblestone streets line the ground as horses trot upon the stone while small taxi cars zoom past. The air is sweltering and sultry and the Caribbean Sea is balmy yet refreshing. It is a place where relaxation, indulging in fresh fruit, sitting on park benches, and watching soccer matches is a way of life. Hustle bustle is non-existent. Slow and steady is air itself.

Old Town Cartagena is the city where I found bravery and strength in mind.

Happiness is contagious with so many bright colors

Happiness is contagious

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A typical view of a street in Old Town Cartagena, Colombia

Statues and museums align parts of the city in remembrance of the colonial town

Statues and museums align parts of the city in remembrance of the colonial town

Roman Catholicism is the most popular religion in Colombia

Roman Catholicism is the most popular religion in Colombia

I first arrived in Cartagena, Colombia with a 30 liter backpack, a heart full of adventure, and 40 USD to my name. My Spanish was horrible at best but my mind was hungry to learn a new language and culture. Yes, I could have taken a class or could have learned before but what better way than to do what scares you most? Plus, I had only bought the ticket a couple of weeks in advance and had started planning the trip 3-4 days before take off…. Does that get your heart going? Because that was the ultimate plan. Scare myself to learn how much I could depend, trust, and believe in who I was and who I would become in the face of adversity.

As I landed in Colombia I chose one of the cheapest hostels I could find ($8 a night) with the best ratings. Fast forward two hours later as I made my way through customs I was shocked to discover not a single local resident spoke english. Boy was this going to be quite the journey. As such, my debit and credit card were rejected as I frantically tried every ATM in the airport radius. The ATM’s were in Spanish and thankfully my basic understanding of Italian came in handy (Spanish and Italian are similar in some regards). Still, no dough. Thankfully I met a wonderful Swedish man by the name of Gustav who spoke fluent English. Gustav had traveled to Colombia to take classes and learn Spanish. We hopped in a cab together and navigated the city. With zero pesos to my name, Gustav was kind enough to pay for my taxi with no expectation of reimbursement. Gustav gave me hope. He showed me the kindness of a stranger with a heart of a lion. Experiencing his kindness in a world I did not know made me brave. If a stranger could be kind than other strangers could be too.

No money. No Spanish. No friends. Just me…..and I was brave.

Brave enough to make another friend, who, oddly enough was from Chicago and an avid traveler with plenty of advice. Brave enough to explore a city without a map. Brave enough to interact with locals to learn their culture and language. And brave enough to let things be.

I was in a weird and wonderful world where – unlike the United States – everything was not sanitized. Everything was raw. When I say raw I mean dangerous, thrilling, somewhat dirty, and safe all at the same time.

The next day, bank issues were resolved and I could breathe again. Everything was going to be ok. Then again, how could it not in a country like Colombia?

A golden sunset to end a stressful and eye-opening day.

A golden sunset to end a stressful and eye-opening day.

Bravery was lettered but what about strength in mind? Well, that’s another story…

For time’s sake let’s keep it short. After all, this blog is about travel highlights and personal growth.

A new friend of mine I had met at the hostel (Las Tortugas) spoke fluent Spanish, French, and English. Thank God someone new English AND Spanish. We traveled to a small fishing village outside of Cartagena called La Baquilla. There we swam and played with the local children who were fascinated with my so-called “blonde” hair. They couldn’t speak a word of English and I couldn’t speak much Spanish but somehow we made it work. We understood each other. We spoke with our bodies, our facial expressions, and our laughter. After swimming and playing with the children we walked through a village built up of huts. Restaurants lined the village under straw roofs that offered fresh fish and coca-cola (coca-cola is sold in every store and restaurant and is very popular in Colombia). Children played in the streets kicking tattered balls with their dirty bare feet as parents watched closely from the distance of their small homes.

At the bus stop, my mate and I smiled and chatted with each other about the limitless of beauty as we waited for our ride back to the city. We stood there, happy and aware of our surroundings. My friend had two backpacks on her since she was debating staying in the village and decided against it after seeing the conditions. A gentleman stood at the bus stop with us. He was dressed nicely and was a local of the village. He wore dark washed jeans and an aqua light blue collard shirt. As the bus approached we started walking closer to the dirt road when suddenly, everything hit slow motion. I felt a tug on the bag I was wearing as the woven strap across my chest was torn off. I looked back at him as I turned around and snatched the bag out of shock. His hand on top of mine, he squeezed as we played tug-a-war with the bag. I noticed he was unarmed and decided to fight for what was mine. I screamed for help as a bus full of people stopped while people watched from all around. We tugged for the bag as it went back and forth between us until his strength overpowered mine. He ran off. He ran off with my only source of communication (iPhone 5) and pesos equivalent to 30 USD. Luckily, I had heard of situations like this before and was well aware to leave my passport, ATM cards, and money back in a lockbox at the hostel. My friend on the other hand did not since she was mobile. We flagged a police officer down as my friend recounted the situation to him in Spanish. His response translated to: “What do you want me to do about it?” Local people surrounded us as I stood there in disbelief. How could this happen? I mean I had read about robberies in Colombia but never thought it could be me. Why me? Why now? The people started debating loudly. One side wanted justice and knew the young man. He was a common thief and was driving down tourism and business in the small village. The other side thought God would take care of it and to leave his punishment up to the almighty.

Shock turned to disbelief. Disbelief turned to acceptance. Acceptance turned to gratitude.

I had never been mugged before. The man was not armed. I fought back and trusted my reflexes.

Is this bravery? Maybe. But to me it was much more. This was strength in mind. For others this would have ruined their trip and made them feel extremely unsafe. For me, it MADE my trip and made me more empathetic and understanding of a culture I did not quite know. Why was this man robbing innocent tourists in the first place? Was he malicious? I doubt it since he had no intention to hurt me. I believe it is because of his socio-economic status. Living in a poor fishing village with little hope for advancement in career is something I do not know. Supporting a family and living in poverty is something else I do not know. What if this man was a good guy? A man I would call my friend who felt pressured and desperate to earn more to feed himself and his family? I am not saying his method is correct. I simply do not know his story.

But I do know mine.

Just like the walls of Cartagena, I wanted to paint my mind bold and bright. No negativity. No preconceived judgements. No fuss over lost material possessions.

I was healthy.

I was happy.

I was grateful to be alive.

So paint my life. Paint your life. Paint it anything but black.

Yes, I Enjoy Suffering and Here’s Why You Should Too

knowledge

Passion: a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something. From late Latin, meaning to “suffer.” 

I am a writer (surprise) and I hate writing (self-fulfilling prophecy sooooo…)

*I love writing.

I believe this is true for everyone who is passionate. In fact, I believe it is the reason why we choose our careers in the first place. I am passionate about helping people realize their passions yet it has taken me months to start writing this blog. How could that be? How could a writer tear herself from her pen (beloved MacBook Air) by her own doing? The answer is surprisingly simple. Writing is hard, it makes my head spin, my eyes go dry, and my lips hurt from constantly biting as I think of that one word I used back in 2009 at that one place with the pink flamingo that I had learned from that one book that I had…….biting. Consistent biting since 1993.

God, I love it.

Not the biting, but if I perceive it as beneficial than well, I am open minded and am not against such helpful habits.

I love the pain because I love the challenge. I love the challenge because I love to exercise my mind. In exerting my mind I effectively shatter previous thoughts to create new ones. So I suffer; graciously so. At the time, the suffering seems torturous but oh so pleasurable. Am I a masochist? Will I be remembered as “The Woman Who Loved Suffering (and biting her bottom lip consistently since 1993)” forever engrained on my tombstone? Too much? Ok, enough with the over-dramatization.

I am a passion seeker and my mission is to help others become their best selves in realizing and pursuing their passions.

“So Jenn, what you’re telling me is that you are passionate about passion?”

Why yes random person asking, which happens to be me, by myself, in front of my computer screen.

Writing is just one form of me fulfilling what I believe to be my purpose. I am passionate about writing because it is the most difficult thing for me to do. It is the form in that I fail the most. Therefore, it is the form in that I grow the most. For some it may be through negotiation, through business, through medicine or sport. For others it may be through law or mathematics. The people who are passionate about what they do believe they are passionate about their careers because they are “naturally good at it.” Funny thing is, the only way you achieve mastery is through repeated failure. It’s why we are passionate in the first place. We love to fail because we love learning. Living without stimulation is not living. It is not living because without it we are not our true selves or our best selves in every moment.

So here’s where you come in. Enough about me and enough about other people. I would like to formally (and informally) invite you to attend the greatest journey of your life: Being your purpose. I want to help you stimulate your mind, your body, and your soul in figuring out your life purpose(s) and vision.

Are you ready?

There is going to be a lot of suffering and PASSION. Consider it a party. A passion party.

Wanna join?

If finding your true passion(s) interests you (and at the least reading this blog) comment below. 

C h i c a G O

Chicago, Illinois (the loop)

Chicago, Illinois (the loop)

July 20 – 23, 2015

Hustle and bustle in the loop that wraps around its heart. Eat a deep dish pizza. Listen to some smooth jazz in the park and break your reverie, look up.

It’s a classy city of neighborhoods with the business district booming and all empowering.

… for those who make it, that is.

South of the loop may as well be another world. Crime statistics vary street by street and the standard of living significantly less. Ancient houses stand uninviting next to yellow fields of dead hope. Sidewalks cracked and deserted. Men stand along the train line in shadow of their fathers who stood not too long ago. A cloud of smoke from lighted cigarettes cover brick faces of teenagers that have never seen better days. Rap is the voice of the community. A pulse of suffering and poverty, something that understands this world.

I walked the streets in the comfort of my boyfriend’s presence, his hand in mine and my heart next to his. The day was scorching and the sun unrelentingly beating my forehead and shoulders. It’s a day I’ll never forget.

South Chicago is the place my boyfriend and I will call home for the next two years. As controversial and depressing as the south may be, I felt inspired. Inspired to keep on changing this world through love, empathy, understanding and compassion. The first step to understanding is empathy and the action is change.

What I had seen is exactly what I am changing. I am learning more about myself and pushing myself to grow more so I can help others. Why? Because people matter. What we do matters.

Chicago is my future home. And the lights, a reflection of radical hope.

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To the Sea

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

July 10 – 12, 2015

Grainy sand between gold painted toes. Shoulders bronzed and kissed.

I sit on the beach, my partner right beside. I scan the raw terrain, critically then softly all at once.

I try and understand the overgrown weeds, the rocky low cliffs and the discolored sea. I see the imperfection and ever more embrace.

Nature is not about perfection but the flaws that make it beautiful. It is why we seek the unusual. The “out of place” that explains the rules or the ordinary.

Monterey is not a white beach. It’s no Bondi. It’s no Manly. It is a city that rests on rugged coast. The beautiful found in the distorted and twisted.

The choice, to see all. Experience all for what is and perceive through the power of refocus.

I looked to the sea. What I found is what I’m still finding.

Metaphorical? Yes.

Annoying? Maybe.

Truthful? Honestly so.

The Jellies Experience (special edition), Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Jellies Experience (special edition), Monterey Bay Aquarium

旅行与心脏 – 中国 (Travel with Heart – China)

 

Pearl River, China

Pearl River, China

March 19, 2015

Discovering Liberation of Spirit and Mind

Cold piercing hearts sit behind barred rusted steel windows. A minuscule opening to the world buried deep within politics, communism and dollar. Bleak skyscrapers reach higher and higher, gasping for air that is flooded with chemicals from factories next door, down the street and within. Creativity is scarcely salvaged from industrial markets dominating the once traditional cultural utopia.

Despite monopolistic destruction to both nature and being, China is a land where one can find liberation. It is freeing. It is where spirit and mind shatter barred imprisonment and leap into imaginative pristine beginnings.

It is a land of milk and honey for those who see themselves. I saw myself. But did I like what I had seen?

On March 19th, I flew from Los Angeles to Guangzhou, China to challenge myself. I booked the ticket on a whim (~2 weeks in advance) despite money uncertainty – because why the hell not?

I had already discovered Australia (& was on my way there once again to visit my boyfriend for his 22nd birthday – *shout out to my very own Aussie: I love you Nick!) and New Zealand and was ready for something more. I needed a culture shock, I wanted to experience. I desired to learn.

Below is a summary of events that added to an enlightening understanding of self:

  • Met Shannon, Matt and James from Kalgoonie, Australia. They were on their way home and had a 17 hour layover. I decided to make some new mates (it seems I am attracted to Australians) to explore Guangzhou with.
My new Aussie mates and I. From Left to Right, James, me, Shannon and Matt.

My new Aussie mates and I. From Left to Right, James, me, Shannon and Matt.

  • The exploration continued all day. We figured out how to navigate a new world in a language foreign to ourselves.
Poverty is everywhere. Western and Traditional culture surround the city as one outlandish sphere.

Poverty is everywhere. Western and Traditional culture surround the city as one outlandish sphere.

Traffic is horrendous. Lanes do not seem to exist. In one lane there is a brand new Mercedes and the next there is a man on a scooter with woven baskets piled high on his automobile.

Traffic is horrendous. Lanes do not seem to exist. In one lane there is a brand new Mercedes and the next there is a man on a scooter with woven baskets piled high on his automobile.

But yet I was happy. I felt liberated. I was present.

But yet I was happy. I felt liberated. I was present.

So, what’s the big hype? I mean so what? People travel everyday.

Yes, no one spoke English. Yes, people were horrid and gave me the cold shoulder. Yes, no one returned my smile. And yes, I was lost in a foreign city and culture.

But I was liberated. Enjoyably so.

I relied on the person I know best. The girl I believe in every day who keeps fighting despite being knocked to the ground time after time again. The woman who will never stop traveling, learning and educating. The person who never stops writing. Because that is who she is. Words is her world and the feelings tied to those words, her universe.

She is a writer. A journalist.

A sharer of information to those who need to feel. Those wanting nothing more than to break free from those barred rusted steel windows they unknowingly set for themselves.

I was me. All it took was a trip to another world to appreciate a driven being composed of the intricate pieces of spirit, mind and heart.

The (not so) End: 

At the airport about to board my next flight to Sydney, Australia:

  • Left boarding pass on cart (Because I am a doofus)
  • Directed to immigration. Told I had to go through security again although my plane was about to board…
  • Got replacement boarding pass from the nice Chinese gentleman. My panicked demeanor broke down the language barrier. Emotions as universal language.
  • Ended up at the wrong gate and asked for help but no one spoke English.
  • Figured it out and ran my butt off to the third floor to the correct gate.
  • Boarded the plane (last call). Sat down in my seat. Had a conversation with a stranger about the meaning of life.
  • And eventually… found my way home into the arms of my loving boyfriend.

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Free Falling

Skydive Cairns, Australia

Skydive Cairns, Australia

December 18, 2014 

I wanted to live.

To stare death down and laugh without fear.

I wanted to feel.

So what better way is there to be aware of body and mind than jumping out of a plane 14,000 feet off the ground? Well… maybe yoga or meditation. But that’s not the point! I craved an adrenaline rush that would push my spirit outside of the limitations we sometimes set of ourselves. I hungered for a challenge. A test of my own confidence and faith. I needed to fall.

In the troposphere there are no restrictions. No safety nets. No places to hide. There is only you.

Body and Mind, Free Falling.

And so I decided to fall, fast.

The other divers and I boarded the small plane with our experienced skydiver buddies. My diving mate was the oldest and most seasoned diver, having made a career of the sport over the last 20+ years. He was witty and provided words of comfort for me on the plane:

Skydiving Mate: “The worst that can happen is that your parachute doesn’t open and you die.”

Me: “Sounds like I’ll get more free fall for my buck. I’m excited!” 😀

The view from the plane as we flew up

The view from the plane as we flew up

Cracking jokes with my skydiving instructor as I eagerly awaited my jump

Cracking jokes with my skydiving instructor as I eagerly awaited my jump

Before we knew it we were sky high (literally). Pairs started jumping out and falling hard like bowling balls being dropped from the Empire State building.

My buddy and I made our way to the open door of the plane. The surprisingly cool humid wind tasseled my hair and whipped my skin. I looked down… a long way down. I screamed, “I’m ready!”

We jumped.

My body, weightless. My mind, free of tangled thoughts. I felt every sensation. Every part of my body enveloped by a forceful wind demanding to be reckoned with.

My eyes wide open, branding images of creative beauty in my heart. The hills, green and inviting. The ocean, tranquil and placid. The vast distance, not far enough.

I was finally present. I had no worries of today or tomorrow.

Just me. My curiosity. One body. One mind.

Up

Sunrise in Cairns, Australia

Sunrise in Cairns, Australia

December 17, 2014


Static Heights 

Clarity. Focus.

It was a morning spent in high resolution. A hot air balloon ride with my mother and random tourists from around the globe. What did I find up there? Was it a higher power? A deity amidst the clouds?

No. Definitely not. I found something more important.

I found clarity.

I found focus.

I stood, squished against the side of the basket. A woven imprint slowly tattooed itself on my left unclothed thigh as people piled in, struggling to find space. I took a deep breath. Found my inner peace and exhaled negativity. This was it. I was finally going to see Cairns, basked in the light of a rising sun from great heights. I was ready, I was excited… I was a little nervous.

What to do now? Ponder the meaning of life? What if I died? What would happen to my most trusted companion Maxximas (aka poopy face, aka my best friend – dog -)? My thought process harshly disrupted by a rough voice. The rope attaching us to the soil, untied. The basket lifted. And suddenly.. we were Up.

The view - Up - as we ascended

The view – Up – as we ascended

My breath quickened as I looked down at the ground escaping below me. My heart thumped to the beat of a million drums. My feet, glued. My legs quaked. My tummy, uneasy. And then, I looked Up.

I stared straight ahead at the sun on the horizon. My horizon. I was rising.

The air was crisp and my senses clear. I saw myself from above. I understood. Every moment, every struggle – got me here. It got me on top. Looking forward and looking out into a horizon of opportunity, a chance to change this world through empathy and influence. The view, rare. Seen only by those with conviction and a firm belief in self.

I found clarity.

I found focus.

I was Up.

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The Misfits

Road trip to Draintree Forest From left to right: Catti Jimenez (Sweden) Alex Prikhodko (Washington, D.C.) Peter Ma (San Francisco, CA) Kelly Hellman (Sweden) Hendrik Bandholz (Germany) Pontus Karlsson (Sweden) and me (Los Angeles, CA).

Road trip to Draintree Forest From left to right: Catti Jimenez (Sweden) Alex Prikhodko (Washington, D.C.) Peter Ma (San Francisco, CA) Kelly Hellman (Sweden) Hendrik Bandholz (Germany) Pontus Karlsson (Sweden) and me (Los Angeles, CA).

“It’s that F***ing Bird!”


December 16, 2014


Pro Dive Cairns connected me with people from around the world living one life. One of passion for diving, travel and adventure.

I had met Pontus during my first day on the boat. His fiery red hair and freckles made him stand out like a Labrador among Poodle Terriers. I was intrigued by his “Swedish” ways and his expertise in diving. Naturally, we became close friends and diving buddies. From there I met the rest of the crew on the boat and off for some drinks – nothing like a cold beer after a dive – in Cairns.

On a whim, we decided, “Why not rent a car, go on a day road trip and experience all Australia has to offer?”

And that’s exactly what we did.

The crazy bunch. Alex drove while I helped with navigation in the front.

The crazy bunch. Alex drove while I helped with navigation in the front.

Just two hours from Cairns, Daintree Rainforest is a site to see. It stretches 1,2000 square kilometers and is the longest continuous rainforest on the Australian continent. With luscious green trees, cool flowing water and small critters; this sanctuary of rejuvenation is a prime example of mother nature’s finest.

It is home to the colorful Cassowary, an endangered bird species vital to the Daintree forest’s survival.

“The cassowary is vital to the wet tropics region throughout Far North Queensland because it provides a role of seed disperser for over 100 species of rainforest plants with large fruits. Without the cassowary, these plants would be concentrated around a parent plant and would not spread throughout the rainforest ecosystem.”

As of 1993, there were only 54 cassowary birds left in the Daintree forest. Although the species is starting to repopulate, it is still listed to be at risk of extinction.

After learning about the endangered bird, Peter and Alex decided they had to see it.

We were a rare group after all, why not add one more unusual sight to the experience?

The Daintree Rainforest : A view stretching past the green and into sea blue

The Daintree Rainforest : A view stretching past the green and into sea blue

With only a day to spare, we chose a path and treaded lightly. We worked all of our senses, enjoyed the power of being (with each other) and lived deeply with no regrets.

Finding our own path and following it with confidence and peace of mind

Finding our own path and following it with confidence and peace of mind

With the day coming to a close and a van running out of gas, we decided to see one more natural beauty. Recommended by the locals and situated at the very edge of the forest, Emmagen Beach became our destination and conquer. The only problem was – we couldn’t find the darn beach.

From high to low, left to right, we searched for the famous (but ridiculously hidden) Emmagen beach. We were lost and frustrated but we never lost hope. We were a determined bunch with a fascination in discovering the unknown. It was our mission and we wouldn’t leave until seeing it with our own eyes.

Locals and tourists could see our frustration and gooberish ways as we searched for path openings/markers along the road. A couple of locals had us follow them back the way we came, claiming they knew where the beach was. These people took us for fools, oh the trickery and deception. We stopped, turned around, and headed back the way we came.

Dusk was falling and mosquitoes were biting. The humidity was scorching and our crave for accomplishment and reflection in nature was deranged. A little ironic but when has life ever made sense?

Two frustrated German girls stood stranded by their broken down car. We stopped. Hey! We had a German mechanic after all. We left Hendrik with the German girls to work on the car and told him to stay put as we explored the forest on either side of the road.

We had seen beautiful beaches through out the day:

A quick stop along our road trip

A quick stop along our road trip

but still, no Emmagen.


We almost lost hope until…

By Golly!!!! We found the path. We pulled back the shrubbery hiding the narrow trail and leaped forward. We couldn’t believe our very eyes. In a half-walk, half-jog , I let the green leaves and vines smack my legs and face as I stepped forward, eager – craving a sight as delicious as cheesecake, The forest cleared and…

Was that it?

A narrow stretch of white golden sand lay facing a calm grey ocean.

I stood there, perplexed. How could this be? We traveled all this way, had gotten bitten by thousands of mosquitoes and led astray by the locals. For what?

That’s when it hit me. This beach, this simple and plain beach was exactly how it needed to look all along. It wasn’t the destination that I was meant to find solace in but the journey. I had grown. I had changed. Australia gave me a reason to be adventurous, to travel with complete strangers and to learn how to live every experience as a life lesson granted upon me by my own thirst for challenge.

We quickly walked back to the van as dusk enveloped the small beach behind us and the forest stretching ahead.

Where was the broken down car? The German girls? Most importantly – WHERE WAS HENDRIK –

Oh dear friend, please be alive.

We searched and searched and searched until we drove. We drove back the way we came, praying to pass him on the way. Our prayers were answered.

Hendrik and the German girls came rolling forward in the now-working sedan. Relief spread across Alex and my face as we spoke about our discovery of the mission-almost-impossible beach.

Our cars were idle and our spirits high….

“It’s that F****** bird!” Alex screamed.

For a mere second we caught a glimpse of the rare species walk in front of our van and disappear into the thick forest.

Dreamlike.

We bolted out of the van and ran to the outskirts of the forest. We searched, squinting our eyes, trying to see between the trees. But it was too late. We had our moment. And just like that, the moment was gone but forever etched in our hearts and line of vision.

We did it. We saw the bird. We saw Emmagen Beach. We saw Daintree Rainforest.

Most importantly, we saw ourselves.

The endangered Cassowary Bird in the Daintree Rainforest

The endangered Cassowary Bird in the Daintree Rainforest

Diving in Deep (The Great Barrier Reef)

The view of the sun setting from The Great Barrier Reef

The view of the sun setting from The Great Barrier Reef

Limitless 


December 11th – December 15th

Cool blue. Sun above. Nothing below.

Heart, adventure and a rebellious thirst to defy the laws of human nature.

Have you ever breathed under water? How did it feel? Did you breathe heavily? Or did the scenery down under take your breath away?

Cairns, a small city in northern Queensland is home to the worlds largest coral reef system known globally as The Great Barrier Reef. According to its website, the reef is “larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing on earth visible from space.” Pretty gnarly huh?

Fortunately, I received the opportunity to dive into this experience…deep.

I arrived to this natural oasis of wonder on November 10th and was immediately taken aback by the scorching heat and sticky humidity. Yuck. I wasted no time in escaping the tropical weather and splashing into a cool pool of learning.

Before even arriving to Australia, I knew exactly what I had to experience. I chose Australia because of The Great Barrier Reef. With global warming and coal drilling near the reef coming in at full force, I knew it would only be a matter of time before the majestic reef ceases to exist. So, I chose adventure and I chose challenge. Scuba Diving had always seemed to be a serene yet adrenaline inducing sport.

A small tank of oxygen, a stinger suit, a mask, and you – 18 meters under. Who would put themselves in such danger just for a closer look at coral? Who could possibly have that much faith in themselves to make snap decisions that are possibly life saving? Crazy, right? Maybe, or just challenging. And that’s exactly what I did.

I won’t bore you with the logistics of pool training, skill sets and my day to day so here’s all you need to know:

December 11th – Training Dives (Pool)

December 12th – Training Dives (Pool) + PADI Exam

December 13th – First day on the boat (2 Dives)

December 14th – Open Water Scuba Diver Certification and Night Dive with Sharks (4 Dives)

December 15th – Last Day on the boat (3 Dives)

Getting pumped for a dive on The Great Barrier Reef

Getting pumped for a dive on The Great Barrier Reef

A picture of the diverse coral and marine wildlife found throughout the reef. Photo Credit: Charlotte Serkumian

A picture of the diverse coral and marine wildlife found throughout the reef. Photo Credit: Charlotte Serkumian

My beautiful scuba diving mates from around the world. Jason, my diving instructor, is in the back wearing an aqua blue shirt.

My beautiful scuba diving mates from around the world. Jason, my diving instructor, is in the back wearing an aqua blue shirt.

Some would say their favorite part of the experience was observing 400+ types of coral while others would say it was studying 1500+ species of tropical fish while still others would claim it was the sheer thought of becoming scuba certified on The Great Barrier Reef.

Although a fan of all three, my favorite part was in conquering my own fears. It was in testing my ability to defy comfort and exert bravery and fierceness under pressure. It was being surrounded by God and all holy while maintaining my logic. Swimming with sharks…feeling my blood heat and my heart thump clicked something inside of me. Only I control me. The situation is meaningless. What matters is how I react to the context and how my actions reflect my values.

It was beautiful, the air was fresh, the water pure and my heart, a feasting ground for personal challenge. This was my experience. Who I was before was irrelevant. I had reclaimed my optimistic mind and hunger for challenge. I could withstand all adversity, conquer and then grasp a greater meaning regardless of context. All I needed was a rejuvenated mind reclaimed 18 meters down in the depths of a land down under.

The Great Barrier Reef and Nemo himself. Photo Credit: Peter Ma

The Great Barrier Reef and Nemo himself. Photo Credit: Peter Ma