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Hello and welcome to my blog formerly called Gypsy-K. Please note that I am only updating this blog while I am walking from Rome to Jerusalem from September 2015. My online home and permanent blog is at www.kymwilson.com.au. You can also sign up for pilgrim postcards and newsletters here. Thank you for being here and supporting my journey. With love and courage, Kym xx

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Halting the High Speed Train

A little over eight weeks ago, my life as a gypsy commenced when I left Phuket, the place I had come to know as home for two and a half months. Since then, my life has been one of continuous movement and activity. Some days are spent completely in transit from early morning to evening as I move to my next chosen destination.

I have spent hours on different modes of transportation; buses, planes, ferries; hours sitting in uncomfortable seats sometimes my personal space encroached upon by my neighbour. Hours in barely tolerable heat when air-conditioning and the curtains struggle to mute the effect of the mid-day sun beating on the window beside me. I have spent hours waiting for my transportation to depart to my next destination. And hours packing and re-packing my wheelie backpack to ensure everything fits and I do not exceed weight limits. I have spent hours determining how to get from A to B trying to find the right balance between speed and cost and waiting. I have spent hours and hours walking, my favourite way to explore and feel a new city or town, often getting lost but always finding my way. And naturally I have spent hours indulging in my favourite activities, diving, taking photos and writing.

Deciding where to go, how to get there and then actually doing it, is exciting. I am writing my own adventure story every day and living it as well. In my eight weeks as a gypsy I have….
• Detoxed on Koh Phangan, an Island Paradise
• Dived the Perhentian Islands
• Snapped my way around Kuala Lumpur from Chinatown to Palace to Mosques to Petronas Towers to Menarra Tower to browsing books in Kinokuniya to butterfly park to craft shopping
• Climbed 272 steps to see the amazing Batu Caves
• Paid respects to WWII PoW’s at Sandakan Memorial Park and in Kanchanaburi
• Ventured into the wilds of Borneo to see an Orangutan, proboscis monkeys, long-tail macaques and an enormous amount of bird life.
• Spent 6 glorious days diving around Semporna, 18 dives in total, 9 dives of which were around Sipadan, the most amazing diving I have ever experienced
• Temple hopped in Bangkok where I have seen too many Buddha images to mention all of them but most special were the giant golden Buddha, giant reclining Buddha and Emerald Buddha.
• Traversed the Chao Phrya river and its klongs and seen a different way of life
• Patiently endured Bangkok traffic
• Floated around Bangkok’s floating market, survived the crush at Khao San night market and shopped till I dropped at Centralworld
• Enjoyed the afternoon aerobics at Lumphini Park (as a specatator)
• Climbed the steep steps of Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) only to remember that I am scared of heights and realise that climbing down is much scarier (looking down) than climbing up
• Touched a cobra and watched men fighting snakes
• Unexpected found myself lost in the middle of huge crowds celebrating the Thai Queens’ birthday
• Drank the yummiest cocktails at Bamboo Bar at the Oriental Hotel in my very pretty new dress with my lovely dear friend and eaten random street food
• Ridden a bicycle, yes pedal power, all around Kanchanaburi which just happened to be hotter than Bangkok
• Walked the Bridge over the River Kwai and the Death Railway
• Climbed to the top of the 7 tiered Erawan Waterfalls (in my birkenstocks) and then swam the beautiful pools of fresh water with the nibbling fish
• Patted tigers and bathed an elephant
• Ridden a bicycle, yes more pedal power, around the ruins of ancient Sukhothai which happened to be even hotter than Kanchanaburi.

And all of this, I have done under my own speed and direction

But I arrived in Chiang Mai, approximately 10 hours north of Bangkok, nearly 7 days ago, exhausted. My desire to see and experience this charming city is strong, but the energy to enable the fulfillment of my desire is so heavily depleted, it is almost non-existent. I wake in the mornings and eventually drag my heavy body out of bed. I walk around town slowly, willing one foot in front of the other. I try to stay present and follow conversations but the tiredness fogs my brain and even if I am able to follow, the attempt to do so drains my low energy stores even further.

I feel my body want to crumple in a heap and lie down wherever I may be, sitting in a crowded coffee shop or walking through a crowded market. The tiredness sits behind my eyeballs, wanting to cast its dark net of sleep over my sight and pull me into a deep and peaceful rest. But I don’t allow it. My wanting to make the most of my short time in this city, a place I may never return to, acts as a drive to keep me going. My brain constantly chatters in the background “you should do this, you should do that, you should see everything, you should make the most of your time here, you shouldn't waste the opportunity”. But for all the shoulds, my body and my soul crave rest and deep stillness.

When I stop and listen to my innermost core, it gently whispers, “rest, be still, be kind to yourself, you don’t have to do it all”. The longer I ignored this and indeed fought this, the more tired and exhausted I became. I have been living my life as a short-term holiday maker but I am a long-term traveller. I have been attempting to sprint over a long distance instead of maintaining the pace of a marathon runner. A sprinter cannot make the distance I intend to traverse.

So, finally, I gave in and listened to my inner longing. I gave myself permission to do nothing and to enjoy doing nothing. Hours have been spent enjoying massages, drinking coffee, eating, and watching life happen before me. And finally after 7 days of exhaustion, I feel the fog of tiredness lifting and my sense of adventure and excitement return.

It’s not only been the rest that has helped, the universe has stepped in and reminded me not to plan too far ahead and to take things as they come. I had the next few months planned out, Cambodia then Indonesia, then a month back in Phuket in preparation for six months in India. I loved knowing which direction I was heading in and feeling excited about my plans for the next few months. But some unexpected news has thrown a cloud of uncertainty over where I will be in a few months time. I have thrown all my cards into the air and am just waiting to see where they fall. And the waiting, the not knowing is exciting! It has helped to further lift the fog of tiredness and reignite the fire inside. I am learning that it doesn’t matter where I go or what I do or how much I do as long as I enjoy the journey and not doing can be far more enjoyable than doing anything at all.







Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Stunned by Sipadan

Sipadan. Wow. I could almost stop there because I’m not sure that my words can adequately convey or do justice to the magical beauty of the underwater world surrounding this small island, 36 kilometres off the coast of Semporna in the Celebes Sea. The true magic of Sipadan cannot really be believed until you have been there yourself and seen it with your own eyes. I know this because I have read about Sipadan and heard stories from friends and other divers about Sipadan but none of it prepared me for what I saw. Not even photographs can capture and convey how extraordinary this place really is. Sometimes, the only way to understand something is to experience if yourself.

From the moment I descended on that first dive, below the surface of the Celebes Sea, I was literally gob-smacked. I felt like I was in a dream and stared with incredibility at the life swarming around and past me. There was so much life, at times it seemed that my Malaysian guide, John, was continuously banging on his tank to get our attention and pointing one way and then seconds later banging on his tank and pointing in another direction. First pointing up, then down down, left, right., up and down again. All I could do was look at John, shrug my shoulders, hold my hands palm up in front of me in disbelief and laugh through my regulator whilst tears of joy welled in my eyes.

Since 2005, Sipadan Island has been under the management of Malaysian Parks and Wildlife. The five resorts that were operating on the island have been dismantled. Only one hundred and twenty visitors are allowed on and around the island each day to dive or snorkel and visitors are not permitted to stay on the island. This means pre-planning a trip to Sipadan because most of the dive shops only have seven permits each and these can sell out anywhere from two weeks to two months in advance. However, the result of limiting the number of people on the island is that the dive sites are pristine. There is next to no rubbish or coral damage and there is an absolute abundance of life.

Four minutes into my first dive at a depth of twenty eight metres, I stared in disbelief as a white tip reef shark cruised by about ten metres to my right. It glided gracefully, its fins swaying elegantly side to side as it snaked its way through the water. My breathing increased fivefold from its normal, calm, even pace and my eyes opened wider with delight. I even managed to smile whilst keeping my regulator firmly in my mouth. Onwards, as we glided farther through the water, my eyes opened even wider with incredibility at all the different types of fish before me, many I had never seen before and am still unable to identify. Then fourteen minutes into the dive, another two white tip reef sharks go cruising past my right hand side and on into the deep blue distance. I clapped my hands with glee for the first time that day. Twenty minutes into the dive and another white tip reef shark glides two metres below me. I hovered in the water watching in awe as it disappeared into the distance. Four reef sharks in twenty minutes!

A few minutes later, John tapped rapidly on his tank to get our attention yet again. He points up towards the surface and there silhouetted in all its majesty is a turtle swimming through the water. Watching a turtle move through the water is one of the most amazing sights to see and one of the reasons I adore them. On land they are heavy and awkward, but in the water they move with such grace, ease ad speed. Their two front fins powerfully paddling them through the water effortlessly and allowing them to glide as gracefully as an eagle through the air. And whilst their movement may appear steady and slow, it is hard work if not at times impossible trying to keep up with one swimming off into the distance.

My fondest turtle moment came as a complete surprise. John took me through a small upward slanting opening in the limestone wall, what we call a swim-through. Up I slowly floated, careful not to touch the coral lining the wall. As I came to the top of the swim through and flicked my fins to swim out into the blue again, I looked to my right, and no more than 30 centimetres away was a sleeping hawksbill turtle. It was so close I could have hugged and kissed it. I giggled, first in surprise and then in glee and looked at John, clapping my hands to indicate my joy and appreciation.

As we floated on the surface after this first dive, waiting for our boat to come and pick us up, I was speechless. I could not find one word to describe how I was feeling about what I had just experienced. The best you could get out of me was some incomprehensible spluttering and head shaking. I had seen a total of six reef sharks and two turtles on this dive, the most I had seen one dive. But it was not just the sharks and the turtles that had left me in awes, it was the abundance of life and the condition of the site that had me shaking my head in disbelief. I could not bring myself to imagine what my remaining dives would be like. Was it possible that they could surpass this dive?

Dive two was Barracuda Point which delivered on its name. As we descended, another huge green turtle was swimming down directly below my path of descent. I looked at John, pointed to the turtle and again clapped my hands with glee and crossed my hands over my heart. Minutes after descending, there was a school of silvery Jacks just to our right. These fish were at least sixty centimetres in length and there were hundreds of them, moving together in a tight group. John lead the way, his hands together in an outward prayer position and created a parting in the school of fish. We swam through, surrounded by these large fish on our left, right, before us and behind us. Incredible.

On we went, and John’s consistent tank-banging commenced as the reef sharks started to cruise by. I stopped counting after twelve. I was amazed at how many there were and how frequently they were cruising by, I completely lost count. The highlight of this dive, was not the sharks, but the massive battery of Barracuda. Each fish was over one metre in length. I have seen schools of them in the past, but nothing as large as this. There were hundreds of them. We settled down on a rocky patch, close to the circling school and just watched them for ten minutes. Then slowly, we edged our way forward into the circling whirlpool of movement and settled ourselves down on the bottom again. We were surrounded by these giant silver striped fish of the sea, circling just above our heads.

Suddenly I was feeling a little anxious. I was wearing my Nana’s engagement ring that my Mum gave to me for my 21st birthday present. I always wear this ring, very rarely do I take it off, not even for diving. It is yellow and white gold with a small diamond in it. Nothing huge but it is a pretty diamond with its own small sparkle. Suddenly I remembered stories I had heard about how Barracuda are attracted to shiny objects. “Uh oh” I thought to myself. I have hundreds of these fish around me and one little finger with a little sparkly jewellery on it. I turned the ring around so the diamond was on the palm side of my hand. I then attempted to hide my fingers by tucking arms firmly under my arm pits. Fortunately the barracuda showed no interest in my little bit of bling and my fingers survived intact.

We moved on, and not more than a minute after we left the circling school of barracuda, another white tip reef shark passes us by. Then we come across a small school of yellowfin barrucuda. As we were distracted by this school, I catch sight of a white tip reef shark cruising from my left to my right. I grab John’s fin and point excitedly. Then we notice not one, not two, but three of them swimming by. I look at John, shrug, palms up, and shake my head in disbelief, yet again. John covered his heart with his hands and made an audible “ahhh” sound through his regulator. Was this the most amazing dive ever? At the time I thought so but that was before I had completed dive number three.

Dive tgree was at a site called Drop Off which can easily be reached by strolling out from the beach. The wall at this site literally drops away at an angle of seventy-five degrees for six hundred metres. Again we were surrounded by life, unicorn fish, groupers, angel fish, moorish idols and bannerfish, batfish and again, we were circled by great schools of jacks and barracuda. The marvel of this dive was the amount of “big” life that passed us by. I lost count after twelve reef sharks and ten turtles. We even saw a leopard shark sitting on a rocky outcrop. In mathematical terms, that was a turtle or shark at least every two minutes of the dive (not including barracuda and jacks). This dive was just amazing, like nothing I had experienced before. Again after we surfaced, I was lost for words. I shook my head in disbelief with a huge grin on my face. I was amazed, incredulous, supremely happy and feeling such gratitude for this amazing planet we live on and the privilege of diving somewhere so beautiful.

My favourite dive on Sipadan, and in fact, the best dive I have ever had, was my seventh dive on a site called South Point . The current here was strong and we drifted along at great speed at a depth of twenty-eight metres for the first part of the dive. Every which way I looked there was a shark or a turtle. On this dive we saw a total of twenty-four reef sharks and ten turtles. At around fifteen metres depth, we came across a sandy and rocky flat patch where there were eight white tip reef sharks resting on the bottom. John indicated to us that this is where the sharks come to sleep. We settled ourselves on the bottom and watched as the sharks rested and some swam around. They appeared to be very inquisitive and curious about us. The longer we stayed where we were, the closer they came to us, looking directly at us.

I was lying on the bottom on my stomach in a nice relaxed position. Twisting onto my right or left hand side occasionally to watch as one of these majestic creatures cruised by and behind me One seemed to have taken a particular fancy to me as it swam up and back down my left hand side a couple of times. Then before I knew it, it was gliding right over the top of my fins. I have never had a shark approach me this close before. Although I know these sharks are generally placid, having one come this close to me was unexpected, and the tiniest tinge of fear coursed through my body which quickly transmuted to exhilaration. I exhaled a little squeal, part delight, part fear, part relief through my regulator.

Jacques Cousteau said of Sipadan in 1964, "I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art". In my very limited diving experience, Sipadan compares to nowhere else I have seen. It is a place of such beauty that it is a natural artwork. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to dive here and realise one of my dreams. I can only hope that the Malaysian government can continue to protect and preserve this very special place to ensure the proliferation of the creatures who call Sipadan home and so future generations can see and experience the magic of this underwater paradise in a pristine state.


Photos taken by John, Sipadan Scuba

School of Jacks

Battery of Barracuda

Great Trevally

Green Turtle

Green turtle gliding gracefully

Little turtle sleeping a barrel sponge

Whitetip Reef Sharks - trifecta!


Whitetip Reef Shark