From Afar | Wrapping it Up

photo 1

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photo 3 When I hopped on the plane to come to this beautiful place, I was pretty wrung out. I figured I had two and a bit weeks of intenseness to go and then could give myself a slight breather over Easter before getting back into swing of things well and truly.

I hadn’t thought about what it would personally mean to me. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to go and put my gifts to use in a country like Nepal, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that I might be changed personally by this trip.

I hear amazing stories of inspiring people overcoming odds everyday, it’s part of my job and, sometimes, it’s easier to forget that these are actual people, with real stories and a face to put to the name.

But when you’re in front of that face, there’s no denying the impact of the person’s story on you and your need to respond.

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One of the most powerful things of being part of a Global One trip is being able to reflect as a group and gather your thoughts collectively on the things you have experienced. I’ve been blessed to have been part of a group of ten amazing women, led by Matt Darvas who is fortunate to currently call Nepal his home, and the thoughts that have been shared in this group have been life changing.

We have challenged the traditional mentality of poverty coming from a lack of material goods or wealth, worked through hard times as people felt overwhelmed with the task ahead of them after being moved by what they had witnessed and shared some personal reflections along the way.

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The thing that has stayed with me front of mind has been the notion that we may not be able to change things ourselves, and it might take longer than we would like, but just because we’re one person, doesn’t mean we’re not making an impact.

One night after an amazing but exhausting day interacting with communities, we shared a story about a young girl throwing back starfish after starfish on a beach where thousands were stranded. Here is an excerpt, but you can read the full story here.

A young girl was walking along a beach on which thousands of starfish has been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for quite some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl listened, then bent down and picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then, smiling, she looked up at the man and replied, “I made a difference to that one!”

The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and, inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon, others joined and all the starfish were saved.

This story has stuck with me for the past week and it has reminded me of why I am passionate about my work and have always been interested in why we must do our part to help those in poverty.

My mind has been brought back to my first experience with poverty when I visited Cambodia ten years ago on a school service project. I had no idea what was in store for me career-wise, but it’s amazing to look back and see where those first seeds were planted in my life.

The challenge for me, as for all participants on this trip, will be bringing that renewed passion back home and keeping it going. I’m lucky enough that I’ll be in an office where I will be able to put this into action everyday, but I know I’ll  need to remind myself about some of the experiences I have had on this trip in order to keep my motivation levels high and my energy up. It’s a part of life, but gee-whiz, are we lucky to have it!

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{the gorgeous ladies kitted out in traditional clothing for Nepali New Year}

{the gorgeous ladies kitted out in traditional clothing for Nepali New Year}

Image: Photos are my own; Quote – Pinterest

 

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From Afar | Breaking the Blog Silence

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Yep, it’s been a while! I can’t quite believe myself that Little Ray of Sunshine has been lonely for so long, but there you have it. The reason for the blog break was many – it was all a bit much. Between moving house, great but insane work and everything else in between, for the first time I can remember {at least for a while}, I couldn’t handle it all.

You see, I’m a yes person. Which is great! I love helping people and I love giving. It must be my love language {not to self: read the book that’s gathering dust on the shelf!}.

But a few weeks ago, I said yes to one too many things and ended up a mess. I’m fine to admit it now, but at the time it was painful and damaging, not only to me but to the ones I love, particularly Husband. I pushed myself too hard to please others and the result was yuck. I can honestly say that I hope I never experience anything like it again.

Since then, life in the fast lane hasn’t slowed, but in a great way! I’m writing this from Nepal – a country full of as many amazing people as there are idyllic views from Mother Nature – where I have had the pleasure of accompanying a great group of girls on a Global One trip exploring World Vision’s work in some really remote communities.

I decided to break my silence because while I have the pleasure of calling this trip work and I haven’t actually slowed down, the experiences I’m having and the people I’m meeting are fueling me for life back home. Most things are completely out of my control at the moment which, speaking as a control freak, can be scary but also freeing. In  just under a week I’ve been challenged, loved and reminded why I’m passionate about what I do. Which is nice. It’s hard to remain passionate in our day to day lives, so I’m all for anything that brings that back.

One of the simple things I’ve enjoyed the most about this country is greeting people.

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I wish we had an equivalent greeting in English. I feel like namaste speaks right to me, every time someone looks me in the eye and says it. It’s a brilliant feeling and I can just feel these people filling my soul up, despite their lack of access to the things I take for granted in my everyday life.

I know that when I head back to Melbs, the phrase will mean so much more to me than signalling the end of yoga class. I hope  it becomes my mantra and something to live by.

20140411-065549.jpgLove and sunshine. xo

 

J&M Honeymoon: Boracay, Philippines

Welcome to the third and final installment of our honeymoon adventures. As we’ve now passed our six month anniversary, it well and truly feels like an age ago, but I’m still so keen to share this amazing destination with you lovelies.

Boracay is one of the better known islands of the Philippines and is frequented by tourists from Eastern Europe and Asia. It’s not as popular with Aussies as Bali or Thailand {which is the main reason why we chose it!} but it’s definitely still a tourist hot spot. Compared to the quiet tranquility of Palawan, Boracay was a bit of a rude shock when we first arrived!

We had two amazing weeks to explore what the island had to offer and we did a great job of ticking off activities and things we wanted to do throughout that time. Having a bit more time than the usual 7-10 day beach break also meant we were able to have a few different experiences – staying at a more local place right in the craziness and then retreating to a beautiful rainforest resort to recuperate before heading home to reality.

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{Puka beach on Boracay}

Getting there

Not as tricky to get to as some of the island resorts off Palawan, you’ll catch a one hour flight from Manila to Caticlan and then a boat over to Boracay, Be aware of the ‘porters’ who offer to carry your luggage. We had our transfers included as part of our accommodation, but got stung for a few more bucks by the ‘lovely’ men {from the same company as our airport transfer which was all of a two minute drive to the marina} who carried our two suitcases onto the boat. Having said that, the boats are tricky to maneuver large suitcases on, so it’s probably worth the few dollars you’ll pay for the sake of your arm/back/dignity!

What to do

Coming from sleepy Palawan, we were slightly overwhelmed by how busy the island is. It’s known as the ‘party island’ of the Philippines and has been voted one of the best islands in the world. There’s no doubt that Boracay is beautiful – 4km in length and  about 1km wide. Half of the island is covered in white sand with blue water {aptly named White Beach} and is dotted with hundreds of resorts and restaurants. At the peak time in summer {when we were there}, the water is so warm that algae starts to form, which was a bit off putting at first but worth wading through to get to the good stuff.

Once you arrive at the main stretch of Boracay’s White Beach {really, the only place to stay!} you’ll get hassled by people selling boat rides, snorkeling, sailing and the like. It’s annoying but if you’re into activities {which we are} it can be fun to haggle them down and get the best price.

We made the most of the activities on offer and had a hand at sailing around the island on a catamaran and watching the sunset from the middle of the ocean, quad biking up the tallest hill, renting a motorbike to explore the hidden spots, making the trek to Puka Beach twice to soak up the sun {and shopping for shell jewellery} and parasailing above crystal blue water. This was in between cocktails, amazing food and relaxing on the beach, of course!

{our private catamaran for the day}

{our private catamaran for the day}

{carefree on the boat}

{carefree on the boat}

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{parasailing fun}

{parasailing fun}

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{Puka Beach}

{Puka Beach}

Where to stay

Our first week was right in the action, staying at the amazingly named Nigi Nigi Nu Noos. Their bungalows are cute and set in a lush garden right off White Beach, It’s not luxurious accommodation but very clean and spacious. The food at Nigi’s is great though – an eclectic mix of Mexican, Italian, Filipino and other cuisines all mixed into one menu. We ate here quite a lot and it’s one of the best along White Beach.

Nigi’s cocktail list is a whole other story – wow! Happy hour is two-for-one cocktails {try the Long Island Ice Tea if you’re game!} and you can prop yourself up on a chair to watch the glorious Boracay sunset, cocktail in hand. It’s such an amazing sight and didn’t get old after two weeks.

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After a week in the hustle, we were looking forward to chilling out again and made our way to Mandala Spa for our final stop and the last week of our first holiday as Mr and Mrs. Mandala is just divine. I had been scoping this place out for quite some time and was thrilled to find a deal on Agoda which helped us nab a great price for a week.

There are only 12 bungalows on the property, making it exclusive and very private. You feel as though you’re the only ones there which is lovely amongst Boracay’s sometimes mad atmosphere. Mandala offers daily yoga as part of your stay and it was lovely to get back on the matt after an almost four week break. Adding to your relaxation time, enjoy a complimentary massage every day {one per room per day}.

Breakfast is also included in your stay, which is a lovely experience in itself! I found the food on Boracay {and the Philippines in general} tough on my tummy – there’s no such thing as gluten free and a lot of their food is processed, but the brekkies at Mandala were simple and delicious – fresh muesli and fruit or an egg white omelette with basil and tomato – take your pick! The breakfast staff were also half the fun and made you feel instantly welcome.

As lovely as Mandala was, it was still great to stay along White Beach for the first week. Not only did it make us appreciate our amazing accommodation in our last week, it was also a more authentic stay and we were able to experience everything the eccentric island of Boracay has to offer!

Definitely worth a trip!

Love and sunshine. xo

J&M Honeymoon: Palawan, Philippines

Welcome to Part II of our honeymoon story! It may be very belated trust me, it’s worth the wait.  Enter Palawan

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{we took this photo. seriously}

Definition: (1) the most incredible place on earth (2) from your dreams (3) magical destination where all there is to do is relax with your beloved and drink cocktails all day long.

The Journey

Now, I’ve got to be honest with you. Getting to this magical place was an adventure in itself. You see, our flight landed in the capital of Palawan – Puerto Princesa – which was all good and well, except that we needed to get to El Nido, which is in the north of Palawan. Enter travel story #2 {remember the first? Our friend with the tricycle who wanted to charge us his yearly income for pedaling us around Manila for a day? C’mon…catch up here}.

Luckily, as we were packing up our gear in Manila the night before, we decided to check out our Lonely Planet {cannot stress the importance of taking this baby with you wherever you go!} to see what lay ahead of us the next day. Given we’d been so focused on the wedding and making it to Byron Bay with all of our wedding bits and bobs, neither of us had really thought about our honeymoon. Or logistics. Or checked anything…

Our trusty guide {buy it here} informed us that because of our flight destination, we’d be spending the good part of our day {read…all} travelling in a mini-van with a few other passengers. For approximately six hours. We did some quick calculations and realised that we’d be arriving at our destination in the dark. Uh-oh.

Once we arrived in Puerto Princesa, we found a mini-van, crammed in with 15 other people {noted van capacity of 14} and spent the next six hours travelling north to El Nido.

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{Husband not looking overly impressed on one of our travel stops}

El Nido was a bit crazy in the dark but in between bad reception, we managed to organise with our resort El Nido’s Miniloc Island to charter a boat from the marina to the island, about 30 minutes. We loaded our suitcases onto a tricycle and were zoomed through the markets to the marina, where we were met by a few security guards and a guide from the Island. Long story short, we arrived on Miniloc at about 9pm, with the hotel staff greeting us with a beautiful song and disbelief that a) we were arriving so late and b) that we had travelled all the way from down south…and not flown into the airport located at El Nido.

Massive sigh.

Miniloc Island Resort

Upon rising the next morning {and both sleeping like rocks} it was well worth the extra travel, even if most tourists don’t do it that way!

Miniloc Island is spectacular. Like nothing we had ever seen before. It’s the kind of place where there is literally nothing to do but relax. Unfortunately, once we had both stopped, we got colds. But if you’re going to be anywhere with a cold, this is the place to be.

Cocktail in hand. Husband by my side. I could really get used to this view…

{honeymooners in front of the resort}

{honeymooners in front of the resort}

We stayed in a beautiful garden cottage and, perched alongside the cliffs, our balcony had a beautiful view of the Island and beyond.  We could not believe this was our home for the next seven nights and, especially after the craziness of Manila, we were so excited to slow down on what was our first holiday in over two years.

What to do

  • A must-do while staying on Miniloc is swimming with the 1.5m jack fish that are fed twice a morning at the end of the resort’s pier. Amazing. Grab your snorkel gear and wait for them to brush past you.
  • Snorkeling at Miniloc is sublime. There is a lot of marine life right out the front, including jelly fish. You have been warned! I managed to swim around these stingy suckers, but Husband was not so lucky and had a few red, sore marks across his chest to show for it.
  • Grab a sea kayak and get yourself off the Island and into the natural lagoons stat! The Big and Small Lagoons {very original names!} are accessible via kayak or you can hitch a lift in the speed boat. If you kayak, you do feel like you’ve earned the fabulous views, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough! Half the fun is also being out on the open sea {I must admit I’m slightly petrified of this} and making your own way there.
  • Private lunch on Payong-Payong beach. This was by far one of the main highlights of our time on the Island and we managed to sneak in two private lunches. You choose your lunch the night before {from four cuisine options no less} and jump on a speed boat anytime in the morning to be delivered to your private beach for the day. At about noon, a staff member arrives on boat with your lunch, sets it all up for you, explains what everything is and whisks him/herself away again to leave you to dine in peace. Just check out that spread. Divine.
{the big lagoon}

{the big lagoon}

{private beach}

{private beach}

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Aside from these main activities, our days usually consisted of nabbing a good lounge on the beach, reading books that had been sitting idly by while we planned our wedding and, of course, consuming numerous cocktails and slowing making our way through the entire menu!

For more activities while you’re on Miniloc, check out the resort’s page.

The Island staff were also amazing and extremely hospitable. Yes, I know, it’s their job, but I felt like they always went above and beyond to make sure we were happy with everything. The food was also divine and the addition of crepes for dessert a few nights ticked all the boxes after the strict wedding diet to ensure The Dress fit!

Let’s just say that after leaving Palawan, we were a bit more squidgy than when we arrived.

Stay tuned for J&M Honeymoon Part III … Boracay! Fun times ahead.

Love and sunshine. xo

J&M Honeymoon: Manila, Philippines

I can hardly believe that we’ve only been back for three weeks! While the time has flown, we’ve settled back into life so quickly and our wedding/honeymoon seems like so long ago!

While we’re awaiting our profesh photos from our Big Day, I thought it was the perfect time to recount some of our honeymoon adventures so welcome to the first instalment, revealing…Manila! 

{the view from the top of the fort}

{the view from the top of Fort Santiago}

Our first stop on the most amazing holiday ever {aka honeymoon} was Manila for two nights. When people heard that we were going to the Philippines, one of the first things they would say is that there is nothing to see in Manila and that we would be disappointed. We were still determined to give it a go, and so allocated two nights at the start of our honeymoon to check out the sights and get a feel for the city.

The first thing we noticed once we stepped out of the airport terminal was the traffic. Mental. We were told that normal taxis weren’t allowed to pick up travellers from the airport as they notoriously ripped people off. Never mind…we hopped in our transfer excited to get to our hotel and get exploring!

We stayed in Makati which is considered a great place for tourists to stay and has so many restaurants, bars and the biggest shopping complex you will ever see. Seriously.

Makati

Some of our highlights from Makati include…

Greenbelt Mall

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This shopping centre shows up anything we have in Australia with its lush gardens and beautiful restaurants lining the shopping complex. There are five sub-sections of Greenbelt, divided up according to the different shops {designers, high street etc}. We spent a few hours exploring the shops {and approx 6 hours here on our way back through to Melbourne!} and ate at a few restaurants here.

The main thing we noticed with most of the ‘nice’ places we went in Manila was the security. It is intense! Every time we entered a Greenbelt Mall, my bag was searched, as it also was each time we returned to our hotel. Once inside these buildings, you do feel safer knowing everyone’s bags have been searched but it does make you wonder why everyone is being searched.

If you’ve done your research prior to getting to Manila, you’ll understand that it’s a city with a reputation for violence and ripping tourists off, so it’s pretty excepted that security in the Westernised places should be high.

Corner Tree Cafe

Not only does this little restaurant {it’s seriously tiny and seats about 20 people} pump out amazing food, it’s tucked away in a little corner off busy Jupiter St and is a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of Manila’s busy traffic. We read about this place in our Lonely Planet {seriously don’t leave home without one!} and not only was it the best food we ate probably for our entire honeymoon, I’d even go as far to say that this is one of the best places I have eaten. Full stop.

Corner Tree Cafe is vegetarian and pretty much all of their dishes are also gluten-free. Awesome for those of us with funny tummies. My new husband was reluctant to try this place {quote ‘something needs to die for it to be a proper dinner’} but he was very impressed with his spinach lasagne and admitted the food was amazing.

Makati Gardens

Another thing we noticed walking through Makati at night was how many people were out exercising! Take a stroll through some of the many parks and gardens and watch with wonder as people exercise long into the night.

The lowdown on Makati was that we felt pretty safe here. There’s lots of security and more Westerners than other parts of Manila, which brings us to…

Manila

Jamie and I have both done our fair share of travelling to Asian countries and between us have ticked off Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Vanuatu and Fiji {ok some of those are Pacific countries but you get the drift}. Despite what we had heard and read about Manila, we were pretty determined to create our own memories of the place and set about exploring. It was HOT. Really hot. And with the intense traffic {not to mention the crazy way that people drive…for example bumping into each other like dodgem cars and not pausing to apologise for any dings they may leave on your car}, just a few hours in the open leaves you pretty sweaty and dirty.

Again, Lonely Planet tucked in my bag, we set off to explore the main section of Manila and here’s what we discovered…

Fort Santiago

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Fort Santiago reflects Manila’s Spanish background and a time when the Spanish controlled Manila. During the Spanish colonial period and WWII, Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, was imprisoned here before his execution in 1896. Inside the fort, there are shrines and statues dedicated to Jose and his final footsteps are embedded in bronze. There’s also a building where you can read up about Jose – who was wrongly implicated of causing a revolution which led to his execution. He was a scientist, an artist and a Christian – and his battles between creations from science and God can be seen through his artistic work. Fascinating guy.

Other sites of Manila

We also checked out a few other sites during the day and were pushed around in a tricycle by a local for a few hours. The main things to check out are the old Spanish section including San Agustin Church and the Spanish Colonial House directly opposite {gives you a great feel for what things were like back in the Spanish colonial era and insight into how the rich lived}, Binondo/ China Town {if you’re going to walk around be warned that it’s not the safest place, we heard many stories about tourists being drugged and robbed…don’t say I didn’t warn you!} and the location for the motorbike chase scene from the most recent Bourne  – The Bourne Legacy. Queue tourist photos below…

{motorbike chase location from the latest Bourne}

{motorbike chase location from the latest Bourne}

{San Agustin Church, Manila built in 1607}

{San Agustin Church, Manila built in 1607}

{Spanish House opposite San Agustin Church}

{Spanish House opposite San Agustin Church}

Photo disclaimer: Yes, we are both wearing runners {a look I don’t usually go for…}. Really the only way to do it if you’re planning on cramming things in. And yes we both just happened to be wearing grey t-shirts. Cute! And yes, we are incredibly sweaty in almost every photo, the perils of humidity and extremely hot weather!

Now, the real warning about Manila. Following on from our glorious day of sight-seeing, we went to pay our tricycle peddler and had a rude awakening to the people of Manila {not everyone I’m sure} when he informed us of the price. We had originally bargained him down to 100 pesos for half an hour, so given we had ended up with him for three hours we figured we would pay him 600 pesos. Hmmm…that didn’t go down too well when he decided he was actually very tired and decided that 1200 pesos EACH was the correct amount. Let’s just say that we eventually settled on about 1200 pesos but it involved security from a cafe we were at, and the knowledge that he was probably concealing some sort of weapon. Ah. Brilliant end to our day.

The biggest thing to remember about Manila {and South East Asia in general} is that you need to agree on a price before you embark on any transportation journeys or tours. We learnt the hard way and should have known better after our travels, but it does make for an interesting story to tell.

Hope you enjoyed the first instalment of our honeymoon! Can’t wait to share the actual honeymoon locations with you. Next up is El Nido, Palawan

Images: Greenbelt Mall image courtesy of Nerissa’s Notebook

Day dreaming: Honeymooning

Happy Hump Day lovelies!

Each Wednesday I’ll be posting some inspiration that’s getting me through the rest of the week, and hopefully it will insprire you too!

Tomorrow is seven months until our wedding (wowee where has the time gone?!) and to celebrate, I’m honeymoon dreaming. Ah. Sigh. It’s the middle of a cold and dreary winter here in Melbourne and having no holidays on the near horizon is starting to take its toll. While we haven’t decided on a honeymoon destination as yet, we’re tossing up a few options, one being France.

Where better to go on a honeymoon than the City of Love?

{City of Love}

If we were to decide on France as our destination, we’d spend about a week in Paris. I am lucky enough to have been once before, with my lovely girlfriend Bron, but it would be special to share the beautiful city with my new Husband (yay!). Bron and I spent 5 days in Paris when we travelled there in 2009, but there is still so much I haven’t explored!

Some must-do’s on the list include:

  • Eiffel Tower (of course…and token photo)
  • Le Louvre (hello Mona, I’m back!)
  • Notre Dame (stairs = great workout and a bonus view of the city!)
  • Cruising on the river boat (I’ve heard this is a must)
  • Arc de Triomphe (this time making the adventure up the top)
  • Adding our own padlock to the Lovers Bridge (below)
  • High Tea
  • Hiring bikes and cruising the city’s streets (and working off all those croissants)
  • Shopping…everywhere…

{Lovers Bridge}

Sigh.

Have you been to Paris? Got anything to add to the list? Wherever we end up, our holidays need to include a local’s perspective, so if you have any hot tips, send them through!

Love and sunshine. x

Images: I love fashion / Twisted Sifter