#5: Singapore

Well there’s no doubt that 2019 has been off to a very busy start for me. Between a return trip to the Philippines for this years surgical mission (just as magical as the last trip!) and getting four of my wisdom teeth out thanks to a terrible dental abscess I obtained whilst on said trip (the not so magical part) – I managed to interweave a little wind-down holiday in Singapore.

For those who follow the blog, you’ll know that #5 on my bucket list is to travel somewhere new each year, somewhere I’ve never been before. This year I chose Singapore due to it’s close proximity to the Philippines and the chance it provided for a little bit of a wind down after a very busy two weeks operating in the Philippines.

What made this trip even more special, was the fact that my Mr. met me over there in his first ever trip overseas! I don’t think anyone could have moved faster than me as I headed down that terminal corridor in a beeline for the arrival gate to run into his arms. I was just so excited to finally be travelling with him!

By the time I arrived at Changi Airport, my Mr. had been there for a little over 3 hours arriving on a much earlier flight from Australia. For someone who had never travelled overseas before, he had already collected his bearings giving directions out to other tourists we met on the way through the terminal and efficiently navigated my tired and sore self through the airport to the taxi bay. I was impressed.

Clambering into a taxi, we were lucky to have one of the most friendliest drivers I’ve ever met. As we took in the sights of Singapore by night, he happily chatted away giving us tips on the best spots in town, and the things we must do whilst visiting. Dropping us to our doorstep on River Valley Road, a skip and hop from the centre of the city, he help lug our heavy bags up the steps of our hotel. He wished us a safe trip, and left us to check in.

Thankfully, checking in was smooth and quick process – it was about 10pm by this time, and both my Mr. and I were looking forward to stretching out after our travels. Despite our varying levels of exhaustion, we spent the better half of the next two hours catching each other up on the events and adventures of our time apart whilst I had been in the Philippines. We don’t spend a lot of time apart in our lives, and it showed. Eventually, our eyelids were heavy enough to facilitate sleep, waking only as the sun began to show itself the next morning.

Stopping in at Starbucks on the way to the MRT, we caffeinated and cream cheese bagel-ed before setting out to Sentosa Island. In true tourist form, Universal Studio’s was first on our list of places to visit. Deciding to fly over to the island in style, we caught the sky cable cars from Vivo City Shopping mall. The cable cars gave us a spectacular birds-eye view of Singapore and Sentosa Island on a 10 minute trip across the bay.

After getting a little side-tracked by the amount of things to see on Sentosa, we finally arrived at Universal Studios Singapore. The theme-park weaved us through five major movie sets, each area adorned with it’s own rides and food stalls. And like any good adventure park, they had a show in the water-sports arena which we both loved (spoiler alert: watch out for the sea plane!). For any Aussie’s reading this, Universal Studios is very similar to our Movie World, and worth visiting!

Looping through Universal a couple of times, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring a little more of Sentosa Island – after all, the sun sets late, and there was still plenty of it. We followed the signs to the eastern side of the island, to see the beaches of Palawan and Tanjong. The stretch of beach between the two destinations made for a really lovely afternoon walk, with a pitstop to walk the suspension beach at Palawan. From a tower located on the other side of the bay, we took in the 360 degree surrounding, appreciating the cool vantage point it provided.

Speaking to almost everyone before our trip, the two words to describe Singapore were clean, and humid. And I truely believe those two descriptions will neither cease to be true, or ever change – because Singapore was just that. Not that we minded in the slightest – in fact, upon returning home, we were met with the same kind of humidity, so it wasn’t too much outside the norm. And while we appreciated the air con when we crossed paths with it, we grew accustomed quickly to the balmy glow.

The beach club at Tanjong Beach provided us with a quick rest spot before beginning the walk back to the cable car hub. Ordering a cider and an iced tea, we watched the sun start to set over the ocean. We had only been in Singapore for one day, but we were already willing to adopt it as our home – and even more so after our dinner back on the mainland in China town (hands down the best Chinese to date, without being in China!).

Navigating throughout Singapore is a dream. The whole city is both well-signed and well-organised, which makes it easy when you’re a visitor. When travelling in Singapore, the EZ-Link card is your best friend. Between my Mr. and me, we spent less than $90 for the week in travel costs (inclusive of our tour-like taxi ride). Getting from one side of the city to the other, cost us $1.83 each – which I think to be excellent as far as public transport goes.

Masters of the Singapore transit by day two, we headed out away from the city centre to Singapore Zoo – allegedly one of the best zoo’s in the world. Stepping out of the MRT, we caught the zoo’s tourist bus for $1 to it’s entrance and excitedly headed through the gates. We did both the main zoo, and the River Safari (which was my personal favourite given my love for all things Giant Panda) and it wasn’t hard to see why the zoo was held in such high regard world wide – this place was simply amazing. We loved every fur, scaled and feathered moment.

We filled the third day with an array of activities and sight seeing – determined not to miss anything. From Madam Tussauds, to flying down the Sentosa Luge (four times I might add); venturing out to Siloso Beach, and then back to the mainland to visit the infamous Gardens by the Bay by dusk – it was busy day.

Getting to admire Gardens by the Bay whilst in Singapore, isn’t just recommended, I almost think it’s a rite of passage for any traveller in this part of the world. This place is the heart of the city, and a beautifully vibrant one at that. Watching it come to life as the sun dipped behind the horizon was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my young twenty-something years. From exotic blooms in the Flower Dome, to the hauntingly beautiful Cloud Forest with misted greenery – there was only one other place that could out-do the both of them.

The Supertree Grove is likely to have been the first picture you see when you ‘google’ Singapore. Giant metal infrastructure created to resemble trees, cascade over you as you walk through it’s valley and it takes the cake. Intwined with greenery, the Supertree’s come alive with colour once the sun sets, set alight with a flick of a switch – like glittering Christmas tree’s, but on a whole other level.

Without knowing, my Mr. and I had stumbled upon the perfect place to eat dinner and watch this happen. Sitting at the base of the biggest and most central Supertree, we lay on our backs to watch the Garden Rhapsody. For fifteen minutes we watched the tree’s change colour, lighting up the night sky and sparkling effortlessly in harmony to it’s music. For a girl who thinks twinkling fairy light to be spectacular – this was a moment of happiness in it’s most pure form (easily pleased, I know, but I can’t help it).

Day four saw us visit Little India bustling with life and colour; Merlion Park – which was unfortunately down for maintenance (all the more reason to come back, right?); Orchard Road and it’s renown shopping precinct capable of overwhelming even me! And Clarke Quay – a colourful gem on the doorstep of our hotel.

Clarke Quay was our pick for dinner, and a lively place to finally squeeze in a Singapore Sling (when in rome…). Although the rumours of alcohol being outrageously expensive in Singapore ring true, the beauty of it’s alter ego is an all-day happy hour on Sunday (and Tuesdays in some places). Ergo, picture my Mr. and I enjoying two well-deserved cocktails on the edge of the river at sunset at a fraction of the price, and all the more happy for happy hour.

From Clarke Quay we caught a ferry out to the Marina Bay – which I recommend doing at night for the best views of Singapore. Big city lights adorned the horizon in every direction, and as I rested my head on  my Mr.’s shoulder I knew this was a moment I would always remember, and a perfect end to our last night in Singapore.

With one more destination left on the itinerary the next morning, we caught the MRT to Marina Bay Sands – also perhaps a staple google image to appear in your Singapore search. The famous hotel is comprised of three tall buildings with a large ship set atop it’s roof. The icon draws many guests in from overseas and boasts a large infinity pool which  is perhaps the most ‘instragram-able’ pool in the world. And we were heading up all stories to see Singapore from the top.

While the original plan had been to do this by night, plans were changed when a private event stole our thunder and occupied the deck for the only night we had available. So we had had to settle for a daytime viewing – which really can’t be complained about. It was the most wonderful way to say goodbye to a city we had fallen in love with. And as we made our way down to plant our feet back on the ground, we mentally right-clicked and saved the birds-eye view of Singapore under places to come back to one day soon.

If you want to see pictures (and you definitely should!), you can head to my POLARSTEPS travel tracker. All the details and itinerary destinations of our trip are there, including travel costs and some handy tips for visiting Singapore.

And if you wanted to see how we fell in love with Singapore in eight minutes, theatre-style – you are more than welcome to head over to my YouTube channel!

#5 – Travel; everywhere I’m able, and a new place every year: Check!

d x

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#39

At this point in my life, my strengths and weakness are becoming pretty clear. And not that I like to focus on my weaknesses by any means, but this blog entry relies on one of my biggest – balance.

Since I was little, my balance has never been my strong point. I can elegantly trip over my own feet standing still, and while that sounds like a unique talent, I assure you it’s never been beneficial.

I’ve tried everything from skateboarding to surfing, but I’ve just never been able to figure it out. Perhaps I’ve never really given it enough of a go, but after watching a documentary on bones at the age of sixteen, the fear of falling with my wrists out first has ever since had me fear unbalancing the wellbeing of my radius’.

But as all things go in my life, this determined bundle of ambition I call myself can’t seem to ever give up on the hope of one day not being capable of losing balance on flat ground (or in a room full of people at Pilates).

The thing is though, if you don’t keep trying, you never will learn something new. And I’ve grown to learn that the moment you believe you can’t do something, is the moment you quite literally can’t.

I met someone the other day who told me she couldn’t snorkel because she hadn’t ever had lessons. Now I’m not sure I’ve met one person who’s ever actually had a snorkelling lesson, so I was confused by the notion at the time. Put the mask on, breathe through the tube, swim. Granted it takes some getting used to at first, but I’ve always thought the process to be pretty straight forward.

The entirety of our trip at Isla De Potipot in northern Philippines, she refused to snorkel the beautiful reefs surrounding the island because she’d already made up her mind that she couldn’t. She was scared she would fail at it, and despite us all offering to teach her how, she declined.

And the more I think about it, the more it really stands out to me as a lesson on never imprisoning yourself in accordance to what you think is not possible. She missed out on a whole under water wonderland that day, and while she had every right to make that decision – I just couldn’t understand it.

So I guess when it comes to balance, why should the fact that I have none of it mean I should corner myself in. The reality is, I’m happy to fall off, over or out, if it means experiencing something new. Sometimes you just have to give something a chance and see where it takes you. To hell with the wellbeing of my radial bones, right?

Ergo, bucket list #39. Learning to stand-up paddle board (SUP, as it will from here on be abbreviated to).

It’s always been something I’ve wanted to try. I live close to the beach, and on the ocean’s softer days, it’s home to many people aboard SUPs. To stand on the roof of the ocean, under blue skies and sunshine, had always struck me as being the dream.

On the fourth day of being at Moreton Island last year, we had woken up to a windless morning. The sea was calm, and clear. So my Mr. and I decided to hire a couple of SUPs and give it ago. The added bonus was that I figured falling off into water, would turn out to be a much softer break fall than concrete.

I must admit that while I knew my balance and lack thereof, would keep things interesting, I didn’t anticipate just how hard it would be to stand up, let alone remain upright.

In the time it had taken my Mr. to help me push my board out, head back to the beach, grab his board, head back out, stand up and paddle over the small breaking waves – I had barely accomplished kneeling on all fours.

He could barely control his laughter in between shouting encouragement my way as I put on a show that could only be likened to Bambi’s first steps. With wobbly legs and a whole degree of arm-waving, I finally stood up after far longer than I care to admit.

From there things got easier. Turns out standing up was the hardest part for me, the rest was relatively straight forward. While the occasionally lump in the ocean unsettled my balance, I never fell off. However I will admit to a fair bit of yelling, “Don’t come near me!” and some use of my oar as a jarring stick whenever my Mr. would teasingly come too close for comfort.

After we had paddled ourselves up the beach and back, we decided to spend the rest of our last hired hour laying on our boards. From the depths of the clear blue waters, we had been spotted by a pod of playful dolphins. Sitting on my sup with a smile as wide as my face plastered on, I watched them swim, dancing through the ocean as if it had been rehearsed especially just for us.

If I could SUP and swim with dolphins everyday, I would – because I’m really not sure how it ever gets any better than that, even if it does take me a small lifetime to stand up.

Balance or no balance, never let your weaknesses define what your capable of. There’s always a way if you will it. You can always do something extraordinary.

#39: Learn to Stand-up Paddleboard – Check!

d x

#5 and #52: Philippines 2018 (Helping Children Smile Medical Mission)

First of all – I have to make an apology for taking such a long time to write this blog! There’s been a whole lot of work, and a new tiny-pawed furry addition to the family since finally landing back in Australia last month, so my hands have been kept somewhat hostage…but more on that in my next blog!

Second of all – Philippines!

I’ve been really struggling to find the right word to describe my trip to the Philippines. In reply to most people, I use the word amazing with a gushing enthusiasm and a widen-eyed conviction of the word. But even then, I know this is still an understatement. Because it was just so much more than that.

For those that have been following Life, She Wrote, you will have known that this year’s addition to Bucket List #5 came with it’s own special purpose – but for those that are new to the story, you can read about it here.

Having looked forward to trip since finding out I would be apart of it back in September, I couldn’t believe it had come round so quickly. The end of February was nearing as we all met up at a hotel near the airport in preparation for the three flights ahead of us the next morning. I had met most people prior to trip, but there were a few I hadn’t and it was nice to sit down with everyone, putting faces to names over wine, cheese and Thai.

It was still dark when our early-morning alarms sounded at 4am and we eagerly threw on our team t-shirts (bright blue and not easily missed in a crowd), making our way to the airport. With thirty-something luggage bags in tow carrying various pieces of equipment and monitors, we hustled into the group check-in and busily set about labelling and weighing bags. If I thought the amount of bags we had then and there was extravagant, I had another thing coming for me when we finally did arrive in Vigan (but that’s getting ahead of myself).

The first leg of the trip was flying into Sydney, where we met up with the two surgeons and two anaesthetists, and one other member of the team. Choosing to go it alone at the Duty Free, I managed to get myself utterly lost between terminals an hour later – but I’ll blame that on the airlines changing the terminal departure and those big electronic boards displaying way too many flights to Manilla (was there really that many people departing to Manilla?). Nevertheless, we all boarded on time and I was quite happy not to be left sitting back at terminal 34 on my lonesome.

Touching down in Manilla was a relatively smooth process. We quickly caught a bus to the hotel, with our priorities set on food, sleep and a quick 7-Eleven pitstop. I don’t remember falling asleep that night, I just figured I must have switched out as soon as my head hit that pillow and woken up 6 hours later.

After a traditional buffet breakfast we checked out and made our way back to the Manilla airport to catch our next flight to Laoag. It was a quick flight, landing beside one of the smallest airports I’ve ever seen. The little brick building, covered in pink flowering vines, could be walked end-to-end in less than five minutes.  But with a large sign welcoming Helping Children Smile to the Philippines, we felt right at home.

We collected ourselves, and our many pieces of luggage, into a large coach bus which carted us on a two hour journey to Vigan – our final stop for the trip and the location of the hospital we would be performing surgery at. We stopped midway at a small village supplier for afternoon tea where we we lucky enough to try some local food. Any food at this point was a god-send after having only had a pork bun since breakfast!

We arrived at our hotel in Vigan late that afternoon and quickly changed before heading into town to see the hospital. Having never been on a mission before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect – but the hospital appeared in relatively good condition in comparison to pictures I’d seen from previous mission trips. We toured the theatre rooms, recovery and the shed-like room that would be our ward. Everyone seemed pretty happy with it’s prospects and so we went to check on the luggage. Well in addition to the bags we had brought over, there was at least a dozen more to fill three ward rooms full. How we could have ever needed this much, I’ll never quite know – but it was our way to ensuring we never had to place any cost upon the hospital by only using our own equipment and supplies.

It was still light out when we ventured back to the hotel, so we snuck in a quick swim in the pool and laughed hysterically at those game enough to take on the waterslide that ended at least a metre above the water. There were plenty bruises and red marks all round to tell the tale of that endevour.

 

The next six days were a bit of a blur. But after setting up our recovery room on Monday, we were straight to work with two surgeries that afternoon. Back home, recovery spans across almost a whole floor catering for well over twenty patients. In Vigan, the recovery room was no more than 4 metres by 4 metres, perhaps smaller. It had two small beds either side of the room, with a cupboard in the corner and a cabinet full of drugs at the tail-end. We commandeered two small tables and set them up between each bed, tetras-packing them with our equipment. And we made-do. Theatre was much the same, simplistic, but functional – and from all accounts, better than expected.

It was such a rush to see it all play out, and then to be a part of it. Carrying the children in their hands, the anaesthetic nurse would rush out of the OT into our small recovery placing the child onto one of the beds. In a swift rush, the pulse oximeter and oxygen mask would be connected and we would intently monitor their small airways until they woke.

Waking up from the anaesthetic in the Philippines was a little rougher than at home, and so as soon as our little ones opened their eyes, we would whisk them off the trolleys and into our arms to rock and soothe. Their were plenty of wrigglers and plenty of tears, but that all got a little better as soon as mum arrived to hold there hands. After a quick dose of pain relief and a drink of water, we let them return to the ward.

Upstairs in the ward, it became a noisy collection of people after the third day. Families consisting of parents, siblings, uncles and aunties would squeeze into the same bed offering support to the children, becoming the ultimate nursing team. We would leave instructions for the parents in regards to pain relief; how much and how often, each night and return each morning to do a quick round and see how they had progressed.

The children were beautiful. And again, this too feels to be a rather large understatement. I fell in love with them the moment I met them. Their tiny faces that lit up the moment you gave them a smile, or handed them something as little as a toy car, had my heart bursting at it’s seams. These children were just so grateful for the things that many children here take for granted, and I couldn’t help but be in awe of their strength despite their circumstances.

Before each surgery we would adorn them with a little material cape made by volunteers here in Australia, and help them believe in superheroes. We would place little coins called ‘lucky money’ in their hands when they went to sleep, and would make sure they woke up with the lucky money still there. It was these little things that made surgery feel a little less frightening, and helped them feel a little more brave.

 

The differences to the their lips and palates were remarkable, and being a part of a process that changed each of their lives in the most unbelievable way has undoubtedly changed my perspective on my own world immensely.

After six days, we had performed over thirty operations. The hospital had kindly provided food each day and made every sacrifice possible to ensure our operations went smoothly. We were truly spoilt to have been able to work in Vigan, and were treated to dinner each night in the small town by different members of the Vigan Rotary Club.

On our last few days, we had enough downtime to do some exploring throughout the Provence of Vigan, a budding city on the tourist hot-spot list. From Dancing Fountain Shows to historical 17th Century walkways, monumental buildings to heritage listed sites – we were privileged to see so much in such a short time frame. And as we drunk a San Miguel (apple flavoured, for me) Beer at sunset on the beach, I think each one of us counted ourselves as lucky to have been on this trip.

After a heart wrenching clinic morning, checking up on the kids after their surgeries and waving goodbye to the children that had changed our lives perhaps even more so than we had changed theirs, we packed our bags and set off on the long journey home.

There aren’t enough words to describe the fullness of my heart, or the awe I have in the strength of these little ones and their parents. I am so proud to have been able to work alongside some of the most amazing clinicians and to have had the opportunity to utilise my own nursing career in a corner of the world that really needed it.

This trip has taught me that there is so much kindness, courage and generosity still to be shared in this world, and that it sometimes comes most from those who have far less than you.

For more information about the Helping Children Smile Organisation, or to donate to the cause for next year’s mission, click here. I cannot express how much of a difference surgery for these children makes in simple tasks such as eating and speaking, nor the happiness it brings to a part of the world who truely appreciate it.

For more details about visiting Vigan and Manilla, where to go and what to do – head over to The Travel Log!

And to have a sneak peak at the trip, the children we operated on and the places we managed to visit after-hours all in colour motion, you can head to my YouTube Channel!

This has been the most rewarding bucket list ‘check’ yet, and I really do hope to go again next year!

#5: Travel to a new place every year and #52: Volunteer in a Third World Country – double check!

d x

#5: Vanuatu & New Caledonia 2017

We arrived at the port of Brisbane right on time for our early check-in, and excitedly kissed our Mr.’s goodbye as we stared up the giant cruise liner titled Pacific Dawn.

Celebrating 10 years of friendship, my best friend, J, and I couldn’t think of a better way to commemorate the occasion than to set sail upon the high seas on a Pacific Island Cruise! Additionally, this made the perfect excuse to tick #5 off of the Bucket List nice and early this year.

Grabbing our luggage – which were impressively very compact and surprisingly not very heavy despite our indecision over what clothes to bring (if in doubt, bring it all, right?), we stumbled into the line up outside the port’s centre doors. First in the queue, we made our way to the check-in desk quickly.

Boarding was an easy process, and we found ourselves excitedly galavanting up the gangway in a little under an hours time. ‘Bon Voyage‘ they happily wished us as we stepped over the ship’s threshold and into the spacious liner’s atrium. We quickly found our room, and dumped the excess carry-on straight onto our beds, before making a beeline for the back of the cruise ship.

One ‘Tropical Passion’ and ‘Martini’ later, we found ourselves completely at home on the decadent lounges overlooking the Port. I always seem to forget how easy it is to settle into holiday mode, and in that moment aboard the cruise liner… oh boy, was I on holidays. I couldn’t help but secretly burst with a unparalleled anticipation for what lay ahead.

We spent 10 days sailing across the Pacific Ocean, visiting four islands and two countries in total. It seemed that each destination was even better than the one before, and we thoroughly enjoyed immersing ourselves in the cultures of each. From traditional Noumea and scenic Lifou in New Calendonia, to the untouched Mystery Island and popular Port Vila in Vanuatu – we managed to fill two camera phones, one GoPro and one Canon DLSR worth of pictures between us both.

We’ve come back at least three shades darker in skin colour thanks to the Pacific Ocean sunshine, and holding close to our hearts some very special memories. I could not have wished upon a better way to celebrate friendship than with this tropical adventure to some of the world’s most beautiful islands. You can count on the fact that this is only the very beginning of my tropical holiday obsession.

You can check out the details and destinations out a little more in depth here at my Polarsteps profile (an absolute god-send when it comes to documenting any overseas holiday I promise you!).

And with nothing else to say, Vanuatu and New Caledonia – you have been a dream!

#5 – Travel somewhere new every year: 2017 – Check!

d x