Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In The Middle

I learned in many of my University writing classes, the best place for any writer to start a story was in the middle. Before leaving Toronto, I was in the middle of growing up, in the middle of realizing how much I loved home, and in the middle of figuring out how good I had it.

I stepped into my backyard really quickly, to wipe away a couple tears that escaped after talking to my uncle. I inhaled the cold Canadian air and looked back inside to all my aunts and uncles sitting around the kitchen. I often miss these family parties and the chance to see all my titas, titos and cousins due to work and school. Being an only child, I looked forward to these gatherings since these cousins were the closest I’d have to siblings. But as much as I always wanted a brother, a sister or a bigger family, I know my parents were more than enough of the immediate family I needed. I spent many moments taking for granted home cooked meals, family mall strolls, my mom’s fruit shakes and the roof above my head.

And under that roof, amongst the many rooms are all my things, scattered and waiting to be selected, folded and packed into a suitcase. The suitcases remained empty until the last few days, because the rest of my time was spent hanging out wherever and whenever I could. I knew I had amazing friends, but I didn’t realize how amazing until I walked into a restaurant expecting a quiet dinner, to a table filled with all my girlfriends. Imagine still being close with someone you’ve known since kindergarten, your first, ever, best friend whom you played Barbies with all the time. Some I’ve known since the second and fifth grade and a few since the beginning of high school. Growing up is tough with gossip and fights and different schools with different schedules, but we always managed to remain friends and act as if the last time we saw each other was just yesterday. These were my girls. We grew up together. And there they were, with a cake saying bon voyage and this heartwarming surprise.

After a few glasses of wine, they made me think a spontaneous night was in order. They pretended to brainstorm places and came to a not-so-random conclusion of a nearby bar. I was excited for what reminded me of our high school days where we hopped into a car, going nowhere in particular and somehow still had fun. We arrived at Bier Markt, walked through the crowd and kept bumping into familiar face after familiar face. My favourite girls brought together all my favourite guys and there I was standing amongst all my favourite people.

The last few weeks made me realize how much I didn’t want to leave, in the middle of preparing to leave. This wasn't just your ordinary vacation/adventure, this was a new job in a new world, all on my own. It was becoming harder and harder to pack my suitcase and zip it up. Up until now, I think about how I want to stay close to my family and friends, but I need to break out of my comfort zone; how I want to continue being my parent’s little girl, but I need to grow up; how I would not feel this emotional if I had just stayed home, but I need to be stronger.

And in all that happened my last day at home, I was torn in the middle of what I want and what I need.

As much as I get home sick quite often, I need to put a bookmark in the middle of my favourite book titled home. A book filled with all these significant places and characters that hold so much importance. For now, I’ll experience this world a bit, return back soon and pick up right where we left off.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Here, There and Everywhere

It all started approaching my last days in University. Luckily for me, I only had 1 final exam to study for. Now as easy as that sounds, I knew once I handed that in, I had a whole life ahead of me to start worrying about.

I contemplated my years and years working in retail and knew I had so much more to offer than just bagging clothes, selling a TV or arguing with a customer about discounts. I dolled up my resume and applied for countless positions surrounding travel, social media, marketing, and some positions that brought all three together. Nothing was taking the bait. I wanted to finally work for something I was passionate about, and not some mindless, robot-like job, scanning barcodes one after the other. It just wasn’t me.

Then, there it was, an Emirates Cabin Crew posting appeared in my search and the open day was less than 2 weeks away. I thought, why not? It wouldn’t hurt to try. Becoming a flight attendant was always a thought but many of the Canadian airlines required a second language such as French, which I lacked and the idea was soon dismissed. However, getting paid to travel was pretty much the ultimate goal. So, I went for it.

I didn’t know what to expect as I walked into one of Sheraton’s conference rooms filled with over 300 people. I received plenty of helpful tips from current cabin crew members, all of which can be found all over the Internet. It was basically a ‘be on your best behaviour, look interested and dress sharp’ kind of day, as you were being analyzed and watched by the recruitment team. The red lipstick is also a nice touch as it could probably give the recruitment team a sneak peak at what you’d look with the Emirates face on. And like I said in my previous post, you had seconds to make a first impression. I literally walked to the table, handed over my resume and smiled somewhere in between. I tried to squeeze in a, “How are you?” but my nerves took over. That evening, I received a call (first of many forms of communication from them) to return for the second day.

The rest of that process is pretty much history and the same type of process you’ll read on many blogs who's goal is to help you become an Emirates Cabin Crew. I’m not here for that. I’m here to share my experience, my story, how I felt along the way and what new adventures I’ll come to face. Because so far, being here for less than 2 weeks, I have plenty to share. It's not just about Emirates and the pleasure of working for such an amazing company while travelling all over the world, it's about me, myself and I… Travelling here, there and everywhere.

So here begins the story of my life in Dubai.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

As Beyoncé Once Said, "Surfboardt!"

My last full day in Hawaii was the cherry on top of my entire vacation. The wake-up was not like most as I casually rolled out of bed, in no rush to be anywhere. I got ready and had our coffee at the breakfast buffet we spent most mornings.

We strolled off the boat, beating the rush of tourists to Kalapaki Beach. My scheduled surfing lesson wasn’t until 11 a.m., so we enjoyed the Marriot hotel grounds once more. We were lucky enough to arrive right on time for the feeding of the Koi fish. Their pond contains one of the largest amounts of Koi fishes, with prices ranging from hundreds to thousands for each fish. It is truly an experience that I never expected to be as amused as much as I was. The staff of the hotel handed out small cups filled with the fish food. They started off the daily ritual by tossing the fish pellets above the calm waters. And suddenly, as those pellets hit the water, the Koi fish went crazy. They wanted more. We were invited to toss our share of the food or, for a much more unique experience, place some in our hand right above the water. That way, the Koi fish would splash up and attempt to reach the food. If your hand is near enough, they will suck onto your fingers. It was such a weird feeling. I couldn’t handle the slimy, fishies swimming past my hands. The children around me held a much better composure with the Koi feeding than I did.

After my weird excitement had died down a little, we found a spot on the beach to roll out our towels. I admired our surroundings – underneath the palm trees, surrounded by sand, with a direct view of the water. It was the most perfect beach day without a cloud in the sky.

Time soon came to walk over to Kauai Beach Boys (owned by the Live Da Life Company, whom I was taking my surf lessons with). I scheduled a group lesson and luckily for me there was only one other person joining. It was practically a private session, which are typically much more expensive. The other lady was older but surfed quite a bit when she was younger; only taking the lesson for the supervision in case her rustiness of the waters took over. We stretched and learned the basics of balance and standing up on the board on shore. I’ll admit, I was nervous I would injure myself by doing everything wrong. But after a few runs, I was feeling confident. My only complaint was my lack of upper body strength which I needed to paddle myself back and forth. By the end of it all, I was extremely sore. But nonetheless, It was amazing. I wish I had the opportunity to do it when I was younger and wished I lived in an area where it could actually be a hobby.

The lesson felt quite short due to the amount of fun I was having. I talked for a bit with the locals who ran the Kauai Beach Boys and felt much envy that the beach life was their reality and not just a vacation. As much as I love the history and beauty of many European countries, I started to reconsider that love for living somewhere tropical with a beach nearby. I said my ‘mahalos’ to my new friends and went back to my spot on the beach to darken my colour. I spent a little more time in the water before we had to head back to the boat. Instead of taking the shuttle, we opted for walking. It was short and conveniently close to the dock.

Our stay in Kauai was not as long as the other ports, but to make up for it, an hour after sailing, we passed by the Nā Pali Coast. It’s on the northwest side of the island and extends about 25 km. Nā Pali stands for high cliffs, which is exactly what they were at about 4,000 ft. high. The beautiful shoreline is not accessible by vehicles. I was only able to see a few people who boated the distance to take advantage of the absolute privacy. Besides boats and helicopters, there’s a trail accessible by car but the distance from that point to the shoreline is an 18 km hike proven to be quite difficult. And aside from all these journeys, you must also acquire a camping permit to hike further into the Nā Pali coast.

I remember being so impressed with Waimea Canyon, but sailing passed the Nā Pali Coastline left me speechless. It was a scene of a movie, a clipping from a magazine, a painting created purely out of imagination. Shows like Lost and movies like The Perfect Getaway and Pirates of the Caribbean are filmed at these exact locations as well. It felt so unreal to see something of that kind of nature.

For size comparisons: along the beach coast is a boat and that tiny spec around the centre is a helicopter!

After the unfortunate sailing away from the Nā Pali Coast, it began to feel much more like the end of our tropical adventure. We packed our things from our short-lived, floating home, and back into our luggage to take us back to our version of reality. Which, is quite obvious, was far more different to the lifestyle we were introduced to that week. But, all good things must come to an end so our last evening was spent at one of the specialty restaurants and watching a live show. Before bed, we prepared our things for our early departure back to Canada. It was bittersweet as always, but travelling to this new destination left me with 2 things: several pins I can add to my map and a new found love for the islands.

Aloha isn’t just a hello/goodbye greeting, it’s a way of life. A way of life that matches so beautifully with the island they live on. Next time I visit, I want more exploring, more waterfalls and more surf time!

Hope you enjoyed the series of posts based on my trip to Hawaii. After just returning from New York City a few days ago and Dubai around the corner. I have plenty of stories up my sleeve and ready to share. It’s all going to be uphill from here and now that this quick journey is over, I’m about to embark on yet another, much more real one. Stay tuned because before you know it, the sky will be my office.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Journey To Waimea Canyon

Kauai was the last stop on our Hawaiian adventure. But lucky for us, it wasn’t the last day. And the first of our two days here was dedicated to some sightseeing. I woke up before the ship docked and was able to experience sailing in and getting closer to the island. Rainbows appeared and added an even more post-card touch to my already perfect view from the balcony.

After breakfast, we met for our excursion called ‘Journey To Waimea Canyon’ and unlike the other tours we’ve taken this felt the most touristy. We boarded a very large bus filled with seniors. I was the youngest one there, with my parents falling close behind. It wasn’t my ideal way of travelling but I guess we were all just trying to see the same beautiful spots.

The drive to the canyon was a long and winding one. And once we arrived, it was still a little tourist-free. If you’ve ever visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona, you’ll be reminded of the terracotta monochromatic colours. I read many reviews saying that if you’ve witnessed the Grand Canyon already, to not even bother with Waimea. This is such ridiculous advice. To visit Kauai and not catch even a glimpse of Waimea Canyon would be such a waste. In my opinion, Grand Canyon is indeed grand but it lacks a few things Waimea Canyon has. What I really loved about Waimea Canyon was how much more lush it looked. It was decorated with greenery, scattered along its terrain. Being the wettest spot on Earth, the canyon reaches about 50-100 inches of rain in its most mountainous regions. I even spotted several waterfalls. I only wish we could have hike and visited a few of them.

Afterwards we continued to drive along the island, passing yet another coffee mill, the Spouting Horn and locations where they filmed movies like The Descendants and Jurassic Park. It was a rather short tour but worth it for Waimea Canyon. We returned back to the dock where we took advantage of the numerous free shuttles. We had little time to spare because we had a luau scheduled for that evening, so we decided to scope out the area really quick.

We ended up at Kalapaki Beach, conveniently a 5-minute drive or a 20-minute walk from the dock. Right by the beach is a Marriot hotel, which oozes luxury and paradise. We pretended to be guests as we walked around the hotel grounds taking pictures. Before heading back to the boat, I also made sure to book surfing lessons for the next day. I had been waiting to surf the second I found out we were going to Hawaii. What a perfect place to learn.

We took the shuttle back and quickly got ready for our luau. Several busses transported people from our cruise ship to Kilohana, Kauai’s legendary plantation estate, where the luau would be held. As someone who used to dance hula and Tahitian when I was younger, I was excited to see how it was really done. We started Luau Kalamaku by getting lei’d, welcome drinks and photos with some of the dancers by the plantation’s beautiful garden and tiki torches. We had reserved seating, not quite close to the stage but close to the live band. While waiting for the show to start, we were served an authentic Hawaiian meal. I had my first taste of poi and, let’s just say it will probably be my last. I like taro but more in the form of blended drinks and ice cream. The show started soon after dinner ended. It told a heroic love story between Gods and Goddess and the voyage made from Tahiti to Kauai. It was very beautiful with its blend of lights, music and of course the talented dancers. It definitely made me miss the days I danced Hawaiian and wished I never stopped.

We returned back to the boat quite late and immediately got ready for bed. I was very excited for the next day and couldn’t wait to get my surf on.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

31 Days To Take-Off

Lately, all I’ve been doing is counting. Counting the months. Counting the weeks and now… Counting the 31 days until I’m at the airport, boarding a plane and moving half way across the world. Destination? The next chapter of my life.

The counting started in May, when I counted the people before me. Counting the resumes the recruiters must go through before they received mine. And when it was my turn, I counted the seconds I had to make a good first impression. I handed over my resume, said a few words, smiled and I was out the door. I counted the hours until I received the call to attend the second day of recruitment. There, I counted the ones that were sent home before me. I counted three slips of papers telling me I had been successful from three different rounds of group interviews. Once the day was done, I counted the forms and websites that needed to be filled and all the documents I needed to submit. I remember seeing my doctor more than I’d seen my friends due to the amount of needles for vaccinations I had gotten (5 and counting). And one night after a closing shift, I received 1 call. The ‘Golden Call’ as hopefuls like to call it, telling me that I had gotten the position as Cabin Crew for Emirates Airlines.

It sounds all good to be true, but I’ve been holding off sharing the good news because I wanted to make sure that it was real. And each time Emirates sent me e-mails, I feared they might take back their offer. But, 5 months into the whole process and I’m still confirmed to join.

After reading many of my previous posts you’d think I should be excited for yet another adventure. But this kind of excitement entails a lot more emotion than that. I’m scared, I’m nervous and I’m sad. Being accepted for the position wasn't the only change I'd have to endure. I would also need to live in Dubai for the duration of the contract, which is almost a world apart from the city I spent my whole life in. And within this city of mine are all my friends and family. I’m going to hate the rainchecks, the see-ya-laters and of course, the goodbyes. And while I’m gone, I’m bound to miss many momentous occasions. Which, for lack of a better word, sucks. But, I promise you I’m not being as negative as you think. The whole idea of leaving everything I’ve known for a prolonged period of time is clouding the fact that this is an amazing opportunity for me. Not to mention it will feed my admiration for travelling and seeing the world. I know I’ll be fine. And not to worry (kind of speaking to myself here), this isn’t forever. Whether I’m gone for a year or three years, I’ll be back.

Despite anxiety keeping me a nervous wreck, I’m leaving on the 19th of November. Until then I’ll be counting more vaccinations shots, more documents needed for collection and the number of clothes I can fit into my luggage. This last month is going to feel like a blur – I know it.

Mississauga will always be home.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Kona Adventures

Sometimes doing things alone can be intimidating. However, as an only child I’ve learned that’s just how some things are going to play out. If many of you haven’t realized already, I went on this trip with my parents. They’re my photographers, my yearly travel buddies and the kids I babysit when they somehow lose all common sense. They’re the reason I’m so fascinated with the world. But, with these similar interests aside, there are some activities that won’t be found on both of our to-do lists. And this was evident when looking for what to do on the other side of the Big Island in Kona. Luckily for me, my mother finally cut the umbilical cord and let me do something on my own. After weeks of convincing, I was going rafting and snorkeling!

That morning we woke up still surrounded by water; floating quite a bit from the shore. Cruise liners do this when the destination’s port cannot dock a ship that massive. Instead of skipping the place altogether, they allow for tendering. They use smaller boats to take passengers from the cruise ship to shore. Holding about 50+ people at a time with several boats going back and forth in rotation the entire day.

After I had breakfast with my parents, I quickly left to meet with my tour group at the ship’s theatre. The wait was already lonely enough as families and groups of friends rolled in and occupied the seats around little ol’ me. I sat there quietly hugging my backpack waiting for our time to depart. Finally, it was our turn to load up the tendering boats. I sat next to a bunch of youths, like myself, with my thoughts screaming, “Make friends with me!!” I quickly got over it as I overheard the one dude I sat next to saying there were dolphins circling our boat. The ride to shore was about 5 minutes and in that short time, I saw more dolphins than my fingers and toes can count.

Spinner dolphins are very popular amongst the Hawaiian Islands. In Kona, they like to swim quite close to shore and show off their wicked skills. As the name suggests, these social creatures are constantly jumping out of the water and spinning like no tomorrow. It was amazing to see them out of an aquarium and in the wild, doing their tricks freely.

We quickly arrived to shore and were divided into smaller groups to embark on our rafting adventure. The company I chose was Captain Zodiac, and if you ever find yourself Kona-side then you must, must, must take this tour. The rafts aren’t like what you expect when paddling down a stream. They are just like the ones Navy Seals and the U.S. Coast Guard use. They go real fast and real close to caves. We boarded our raft, listened to the safety procedures and were told to, “Hold on tight.” And just like that we immediately zipped through the waters; swerving left and right, leaping up and down. We passed several more spinner dolphins again and of course, they couldn’t help but hop out of the water.

We traced the coastline of Kona to a little spot surrounded by a national park filled with plenty of archeological sites and history. Kealakekua Bay is actually part of marine life conservation popular for snorkeling, scuba diving and kayaking. A popular monument stands tall to represent the first European sailor to arrive at the bay, Captain Cook. Captain James Cook. Reaching the bay by foot is rather difficult and only recommended for experienced hikers, so if that’s not your type of fun then definitely don’t miss out and ride a boat over.

This was my first time snorkeling. Ever. I’m also not that great of a swimmer. But how could I possibly pass up an opportunity like this in Hawaii?! And for as much as it made me nervous, I was thrilled I had done it when it was all over. I was side by side with the prettiest fishies and coral, all while swimming better than I had expected. I started off with a noodle and soon got rid of it because it was keeping me too afloat to go down any deeper. I swam the entire time and was one of the last ones to get back on the raft. This just goes to show what you can miss out on when you let fear take over. It was an unforgettable experience and I’m so glad I didn’t let my little anxiety stop me.

These pictures are no where near what I saw. The colours are off as well because once you go below water, it loses the red spectrum of color. I should have bought a filter for my GoPro! Darn.

About 4 hours later, we were on our way back to the port after a little more cave exploring. I really enjoyed this tour and would definitely recommend it to whoever likes a mix of fast pace and downtime as well. I rode in the front of the raft, holding on for my life. I saw dolphins to my left, right, and swim up from underneath. I witnessed caves and numerous waves splashing onto the endless cliffs. I saw fish of every color of the rainbow. I saw all of this and there are no photos or videos that can amount to the experience.

I arrived back at the port and I took the first tender boat back to the cruise. While I was out, my parents went on their own tour and wouldn’t be back for another hour. So, I decided to spend my time wisely waiting at the pool. I soaked in a little more sun, got dressed and as soon as my parents returned we took yet another tender boat back to shore. We visited the Hulihe’e Palace and Mokuaikaua Church. I also couldn’t resist some shaved ice, especially from a place with dozens of flavours hanging from the ceiling. Sush was much fancier than my first shaved ice experience in Maui especially with the servings almost the size of my head.

The day felt short with all the fun I was having. I started to realize my time in Hawaii was coming to an end. And I was also starting to realize that being alone, surrounded by strangers won't always be a lonely time either. Unless I have something very specific to do, I usually like doing things with someone by my side. But after doing this tour, afraid of doing something new and knowing no one, it turned out to be such a thrill and even making friends with a few people hailing from New Jersey all the way to Australia. We are our own worst critic and if I had let being nervous and shy get the best of me, well, I wouldn't have this blog post to share. The next two days were the last stretch until it was back home and back to reality. It was going to be hard to accept after having a taste of paradise with a side of slight independence. I can’t wait to share my 48 hours in Kauai, it only gets better. Aloha.