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Travels with Amy

Introducing ‘Travels with Amy Hall’

Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

Some of us are born with an incurable case of wanderlust – a passion

for traveling, for seeing what lies over the horizon, for learning about

new places and unfamiliar cultures.  It’s a curiosity about the wider world that cannot be satiated.  It’s a lifelong urge to see, to experience, and to learn.  Maybe it’s a link back to our nomadic ancestors.  Maybe it’s just a way of channeling our inner vagabond.  Maybe it’s an echo of Aristotle’s peripatetic educational discourses in Athens.  Or maybe it’s just ‘an itch that must be scratched.’  Either way, those blessed with wanderlust go where they will, and often where we do not, and they bring us back reports from beyond our ken that can delight and edify.

Artsforum welcomes one such traveler to its pages as our latest roving correspondent.  We’ll introduce Amy Hall to our pages in her own words:

“Amy Hall is a travel writer with a Master’s Degree in Art History from Queen’s University.  Her favourite hobbies include shark diving, surfing, and devouring delicious food.  Always on the move, she is happiest with salt in her hair and sand in her toes.”

Amy’s inaugural offerings take us to the South Pacific.  ‘Salt in her hair and sand in her toes,’ indeed!

© 2016 by John Arkelian.

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April 19, 2016

One Extreme to the Other

© By Amy Hall

After having spent an entire month living with eighteen other people

Corals at Rainbow Reef.  Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

Corals at Rainbow Reef:  Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

in very close quarters, I suddenly became the sole guest at Dolphin Bay Divers Resort on the northern island of Vanua Levu in Fiji.  After my four weeks with the Shark Conservation Project, I planned to travel for two weeks on my own in order to see more of the country.  Instead of the more popular group of islands to the west called the Yasawas, I decided to travel northeast of the main island to explore less travelled areas.  I wanted to get off the beaten track, and that’s exactly what I did.  Be careful what you wish for, I suppose!

The perk of being the only resident at the resort was that I was upgraded from the tent I had booked to a ‘bure’ – essentially a seaside hut with my own bathroom and real bed.  Dolphin Bay is

Dolphin Bay.  Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

Dolphin Bay:  Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

what I like to refer to as ‘glamping’ or glamorous camping.  There is no road access or town, there is a generator that runs at set hours for electricity, there was no running water at the time I was there due to an unseasonal drought, and the furnishings are in line with what you would expect to find in a basic traditional cottage.  What you can also find is complete and utter seclusion – waves on your doorstep that will quiet your mind and hush you to sleep at night, along with a kind of imposed relaxation.

Let’s be honest, most of us have a hard time sitting still for any significant period of time.  We only slow down our busy lives when we are forced to, often times by illness.  At first, upon my arrival, I resisted.  I was bored and frustrated.  Yet, the longer I was there, the more I could feel myself settle in.  It was a perfect time to be reflective and let the crazy, hectic, amazing previous few weeks really sink in.  When traveling, things fly by so fast they almost don’t feel real; so, it’s nice to have the opportunity to take a step back and appreciate it all.

Aside from the relaxation, the other reason people go to Dolphin Bay Divers Resort (as you can guess from the name) is the scuba diving.  Its proximity to Rainbow Reef means that it is perfectly situated next to some of the most spectacular soft and hard corals in the world.  On my dive excursions, it was only about a five minute boat ride to the dive sites, meaning we could even come back to the resort for surface intervals between dives – unheard of!

As a new diver, I used to think that a wetsuit was a good gauge with which to judge the quality of a dive shop’s gear.  I quickly learned that this is not so.  No one cares about wet suits.  Of everything you will wear as a diver, this is one of the least important pieces of equipment.  Yes, it will keep you comfortable and make the experience more enjoyable, but it is not what will be keeping you alive (at least in tropical climates!).  Your buoyancy control device, regulators, and tanks are what matter – this is your lifeline.  So, I was pleasantly surprised when one of the first things I saw upon my arrival was a rack of what appeared to be nearly brand new ‘Mares BCDs’ hanging out to dry.  “I am in the right place,” I thought to myself as I arrived by boat.  Getting into the water only further confirmed that conviction.  I saw many of the ‘indicator species’ I leaned to identify during my time at the Shark Conservation Project, along with hundreds (if not thousands) of other species.  The corals were breath taking and incredibly healthy – a small spot of hope for the future of our oceans.  This is what it should be like.

Copyright © by Amy Hall.

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April 15, 2016

Shark Conservation in Fiji

© By Amy Hall

I briefly mentioned Projects Abroad and the Shark

Bull shark dive:  Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

Bull shark dive: Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

Conservation Project* while discussing how difficult it was to leave my new found home in Fiji behind.  Some of you may be wondering just what exactly it was that I was doing during my time there.  The best way to elaborate on what I was doing is to describe our weekly schedule:

Sunday – Dive Day!

Sundays and Wednesdays are the best days of the week.  Why?  Because they’re dive days!  We’re assigned to either the morning or afternoon dives for the day.  Morning dives are always the best because the wind usually picks up in the afternoon, thereby limiting the dive sites you can access and sometimes affecting the visibility.  On the dives we are conducting surveys, looking for what are called

Mangrove nursery:  Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

Mangrove nursery: Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

‘indicator species,’ specifically, the fish that sharks like to eat.  Before you are able to participate in a proper survey dive, you must pass your fish ID test.  In a nutshell, we swim around under water for 30 minutes writing down all of the indicator fish we see.  This information is then recorded on the boat and entered into online databases.

Mangrove Monday

Or, as Kris, who is in charge of the mangrove nursery, would say, “Mangroves for Fiji baby!”  Not only are mangroves a crucial link in a healthy marine ecosystem (75% of saltwater animals will call the roots of mangroves home at some point in their life), they are simultaneously one of the most efficient plants at converting carbon

Navua River:  Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

Navua River: Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

dioxide into breathable air while providing protection from erosion and tsunamis.  We had one of the largest mangrove nurseries in Fiji; so every Monday, we dedicated an entire day to maintenance, organization, planting ‘propagules’ (equivalent to seeds), and eventually planting the seedlings themselves in the rivers.  It was often one of the more physically demanding days but also an incredibly rewarding one.  Kris’ passion and excitement for the mangroves was infectious; it definitely rubbed off on everyone, myself included.

Tuesday – Chores

I always looked at Tuesdays as a very practical day.  We would usually begin with a workshop or guest lecture, followed by house chores.  In the afternoon, we would conduct surveys in one of the nearby towns to gather information about local fishing practices and public perceptions regarding sharks.  Responses were very interesting because you would experience opposite ends of the spectrum:  On the nearby island of Taveuni, locals worship a shark god and therefore have a great reverence for them.  On the other hand, you might meet fishermen who think that sharks are ruining the fish population by eating their daily catch.  You never knew what you were going to encounter.  Our job was to collect information, not to preach or judge.

Mondays and Tuesdays were also tagging evenings.  We would go out with the lead marine biologist, Gauthier, and tag any sharks we caught throughout the evening.  Unfortunately, when I was there we were between projects.  The previous work was done in the Rewa River with baby hammerheads; after a year of research, it is believed this may be one of the largest hammerhead nurseries in the world!  When I went out in Navua, we were hoping to catch a few baby bull sharks, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have any luck.  It was still a beautiful night out on the water in Fiji, though!

Wednesday – Dive Day!

One thing I forgot to mention about dive days is that we also drop a ‘BRUV’ before our survey dives.  A BRUV is a ‘baited remote underwater video’ – a large contraption with a camera mount and bait.  We would sink the BRUV and set the video to record for a few hours while we were gone on our dives.  Watching the videos during land-based activities was either incredibly boring (as sometimes nothing interesting would come by) or incredibly exciting (you would hear people screaming when something like an eagle ray decided to check out the BRUV).

Thursday – Cultural & Community Days

Depending on the week, Thursdays were set aside for cultural days, community days, and/or land-based activities.  Cultural days included things like making ‘tsulus’ (traditional Fijian sarongs for men and women), cooking ‘lovo’ (a traditional method of cooking in the ground with rocks), or learning the language.  Community days during my time there consisted of helping to paint a local school and cleaning up the nearby beach.

Friday & Saturday – The Weekend

Since we dive on Sundays, Friday and Saturday became our weekend.  Often times, we filled our weekends with, what else, more diving.  A group of us went out on a tiger shark dive and ended up having a private dive with a 4-meter female, as we were the only divers there, aside from the staff.  If you ever have the chance, you must dive in Beqa Lagoon:  it’s one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems I have ever seen, and the project is working very hard to keep it that way.

Copyright © 2016 by Amy Hall.

* For information about Projects Abroad and the Shark Conservation Project, visit:  http://www.projects-abroad.com.au/destinations/fiji/conservation-and-environment/shark-conservation/

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February 17, 2016

A Global Community:  Friendships While Travelling

© By Amy Hall

I thought that a whole month in one location in Fiji would feel like a

Dive with Oscar:  Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

Dive with Oscar: Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

long time.  Maybe even an eternity, considering that I would be sharing a room with up to three other people.  Yet, as I sit here writing this approaching the end of my time with Projects Abroad, I feel like I just arrived yesterday.  Like I’m running out of time.  Like I don’t want to leave.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to be feeling like this.  I thought adjusting to things would be a bit of a struggle – not an insurmountable one, but a struggle nonetheless:  From the heat, to being around a group of people all the time, to likely being the oldest, to not being able to cook my own food.  I’ve lived by myself for the last five years, so I thought this would be the most difficult part; but, as it turns out, the things that were of greatest concern to me are

Shark Reef Marine Reserve dive with Noah:  Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

Shark Reef Marine Reserve dive with Noah: Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

actually what I am going to miss the most.  I have grown accustomed to spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week with this group of people, and it is going to feel incredibly strange to not be around them anymore, to be back on my own.

It amazes me how quickly and deeply you can form friendships when you travel.  Why that happens, I’m not exactly sure.  I suppose it’s a combination of things.  Everyone is out of their comfort zone, meaning that generally people are more open and understanding.  You also share experiences together that are so unique it creates lasting memories – memories and experiences which are sometimes difficult to properly communicate to friends back home.  Most importantly, though, I’ve found that what makes being here different from anywhere else I’ve travelled is that we are all focused on the goals of the shark conservation program:  We have the same interests and values, and are working together to do something we believe in.  The work here is not always easy; it’s not just diving and sitting by the beach.  Two weeks ago we helped to paint a local school in the midday heat, and this week I was shovelling topsoil in 32 degree weather so we could repopulate the mangrove nursery.  All of these are integral parts of the project.  And when you see your friends not only carrying their weight, but working their asses off, it motivates you to do the same:  You develop a respect for them that makes you start to feel like a family.

That’s what’s different:  I’ve just begun to feel like part of a small family here, and now I am leaving.  Some I’ve known just for a few short days and others my entire time here.  We are an eclectic group from all over the world, which is part of what makes saying goodbye so hard – I don’t know when I’m going to see them again.  We’re Canadian, American, German, Norwegian, Swiss, Australian, Swedish, Indonesian, Dutch, and South African.  I know that things just won’t be the same without them.  I left my small town in hopes of finding a vibrant, thriving, like-minded community.  I suppose I never expected to find it so quickly, with a melting pot of nationalities halfway across the world.

Copyright © 2016 by Amy Hall.

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January 20, 2016

How to Kill Eight Hours in LAX

© By Amy Hall

Los Angeles International airport is one of the busiest in the world.

Yoga at LAX:  Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

Yoga at LAX: Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

As a state of the art facility, there is no shortage of provisions for entertainment.  After passing through the golden gates of security, you are welcomed into consumer heaven.  It’s easy to kill a few hours, if you are also looking to drop several thousand dollars – you can shop at stores like Burberry, Gucci, and Tom Ford; ship champagne and caviar at Petrossian; or swing by the duty free, if you’re in the mood, to pick up a $4,000 bottle of scotch.  Some of the world’s most rich and famous call L.A. home, so the sumptuousness should come as no surprise; but, what are the rest of us supposed to do?

Not to worry, there are still of lots of things to keep us common folk sufficiently entertained.  Here are a few suggestions after my own eight hour stint in LAX.

(1) Nap:  The tried and true airport ‘go-to’ of backpackers and business travellers alike.  We all know there’s no easier or more efficient way to kill an hour or two than to find a comfy spot and catch a few z’s.  Finding a comfortable location can sometimes require a little creativity.  Long benches are a god-send, and my heart breaks a little every time I stroll by and see them divided with individual armrests.  For those of you daring (or desperate) enough, there’s always the floor – with your carry-on for a pillow.   I’m happy to say that none of the above are necessary in L.A.:  they have beautiful lounges equipped with comfortable chairs, tables, benches, and lamps.  So, pull up a seat, set an alarm (you don’t want to miss your boarding call!), and take a nap.  Not only is it free, it will help you feel a little more rested before the next leg of your journey.

(2) Exercise:  Once you are rested, why not get your blood flowing

A dream of things still to come (beach at dusk):  Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

A dream of things still to come (beach at dusk): Photo © 2016 by Amy Hall.

to your extremities with a little exercise?  (You may feel you’ve gotten your fair share of physical exertion while carting your 50 pound luggage across miles of airport terminals.  If that’s the case, feel free to skip to number 3.)   There are lots of free, bodyweight exercise routines available online; but I wouldn’t recommend anything too intense, just enough to get your heart pumping and oxygen flowing.   For long-haul flights, I generally am wearing workout tights and runners.  If you’re dressed in more restricting attire, consider packing an outfit change in your carry-on.

(3) Yoga:  Before setting foot onto another 12-hour flight, let’s get your body back in alignment. For hundreds of years, yoga has been practiced to properly stack bones and muscles in preparation for meditation.  If it can work for monks, before hours of sitting on the floor without moving an inch, it can work for you. You can find millions of free videos online to stream to your computer or phone.  If you’re a newbie, watching the video may be best, so you can see visual cues.  If you have tried yoga before, you prefer to play the video on your phone, plug in your headphones, and tuck it into a pocket, so you can let the instructor’s voice guide you.  LAX has free wi-fi (hallelujah!), so you can easily search for bodyweight exercises and yoga lessons that are suitable for you.  The biggest hurdle will likely be getting over feeling silly doing this in front of other people; but take a word of advice – no one cares what you do at an airport:   It’s like an otherworldly dimension, so go ahead and do your thing.

(4) Coffee and Cookies:  Caviar and champagne not in the budget?  How about just sticking to good ol’ tea or coffee and baked goods.  You’ll get a nice caffeine boost, and let’s be honest, you deserve that treat – travelling can be stressful, after all.  Get a spot right by the window, and watch the planes land, or open up a newspaper or magazine.  I got a free magazine, with the purchase of some snacks from a little general store, and, ironically, it was all about Toronto.

(5) Make New Friends:  When all else fails, make new friends.  Aside from napping, this is the easiest and most entertaining way to pass the time.  People are always more open and friendly when they are on the move.  I often give my mom a hard time about striking up conversations with random people; but sometimes it is actually quite interesting:  She’ll go to buy a water bottle during a layover in Germany and find out that the cashier has a niece who lives up the road from the family cottage back home.  I became fast friends with a lovely couple, Tim and Nancy, when we were getting off the plane at LAX and realized that we were on the same connecting flight.  Since our boarding passes weren’t printed in Toronto, we had to check-in at the counter, which, of course, didn’t open for several more hours…  So, we went on an adventure to find a little bar.

There are many other things to do, of course (like window shopping or card games), but the point is to prepare yourself mentally and physically for another long flight.

Copyright © 2016 by Amy Hall.