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Sorry for the radio silence Life Offtrack followers! We’re two and a half weeks into our month long overland trek across southern and eastern Africa from Johannesburg to Nairobi. But we’ll have plenty of stories to catch you up on when we get back online. And you’ll be happy to know, we can now claim to be pros at tent pitching.
There’s just something about Australia that gets into you blood that makes you feel like you can take on anything. Australians have this go get ’em attitude that seems to say they’d be willing to wrestle a 15-foot croc to the ground, without shirts or shoes of course, if that’s what needed to be done. I hoped a little of that bravado would sink in to help me with my irrational fear of sharks.
It’s hard confronting a fear that has no foundation. I can blame it on my overactive imagination or whichever cousin or uncle (I can’t remember which) told me there were sharks in the deep end of my grandparent’s pool. But neither of those excuses stands up to the truth that I am a grown adult and should know better.
I am a good swimmer and grew up going to the beach so it’s not like I am a fish out of water when it comes to the ocean. I am not afraid that a shark will kill me. I am afraid that a shark will try to eat me and I will live to remember baring the scars to prove it.
But in Cairns, Australia, we had the opportunity to sail out to the Great Barrier Reef and snorkel. This experience has to be a top bucket list contender. I couldn’t get so close then chicken out. And besides I need to win back the title of “cool Aunt” to my nephews and niece. I am hoping to leverage the whole “I saw Nemo and his friends” angle to get back on their good side.
Roughly 30 people sailed out to the Great Barrier Reef with us that day. Our destination was the Pinnacle Reef right off the coast of Green Island. It took about two and a half hours to get out there and after we’d reached our mooring, the four person crew gave us a few instructions.
“Yes these are shark infested waters…,” the Captain said, “But you have nothing to worry about.” First of all, why do they always use the word “infested” when referring to sharks? According to dictionary.com the meaning of infest: to live in or overrun to an unwanted degree or in a troublesome manner. If the water really was overrun with sharks then something would be seriously wrong and out of balance and we probably shouldn’t be jumping in.
They also announced that one of the crew members, Paul, would be giving reef tours. Paul would pull around one of the orange lifesavers and those wishing to snorkel with him could hold on to one of the many rope loops and be dragged along. The reef tours were primarily for people who wanted help identifying the fish below or those that felt a little sheepish about their swimming skills. I wanted to go along for another reason – strength in numbers.
In the past, I’ve asked Nellu to snorkel with me to calm my fears. But unfortunately, if I go into panic mode, I leave him in the dust. I couldn’t ruin this experience for him, holding him back from going to far because I was scared.
“I am going to tag along with you,” I told Paul. “It’s not that I am a bad swimmer. I’m just chicken.”
I figured Paul had some special shark defense skills that he learned in snorkel boot camp or that I would be able to climb on top of the orange lifesaver faster than those other slow swimming suckers if need be.
So we geared up and jumped in the water. And when I say I jumped in the water, I mean I walked up to the edge, hesitated, let someone else go in front of me, hesitated again and then jumped in.
The moment I took the plunge, I felt like I was on someone else turf. The boat was moored a distance away from the reef so there was nothing around it but a deep blue something. A deep blue something and huge fish that congregate underneath the boat. For the most part these fish just looked like television-sized versions of their cute little cousins you find in pet stores, but there was a big black menacing looking one that a German kid decided to call Darth Vader. “He’s got teeth too,” he announced.
I quickly made my way over to the group of people snorkeling with the lifesaver.
The actual snorkeling part of this story couldn’t have been better. The fish out there were beautiful and they were everywhere. Not only did we see Nemo and his clown fish friends, we saw Dory, and angel fish, and a turtle, and a giant clam, and these little rainbow looking fish, and so many more fantastic fish. It was amazing.
At one point, I think someone said they saw a shark. But I was pretty sure they only meant a tiny reef shark. Still I pulled myself on top of the orange lifesaver while Paul went down to investigate. When he came up for air, I ignored the report and didn’t ask any follow-up questions. He didn’t look worried and that’s all I needed to know.
Overall I felt pretty safe. And the longer I spent in the water, particular by the reef which was pretty shallow, the safer I felt. I even went back out when we had some extra time to snorkel after lunch. This time, I was the only person dangling off the lifesaver.
When our time was wrapping up, I turned to my new best friend Paul and asked, “Can you help me get back to the boat?”
So while my progress has been slow, it’s still progress. We’re in Cape Town now and one of the popular things to do here: shark cage diving. One of the company’s brochure boast celebrity clientele including “Brad Pill (3x visits)” and “Matt Damon (2x visits)” and delightfully says of its crew, “Sorry Brad Pitt no longer aboard!” For now I am sticking to the excuse that it’s too expensive. But hopefully in the not too distance future, I will have no more excuses.
When started telling people we were going to take a year off to travel, one of our friends was troubled by one particular thought, “What are you going to eat?”
It was a legitimate concern. I am one of those funny eaters. I try to hide it but every once and a while I have to come out with it. Most of my close friends know and some even boast proudly that they can pick what I am going to eat off of any menu.
I am afraid of food. It’s not that I am afraid to eat and then get fat. In fact, the more likely a food is to make me fat, the more likely I will eat it. Breads, cheese, desserts, bring it on. It’s the foods that keep you skinny that give me angst – protein and vegetables primarily. I am afraid that I will put something in my mouth that will insult my bodies internal meter of what is an acceptable food, which will in turn trigger a gag reflex.
This fear can be all consuming, particularly when we’re at social gatherings or guests at someone’s home. Often, I ask Nellu to switch plates with me and finish the food I wouldn’t eat to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings or getting that dreaded question, “Didn’t you like it?”
In most cases it comes down to texture. If the texture is mushy, slimy, tendony or generally unexpectedly inconsistent… Gag!
When our Sydney host Art was preparing for the Stockton Beach camping trip, he emailed and asked if there was anything I wouldn’t eat. That’s always a loaded question.On our camping weekend, he confronted me. “I used to be like you,” he said.
Art made me swear to try a few things while we stayed with him and I did. There’s no place better to confront a fear than Australia and no better time to deal with eating issues than when you’re a hungry traveler. The night that we got back from our camping trip, he made ribs for us with this delicious sauce. Ribs are usually a big no for me for one major reason: you have to eat the meat right off the bone and sometimes there’s funky things like tendons and ligaments still attached nearby and that is oh-so scary. But I tried them and they were good. I did leave a little meat on the bone mostly because it was close to the tendony looking pieces. I also ate the cherry tomatoes in my salad. All together, progress.
As Nellu goes further down the road of extreme eater trying everything from snakes to cicadas, I am working on eating what most people would consider every day food. But I am trying. To date here are a few things that I have started to eat on this trip (unless of course there’s some serious funk going on and all bets are off):
#1) Watermelon: For years this fantastic fruit offended my sensibilities with its pseudo-sweet watery texture, but now I can’t get enough.
#2) Pork dumplings: The day that we hiked the Great Wall, we returned to our hostel in the middle of the dumpling party. We were famished from hiking up and down the Wall in the August heat. So after checking with Nellu on whether he thought these particular dumplings were “Molly friendly,” I dove right in. They were delicious. In Shanghai, there was a tiny shop just off the People’s Square that served up fried, soup dumplings. We went back there several times and now I regularly crave the little suckers.
#3) Red meat: You may remember that I tried my first steak in over ten years in Buenos Aires. But I have also had red meat since. I ate a steak when we were home at my parent’s house in July. I ate the hamburgers our hosts in New Zealand served up for Christmas Eve barbecue, and two nights ago night we bought ground beef for dinner.
#3) Tomatoes in things, primarily sandwiches: While I am still a little weary of eating tomatoes on their own (seriously, they are super mushy and gooey and not in a sticky, sweet dessert kind of way,) I have tried not to remove them or eat around them when they’re served in other dishes.
I have also stopped for the most part preemptively picking apart my sandwiches to remove anything that could possibly upset me. And you know what I’ve found? Sandwiches are actually better the way they’re served. I guess there is a little genius that goes into sandwich design.