Diving and Dining

Friendly Maori Wrasse

Friendly Maori Wrasse

PNG | Oz | Shanghai | Switzerland | UK |

Looking for an insider’s perspective on Papua New Guinea, I took advantage of the fact that my friend Peter was there (he grew up there) so I made a quick detour to Port Moresby, the capital.   After all the bad press that Port Moresby gets from a safety perspective, I was unprepared for the physical beauty of the place.   Flying in over green mountain ridges and beautiful blue seas dotted with islands, you realize that this is actually a tropical paradise.

PNG was both much saner and much crazier than expected.   On the surface, it was more organized and developed than I realized, with a vibrant expat social life and well developed facilities and obvious local wealth.  Despite all that, I found myself constantly shaking my head and saying “What a crazy place!”.    From the bunches of bananas going through checked luggage and the long bush knives carried by many to the stories of carjackings and military brutality to football fans storming the field to punch up their team because they were unhappy with the standard of play, it is certainly never boring.  After all, this is a place where the most popular bumper sticker is “Baby Glock on Board”.

Despite the powder keg atmosphere, there is much to see and do.  While I longed to explore the mountainous highlands, replete with wonderful hikes and beautiful vistas, I focused on water exploration – from very fun boat cruise birthday parties in Port Moresby to some beautiful diving in the lush tropical town of Madang.   Peter and his friends were the consummate hosts and this extraordinarily beautiful and fascinating country is now very high on my list of places to return to for highland hikes, amazing diving and remote river/village exploration.   Thanks Peter!

With a taste for diving I headed back to Australia to become the mermaid of the Barrier Reef.   Diving from a live-aboard boat off Cairns (and day boats off Port Douglas) is a bit like being in a diving factory.  It is a veritable production line of diving and I did 12 dives in 3 days, including a 5 dive day, my first night dive and my first deep dive.   It was the perfect way to get my skills and confidence up – along with my new dive buddies Irina and Adam.   Patting a turtle, watching 100 buffalo parrot fish swim past, getting close to numerous reef sharks and having giant trevallay’s brush past you in the night were just some of the highlights.     Another highlight was catching up with my long lost cousins and aunt – Julie, Sue, Jennie, Amanda….so great to connect again – thanks for the hospitality.

Soon it was off to sweltering Shanghai to spend the weekend with my friend Stephanie.    Being in China is always mind-blowing and this was no exception.  It’s the only place in the world you can venture into a city you’ve never heard of (Suzhou) and realize 8m people live there.    We also packed in quaint old water towns (Zhouzhang), 1000 year old pagodas, silk factories, gorgeous gardens, the sophistication of Shanghai (dinner at M on the Bund with clubbing at Mint afterwards is highly recommended) and some home cooked Korean food.   Loved catching up with you in yet another country Steph!

Shanghai gave way to Locarno, Switzerland where The Gang gathered for another reunion.    From our gorgeous apartment overlooking Lago Maggiore in the Italian region (thanks Dani!), we indulged in lakeside swimming, boat trips to Italian markets, drives through gorgeous valleys and lots of good food and wine.   Being so close to Italy, we took a day to explore Piedmont in search of the perfect Barolo (unfortunately we’re still searching) and found the perfect burrata cheese instead.   Complimenting our cultural excursions, we hobnobbed with the rich and famous at the Locarno Film Festival and worked off all that food and wine by getting wet and wild on a canyoning excursion.    Spending the day abseiling, cliff jumping and swooshing down natural rock luges was the perfect end to another great Gang week.  Can’t wait to see all of you again soon!

Back in the UK, more stunning scenery awaited in the Yorkshire Dales where Amee and I spent a few days rambling the picture perfect countryside, searching out the best gastropubs and using the many waterfalls as props for my new camera (thanks for the tips Amee!).    London almost seemed like the country when Anna took me horseriding in Wimbledon.    To remind ourselves we were in the big city, Marijana and I checked out some live music and saw band !!!, which features my Sierra Leone friend Nic as lead singer.  If you like high energy dance bands, you must seek them out – both live (they tour the world) and their albums – highly recommended.

London ended with a bang with two great events…the first was a fantastic chef’s table experience at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze.   Highly experiential, we enjoyed our tasting menu right in the heart of the kitchen with a private waiter, commentary from all the chef’s, a kitchen tour and the chance to plate one of our own dishes.   And, of course, delicious food ending with cheese, pre-dessert, dessert, post dessert and petit-fours.  My only five course dessert experience.  Thanks for organizing Anna!  Then it was Notting Hill Carnival – the second largest street festival in the world with over 1 million visitors.   Thanks to Amee’s new house we found ourselves literally on the parade route –  to say this is a crazy experience is an understatement.   It’s best understood  by the photos.   Be sure to check them out.

Marijana, Amee and Anna – as always a huge debt and thanks for your hospitality, social co-ordinating and friendship.   And it was great to catch up with many others (you know who you are) over coffee, lunch and dinner.

I’m now heading back to Africa to spend two months consulting with an adventure travel company in Kenya and Tanzania.   Keep tuned for more Africa adventures and let me know if you have any friends in Nairobi that I should meet.

– Nikki

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