EV Nautilus Photo Journal Pt. 2 | Deep Sea Exploration in American Samoa

EV Nautilus Photo Journal Pt. 2 | Deep Sea Exploration in American Samoa

Part 2 of my photo journal on the E/V Nautilus.

Deep sea research cruise in the waters of American Samoa. July to August 2019.

View of Swains island from the vessel. 

The full buffet 3x each day was a luxury. Living large on the high seas!

Rocking our no-spill Nautilus mugs in front of Swains island. So happy.

Back in the control van during my science watch. 

Samoan sunrises make me swoon.

It’s always an event when the ROVs are getting deployed. It’s pretty incredible to see technology in action to discover the undiscovered.

The American Samoa science team representing!

Ian, me, Georgia, and Hanae.

I feel so lucky to do what I do. And working alongside my fiance is the cherry on the top.

Back in Tahiti and shopping for pearls

Back in Tahiti and shopping for pearls

Back in Tahiti after our 5-day sailing adventure

We flew in to Tahiti from Raiatea, and immediately checked in to our hotel, freshened up and basically speed-walked to Toata for the opening night of the Heiva i Tahiti. The annual competition is the nation’s largest celebration of the year, and I was in awe to experience the incredible mana that emanated from the songs, dances, drum beats, and even from what they wore. We weren’t allowed to take any photos during the Heiva i Tahiti, but it was definitely a highlight during our time in Tahiti. 

This photo journal is from the following day in Tahiti, and then we took the ferry to Mo’orea.

We were walking to the market and I saw this truck on the side of the road. I saw it and immediately thought “whoa that’s my dream truck!” haha. I didn’t know I had a dream truck, but if I did, this truck would definitely be it! I feel like it’s the perfect mix of surf, vintage, island cruiser,  farm truck. Like I can imagine coasting down the road and just having like, the time of my life in this truck. It was love at first sight hahaha.

Ian and went to the Pape’ete Marche (Tahiti’s popular market plaza) to grab a quick and cheap brunch, and bought souvenir gifts for friend and family back home. I love love love this market, so I’ll write up another post about it later!

Buying Pearls at the Tahiti Pearl Market

Tahitian pearls are some of the most beautiful sought-after natural treasures in French Polynesia. And the cool thing about pearls in Tahiti is that they’re everywhere, and come at all price ranges.

I knew I wanted to get my mom a pair of Tahitian black pearl earrings, and was hoping to buy it at the pearl farm we visited off Raiatea, but I didn’t find any in particular that felt like the perfect pair. So I went back to the Tahiti Pearl Market again (we had come here to see the pearl market before our sailing trip) and decided to have her earrings custom made.

First, I had to choose two pearls that were similar-ish in color tone, nacre, and size. The woman behind the counter helped me narrow down my choices based on my price range, and I selected and laid out my favorite pearls to compare them. Then I got to choose the earring setting, for which they had yellow gold, white gold, and sterling silver options. I selected a simple yellow gold dangle setting that I thought would look good with my mom’s face shape. And lastly, I chose how I wanted the pearls to sit in the setting, and handed it over to their in-house jeweler to set the pearl into the earring.

It was a really cool experience and definitely gave the earrings a special customized touch that I knew my mom would appreciate. 


As a treat to myself, I decided to get myself a nice pair of keshi pearl stud earrings. Keshi pearls are, I’ve learned, the “imperfect” pearls, where the oysters (the Tahitian oyster is the Pinctada margaritifera) reject the nucleus around which the nacre is formed. And because they don’t have the perfectly rounded nucleus, they come out in various baroque shapes and are much smaller. The keshi pearls are therefore 100% pure nacre, which is why I love them. They’re all unique in their own way. You can see my tiny keshi pearl by the jeweler’s hand compared to my mom’s pearls drying in the clasp.

Ian and I were running later than we expected, so we sped-walked to the hotel to meet with Polly and Rick. Ian snapped this photo of me looking stoked from our pearl shopping!

 Catching the ferry to Mo’orea

We walked with our bags and luggage from the hotel to the ferry terminal, and boarded the interisland ferry, which felt more like a mini-cruise ship because it was a lot fancier than I expected. Ian and I went to the open air top deck, but I was getting toasted by the mid-day sun so I got grumpy and went back inside to cool down. We ate a quick and easy baguette chicken sandwich and chips for lunch and arrived at Mo’orea about an hour later.

We toured 7 wedding venues in Samoa. Which should I choose?!

We toured 7 wedding venues in Samoa. Which should I choose?!

Ooh, look at me blogging about wedding planning!
I’m surprisingly really enjoying the process so far. We were pretty laissez faire about it all at first, thinking that we’d get married late next year or the following year even. The only part we got kind of stressed about was deciding on a location. We knew we wanted a destination wedding of sorts, and we also knew we wanted to keep our budget realistic and well within our means rather than splurge for a one-day event. We did a lot of looking online at AirBnB options, and wedding vendor reviews of different locations, and even considered renting an island out in the Philippines. It was fun to look at options and pretend we can afford all of it, but we ultimately decided last month we wanted to get married in Samoa. I used to hate the idea of getting married in a hotel/resort setting, but in Samoa, it doesn’t feel so touristy or overcrowded. And because it’s a destination wedding for most of our family and friends, we figured it would be a lot easier if the wedding venue, accommodations, and the coordinator were all built in to the package. So that’s my train of thought on that!
Like I mentioned in my last blog post, we visited several venues that we had either heard of or been to before and made appointments with their events and wedding coordinators. In all, we toured 7 venues over the course of 3 days. It was a lot of driving around the island, but luckily Ian and I love roadtrips and just spending ‘me-you-you-me’ time together.
Here’s a photo journal of the venues we visited, and just some of my thoughts here and there about each place.


Let the venue meetings begin!

We arrived in Apia and our rental car was waiting for us. I usually rent with DAT Car Rental because they’re so friendly and always helpful over email. Ian booked us an AirBnB in Vaivase called Eddie’s Homestay. We love staying at places like cozy small homestays like this when we know we’re going to be out and about for most of the day and just need a place to sleep really. If you’ve never used AirBnB, it’s awesome. And you can click here to get $25 off your first AirBnB stay with my referral code. Anyway, we packed only carry ons and didn’t have much else to do except meetings at the venues.

1. Taumeasina Island Resort

We’ve heard a lot of good things about Taumeasina, and this was our first time visiting so it was all new and exciting to be looking at it as a potential wedding venue. We met with the wedding coordinator, Angelphine, who was the sweetest of all the coordinators we met. She sounded like she knew what she was doing, and took us on a tour of the man-made island venue.

The Sina restaurant was an indoor reception option that could fit probably up to 60 people, and the large conference auditorium was another option that could fit up to 200 people.

Taumeasina has a wedding chapel on the property. It’s cute and architecturally interesting, but it only fits about 50 people seated. We actually were there a couple of hours before a wedding was about to start, so we got to see them in action a bit.

We had a couple of hours and a long drive to the next venue, so we stayed for a bit and had lunch at the Lapita Restaurant.



2. Aggie Grey’s Sheraton Samoa in Mulifanua

Aggie Grey’s is one of me and Ian’s favorite spots in Samoa. We’ve stayed there a few times and loved the swim up bar, sailing on the hobie cats, and lounging on the beach. The downside was that since the Sheraton now owns it, it was really difficult to get in contact with the wedding coordinator. I set an appointment online and I got an automated response but never heard back. We drove from town all the way out to Mulifanua (near the Faleolo International Airport) and we were bummed to find out though that the wedding coordinator, Sophie, was based out of the Apia town resort, and she was unavailable to meet with us. Still, we liked Aggie’s enough to consider it and gave ourselves a tour and envisioned how we might want to set up if we were to choose this venue.

We checked out the Apolima Fale restaurant and Ian liked it as a rain-contingency option for the reception. Then headed over to the beach to check out the potential ceremony situation.

I absolutely loved the palm pier back when we visited with my sister and her husband several years ago, and I was stoked to see it was being used as a ceremony venue. It looked like there was a wedding over the weekend so the arch was still set up. The palm pier was my favorite of all the ceremony venues we looked at, and I can totally see myself walking down the beautiful coconut tree lined walkway.

For the reception, we really liked this area with a large tree and a kempt field. I have a vague idea of what I want my reception to be like, so when I saw this tree and the proximity to the beach, I loved it right away. I really wish the wedding coordinator was there so we could ask her about potential set ups and other little details, but we were happy with what we saw so far.



3. Le Vasa Resort

The next venue we checked out was Le Vasa. It’s a smaller scale resort than Taumeasina and Aggie Grey’s which was cool, but it’s so small that their maximum capacity for accommodations is 38 people, spread out over 16 bungalows, villas, and fales. The venue’s coordinator, Soraya, who is also married to the owner of the resort, emailed us ahead of time to let us know she wasn’t available to meet with us, but referred us to the office manager Stephanie who gave us a little tour. We liked the place, and considered booking out the entire resort, but we’re thinking now we might rather select a spot with more capacity.



4. Seabreeze Resort

We stumbled upon this venue accidentally. We were actually killing time since we drove across the island to the south and didn’t have our next appointment for a few more hours. We were tired of being on the road, so we stopped when we saw the sign and turned in to chill there for a bit. We hadn’t originally considered Seabreeze, but we liked the vibe there.



5. To Sua Ocean Trench

This is probably the most famous spot to visit in all of Samoa. The ocean trench/sinkhole is so beautiful and instagrammable that actual influencers travel to Samoa just to get a photo in there probably. We love going for a dip in the trench whenever we’re in Samoa too. But I’d never seen a wedding there, so curious as I was, I contacted their event manager, Gerda, and she told me they could do weddings. We ended up meeting with another lady named Sina who lives and works there, and she gave us a tour of the clean beautiful property. I was surprised to learn that the last time they hosted a wedding was in 2015, four years ago! I was also bummed to hear that they only did morning weddings, as they strictly close at 5:00 p.m. as a safety precaution. To Sua as a wedding venue was a great idea, but ultimately might not be in the books for us as we are looking for something more inclusive to alleviate stress of wedding planning from afar. Oh, and I just realized that we didn’t take any photos of the actual ocean trench because we were so busy walking around and trying to picture a wedding and all the work it would take if we held it there. But we did immediately jump into the trench for a relaxing dip after our tour.



6. Return to Paradise Resort

This venue has a great story, as it was where the 1953 movie “Return to Paradise” was filmed starring Gary Cooper and Roberta Haynes. It is both Ian and I’s favorite movie about Samoa, and it was our first time at the venue. We met with the wedding coordinator, Joyce, who immediately got down to business and gave us helpful pamphlets and basically all the information we wanted and more. She was the most professional of all the coordinators we met with, and meeting with her really made a big difference as she helped us envision how we could set up for our wedding and party. She also gave us a tour of the property. The grounds were neat but looked like they were undergoing some maintenance.

This is the large Fetaui fale which would be a good option for an indoor/outdoor reception. It was really large and I liked the detail of the woodwork and wrap-around veranda.

Joyce showed us the Rock Pool Fale area where we could host an intimate pre-wedding dinner for just me, Ian, and our parents.

Then we head to the beach to check out beach ceremony options. Each beach area had either a villa or bungalow nearby, so we would have to consider booking rooms in those particular areas.

It was a really low tide when we were there, so we took note that we’d have to check the tide for our wedding date in advance. I liked how the sand formed a small slope down to the water. I could imagine our friends and family standing around on the sandy slope while we said our vows. Next, she showed us Return to Paradise’s Chapel by the Sea, which was actually pretty cute, and is an awesome next option as a rain-contingency plan.

I was happy to see that they had water refill stations, used coconut leaf baskets for rubbish, and they didn’t use any plastic straws. We had some time to kill again before our very last venue appointment, so we stayed for lunch, and stuck our toes in the water.



7. Sinalei Reef Resort

Sinalei is another favorite stopover for me and Ian to have a fancy lunch. And they make delicious ginger mojitos. We met with the wedding coordinator, Gerda, who looks a lot like Denise Richards and so happens to also be American, and she was super friendly and jumped right into a tour of the venue. We checked out the beach, which was still at a really low tide, as a beach ceremony option. Similar to other venues, we’d have to consider renting out the villas near the beach, which actually ended up being quite a bit expensive as the packages were in US Dollars and not in Samoan Tala. Sinalei is quite a bit fancy which we were expecting, but was probably the most expensive venue (package and room rates included) out of all the venues we visited.

I do love the restaurant on the pier though. We loved jumping off the pier at high tide when we were there last. It was also nice that it served as both an indoor/outdoor option for the reception.





Which venue is your favorite?

It was a really great experience getting to visit all the venues and meet with most of the coordinators. It felt like we had a solid and more concrete plan for our wedding, which isn’t too far away! We’re currently still deciding between our top two options (which I’ll share later when we do finalize), but I’d be interested to hear any recommendations or comments from anyone!

Another French Polynesia sailing photo blog

Another French Polynesia sailing photo blog

Did you read the title of this post?

You guessed it.

It’s another French Polynesia photo journal!

(soooo many good memories)











Polly taking a dip beside the boat

Spotted a huge stingray… there were actually a few of them!

Ian checking out possible anchorages for tomorrow

Me. by Ian.

Just a little seasick.

But still so happy

and grateful.


More sailing / underwater / french polynesia photo blogs to come!

Life Lately: Back from travels and trying to catch up

Life Lately: Back from travels and trying to catch up

Hello hello!

It hasn’t been too long since I last blogged, but a lot has happened, that’s for sure.

One of my recent life highlights is the 3-week travel around French Polynesia with Ian and his parents. I started blogging about it, but I have a bunch more to update on! We visited 4 islands in 3 weeks, and spent 5 days sailing around Raiatea and Taha’a. It was an epic vacation-slash-engagement-moon!

I got back from that trip in early July, and was home for just a week before embarking on a different kind of adventure, sailing on the research vessel E/V Nautilus! I also just returned from that trip earlier this week. It was actually a work trip that both Ian and I got to be a part of (me, from the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, and him, from the National Park Service in American Samoa). That was a super cool thing to be a part of, and I’m so excited to share some photos and takeaways from that experience soon.

Other life updates that I don’t remember mentioning yet:

I got a new camera! Well, I actually got it a few months ago right around my work trip in April but I don’t recall mentioning it yet. It’s a Sony A7III and it’s name is “Three” (don’t ask lol). I used to be a Canon shooter, and I hesitated a lot before finally deciding to switch to Sony’s mirrorless system. My thoughts on mirrorless? I’m a huge fan. It’s so much more compact which is great for traveling, the build-quality is great and feels sturdy, and the focus and clarity is impressive. I got a silicone rubber skin for Three and it makes it feel more rugged and weatherproof which I like.

We also got a drone – the DJI Mavic Air. It was a bit of an impulse purchase because I was preparing for our sailing trip in French Polynesia, and convinced Ian we needed to get one (because when else are we going to be sailing in French Polynesia, and don’t we want to get some cool aerial photos?!). Hahah, turns out we only used it a couple times while we were in French Polynesia because the tradewinds were extra strong and we didn’t want to risk losing the drone. I’m too much of a wuss to lose another drone, and now Ian’s really the only drone pilot.

And other than that, I’m still snapping away. I’ve done a few photo shoots in the last couple of month: a portrait session with Mareike, and some lifestyle-product shoots with Pacific Elegance. I’ll try to upload them soon. But for now, I’m binge-watching Versailles, reading Siddhartha, and trying to get my motivation back on track!

Another sunny, lazy, beach day in Ofu

Another sunny, lazy, beach day in Ofu

Yet another insanely beautiful day in Ofu.

I was supposed to be heading back to Tutuila on this day, but I waved my plane goodbye and decided to take a chance at another flight out of Ta’ū next week. Then we spent the rest of our morning and afternoon at the beach.

The day was still young, and the sun shone bright on the heavenly sand at To’aga. Ian hung his hammock between coconut trees, and I walked down the stretch and found the perfect nook to set my camera down on timer and attempt classic jump photos (and failed). Sorry not sorry, I can’t help it – To’aga lagoon, Sunuitao peak and Piumafua mountain are absolute icons in my opinion.

Rick stopped by and I had to get a father/son photo. And then we just lazed the rest of the day!

Off season in Rincon | Puerto Rico Travel Diary

Off season in Rincon | Puerto Rico Travel Diary

We drove in to Rincon in the late afternoon. The traffic and winding streets made my tummy uneasy so I was elated to get situated in this cozy Coconut Cottage for the night.

*ahem* Not really complaining because I should be used to this, but there were a lot of mosquitoes though.

We checked out the Rincon Marina to scope out the scene. It had been raining all day, and it would rain every day at noon while we were there.

It was off-season for tourism but most importantly (for Ian), off season for surf of any kind. There were absolutely no waves anywhere except on the postcards at the empty surf shops. We got skunked.

Feeling deeply grateful to be able to meet up with good friends from around the world in new and beautiful places.

We got groceries at the Econo Supermarket to last us the next couple of days that we would be there. But then we also decided to grab a nice dinner at Roots in the town square where we laughed and toasted to friendship.

The next couple of days were quality.

Snorkeling, SUPing, seeing huge barracudas fly by.

Eating, drinking, talking, playing card games.

Nobody in this quiet town, except us and the singing coqui.

We tried to plan a scuba dive or a kayak tour of the bioluminescence, but were unfortunately turned away by the operators. The fact that it was off season was one possible reason, but it could have also been our short 3 day stay not being enough time. *Shrugs*

Our friends’ love and sunset on our last evening in Rincon.

Finally a picture of all of us together!

That morning: sleeping in, snorkeling, showering (it was about time haha), and saying adios to Rincon.

We got back on the road toward San Juan.


I was sad to leave so soon, but happy to share new memories with old friends.





DIVE LOG: Wreck Diving the USS Liberty in Tulamben, Bali

DIVE LOG: Wreck Diving the USS Liberty in Tulamben, Bali

My week in Bali was coming to an end and I was bummed about it. There was so much more that I wanted to do and explore, so much ground to cover in so little time. I didn’t want to say goodbye yet.


With a hurried sense of adventure, we took a risk, and what we ended up doing may just have been our best decision yet.

The day before our departure flight, we got on our moto-scooter and drove for 3 hours from Seminyak to east Bali, including a quick stop at Padang Bai for lunch.

Surf & sea pizza for only $7 in Padang Bai!

Our destination: Tulamben
Our goal: Scuba diving

If you’re in Bali and want to go scuba diving, there are great dive sites all along the east coast. Tulamben wasn’t our first choice–we heard lots of great things about Amed and Padang Bai, which were closer–but after finding out that the USS Liberty shipwreck was a shoredive and having the option to dive without a guide, we were sold.

I would have loved to do a boat dive and wouldn’t have minded a guide, but we were running on limited time, and still had to moto back for 3 hours to our place in Seminyak.

We didn’t do much planning for this dive, which is something we really should have done. We Googled a list of dive shops in Tulamben, and almost all of them wouldn’t let us rent gear without a hiring a guide. Finally, we found one called Madha Dive Shop. The location could not have been any more perfect – it was right next to the USS Liberty shipwreck!

We met the dive shop operator named Made, and he set us up with our gear. We forgot to bring our GoPro so we rented an Olympus Tough point and shoot camera.

And in case you’re wondering why I’m wearing a wetsuit in the Indian Ocean, they were available as an option at the dive shop and I didn’t want to risk getting cold. Basically, I’m spoiled for warm waters.

About the USS Liberty

The USS Liberty was a US military cargo ship that was torpedoed by a Japanese battleship in January 1942 during World War II. It went down 10-miles from the Lombok Strait and was tugged back to a beach in Tulamben so parts could be salvaged.

Twenty one years later in 1963, the nearby Mt. Agung volcano erupted (one of the most prominent volcanic eruptions of our era) and the rattling of the tremors caused the USS Liberty to slip back into the ocean on a slope with depths ranging from 15ft. to 75ft.

I was nervous at first

Because I always associated shipwrecks with sharks for some odd reason, and I kicked around awkwardly as it was my first time wearing open heel/strap fins.

I was totally fine though as soon as I started my descent and dipped below the surface–my weight distributed until I was neutrally buoyant, my muscles relaxed, my breathing slowed, and my ears equalized.

The first thing I noticed were the fish.

There were so many of them. At least 3 different schools were swimming past me as I sunk lower until I was hovering over the ship. And they were huge! The fish, I mean. They must be protected in that area or something because we have (some of) the same exact fish in American Samoa, but these were 2 to 3 times bigger! And they swam up to me curiously; not at all scared when I would reach my hand out to say hello.

The Lonely Grouper

This Goliath Grouper was about 4ft long and was chillin’ out super hard in one of the hollow crevices of the USS Liberty. They are typically shy gentle giants and I stared at this guy for a long minute. I also just realized that I have never seen more than 1 grouper at the same time, which is ironic because of its name.

Down here it feels like roaming on another planet and I’m flying through a spaceship

Side note: while writing this I stopped for like 10 minutes and stared at this picture of fish (below). I don’t know if it’s just me, maybe I’m really tired or something but the fish look like they’re moving! I swear, it’s so cool.

You can click on it to zoom. Do you see the fish moving? Is it really just me? Am I going insane????

There’s so much life down here.

It’s a different kind of dive than back home. Here, the ocean floor is a muck and looks bare, but after closer inspection, you’ll find garden eels and stingrays hiding in plain view. A few spots of coral here and there, but on the shipwreck there is all sorts of living matter that now take residence.

Shout out to my guy for doing it all

Driving through crazy Bali traffic (on a scooter nonetheless) to and from Seminyak and Tulamben (is nuts). But you made it happen. Thank you for resting your hand on my thigh every now and then to check on me. I am leaving out so so so many reasons why you’re amazing, but just know that you are, and that I love you!

Dive Log 05:

Date: August 23, 2017

Site: USS Liberty Shipwreck, Tulamben, Bali – Indian Ocean

Depth: 70 feet

Total time: 75 minutes

Visibility: 50 feet

Weather: Partly cloudy

Dive type: Shore dive

Gas Type: Air

Dive buddy: Ian M; Divemaster

Dive Shop: Madha Dive


Back on land

It was abaout 3pm when we got out of the water, and I could immediately feel gravity taking a toll on me. I trudged up the shallow beach, rinsed off, drank some iced coffee, and waited for the photos to transfer to my iPhone, while Ian bought a pair of (probably knock off) polarized Oakley sunglasses from Made’s friend who was there selling them for super cheap.

We geared up for the long ride back to Seminyak and stopped a couple of times to refuel the bike, our bellies (we needed more caffeine!!), and admire some of the most incredible views of Bali on the vistas along the way. The drive was long and hard but it was so worth it to see the beautiful countryside and witness some traditional religious rituals along the way.

Tired but stoked in Seminyak

We finally got back to Seminyak at 7:30pm. Our butts were so sore from the roadtrip, and we felt thoroughly burnt out. But we were hangry!!! We didn’t eat a proper breakfast and that surf and sea pizza seemed like forever ago. It was our last night in Bali too, so we took a cue from one of our favorite shows ever — Parks and Recreation “TREAT YO’SELF”! We took long hot showers, dressed up in our fanciest clothes, and prepared to indulge.

Ian was craving for a heavy meat so we stopped by Smokehouse BBQ for some real American goodness and ordered some of the best sliders I’ve ever had. They even had American beers! I on the other hand was feenin’ for seafood so we headed over to The Holy Crab for shrimp and callamari galore.

We stuffed our faces like mad. We were tired but we felt so electric that night–high on our epic adventure–and we had zero regrets about it!

Bali, i love you

xoxo Nerelle

One more excursion

We made one more stop to check out the popular Potato Head Club. It must have been an extra high key night for the club (or maybe there were famous people there that I missed) because the security was intense. They searched our bike before we even turned in to the parking lot, which was a bit of a maze to get to, and then patted Ian down and checked my rattan bag. I didn’t even think about what to expect of the place but once we got there, I was impressed. The exterior design of a couple thousand shutters was really cool, and inside, the vibe was really laid back, tropical, and just. so. cool… We lounged on the floor pillows to look up at the string lights swinging between palm trees and admired the view and the sound of the ocean not far away. The ambiance was so chill that I almost fell asleep right then and there, so we yawned and decided it was time for bed. We had another long day ahead of us.

All photos taken with either my iPhone 6 or the Olympus Tough camera. Ian took almost all the underwater pics!

Bali Travel Diaries: Market visits and batik class

Bali Travel Diaries: Market visits and batik class

My home in Ubud is alive with nature

It’s nestled away from the busy Ubud center and surrounded by the sounds of birds chirping, crickets playing their songs, trees rustling in the wind, and rain pit-pit-pattering on the rooftop.

I stayed up all night inspired by this place to work on my travel journal, edit photos, and work on my blog.

What paradise

At 6am the roosters were crowing.

At 7am Ian was frying eggs and making smoothies.

By 8am, we’re skinny dipping in our private pool and rinsing off in the outdoor shower.

Market visits

There’s a bit of rain but it doesn’t stop us from walking around our little town towards the Ubud Art Market. I’m determined to not to buy anything, except for a rattan roundie bag.

There are a bunch of shops that have them, but I’m looking for one that fits my DSLR camera with 24mm lens. I walked into a shop with the cutest old man who helps me to find a bag that’s wide enough to fit my bag.

We found one, and I’ve haggled a price that’s reasonable for the both of us. But I completely forgot that the only cash I brought with me was for my batik master class which I was headed to after lunch. I promise him I’ll be back to purchase it.

Lunch at Yoga Bali Cafe

We stop for lunch at this cute cafe hidden away from the busy streets.

Learning Batik

We walked back to Penestenan Street to Wayanna Batik shop.

Anna and Wayan are standing by the door ready for my arrival, and I jump on a scooter with Wayan (the artist) to his uncle’s studio. This is where he creates his batik paintings, along with his cousin who is also a batik artist.

Because this wasn’t a scheduled class, and I requested so last minute, we delved straight into the painting process. I was a bit bummed that we didn’t have time to go into the initial wax drawings, but after 3 hours of painting, I still felt I had the full immersive experience.

We talked stories and Wayan watched while I painted, telling me how I could get a better result by using water to make the colors more muted, and mixing colors for vibrance.

I felt in my element, and 3 hours whizzed by.

By the time I was done, it was nearly evening.

The canvas needed to dry overnight so I had to come back tomorrow to see my final work.

Café Vespa and renting a scooter

I walked over to Café Vespa with a huge coconut in hand (courtesy of Wayan and his family), ordered a latte and waited for Ian to meet up with me.

While I spent my afternoon painting, Ian spent his day hiking the Campuhan Ridge and exploring the town solo.

We walked back home and not that we were complaining about the walk at all, but we really wanted to get a scooter. It was just so much more convenient.

Like serendipity, we got home and our host Wayan Budiana meets us to let us know he has an extra scooter that we can rent.

Vibes at La Pacha Mama

For dinner, we showed up to a very fancy restaurant called Bridges, but it was so fancy that we could not be seated unless we had a reservation—which we didn’t… so we drove up the hill and found an even better spot.

We walked into La Pacha Mama and were stoked to see a live band playing a mix of old school Spanish music and Cuban music. The cocina styled decor was super cute, the waitstaff was amazing, and the food was divine.

I love my days in Bali.

Photo Diary: Aunu’u Getaway

Photo Diary: Aunu’u Getaway

Aunu’u is a quiet little island just 15 minutes away by ‘alia (Samoan water taxi). I have visited many times before and for being barely 0.6 square miles, I thought I’d just about explored everything…
But this time is different, it is rediscovery with context.
It’s Saturday morning and I’m just going to bed at 6:00am after an all-nighter hanging out with Gabby. Probably a bad idea, but we had so much fun painting and watching videos that we didn’t even feel tired until we saw the sun rising outside. I fell asleep unsure if I would be able to wake up early enough for the day’s adventures. By 9:30AM, I’m wide awake, sipping coffee on my way to the car, and singing along unashamedly to the top 40’s on the radio to get my endorphins going.

Let’s go to Aunu’u

We had some visitors in town, Julia and Dana, so my good friend Mareike got in contact with Aunu’u resident Peter Taliva’a. He just started up a tour company called Sam’s Aunu’u Island Getaway, and we thought it would be a good way to show our friends some of the best parts of our home and culture.

Upon arrival into Aunu’u, we are immediately greeted by a dozen little kids swimming in the crystal clear waters of the harbor. We walk over to Peter’s light blue house and admire the amazing view of the ocean towards Tutuila. The sun has made its debut after a couple of weeks of rain, and we can clearly see Mt. Matafao, the tallest peak of Tutuila.

Peter welcomes us to his slice of paradise, and gives each of us sun hats–woven just minutes before we arrived–“from the coconut tree right here,” he points to a line of coconut trees on the property. And on cue, one of Peter’s guys climbs the lau niu faster than you can say lavalava five times. He uses a machete to cut clean a few fronds.

The taufusi demonstration begins and we all join in to prepare an umu (Samoan earth oven) with guidance from Peter and his cohort of tan boys–Daryl, Mike, Adam and Panapa. We take turns husking coconuts, scraping taro and breadfruit, and assembling leaves for palusami. We also learn how to weave our own sun hats from palm fronds, a skill I’ve always wanted to learn and am now so frond of… terrible joke.

After everything gets put on the fire, we take a short walk to see one of the 12 natural water wells. Along with rain catchments, these water wells are the only source of natural drinking water on the island.

Next, Peter leads the way through fields of taro plantations grown atop wetlands. This is taufusi, this is special Aunu’u taro; the best in all of American Samoa they say. Most taro plantations are surrounded by coral rocks but Peter’s taro plantation is a little different. It is surrounded by tall vetiver grass, strategically placed to prevent erosion. His trick to getting the rich and tasty taro flavor Aunu’u is known for: composting. He places dry coconut leaves and the shavings of the vetiver grass to keep the wetland soils rich.

From here, our friends start their hike to explore the tide pools, quick sands, and the birthplace of the fabled legend of Sina and Tinilau. I barely slept a wink the night before so instead opted to relax by the water and snorkel around the mouth of the wharf. The water is so calm, I feel I can swim back to Tutuila, but I get the shivers seeing the ocean floor drop off into the unknown somewhere far away. My mask is fogging up and Ian holds my hand and we swim back to the wharf.

We stroll back to Peter’s and munch on warm breadfruit while he regales us in stories of life in Aunu’u and having grown up in Leloaloa.

As soon as our friends return from their hike, we are ready to feast. Peter and his cohort have prepared woven plates and we get in line buffet style and drool over the basic umu spread of breadfruit, taufusi, palusami, faiai i’a cooked in coconut shell, roast chicken, and an extra large fresh ice cold niu. As is customary before we eat, we say prayer and exchange words of thanks to Peter and his team, then dig in ravenously, and quietly with mouths too stuffed with satisfaction to say much else.

Peter is a fellow environmentalist, and true to form, he ensures us that all our food waste will go to feed the stray dogs and our leaf plates will be used as compost for his taro plantation.

I eat until I’m full. I am welled up with gratitude to be here–under a tree on a tiny island looking at my own home island, and sharing a table with a great group of friends. This is my home, American Samoa made me who I am today and there’s nothing that I love more than to rediscover myself through these islands.

We thank our hosts profusely for spending the entire day with us, and jump on the Blue Angel `alia boat back home to Tutuila.

Got home and headed straight for the beach to hang out with more friends and watch the skies change colors.

Photo Diary: Adventures in Queenstown

Photo Diary: Adventures in Queenstown

Welcome to the adventure capital of New Zealand – Queenstown!

My boyfriend bought us flights from Auckland to Queenstown in the South Island and our plan was to pick up a rental car (that we got for FREE!) and we would road trip it all the way back up to Auckland in the North Island. And that was about it. We hadn’t really planned anything else, except to meet up with some friends who were also on holiday in New Zealand.

We flew into Queenstown in the morning and I was immediately greeted by my friend Leá who ran up from behind yelling “BABY!” and gave me a huge hug. Lea was my study abroad “buddy” in college, and we became really good friends after some fun little misadventures at a wedding in Mexico hehe. Who knew we would be reunited 3 years later halfway across the world in New Zealand?! It was so good to see her, and to meet her boyfriend Geoff. We tried to go on a hike but changed our mind and got lunch at Caribe Latin Kitchen and coffee at Starbucks before walking around and dipping our toes in Lake Wakatipu.

Summer season in Queenstown means it’s bustling with tourists for the holidays. And that in turn means accommodations would be expensive. Lucky for us, we found a spot–literally a parking spot and tent site–at the Lakeview Holiday Park which was reasonably priced for our backpacker budget (about $50 NZD for a non-powered site).

Typical holiday park in New Zealand
This was BEFORE everyone showed up to our holiday park, so just imagine this but 10x more full.

Hey neighbor, want to go on an adventure?!

We explored the town and made plans to meet up with our other friends, who also happen to be our neighbors back in American Samoa, Mark and Alice. We grabbed drinks by the wharf and went back to their camper van named “Bernie” and they told us that they were gonna go paragliding the next day. Now I knew that Queenstown was popular for extreme sports but I honestly didn’t think about participating in any adrenaline pumping events until that very night. I had already tried skydiving two summers ago in Phoenix (which I loved) and isn’t paragliding a step down?  The next morning Ian and I woke up in our tiny tent in packed-like-sardines-land and I was on my way to the bathroom when I looked up and saw a big parachute with a guy attached to it. I took a photo and added it to my Instagram story with the caption “Looks like fun”… next thing you know, I’m booking two paragliding tickets for the highest jump off of Coronet Peak.

We picked up our free rental car (did I mention it was free?) and grabbed brunch at the acclaimed “best burger joint on the planet”, Fergberger’s. We tried eating here the day before but the line was literally out the door and ’round the corner for who knew how long… we didn’t bother to check. But it was still pretty early so the line wasn’t so bad. After a 30 minute wait, I can officially say I agree, best burger I ever had!

Manuia! Mark and Alice in New Zealand
Cozy camper van in New Zealand

Why Paragliding was just okay

I wasn’t nervous about paragliding at all. I was however nervous about the windy shuttle ride up to Coronet Peak. I got just a tiny bit motion sick from the ride but made it up to the highest jump off no problem. My first thoughts when we arrived at our launch point were (1) I wish I brought chapstick and a down jacket because it’s cold, and (2) this is going to suck isn’t it?

Five minutes later, I’m strapped in to a guy named Peter watching my boyfriend jump off with his tandem partner and he looks stoked. His jump was perfectly executed. I was gonna jump right after but it took a couple of tries because I couldn’t exactly run against the wind with a guy 3x my size strapped to my back. So I had to get an assisted pull into the wind until I was airborne. Once we were up, I felt so relaxed. The view was incredible. I was cold and really wishing I had chapstick on but it was manageable. Time flies when you’re high, literally. And 15 minutes later and a couple of roller coaster spiral spins down towards earth, I landed on my feet (yay!) at the base of the mountain.

Ian landed right after me, followed by Mark and Alice, and we all met at the coffee shop where our pilots were trying to sell us the GoPro photos and videos. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I found out that both Mark and Alice puked their morning fill of cherries during their flight, especially since they were the ones that were all gung-ho about paragliding! I couldn’t laugh too hard though because I also got quite motion sick from the downward spiraling, so my shoulders were tense and if I moved too much I could have puked too. But more importantly, I didn’t!

Did I like paragliding? Sure. Would I do it again? Probably not.
I’d definitely recommend this for someone who wants to do something exciting but not too blood rushing. In my opinion, it’s just really overpriced (~$200 NZD per person) and not my favorite experience in Queenstown.

Paragliding in Queenstown, New Zealand
Falling in style in Queenstown, New Zealand

Luging isn’t what you think it is

Speaking of favorite experiences… you would think that after paragliding, that would be the topper event of the day, but you’d be wrong. Luging is where it’s at!

The Skyline Luge is cleverly and appropriately marketed as the ride where “once is never enough”. So we went 4 times, but easily could have gone on the 7x maximum ticket if we knew just how fun it would be!

After an hour of resting off the physical discomforts from paragliding, we walked up to the Skyline ticket office, took a gondola up a mountain, and then got on a ski lift that would take us up to the top of the luge track. We were quickly briefed on how to use the luge carts, and proceeded to the first timer’s “scenic route”. It lasted a couple of minutes but it was quite a rush! We got in line again and again, and a group of girls showed how how it’s done when they zoomed by us violently fast laughing their heads off! We were awestruck (that girl is kinda my hero) and on our last race down, we barely used the brakes because we just kept wanting to go faster!

I had no idea what luging was going to be like, but that was my favorite thing I did in Queenstown! We’re putting together our GoPro videos of us luging, so I’ll post that here soon.

While paragliding is the story we will probably retell a lot (mostly because Mark and Alice puked and our friendship warrants this to be held over the other’s heads for some time), luging was the adventure we were looking for in Queenstown.

Savoring Queenstown before getting the heck outta there

We spent our evening at the wharf with our fish and chips, pizza, and fizzy drinks; and listened to live music by a street performer surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. A guy flew a drone and caused a raucous with the gulls in flight. A couple of brüs jumped into the water and laughed like manly men about it. It was already 8pm but it was still bright out. We drove off to Mark and Alice’s campsite by the lake. They got a sick free spot with an epic view. Ian and I almost wished we could camp there for the night too but the drive was 40 minutes away from our holiday park in town and we were feeling exhausted, so we said goodnight and hit the sheets.

The next day was New Year’s Eve. Traffic was suddenly a thing and there were way more people in town, jaywalking and drinking way too early in the day. We packed our stuff and prepared for our road trip. We got groceries at Pak’N’Save (I freaking love this grocery store!) and were relieved to finally get out of touristy Queenstown and hit the open road again.

Gulls going crazy over a drone.

My first time in a holiday park… honestly, not a bad way to travel.
Field of Lavender Dreams: NZ Road Trip Day 1

Field of Lavender Dreams: NZ Road Trip Day 1


JAN 2017

It’s New Years Eve and I’m on the road, leaving hectic Queenstown and its hordes of tourists behind in search of a nice quiet campsite close to Arthur’s Pass. We’ve just embarked on our road trip – destination: Auckland! But the road is long and we have 5 days to explore the roadside wonders in the beautiful countryside.

This particular day was overcast and rainy but there was lots to see… sheep, mountains, glacial rivers, and my favorite–pockets of lavender fields!

Here are some photos from our first day on the road.