Fizzy champagne poured the joys of 2013 straight into 2014. Bubbles popped away old worries and grievances. Lanterns carried thoughts of love into the sky, effortlessly landing in other’s hearts. Fire spun and electrified the night, filling the salty air with tremendous life and energy. Couples kissed. Friends embraced. Goals were set and promises made. 2014 in Thailand was off to the right start.
I wanted to begin the year in a place that I know always replenishes my soul and fills me with bliss: the sea. My friends and I traveled south to Koh Tao – a divers’ paradise on a picturesque island. Our two days off of work were prized possessions so we meticulously planned this mini-vacation. There is no better way to end the year than by crossing something off your bucket list – so we decided to get scuba diving certified over the holiday. Koh Tao is the holy land for affordable diving certifications and dive centers. So after plenty of research we chose the company we wanted to go through, Simple Life Divers. We wanted one that has small class sizes, great reviews, accommodation included, and located right on the beach.
After a tumultuous ferry ride that left the majority of the passengers spewing their breakfast, we arrived at the pier on Koh Tao. Some of the Simple Life crew greeted us with their typically wide Thai smiles and drove us back to the dive center and resort. We checked into our rooms and then checked out on the beach. Unfortunately, we brought lousy weather with us. I have been in this country for quite some time now and there have been maybe 3 rain showers and 1 partly-cloudy day. The sun struggled behind the clouds for the entire five days we were on Koh Tao. The burning star managed to break free just as we departed the island on the return ferry back to our reality. There is a silver lining to the grey weather because we were underwater diving for most of our trip and it gives me just another reason to return to Turtle Island.
Our holiday was filled with cheesy 90’s videos, diving adventures, beach bars, delicious food, heart to hearts, fire poi, and expat entertainment. Our diving course consisted of 5 informational videos, 5 quizzes, 1 final exam, 1 pool simulation, and 4 open water dives. When I took my first breath underwater I wanted to scream out how cool the feeling was. It was terrifyingly exhilarating. The way we can manipulate our body and buoyancy with a simple breath is so perplexing. My 9th grade physics class with Dr. Fowler came full circle on Koh Tao.
Our nights were free to try the local restaurants and indulge in happy hours on the beach. The moon peeled the tide from the shore so the beach tripled in size, which was reflected in the night life. Music swayed from bungalow to beach bar. Lanterns burned brightly as they floated off toward the absent horizon. Drinks were bottomless and smiles endless.
Looking down along the beach, little balls of moving light were evenly spaced out. In front of every beach bar or restaurant, small Thai men put on fire shows for the patrons relaxing with the cocktail. They take fire poi and baton twirling to a whole other level. Our favorite entertainer was a twenty-something Thai boy that sported a Brooklyn hat and skinny jeans. He is the Usher of fire poi – he had rhythm and a cheeky grin. When he wasn’t pounding buckets of booze he was putting on some incredible performances that left our jaws in the sand. Later on with some liquid courage, I asked to try out the fire poi for myself and he happily agreed with not a worry in the world. Camp California taught me well because I was able to pull off a mini routine. I even stepped it up on New Year’s Eve night in front of a larger crowd. I know how to spin basic poi, so why not challenge myself to try the next level?
The nights introduced us to an eclectic bunch of travelers and expats. Most crews from dive companies set up shop in bars and carry on the day’s party. Study abroad students were mixed into the crowd, along with traveling families, and bachelor parties. It is funny – a stranger can share more with you in 10 minutes than a friend of a friend could ever in a lifetime. I truly believe that most of the people that travel have shed this barrier of privacy. They are open to meeting new people, sharing their life story and adventures, and are curious about your own tale. These new found acquaintances may not be permanent fixtures in your life, but they may leave you with something – whether it is travel advice, a job lead, or just a funny story to share the next morning at breakfast.
These nights of being barefoot and laughing left me a bit tired with a headache in the morning – but as our instructor said, they best cure to a hangover is a dive! So a free jump off the top of the boat and a dive down to the reef made me a brand new woman. Each one of our dives was unique and incredible. Even though I carried a steel tank on my back and a weight belt around my waist, I felt like a mermaid under water. I may not have looked as beautiful as Ariel with my attractive goggles, wetsuit and flippers, but I was having just as much fun as her. We glided above colorful reef and swam next to playful fish. We explored ‘junk yards’ and the top of a ship wreck. We battled strong currents and poor visibility that made us feel like we were hovering in space. We were 18 meters below the sea in a whole new, beautiful world. I was not afraid to dive or be that deep underwater. I had faith in our instructors and was too preoccupied with the fact that I was exploring a new world to worry. My excitement trumped my fear, so I just continued to breathe slow and steady and enjoy the present moment.
So as I welcomed 2014 facing the sea, with fire in my eyes and surrounded by new friends, I granted myself closure with 2013 and whole-heartedly welcomed the New Year.
I am living a very blessed life. This isn’t due to sheer luck. I am able to explore this beautiful world, feed my soul, and evolve because it is my choice to do so. I work hard so that I can live the life I want and not what society thinks I should want. This journey has not been a vacation. It has been a compilation of learning experiences and adventures. Even though I am living in these glorious countries and absorbing these rich cultures, I still face the same battles of everyday life. I still ride my own rollercoaster of emotions and deal with the grievances of bills, student loans, and rent. Nevertheless, I am so grateful I am on this journey and eternally thankful to the people who have supported me along the way. I can’t even fathom what my life would be like now if I hadn’t left America and this plasters a smile on my face because I know I am exactly where I am meant to be.
2013 was a year of challenges and forgiveness for me. Looking back, I know I carried a lot of guilt and worry on my shoulders – about my Nana, not being home, missing friend’s life events. It was a burden on my mind and body and I retained those heavy emotions. I was happy in my travels yet I was longing for something I could not obtain abroad – closure. I am thankful I returned home for those seven weeks to see my family, find peace with my Nana’s passing, and reunite with old friends. As 2013 sprinted into its final nap, I reawakened my sense of adventure by moving to Thailand. I feel light of heart and full of energy.
So 2014 is going to be a year of challenging myself to do new things. Scuba dive, run a race in Thailand, write a book, volunteer abroad – the list is endless. I want to be a better person than the one I was yesterday. I want to bring happiness to others. I want to return the love I get. I want the world, and I will give it to myself.
I have followed my heart in the sense of travel and jobs; however, I haven’t truly taken any leaps of faith in love. I am still guarded with my heart – but I strive to be fearless and hopeful, so I need to meet love halfway and grasp its outstretched hand. I have been on this journey learning how to love myself, and it is time to be open to letting someone else love me just as much.
Let 2014 be a year of continuing a life defined by joy and love. Let 2014 bring positive moments of growth so we can embrace the soul we are evolving into and run wildly with it.