When you constantly take from the world without giving anything in return, you shift the natural balance of your existence here. We must counter our consumption with gifts of gratitude and appreciation. Otherwise we are creating a vacuum that quickly sucks any positive energy in our environment, leaving us in a depleted and weak surrounding.
I have been beyond blessed with the opportunities that were both presented to me and that I created during my travels over the past two years. I was born with an inherent desire to explore and graced with the courage to do so. As I have been traveling, I consciously try to give back and give thanks – supporting events in the community, buying from the locals, making friends with the neighbors, giving little gifts to kind vendors, offering prayers of gratitude daily, and by volunteering in Southern Thailand.
Mikaela and I planned to volunteer for one month before leaving Asia. Thanks to the wonderful community website of workaway we landed a job starting an English program and helping out at a restaurant in a small town. After our umpteenth night bus we disembarked in Kuraburi to start the final chapter of our Southeast Asia adventure. Karen, a Scottish woman with a kind heart, and Ped, a Thai man with a comical sense of humor, opened their home and their lives to us. Within minutes of meeting them I instantly knew that the next four weeks would be an incredible and beneficial experience.
Walking up to their house and restaurant, we were greeted by a pack of playful dogs. Karen has rescued and cared for these pups, once again proving her heart is grand and giving. We settled in and began our routine of relaxing mornings, English lessons with the local children, and running the restaurant in the evening. I would wake before the sun to beat the heat and go for a run that led me away from town and towards the rainforest national park. Every morning I nurtured my happiness with a period of time of being surrounded by palm and rubber trees, passing chickens, Monks collecting offerings, a gurgling river, and a few friendly dogs. The quiet mornings gave me and Mikaela a chance to indulge in reading, writing, and naps.
Karen, being a true community member that knows the importance of giving back, established a free English program for the local children in town. So every day various groups of three to fourteen year olds came over to the restaurant to practice English for a few hours and end their lesson with an ice cream cone. The children had the purest hearts and reveled in the innocence of youth. Their smiles and playful nature were contagious. They brought even more light into our world and filled our hearts the only way children can.
At night we helped out at the restaurant that served delicious Korean barbeque. Having worked in restaurants for eight years the job was quite simple and did not ask for much. In exchange for helping out in the restaurant, Ped graciously taught us how to cook Thai cuisine. He is a natural chef and teacher. He showed us how to make some of our favorite Thai dishes so that we could take them back to Europe and America.
To avoid the abyss of routine, Karen and Ped set up some excursions for us. During the high season Karen runs an eco-resort on Koh Prathong, an island so remote and unique. We joined Karen on a trip out to the island to help pack up some furniture during the rainy season and to explore the savanna covered island. Mikaela and I have visited many islands during our travels in Southeast Asia but none compared to Koh Prathong. The beaches were deserted and eerily quiet. The landscape is rugged and diverse. The center of the island is covered in savanna and sand dunes. The beaches look like they could be from Maine with their towering pine trees and coarse sand. We enjoyed the time meeting a few other volunteers that were closing up the island, playing with more dogs that Karen rescued, and swapping travel stories around the table.
On one Monday when the restaurant was closed Ped and Karen took us out for a decadent seafood dinner and sunset on the local beach. The food was wonderful but the company even better. Mikaela and I found the conversation to flow naturally with Karen and Ped, a sure sign that we made the right choice coming to Kuraburi.
During our time volunteering Mikaela turned the big 25 - a quarter of a century so a celebration was in order. My dear friend Mick had just begun his own quick trip around Southeast Asia so we arranged to meet him in a neighboring town. After one quiet night spent in Khao Lak we hopped on a bus to Patong Beach to take part in the wild energy and nightlife of Phuket. The night was memorable to say the least but more so special to once again connect friends from different lives and different worlds in one place.
The area of Kuraburi is lush and tropical. It is nestled in the cradle of a national park whose mountains watch guard over the quiet houses around it. A wide river meanders through the hills and one day we decided to hike alongside it towards its origin. With the help of a guide and friend of Karen’s, we billy-goat hopped from river stone to river stone. We took the path less traveled, actually no path at all, and simply followed the expert steps of our guide Dean. Elephants, wild cats, apes, and countless species of birds and insects thrive in this protected paradise. We spent half the day under the relentless heat, leaving only wet footprints on dry rocks behind us.
As the weeks passed I felt a series of emotions. The free mornings and relaxed atmosphere made me restless at times since it is in my nature to be on the go and productive. I had to learn how to do nothing – but there was only so much cleaning and tiding up a person can do to pass the time. The long conversations with Karen, learning about her life and watching her genuine character be revealed with each exchange, inspired any dormant optimism or kindness resting within me. Mikaela and I constantly laughed at the ridiculous Tokay geckos, hyena frogs, and flying ants that invaded our temporary home. We fell in love with the local children who returned our attention with warm hugs and shy smiles.
Soon it was time to leave Kuraburi and in turn leave Thailand. I had lived, worked, explored, and discovered in the Land of a Thousand Smiles and Southeast Asia. Endings are never easy; however, the excitement and possibility of change helps us endure them. I left Asia at the right time. I had seen what I wanted – for this trip – and had not yet felt like I had been there too long. I was ready to take flight, full at heart and in peace of mind. Yet, this journey would not have been as magical as it was if it were not for my time volunteering and more importantly for my travel buddy, Mikaela. I give countless thanks to this dear soul who shares my love for adventure. It doesn’t take much for us to find pleasure in the present moment which made traveling together so easy. Mikaela is a free spirit that carries a torch for her home of Colorado in one hand and a torch for all the places she wishes to see in another. She handles change with grace and takes charge in the progression of her life. With age and miles, we discover our true self and define our core values and principles. Mikaela knows what she wants, needs, and deserves and refuses to settle for less. Her dreams are never small and her fears are never too big to stop her. We shared an incredible journey together that we will carry with us in every following adventure. For now our paths must diverge, as many people’s do in life; however, I know we will never stray too far away from each other as long as there are places left to explore.