A month ago, I awoke on my last day on the largest of the Gili Islands, tucked between Bali and Lombok islands in Indonesia. I awoke to birds chirping, leaves lightly blowing, plates clinking, oceans waving; I awoke to the sounds of paradise. I also awoke to a deep sadness to be leaving not only a tiny beautiful place, but the unexpected group of friends I had made there as well.
Going to Gili Trawangan was my getaway. To rinse myself from the noise and pollution of Beijing, to take advantage of being in Asia again, to see a new place, and strap on my backpack again. It was mainly a scuba diving trip, as diving is a huge hobby of mine, and I don't have a chance to do it when I am in Toronto. I had heard from Brenna
that there were lots of turtles in the water, and that the island was a good place to chill out and enjoy beautiful beaches.
I was going to be by myself.
Early to sleep, I'd wake with the sun for my dives. I'd stretch and meditate, and try my best to breathe slowly underwater to conserve my air. I'd look carefully under rocks and in coral for creatures of the sea, and move myself with subtle movements of my flippers. I'd be cautious and calm, and take every moment of the dive in. Once finished the dive, I'd go through the fish identification book with the other divers to determine what we saw. I'd learn the names of everything we saw and research them.
After my dives, I'd write in my journal on the beach with a cocktail or seashell in
hand, and sand on my skin. I'd reflect on my time in Beijing and try to
determine what it was that made living there so hard for me. I'd write about my life of late, and reflect on what it means to be almost thirty. I'd make a
list of all the people I love, and write postcards to them. I'd spend these ten days quietly nurturing myself. I wouldn't meet many people, and I'd keep to myself.
It didn't quite turn out that way.
When boarding the boat for the 2 hour journey from Bali to Lombok, I met a traveller named Martin who enthralled me with stories of med school and hiking Mount Bromo. We rode the boat next to each other and exchanged ideas about travelling and realized we both share a need to travel that many of our friends at home do not understand about us. When we arrived on the island, we decided to share a room because it was cheaper than bunk beds at the popular backpackers. With that, I was inducted into the established travel-friend group of Martin. He had stayed at In Da Lodge hostel in Ubud a few weeks earlier, and had met a group of solo travellers there who were all travelling to Gili in the coming weeks. As soon as Martin and I arrived to the island, he kept an eye out for his posse.
Within a day, serendipitous reuniting hugs abound, the In Da Lodge crew was together again. There is something very sweet about meeting a friend at one time on your trip, and then seeing them again in another place. It feels extra special to see them again, and upon reuniting, those new friends feel instantly like old friends from the road. They shared inside jokes from Ubud and teased each other in a way that good friends do. Instead of being an outsider who wasn't among the original group, I was adopted in like I'd been there the whole time. I was greeted with hugs and smiles and curiosity and warmth. I was on the receiving end of the openness of the travelling spirit.
We ate dinner together at the night market on the island, and more friends showed up. We gorged ourselves on pretty cakes and desserts and stories from our various adventures. Afterward, someone mentioned a silent disco, and we danced together in silence with earphones on until 3 am.
The next morning, I rushed to the scuba shop and was kindly teased for showing up 15 minutes late. I had to throw together my gear and barely had time to squeeze in a cup of tea before heading to the boat.
Once under water, though, the quietness came. The sound of my own breath and the entire ocean surrounding me, entirely wrapped up in the underwater world around me. Slow motion bubbles and an anemonefish with two tiny babies, barely visible in the swaying coral. An octopus curled under a shelf, camouflaged black, with only a large white winking eye to give itself away. A strong current pulling us along, leaving us expending almost no effort to move across the dive site. That precious dreamy sense of weightlessness that I can only know when I dive. The only sound is a distant tap of metal on tank as our instructor points out a family of sharks cozy between large boulders. I see three, and find out when we surface that there were six. The dream comes to an end as our tanks run light and we slowly surface. During our three minute safety stop, a massive hawksbill turtle comes up for air nearby, and I realize we are both going up for air in this moment, the turtle and I.
On the boat as we ride back toward the beach, I realize that diving was what I really needed. The dive was my meditation, it was all the contemplation I sought for this adventure. I didn't need the afternoon alone to write about it in my journal over a coffee. The notes in my logbook would remind me of the life we saw underwater. What I really wanted after those dives was the company of my new friends.
After a long chat with the friendly scuba staff
, I felt so lucky to return to the room for a shower and then meet up with Martin, to ride bikes along the beach and find the rest of the gang for sunset watching over Bintangs on the beach, for storytelling and photo-taking and those momentary blips in time when you really feel like this is it, this is the sum of all of my life. This is where the choices I have made have taken me, and this is where I am now. These people are my friends now, and all of us have been brought here by different forces in our lives. Though we might not meet again, right now, we are watching this sunset together.
It gets me every time. Heading off for solo adventures, seeking time alone to contemplate the depths of my soul, but instead finding new friends and new places to bring you into the moment and realizing that "it wasn't being alone that I needed, but travel".
Flying home is always emotional, but this time I felt so full of life I could hardly contain it. Those mad feelings came out in tears and laughs and deep sighs during the days that followed my return. I glued the log book pages into my dive log just yesterday, and a seashell from Gili T sits on my bathroom shelf to remind me that the sea is never really that far out of reach.