The Galapagos and “finding the words”

I want to write about the way I was M O V E D by the Galapagos.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever lose that AWE that I have for traveling, if places will start failing to impress me somehow… and maybe that sounds like a silly concern but it’s crossed my mind even though it’s never happened. I was moved in a new way, in a way that felt different yet familiar, in a way that has still left me coming up short at expressing the trip since I’ve returned. My first few days worth of reactions looked like me crying as I told friends how amazing it was. Then, that familiar feeling I get where I try to explain my travels or experiences and I’m unsure how much people want to hear because there always comes a point where I get glazed over looks… usually… people can only hear so much of something they cannot comprehend. “It sounds AMAZING”, they’d say! But you cannot explain it.

How do you explain being surrounded by HUNDREDS of schooling hammerhead sharks? What it’s like as the current rips past you at 3 knots and you’re holding onto rocks and army crawling across the bottom until you find a safe boulder to hide behind, out of the currents grip, just to await a theater styled view of predator sharks coming up from the deep? How do you explain the feeling you get when you look into their eyes as they come within a meter’s reach just to realize you aren’t what they’re looking for? Because I still haven’t found a way to express the way it made me feel even though my primary expression was squealing joy through my regulator. How do you express being humbled by your place in an eco-system and what it’s like to stare into the eyes of something that’s evolutionarily perfect, that hasn’t had to evolve for as long as we’ve known them to exist?

How?

How do I explain what it’s like to hang my feet over the side of the boat while we’re underway and that it’s my favorite place to be onboard? There’s something about dangling your feet while the salty spray mists up at you, with your favorite music in your ears and the sun beating down. That FEELING had almost lost me and I was E M O T I O N A L about it all. Sometimes the grief of a remembrance can be haunting even when it feels so comfortable.

How do I explain what it was like DIVING AGAIN after almost 2 years out of the water? Because it was like a coming home… a voyage back to the part of me that is made of salt water, sun kissed skin, and damp dreads that never dry. The part of me that knows as soon as my head sinks below the surface, I am free. Nothing else has ever mattered to me when I’m underwater except what’s right in front of me… I leave the problems of the surface exactly there, on the surface. The ocean gives me the opportunity to energetically cleanse myself and I feel at HOME with the sound of bubbles in my ears. I’ve logged over 3,000 dives and this trip reaffirmed for me that the ocean has only become a bigger part of me after all this time. But how do I explain this to you if you have NO IDEA the world that awaits you under the water? …and the TIME it takes to spend enough time in that element, and to be able to see so many species, and travel so many places that you could potentially see and experience what I have? Because maybe it suddenly dawned on me… the things I’ve seen that are indescribable! Words fall short for feelings because life is meant to be lived and all these moments leave me awe-struck.

How do I explain the way it felt to reconnect with a friend I met scuba diving when I was 15? We felt like we were young again as we explored, laughed and danced underwater and had our MIND BLOWN with pods of dolphins and killer whales? We coined the phrase, “we live here now” and spoke broken Spanish to the crew and did the Macarena sopping wet on the dive deck after one of our favorite dives. I got to remember where I was then and where I am now and the in between became so clear to me for the first time… all these experiences and MOMENTS are always leading me to my current situation with more knowledge, awareness, and instructions for moving forward. I got to sit with the FULLNESS OF MY LIFE on this trip and it was a perspective I needed.

How do I explain the SISTERHOOD of geeking out about diving with my lifelong friend and a new one who joined us? How do I explain what it’s like to share my passion with other women who share the same one? How do I explain those looks of KNOWING that happen underwater, through a mask, without words but that simple KNOWING of understanding… the, “how the fuck is this our lives right now?” Of it all? How do I explain what it’s like to meet and fall for a new human who matches my experience level and enthusiasm for diving? When I’m polyamorous and am already SO IN LOVE with other humans but still have space to love more? How do I share with you that I fell for our dive guide on the trip, that we shared knowing looks as instructors and guides underwater… and that it lead to writing notes and kissing under a deck of stars? That we geeked out over equipment and technical diving and found our similarities while we talked about dive instructor life and travel? That I got to experience a new connection with a person who knows a HUGE part of me intimately, because we have that in common already, and bonding over it was SOUL FOOD for both of us? How do I explain that to you?

And how do I explain the grief that simultaneously accompanied my joy? How do I explain that the day I left, I found out my friend was brutally murdered by police in a hospital while seeking mental health help? Because I actually cannot explain this… but I can tell you I cried the whole time I packed and drove to the airport and got my COVID test… the whole flight and in between… I was that girl you look at in an airport and think, “poor thing! Why is she traveling right now?” But what they don’t know is that my autopilot is movement so even though I don’t remember packing, some things are second nature to me! So, I managed to get myself to Ecuador despite a van breakdown on the way to the airport and an emotional breakdown due to the loss of my friend. I managed to get there even when I doubted that I could because I knew I needed to do what I do best. I knew that my SOP is movement and travel and I knew that my best chance for healing was to go remember what it means to be alive! So, I did that. I did it even though I don’t know how I did. But how do I explain what that was like when it was all a blur, until I arrived a few days later and finally saw my friend’s face, and felt the water move underneath me again as the boat pulled out of the harbor? That was the moment that I started to remember again… that was one of them.

How do I explain that being rocked to sleep on a boat is my favorite? That I was conceived on a sailboat and born in the summer and that my father owned a marina so when I wouldn’t stop crying he’d put me in the boat and take me around the lake and I’d finally settle down? How do I explain that I am water and that I feel more grounded and safe in my body below the surface or in the sky than I do on the ground in this world and this society? How do I explain that to you? You- who maybe knows me, or who thinks they know me?

How do I explain that I have SO MANY PARTS OF ME, and environments and places that I thrive in and feel alive in, but yet… there is no one in my life that has fully witnessed me in all of these environments? How do I explain the beauty yet loss that I feel in that? Maybe I write so much because I want you to FEEL what I feel and experience the pieces of me that light me up! I want to share it with you so you can witness me and feel inspired to find the pieces of you that drive you into joy. I’ve always been driven to joy, not duty. I think it is our duty as humans on this earth to make the most of the experiences we are given, to be the authors of our own lives, and to realize our dreams by showing up in the world knowing that what lights us up is where our gifts are.

How do I explain that there are so many layers I have to process for every experience? That sometimes I need to sit with things for months as I re-live it with new lenses to see the full spectrum of my experience? How do I tell you about the grief that I unpack with every goodbye and the way a place changes you, taking a new piece every time but also breaking you open to new love and possibilities? How do I explain that it takes so much out of me to be fully present that I sometimes need to spend days hiding in my van by the water somewhere, writing like crazy, so that I can find the words to express the how and the WHY of it all? How do I explain this to you?

Do you see what I mean? I’m finding that these experiences, these moments, these journeys, are multilayered. I’m finding the beauty and juiciness in trying to express the way I am MOVED by these places. The Galapagos brought me back to myself, a version of myself that I love, that I’ve missed. It brought me back to community and love, and the joy in sharing your passions with people you value. But mostly, this trip brought me back underwater. It GIFTED me back into the water! And I’m proud that I took the risk and made the commitment to make something happen that’s always been a dream of mine. The Galapagos reminded me of who I was, who I am, and who I want to be. I’m sure you can understand that?

So here’s a reminder… to book the trip. To buy the ticket. To not wait until next year or (insert some subjective timeframe in the unscheduled future)! I reconnected with a friend on the west coast a few weeks ago. He echoed to me a journey he felt he needed to take to Guatemala but he also echoed his doubts, the inconvenience of the timing, and other variables I cannot remember now, but I looked at him and told him to “book the ticket”. I said, “all the details and logistics can be figured out afterwards but just.book.the.ticket” because once you have the date and the ticket, everything else will fall into place. But that’s just me! I’m obviously not much for waiting since I believe in living my life now but I learned a valuable lesson lately in the circumstances of my most recent travel- I was reminded the day that I left, how short life can be when I found of my friend’s tragic death. I was reminded of our impermanence, and I was gifted with the perspective of travel and the strength to get myself there, despite the circumstances.

Diving has always been my first love. I spent 2 years with little scuba diving in my life and I got to finally go do a trip FOR ME! Not for customers, not for my boss, not for work… FOR ME. And I’m still riding the highs of that trip 6 weeks later (as I publish this). I’m still searching for the words in what are only feelings and memories, a mixture of sweet and salty. Physically, I’m in North Carolina. But MENTALLY, I’m still face to face with a Galapagos shark, cheers-ing non alcoholic drinks post dive with my girlfriends, smoking cigarettes in between dives with my scuba lover talking sharks, tech gear, and a shared love of diving. Mentally I’m still dangling my feet over the bow, headphones in my ears, watching dolphins chase the horizon as the boat moves between the islands. The part of me that longs for bare feet, wet bikinis and the hissing sound my scuba tank makes as I turn the tank on… THAT PART of me, is still there. That girl will always be the biggest part of me. That’s what I learned in the Galapagos, THAT’s what I remembered… that I am MANY THINGS, but mostly water.

A Nightmare

He comes into the office and grabs my purse and says, “Lauryn you need to come with me for a second” and he looks serious and I am confused because serious isn’t his norm. I follow him outside and we round the corner and he says, “babe there’s no other way to say this so I’m just gonna say it. Botas is dead”. I say nothing, my breathe chokes into my throat and I say, “where is he”?

Where is he? No. No. No. What a fucking shift.

He takes me into the team room where they placed him. He is wrapped up in a towel and I kneel over to look at him and his sweet face and the feeling of his fur and my body collapses on top of him and I sob.

I had a premonition earlier this week about Botas death and I couldn’t get it out of my head. The emotions felt imminent and I got mad at myself for not being able to shake it. It’s normal to play this stuff out but this time it got dark.

I dont know what to do with myself. I’m lonely. The loneliness strikes me in ways I havent touched before. His absence is massive to me. I pick myself up and tell my lover I need to walk. We walk out to the treeline and as we stop to allow the canopies to land before crossing to the other side, our friend approaches- he is the one that found Botas body. His head is hanging low and as he approaches I give him a half hug and tell him thank you. He says he didn’t do anything and I tell him he did enough. “I just cannot believe it happened” and he looks at us and says, “the crazy thing is it could happen to us at anytime. Life is short ya know?” We part ways and cross towards the trees. “Life is short you know”. Death crawls at my chest in waves and we are silent as we go sit down. He passes us again, this time on his motorcycle as we cross back and gives us a finger wave.

I make it back to the van and sit alone for the first time in this space that feels less like home and more empty than before. I grab my journal and I start writing about Botas. I get a paragraph in and i hear sirens and a helicopter passes over head and I hear them turn into the dropzone. I stick my head out the window and I decide that whatever it is, I’m not strong enough for right now. I write in my journal, “I hope Botas was happy. I hope I gave him a good life” and I’m sobbing and as I write that sentence my alarm starts going off. “WTF? I never set PM alarms and rarely set AM ones”. I pick it up and the screen flashes 5:55 at me. I freeze. If you know, you know. Being supported through grief and feeling held in moments of hardship is a love that’s unexplainable. I felt Botas presence right then and I KNEW that he wanted me to know that he was happy and lived a good life. Now I’m unconsollable.

The phone rings and I find out that our friend, the one who found Botas, is the reason for the ambulances and helicopter. After we passed him he chased the last plane down the runway on takeoff on his motorcycle and lost control of the bike while the full plane of people watched him tomahawk as they took off. He got airlifted. It doesn’t look good. Pauhana.

“Life is short”. No fucking shit. I put down my phone and I stay where I am. I decide it’s the type of day we should all just call it on. I pull out my tarot deck. Botas always messed up the cards until I started letting him in on it. He was great at picking cards and I believe a familiar in communication with spirit too. It was something he did with me, just like yoga. I asked my guides and Botas what he came to teach me and laid down three cards.

Magician reversed.
Death reversed.
The Devil reversed.

Past.
Present.
Future.

My heart leaps out of my chest. Fuuuuucccckkkk me. I smile and then I start sobbing over the cards. “Life is short”.

& then all the loss catches up with me suddenly. Past- Magician… this represents being lost and unsure of your path. When I found Botas I was adrift and struggling to confront so much- he was my guide. He gave me a home. Present- Death. Need I say more? 52 cards in the deck and the present card is Death reversed telling me that pain and transformation and shift are imminent. Breathe. The Devil reversed- Future. Non-attachment. That’s what Botas came to teach me. I was most attached in this world to that animal and now I have to learn and implement a value I incorporate in every other area of my life. *sigh* it doesn’t seem fair. Life isn’t fair.

“Life is short”. & sometimes the death piles up. Like on this day. My friend tells me of a friend who shot himself in the head the night before. Another messages me from the hospital from a skydiving accident- a hard landing and we discuss how quickly life changes and how precious LIVING is. Another friend calls me because his friend passed away jumping in Switzerland yesterday and the deaths just pile up. I cry with them about our shared losses and we acknowledge that sometimes it all just feels too heavy. We remember that we risk death every day to live lives that bring us joy. We recognize that our freedom is finite and we cry together because sometimes we just need others to help us hold the pain. We talk about the freedom of animals and the freedom of humans and we acknowledge the prices it sometimes cost.

“Life is short…”

I am reminded of this these past few days… I am reminded that I don’t want to leave anything left to reconcile. I am reminded of the things I haven’t said and the people that deserve to hear them. I am reminded of death today. And reminded that with life- this beautiful experience we call life, also comes death. It is always there, waiting to call us home, and we cannot control that. So we choose to live. Not safely and not in neat little boxes and definitely not normally. But we choose this life and this freedom and so did Botas. He was all the good stuff. He was a once in a lifetime cat. & this healing, this journey without him, is going to push me into parts of myself I might not be ready for, but I’m strong enough to handle. But I don’t want to be strong god damnit I want to crawl into my grief and let it consume me and split me until the light cracks in again.

But here we are & life is short, ya know? So I will cope in the best ways I know how and give myself grace for the way my system feels like it’s glitching sometimes and my hands stop working because I know… I FUCKING KNOW that life is short.

Ramblings from an Open Road at 3 AM

Driving south down highway 65 going 65. It’s the middle of the night, or early morning, however you choose to look at it; and I haven’t slept yet because I left Summerfest at 10 in the evening after 9 full days of skydiving. I’m on my way back to Paraclete and I just dropped my friend off at the airport. My social badwidth is maxed out and all of my daily habits have gone out the window and part of me wants to beat myself up for that but I can’t. I dropped everything else in my life to skydive more than I ever have in a 9 day span and connect with friends from all over and it was well worth it! The entire week I got to do a lot of firsts and learned so much from some of the best skydivers in the industry. Summerfest is basically an adult camp for skydivers. It merges the festival vibe of my past, except during the day we jump and in the evenings, there is entertainment, activities, theme nights, or music. I reminisce about what it was like to spend my University summers traveling and car camping with friends as I hopped from music festival to music festival, and my thoughts drift once again to the comparisons between the subcultures of scuba divers and skydivers too- whether it be the industry or the types of people both sports attract. I feel blessed for my experiences. Every experience brought me lessons, people, and newfound direction or inspiration. I feel positively lit up with the courage that I continuously find to push myself into new places that make this journey everything it has been. It dawns on me that a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to attend a skydiving “boogie” (festival for skydivers) without partaking in more of the party than the skydiving and then I smile to myself for the gifts I consciously and continuously give myself by taking care of me. At 33 years old I am starting to look back through the cycles of my life and see the parallels that got me here. I can identify my own patterns and triggers. Every time I am faced with triggers now I ask myself, “what wound is this revealing to me?” This year I learned how to identify people’s projections and now I no longer assume anything has to do with me and I cannot tell you how freeing this realization has been! My thoughts drift from Thailand to Mexico to Indonesia… from sailing yachts to boat crews, from this little van I now call home to the many places I’ve called “home” this last decade. I think of the friends that made bigger impacts on my life and choices than they think (and I realize I should tell them that). I think of the friendships that made up my whole world for brief moments in time and I tear up and then smile when I acknowledge how good I’ve gotten at goodbyes.

The moon is still on the eastern horizon lighting up my drivers side window as the hum of the highway rolls on. My body feels exhausted but my soul feels so full. I’m trying to process my experience and I feel the urge to keep driving even thought it may be a wiser choice to pull over at this point. But my head is too full of emotions and I feel like I’m swimming in experiences, soaking up the life I’ve gotten to live and the humans who have inspired me to live it. My senior quote said, “I believe in the pure randomness of it all, and I love that no one escapes, and that it can happen to anyone at anytime- pain, confusion, happiness… even love” and that quote still hits me in the most vulnerable of human moments… where I sometimes think I’m alone for a second, and then I am reminded again that I’m not. I want to mourn for all the people who don’t feel they have anyone that truly understands them, who wants to accept them for who they are. I have humbly learned that if we want the best for people we should just support them and love the fuck out of them and then see what happens. It’s all we really need and we cause pain every time we try to project what we think is best onto another. I think about the human capacity to love and give and receive love. Then I think of all the things we call love but aren’t… about how our love can be so conditional… “I love you IF” and then I smile knowing love isn’t conditional because if it is then it isn’t love. I think about relationships, or as a light in my life calls them- relationSHAPES. About the shape we assume in another’s life and then continue to show up as, long after we’ve morphed into something else. It can be terrible… the way we fall short of loving each other, in the way we pretend like we don’t deal with all if it too, carry all of it in different ways… all the stuff that isn’t ours… and how we let it define us. Sometimes we forget that relationships take many different shapes, and loving people isn’t going to be easy. Allowing all shapes and giving space for transformation allows us to blossom into the best kinds of people.

I cringe at all the places I looked for love in, coming back to the hands that hurt me and asking for healing. Have you ever begged to be loved better? Have you ever watched yourself transform into someone you didn’t recognize trying to fit into a box that will only suffocate you? Have you ever woken up and said, “how is this my life?” The word “stuck” lingers on my tongue and my mouth feels dry. It has always made me irritated when people use the word and that’s a projection of my own- I, more than most I think, dread feeling stuck. I have never wanted to be tied down to anything. The pursuit of freedom has lead me to keep moving and I don’t question stopping because I am not stuck. I am not a tree. So maybe I am a bit cynical of the people that complain about being stuck when they made choices that got them stuck and refuse to do the work to get “un-stuck”… I have spent too much time now wandering and listening to people’s stories to know that we have far more control than we think we do over our lives. I feel like people are full of excuses. The happiest people I ever met had the least possessions and obligations, they live minimal lifestyles either by choice or by circumstance but they don’t always need to be entertained. The happiest people I know are out their living their lives without comparing them to others. The happiest people I know have crawled out of dark places and allowed me to see the resilience of my own spirit when I felt like my body wasn’t my own.

My hand feels sweaty on the steering wheel and my thoughts drift to the sweetness that I have held and experienced. “When you travel overseas it really makes you appreciate being an American”… the words many have echoed to me over the years and that most of the time I choose to ignore. For the most part I disagree. My thoughts drift to the simplicity of life in what we would call “developing countries” and I think about the daily rituals of the people there. Watching the Thais carry offerings outside every morning to their immaculately built mini temples and adorning the stone carvings with flowers and incense. I would watch them kneel and pray and I would think about how my country lacks such devotion and connection to spirit. The monks would walk the street barefoot and people would weave out of the way. Touching a monk is considered offensive. Then I think about how lucky I am to be born when I was, under a crescent moon just like tonight’s, in a time where I have the luxury and privilege of living my life the way I desire. My heart feels heavy in my chest when I think of the hardships that many endured and sacrificed so that I could travel freely about the world as a woman, feeling safe amongst it’s people. I haven’t traveled anywhere without seeing the pangs of colonization reflected back by it’s landscapes. Life would’ve been so much simpler if we had all kept to ourselves and it baffles me the violence and war that plagued our world and stripped us of culture, nature, traditions and simplicity. Capitalism. Globalization. Colonization. Genocide. We really have everything we need on this planet but for some reason we’re still fighting over resources… For some reason we continue to deny our shared humanity. I feel the guilt and pain of my ancestors as I stand on different continents with such an ease of spirit as I travel… and then I am reminded that they sacrificed to build a world that would be better, realizing they’d never get to see it. I wonder if it came down to it if I’d be a hero. I mean, we all want to think we will but we don’t really know how we will respond to life until we’re in that moment. “Humans!” I think to myself and then I sigh. I’ve been looking for a rest stop for over an hour but my brain races on anyways and I just keep vibing on the fact that I’ll find one when the time is right.

My mind jumps to Chantal, my boss in Thailand for almost 3 years. Her and her husband owned the dive shop I worked at and grew up at. I say “grew up” because if it wasn’t for Kevan and Chantal, I wouldn’t be the instructor I am today. They pushed me, they challenged me, and they made me a better woman. They taught me to take responsibility, to be assertive… I remember Chantal looked at me once and told me I had a problem with female authority figures. I wanted to be defensive and if I remember correctly, I was. But she was right. It has taken me my adult life to trust the depth of female friendships and to not feel threatened by women with more authority than me. I spent most of my life joking that I got on better with men than women and striving to not be “like other girls”. How insulting! To separate myself from other women! I learned so much from the women in my life and especially from the women I’ve met overseas. It has given me a perspective on masculinity and femininity that I didn’t possess before. I own my feminine nature now, instead of denying it. I revel in wanting to be held in my depths and no longer hold back my urge to be expressive about how I feel. I think of all the women who never got to speak up, or chase their dreams, or reach their fullest potential. I think about the way I’ve not honored other women and the gifts they had for me because I wasn’t ready to be seen in my fullness yet. I laugh at how my purpose has become so much about uplifting women now (coincidentally) and I see my life pan out… I see the way my healing has given me the tools to help others heal. I love how we can find our purpose from our pain- because the journey back to ourselves, back to our human-ness is really what this life is about. Isn’t it?

It’s probably not the right time to think about one’s life purpose but then again there isn’t really a better place to think about how to leave the world better than an open highway at 3 am. I start to cry at my ability to meet myself wherever I am. I thank myself for this body and this human experience and this hunger to meet the world that has driven me since I was young. My dad always told me that the world was my oyster, and I think I heard it so often that it became my mantra. He really made me feel like I could do anything I wanted, be anything I wanted. He used to say, “little miss magic- whatcha gonna be?” As we sang along to Jimmy Buffett and I allowed my head to fill up with dreams. I think little girls need to know that they can dream before the world tries to tell them they cannot. I believed so strongly in the possibility of the world- it was instilled in me. And that belief became my mantra. It allowed me to leap when the opportunity presented itself and it allowed me to just as easily walk away when it no longer felt right. I guess I’ve always been blessed with an abundance mindset, and maybe that’s why I don’t feel scarcity so greatly. I do believe we have a dharma to walk and I think we have forgotten that life is meant to be lived but also served. I think our experiences shape us into the humans we’re meant to be but we cannot let the pain live with us forever. Our pain becomes our purpose or it stagnates us into that stuck place we dread. And at the thick of all of it is a choice to heal or a choice to suffer. Sometimes I miss how naive that little girl was but then I feel thankful to see the world more clearly than I ever have.

I think about how fear has been my biggest teacher… about how people always tell me how brave I am to travel solo, or skydive, or scuba dive or cave dive. “Aren’t you scared!?” They always exclaim, as if it’s an emotion I haven’t experienced. It seems like such a silly question to me. I mean, yea… of course! Aren’t you classified as a psychopath if you don’t experience fear? We act like fear is a bad thing and we strive for comfort instead. I don’t know where we learned that though, I think fear comes from so many variables and we can ease it by understanding them… but I also acknowledge that life is uncertain and I don’t want to let fear dictate my life. If I hadn’t been willing to to face my fears I wouldn’t be sitting here crying in gratitude for all the face down moments I’ve experienced… hands to my knees… fetal position on the floor… desperation… to want to make sense of this life we’re given and do it in a way that doesn’t make me feel like my spirit is shattering under the weight of the life I’m not living. I want to continue to seek the things that make my soul whisper, “this” and I want to stay a little longer in the places that make me feel at “home”. Ufffff…. my mind feels heavy and I feel emotional and now I’m sobbing as I watch the lights from the road flicker under my tears. Sometimes the water flows at the most symbolic of moments, and as I squint at the road the time reads 4:44 and I stop crying and I start laughing. It’s these little moments of sweetness that make me want to fill up pages of words and continue to be brave when I feel small.

The last week and a half has given me a “reset” that I didn’t know I needed. I realize that I love scuba diving and skydiving for the same reason… because when you’re doing those things, nothing else matters. When I enter a decorated and open room that glitters with stalagtites after hours through a cave system, exploring a new area- there is a sense of wonder that comes with it- the ah ha moment of being somewhere and seeing something so few have. It is the ultimate lesson in mindfulness. When I fly around in the sky with my friends with my parachute on, I’m not thinking about the shitty day I had or the people I’ve lost, I’m just right there, in that moment. And, in those moments, you feel infinite. As soon as I take that first breath from my regulator under water, and the surface starts to disappear, I am fully present in my body and not the stimulation of the world. Every time I resist stepping on my mat, I have a moment in my practice where I want to cry because I finally find my way back into my body and my own energy after absorbing so much of the world’s. It’s THESE moments that assure me that I will be okay. And sometimes that’s all we need- a reminder that we always have been, and we always will be okay. Sometimes we only need to remember that fear is a constant, but that we cannot let it stop us from changing our own lives for the better. No one ever sat on their death bed wishing they’d NOT done anything, I think. So I guess I will continue to allow myself to do what I want and what calls me, because that’s what I want for everyone else.

I see a rest stop ahead and I feel relief. I realize that I have so much to process from this experience and I know that more realizations are coming. I allow myself to pull over and lazily move everything around as I get ready to sleep. Weary-eyed. The connections from this experience overwhelm me as I lay down and I take one look around my van and smile one last time before my eyes close at a rest stop somewhere outside Indianapolis.

Trigger Warning: Plastic

As a scuba diver, I’ve gotten to see the devastating effects of plastic first hand. On a dive in Mexico I passed a hawksbill turtle with a plastic bag wrapped around it’s mouth. I tried to get close but the turtles in that area don’t usually approach divers and although it wasn’t too comfortable with me, it seemed to slow down as I neared. When I attempted to put my hand out to free the plastic the turtle panicked and swam away. I was crushed. Unable to breathe at the surface due to the bag, I wasn’t sure how long he’d make it. Turtles can only hold their breath a few hours depending on the level of activity but he had a mission in front of him and a limited amount of time to remove the bag.

This isn’t my only story about plastic in our oceans.

I’ve been unable to surface in normally clear water certain days because as I approach the surface after a dive you can see that it’s lined with floating debris, plastic and other rubbish. It looks like a gruesome film layering the surface of the water. You can see the gasoline sparkling rainbows as you look up and watch your bubbles break apart when they hit the surface.

I cut a fishing net in Indonesia and almost got hit in the head by a weight belt as the the boat captain realized and tried to stop me. My student looked on in horror. I realized in hindsight I shouldn’t meddle in certain things, I know it’s their way of life, but I have a hard time with the way we treat our oceans. How ignorant we become. How things like dynamite fishing are even a thing.

In 2012 I joined hundreds of divers as we set the Guinness Book of World Records for pulling out the most debris from our oceans in one day. It was the biggest organized event they’ve ever had. In Phuket specifically 650 divers, including myself, pulled out 15 tons of rubbish. We were proud of ourselves- we did something great! But I was so sad that something like that was necessary. If we took out 15 tons in one day, imagine how much there is! And setting a world record for the most rubbish collected at a time seemed like something I didn’t want to be competing for.

Once, I watched a seahorse swaying along the bottom with tinfoil sachets that had been thrown into the ocean- bobbing back and forth with the waves and seahorse in unison. It was like looking at one of the cutest, most beautiful tiny things in the world, next to something that was slowly integrating in where it didn’t belong, where it never belonged. The plastic can’t go anywhere except back into the environment as a microplastic, this is now our cycle… That’s when I realized where we were going if we didn’t stop, what our world would look like… and it scared the shit out of me!

I jumped first during season opener with my group of divers on a liveaboard in the Similan Islands in Thailand one year. We had arrived at Richeleu Rock, the most famous dive site in Thailand, to find that it had been covered with a fishing net. The whole thing! We spent 2 dives cutting away the invisible fishing line with plastic bottles attached as surface markers and fishing hooks scattered throughout the lines underwater. This area was a “protected marine park” but it closes 7 months a year and when it’s closed the fisherman know there is no one out there patrolling, and they don’t care.

I broke apart a fish cage with my hands and dive knife on a familiar dive site in Thailand once to free the 8-10 fish that were trapped inside. I know it was small and they probably just wanted to feed their family but something happens to me and I become protective of the water I spend so much time in. I feel the need to speak for it. But first I have to educate myself about the seafood industry, fishing practices, local customs and ways of life, the environmental effects and other aspects of what I’m doing. Sometimes our actions come from a good place but we might have misguided intentions.

I’ve used a shovel to pick up and throw away huge blankets of oil that had covered the beach in the morning, melting in the hot sun and getting harder to move by the minute. I’ve joined environmental groups while I traveled, organized beach clean ups through my dive shop, and been a part of more Debris related activities than I’d like because unfortunately as a diver we get to see it daily. It makes us sad to watch dive sites disappear and change so greatly within a few years. Before it used to take a lifetime to notice these differences, now they’re happening in a matter of years.

Regardless, I’m not on a pedestal but something I will get hot and bothered about is plastic! I’ve walked down beaches in some of the most beautiful places in the world (YES EVEN IN THE US)  and seen them littered with plastic lighters, chip bags, plastic straws, sachets, styrofoam and so many other pieces of microplastics you wouldn’t believe your eyes! I don’t even know if you believe me, you probably think I’ve seen this once or twice, here and there; I’m here to tell you I have seen this everywhere, in all different parts of the world! Although it’s more certainly on display in third world countries, it still exists in the United States, we’ve just gotten better at “recycling” it and stashing it out of the way. We don’t have to look at it and be reminded of the pounds of plastic we throw out in the trash every day, it isn’t our problem. Out of sight out of mind!

Although somehow, if someone dumped that rubbish right out in our yards every day, we might start realizing how much unnecessary plastic and packaging we consume. I’m not saying you need to go out and be a damn warrior but start somewhere! At least become AWARE of the amount of plastic you use and if there’s a better way. Bring a reusable bag, avoid products with palm oil, tell the waiter you don’t need a straw, ANYTHING will help!

Oh, and please don’t get me started on single use plastic because I don’t know how we can even justify using a piece of plastic once and throwing it away! Look, no one is perfect. But if we all just did a little bit better, it would make such a huge difference! I worry constantly about the future of our oceans, about how to teach the next generation to be better than we are, to create products with less environmental impact, I worry about how to reduce my carbon footprint. But I also have certain habits that contribute to the consumption of plastic and I recognize that none of us are perfect! I think it’s necessary to look at our lives and see the ways we could improve. Not only how we can improve by purchasing less and being aware of different kinds of plastic, but on how we educate our children and the ways in which we normalize plastic’s use.

I’d like to be able to continue sharing my passion for diving for years to come. If our ocean’s continue at this rate I might not have fish or coral left to show people. Our favorite sites that used to be considered the most beautiful dives in the world will be covered in plastic fishing nets and rubbish littering the surface and the bottom! Divers are natural ambassadors for the underwater environment because they get to see the effects first hand and share what they see with others. You get to see all my beautiful dive photos and travel photos, I don’t show you the way that I’ve adjusted the camera frame to exclude a bit of rubbish or the way the surface of the water shines as the trash dances up and down in the sun. I don’t share the ways in which we’ve had to educate our boat crew to not flick their cigarettes in the water or throw their rubbish overboard.

I’ve realized that I wanted to share all of this because I’m in a position to do it. This isn’t your usual inspiring post because sometimes it’s important to talk about the hard stuff. It’s important we stop pretending like these things aren’t problems because they don’t affect us “enough”. I think it’s time we stop making up excuses.

 

life after 5 months on a tiny tropical island

My oh my, where has the time gone!?! I have officially lived on this island for 5 months! I can barely believe that because time has literally flown by. So many things have happened and I felt like it was about time I seek out some wifi, take advantage of my sick time, and write it all down!

Incase you haven’t been following me, I will fill you in. My boyfriend and I moved here from Mexico 5 months ago with an original plan of staying in Bali and finding work as scuba instructors there. Well I guess the universe didn’t have that planned because Bali’s Mount Agung started erupting a week before we arrived and managed to evacuate the two biggest dive towns on the island. So, we spent 2 weeks exploring Bali, handing out our CV’s, speaking with dive shops and moving around the island because Bali doesn’t feel much like an island, I mean, it’s HUGE. Anyways, as beautiful as it was we decided that maybe a smaller island vibe was in fact what we were looking for and took everyone’s advice to look for work in the Gili Islands . The Gilis are located in between Bali and Lombok (another island the size of Bali with a volcano).

The minute we arrived on Gili Air we fell in love with the quiet and tranquility of the island. Although Bali is mostly Hindu, Lombok is predominately Muslim and so are the Gilis. There is at least 1 mosque on each island but Lombok itself is deemed “the land of 1,000 mosques”. You can hear the call to prayer 5 times a day starting just after 5 AM and there is a loud speaker on the island that announces it. It takes a little getting used to, especially if you live really close to the mosque. Although no where on the island is safe, I sleep pretty soundly and can only hear it if I’m outside!

When you first arrive you’ll notice the flat little sand islands against the back drop of Lombok, this huge mountainous island that towers over all the Gilis. All the local boats boast a similar shape with 2 outriggers on each, all different colors dotted along the reef. The tide here is incredibly extreme and exposes the reef for almost a kilometer sometimes twice a day depending on the moon. The islands themselves are quite dry but Gili Air has a fresh water reservoir beneath it which helps irrigate crops on the island and allows some things to grow.

The only mode of transportation is by foot, by bicycle, or a “Gili taxi” or “cidomo” which consists of a horse drawn cart and 1 driver. I can tell you, from experience, that this is quite the ride while you’re bumping along these tiny roads. These drivers are known for going extremely fast as well so if you’re not in the horse cart, you better get out of the way! I’ve jumped to safety more than a few times. They equip the carts with bells and you can hear the horses and bells coming along, but it takes awhile to train your ears that the sound means, “get the F out of the road!”

I cannot tell you the exact population of Gili Air but I do know it has the biggest local population. It is a good mix of the other 2 islands- Gili T and Gili Meno. Gili T is known for it’s party culture and has the biggest total population, not only locals. Gili Meno is known for it’s chilled out beach and honeymoon vibe. Gili Air is a happy medium between the two. Gili actually means “small island” in Sasak, the local dialect of Lombok and Air in Bahasa Indonesian means “water”, so it technically means “small water island” which is pretty fitting. They named it Air because of it’s reservoir. The Gilis didn’t become developed until the 1970’s when fishermen from Sulawesi started creating small settlements after their travels. By the 1980’s it had caught on as a tourist destination due to Bali’s merging popularity.

bali map

Do you see the 3 small islands off the NW coast of Lombok? There I am!

Now do you understand why I haven’t written publicly much these last few months? I’ve been writing a lot for myself but it is honestly such a chase to try to get good wifi that I prefer to live in the moment and stay disconnected instead of posting most of it publicly. Some day!

Another daily occurrence is island wide black outs. It happens a few times a day most of the time and makes the whole island dark. Sometimes they can last for 8 hours at the very moment you need to use the ATM or cook something. Although it doesn’t stop me, I now have candles all over the house and the minute the lights go out I don’t even flinch, I grab a lighter and start walking around. At least I can still cook because the stove runs on propane, I only need a few candles around my work station! I like the quiet nights where the power is out and I can do laundry by headlamp and read on the balcony. I’ve learned to make sure the electronics and battery packs are always charged and ready so when it happens we have a working speaker, music, a computer for saved movies and whatever else we might need.

There are cows and horses on the island. They all have owners but they basically roam free. Chickens are EVERYWHERE and are probably the most dangerous part of my daily life because they run in front of your bicycle tires like they’re trying to kill themselves! I’m telling you, watch out for the chickens! Victor and I always make, “why did the chicken cross the road” jokes. Lately they have all been having babies and there’s little peeps everywhere. There is a new rooster located directly next door to us, which apparently has no regard for what time of the day he decides to kick off, so that’s been fun lately. My favorite island horse is named Beyonce, she is a baby still with a little bit of a temper. Quite often you’ll see her running full speed down the beach road with her long line dragging behind her. She’s usually just looking for a nice patch of grass but she’s known to be a sassy lady. There are also lots of CATS so I’m in heaven! Cats everywhere! I’ve adopted my own adventure cat, named Botas, and helped with the cat clinic in November where they come to the island to vaccinate all the island cats. Unfortunately you won’t find dogs on the Gili Islands as they are considered dirty in Muslim culture. From what I’ve heard, all the ones that were here ended up poisoned or dead.

Gili has been the sweetest blessing! I have truly enjoyed this little island and taken the last few months to really disconnect, jump into my job, and enjoy my surroundings. Although the reviews on my part are wonderful, there are a few downsides. Despite my month long battle with ringworm, which grows rampant in the soil and spreads by *gasp* cats! I have managed to have it, not have it, have it, not have it, for almost 4 months now. Athletes foot is also common because people never wear shoes and it’s the same bacteria as ring worm. The spiders here are the size of my hand and you’ll find them frequently on your walls which took V some getting used to! I have become a pro spider catcher, and Botas also loves to chase the cockroaches and spiders out of the house.

Living on a tiny tropical island sounds great at first, but there are definitely some disadvantages that aren’t always forseen in the beginning! Regardless, I absolutely love it here. I am thankful to be barefoot and in the ocean every day. I am thankful for the beautiful reef I’m surrounded with and the people who have come into my life since I arrived on this island. Now that our work visas are through, we have another year to look forward to here! And then, who knows!?!

So, what does it take to be a skydiver?

I recently completed my A license for skydiving with the USPA (United States Parachute Organization). I’ve had a lot of people ask me questions about what it takes to be a skydiver and what it means to have an A license. Skydiving isn’t something you encounter often. Unless you happen to have a local dropzone (DZ) or know some skydivers, it can seem pretty mystifying. But having sought it out on my own, I thought I’d give you some information about the course and what it takes. Having my A license now allows me to pack my own main parachute, do basic skydiving formations with others, and means I have a minimum of 25 skydives (I have 44 now). My B license is coming up real quick at 50 jumps but involves canopy control skills and in water skills. With a C license and 200 jumps you can start working towards your Instructor Rating, which upon completion would put you at a D license.

I started my skydiving journey at Skydive Mex in Playa del Carmen in April of 2016. They had recently moved their location from the Pacific side in Puerta Vallarta a few months before so I jumped on my chance once the season slowed down to start my AFF course (Accelerated Free Fall). AFF starts you off with a tandem and then gets more difficult as you go through all 8 levels (8 jumps). Once you complete the tandem jump with your AFF instructor, you progress to your own rig on jump 2 and have 2 instructors holding onto you as you exit the plane. After you pass your first 4 levels you progress down to only 1 instructor who eventually, towards the end, isn’t even holding onto you at all but flying next to you in the air. If you complete all these levels without failing (most people fail at least 1), then you are graduated from AFF and on student status, jumping by yourself and slowly ticking off other skills in the process that involve coach jumps, parachute packing, and exams. Once you get all this signed off and get to 25 skydives, BOOM you have an A license!

If you really must know, I failed level 4 by failing to locate and pull my own canopy… the first rule of skydiving and the most important rule is “always pull” so you can imagine how I felt after my instructor had to fly in when I couldn’t seem to make contact with my hand and the small golf ball I needed to pull out of the back of my rig. He pulled for me, which means I failed. He felt terrible and I remember being like, “um… honestly, I think it’s pretty important I have the confidence to do that myself, so let’s do it again!” Yea, you loose about 200+ dollars on that jump but it’s a small price to pay for your own piece of mind. After that I did have a small panic attack about locating the hackey… but I’ve gotten over that now and can reach it with ease every time.

I got through my AFF last year with Skydive Mex here in PDC but after that they lost coaches, didn’t have a plane, and had some other complications which kept me out of the air for some time. Since I was still in student status, it is necessary you jump at least once every 30 days to stay current. I went out of currency multiple times which costs you more money in the end because the DZ will ask you to do a coach jump to check your skills before they’ll let you jump solo again. Understandably so, but a huge bummer none the less. Last spring I was in Florida and found out about a DZ called Skydive Sebastian in Sebastian, so I drove there and did 2 jumps in 1 day. One of which I landed on a golf course near by due to winds that changed while we were in the air. I was safe, and no, I didn’t yell “four”! After that I went out of currency again before I jumped with Skydive San Diego and surprised my AFF Instructor, Tom, who works there. He signed me off for a coach jump and that day I learned how important it is to keep your head on a swivel around other jumpers who sometimes do unpredictable things, like fuck up the whole landing pattern and almost collide with your canopy. Another valuable lesson.

After 11 months out of the air I flew back to Skydive Sebastian last month for almost 3 weeks to complete my license. Their DZ is huge, there are hammocks, tiki bars, the local Zoo Bar next door, camping behind, an amazing family of skydivers and a great view of the Indian River inlet and the ocean while you fly. I wanted the support and encouragement from a skydiving family like that and found it with them. From the women in manifest, to the instructors with 15,000-23,000 jumps, to the packers and everyone in between, the whole community absolutely blew me away. I learned so much from these people and was at the DZ every day I could be. I cried, I laughed, I made mistakes and I had triumphs. I learned to fly smaller canopies and I learned that I could trust myself and trust my knees to run out the canopy upon landing if need be. My landings had always been my most anxious part of the whole skydive because I’ve gone through 2 knee surgeries and still have a lack of confidence in my knees and landings. I was a notorious butt sitter upon landing… I got over this while I was there.

Skydive Sebastian was the ultimate “sky fam”. I’ve been fortunate to jump at 3 DZ’s during my student status and found a community and a quality of instructors that was definitely unique. I cannot wait to continue the search and keep finding more places like this with killer people. The first weekend I was there was a “boogie” which is a festival for skydivers. It was called Splash Bash and came with slip and slides, water slides, inflatable pools, a crawfish broil, a helicopter and an accuracy competition. I stayed out of the sky mostly, that weekend, due to the high volume of jumpers and a need to play it safe, but I still had the opportunity to sit at Zoo Bar, make friends, watch the landings, and participate in general. Thank you Skydive Seb, I miss you all and I’ll be back!

So how did I know I wanted to be a skydiver? I did my first tandem skydive at Skydive Hawaii in 2014 with my father and brother who had both done them before. Upon landing I started crying uncontrollably because I was literally the happiest I’d ever been. I remember having this rush of adrenaline the whole day. At that moment, I knew I’d do it again, and I knew I was going to do it solo. It was the coolest thing, hands down. When I got back to Thailand the only DZ was in the north and I never managed to make it out. I camped across from Burning Sky, the skydiving camp at Burning Man, the last 3 years and got to talk with a lot of the jumpers deciding that at some point in my career, I’d jump out of a plane at BM. When I arrived in PDC the only skydiving company didn’t teach courses, but only tandems. So when Skydive Mex opened, I went in and signed up for my course.

Skydiving has become my favorite thing. There’s something about being up there and solving your problems in the sky. I feel like I really can “leave it all up there” and land with a clearer focus and purpose in life. I know that sounds extreme, but it’s true. People always ask, “why would you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” to which I reply, “there’s no such thing as a perfectly good airplane”. Or, “why would you want to fall towards the Earth that fast?” and I say, “you’re not falling, you’re flying”. We all have different things that make us feel alive, and skydiving and scuba diving and cave diving are my things. When I’m falling, nothing else matters, when I’m under water, it doesn’t matter what’s happening on the surface. It’s a way to escape the pain and the confusion of this world and remember what it feels like to truly live in the moment. These sports have taught me to trust myself. I know that I can think clearly and logically in highly stressful situations and I’m capable of problem solving my way out. Anyone that has chosen these things as passions knows what I’m talking about. For those of you that don’t, go out and find something that makes you feel this way! Please! I’m not saying it has to be extreme, but it should make you forget about life for a while.

Lastly, if you’re thinking about doing your course I have some tips for you:

1.) Make sure you have the time! Literally, you will spend more time waiting on the ground and waiting for the weather then you will jumping. For sure. So make sure you have a few weeks off to get through your license and fully commit. If you spread it out like I did, you cost yourself significantly more money. This course isn’t cheap.

2.) Find a DZ with people that make you feel comfortable and are supportive and involved throughout your whole course. A lot of DZ’s will get you through AFF and then put you on the back-burner because fun jumpers don’t make DZ’s a lot of money. Find a DZ that will see you through your A license and encourage you the whole way. Find a sky fam that makes you feel comfortable and whom you don’t feel intimidated asking questions to, even stupid ones.

3.) Cheapest doesn’t mean best. If you’re looking for cheap, you’re in the wrong sport. I’ll tell you that now. I say the same things to people asking me about “cheap” and
“good” scuba courses- they don’t exist. Typically the two aren’t mutually exclusive. You get what you pay for! This is a sport that involves high tech, expensive equipment, and airplanes, there is no such thing as cheap. Get that out of your head and pay for your own safety.

4.) Skydiving takes money. The first 8 jumps or your AFF course typically costs around 2,000 USD, then you’ll be paying about 50 USD a jump after that until you get your A license. If you plan on buying gear it’ll run you 2,500-10,000 so it definitely isn’t cheap. That’s why we always joke that skydivers have no money! You’ll want to make sure you dedicate time to the sport to stay current and safe. It is a lifestyle and a gear intensive sport. The upside is that most rigs are easy to sell if in good shape so if you have gear and skydiving won’t be a part of your life for awhile, you can always sell then buy again when you’re ready. Once you have your own gear, you pay 20-30 USD per jump.

Check out my gallery of photos and stay tuned for my first group skydive and our attempt at a train, which more closely resembled a rollercoaster!! Keep up to date on my Instagram (theramblingmermaid) for more adventures! If you’re a skydiver and have any DZ’s that hold your heart, please comment below! Also, any other skydiving stories you’d like to share, I’m always down to discuss skydiving! Thank ya’ll for reading! Blue skies!

 

The Caribbean’s Hidden Gem

Imagine waking up on a tiny island where there are no cars or scooters at all, only foot paths with the occasional bicycle. Delivery produce only arrives from the larger island once a week and sends the small ferry dock into a frenzy with people from all over the island setting up stands and selling the week’s supply of food. Larger items need to be transported by push cart through the jungle pathways weaving a half an hour to the opposite end, sometimes taking as many as 6 men to complete the job. Electricity shuts off daily from 6 AM to 1 PM to allow the sun to recharge the generators for the day. When the fans stop humming in the morning it pushes everyone outside to begin their day. I don’t think there is any air conditioning on the island so the fan is what allows you to sleep. The first thing you smell every morning is fresh baked coconut bread flavored with ginger or cheddar and the locals speak a mixture of Spanish, English and Creole. Sometimes you’re unsure which one is more prevalent. The people are friendly and the pace of life is slow, untouched from the rush of the rest of the world.

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Don’t go to Holbox Island in Mexico

Holbox is a small island without cars or roads located in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. It is still fairly untraveled in comparison to places like Isla Mujeres or Cozumel, but it’s surprisingly easy to get to. From Cancun you can take a bus an hour north to the town of Chiquila then a quick 15 minute ferry ride to Holbox. All of the hotels and bungalows are within walking distance unless you have a heavy backpack or a rolling suitcase, otherwise you can take a taxi ride via golf cart which is the only form of transportation other than bicycles on the island.

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Cave Diving in the Yucatan

I finally finished my full cave diving course with IANTD (The International Association of Nitrox and Technical Diving). Cave diving is part of the reason I came to Mexico a year ago and it took me awhile, and a bit of money, to finish this course. It is my first step into technical diving and now means that I can guide the caverns here as a guide to recreational scuba divers. What I do already, as a PADI IDC Staff Instructor, allows me to teach all levels of recreational scuba diving from Open Water, Advanced, Rescue, Divemaster, Assistant Instructor, Specialities and training new PADI Instructors under a Course Director. As much as I love working as a PADI Instructor, cave diving was something I did for me. I started diving when I was 12 years old and have somewhere around 3,500 dives. I’ve always wanted to cave dive and have seen technical diving as a new challenge. It was a way to fall in love with diving all over again.

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8 Things That Happen When You Travel Long Term

I’ve been living out of my backpack essentially for 4.5 years now, never really settling for longer than 6 months to a year in 1 place. In the last 6 months I’ve been hopping about much more than usual, living out of my backpack on a sailboat, back and forth to Mexico to visit my partner, traveling around the US in my van, sleeping on people’s couches and in their spare rooms, camping and visiting friends and family. I’ve had a great time but I’m happy to be settled in Playa del Carmen, Mexico again for another 5 months at least. I can unpack for awhile and nest a little, which always feels good.

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