This is Not the End -
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This is Not the End

This is Not the End - 01

 

I woke this morning tangled in the white sheets of a luxury hotel in Bangkok. The sun rose over the skyline and I watched anxiously, aware that for the foreseeable future, it would be my last glimpse of this city.

 

This is Not the End - 02

 

With anxiety in my gut, I run my hand down my leg and feel nostalgia as it passes each imperfection.

 

This is Not the End - 03

 

Marked by my journey with greater permanence than the ink in my journal, my legs that carried me across six countries in eight months have become my road map, with scars accentuating stops on my journey like highlighter pens.

 

This is Not the End - 04

 

My eyes meet my thighs. They scan the purple streaks from a fallen flaming hula-hoop when I overestimated my ability to hurl my body through a burning ring of fire on Koh Tao. Delicate parallel lines where the beach canine sunk his into my flesh remind me of the fever that followed. Yes, I may have briefly had rabies in Koh Phangan.

 

This is Not the End - 05

 

My thumb polishes the sear on my calf muscle, the size and shape of a beach almond, from my first ride on the back of a motorcycle in Northern Vietnam. I touch the apex at my ankle; a three inch discolored oblong I developed after my friend crashed our bike in the jungle hills in Koh Chang.

 

This is Not the End - 06

 

My mind circles back to the night I lost my passport in the Seattle Tacoma International Airport. The night I left Seattle and boarded the plane for Hanoi. That night feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago. In real time it has been five days shy of eight months.

 

This is Not the End - 07

 

I remember sobbing as I looked at my baby nephew, not wanting to release my sister’s embrace, taking a last look at my mother, and mustering the strength to enter the cold, sterile airport lobby.

 

This is Not the End - 08

 

“Are you going alone?” the check in agents asked incredulously.

“Yes!” I confirmed, feigning confidence.

“Wow, you’re brave,” one responded.

“I would never go there alone,” the other agreed.

 

My already shaky confidence waned.

 

This is Not the End - 09

 

Terrified best portrays my state the weeks preceding that flight. I’ve been a nervous flier my entire life, and this one particularly scared me. I was heading to the other side of the world with no return ticket, only $2000 in my account, and essentially no plan.

 

This is Not the End - 10

 

Traveling with open-ended itineraries in Latin America felt safer. I was a short, inexpensive plane ride from my home country and no more than a few buses from my adopted one, Costa Rica. Vietnam would not offer this luxury.

 

Fear told me that despite living nomadically for more than a year, maybe I had never actually traveled.

 

This is Not the End - 12

 

What experiences would Asia bring? That world was unfathomable to me at the time, which sent my mind down a dark path. Perhaps what terrifies me most about falling out of the sky is the descent into the unknown.

 

That night in the airport I contemplated whether I would actually pull the trigger and go.

 

This is Not the End - 13

 

I handed over my visa confirmation, relinquished my enormous backpack, and hesitatingly walked through security. My steps echoed throughout the airport’s vast atriums, vacant in the middle of the night.

 

When I reached the gate I reached for my passport. But there it wasn’t. I ripped my bag apart again and again. There it wasn’t.

 

This is Not the End - 14

 

My flight fear induced superstition wondered if it was a sign. Was the universe preventing me from plummeting to my death? What would happen if I just didn’t go? Was this what I wanted all along?

 

This is Not the End - 15

 

I fought my aching desire to be back in the safety of my family’s home. But I knew there was no turning back. Instead I strengthened my will by doing exactly what I did not want to do.

 

This is Not the End - 16

 

I ran through the endlessly long hallways, took underground trains, and hopped flights of stairs back to the bathroom at airport security. Beside the sink sat my passport and boarding pass, just as I left it.

 

This is Not the End - 17

 

I made the flight that night. The plane did not crash. I arrived in Hanoi.

 

This is Not the End - 18

 

I continued to Ha Long Bay

 

This is Not the End - 19

 

Hue

 

This is Not the End - 20

 

Hoi An

 

This is Not the End - 21

 

Saigon

 

This is Not the End - 22

 

and the Mekong.

 

This is Not the End - 11

 

I reunited with childhood friends and made new lifelong ones.

I struggled and questioned myself. I longed for my family and for Costa Rica. But I forged on.

 

This is Not the End - 24

 

I flew to Bangkok and toured temples in Ayutthaya.

 

This is Not the End - 25

 

I opened my heart and released lanterns with thousands of others in Chiang Mai for the Loi Kratong celebration.

 

This is Not the End - 26

 

I hung with hippies on the river in Pai.

 

This is Not the End - 27

 

In search of adventure, I crossed from Koh Chang to Cambodia

 

This is Not the End - 28

 

Fell in love immediately with Koh Rong

 

This is Not the End - 29

 

but jetted out early to catch up with a guy in Indonesia who already won my heart in Thailand weeks before.

 

This is Not the End - 30

 

I beach hopped in Bali’s Bukit

 

This is Not the End - 31

 

shared Christmas with expats in Ubud

 

This is Not the End - 32

 

spent weeks with a new family of travelers in Gili Air

 

This is Not the End - 33

 

and finally learned to drive a motorbike in the hills in Kuta, Lombok.

 

This is Not the End - 34

 

I worked tremendously on opening my heart and letting people in.

 

This is Not the End - 35

 

I felt flooded with emotion as I left Indonesia and celebrated my birthday in Kuala Lumpur, aware for the first time how much I had grown since the night I nearly missed my flight.

 

This is Not the End - 36

 

By the time I returned to Thailand I was flat broke, but somehow that felt ok.

I persevered with my freelance work in Tonsai Bay

 

This is Not the End - 37

 

Koh Lanta,

 

This is Not the End - 38

 

and Koh Phangan,

 

This is Not the End - 39

 

before taking a vacation underwater with the fish in Koh Tao.

 

This is Not the End - 40

 

I felt gratitude on an unprecedented level.

 

This is Not the End - 41

 

Finally I came back to Cambodia, my love the same as before, but saw the darker side of the country

 

This is Not the End - 42

 

in Siem Reap

 

This is Not the End - 43

 

Battambang

 

This is Not the End - 44

 

Phnom Penh

 

This is Not the End - 45

 

Kampot

 

This is Not the End - 46

 

Kep

 

This is Not the End - 48

 

Otres Beach

 

This is Not the End - 47

 

Koh Rong Samloem

 

This is Not the End - 49

 

and a second time in Koh Rong.

 

This is Not the End - 50

 

This time I fell in love with the people of Cambodia and their humbling kindness.

 

This is Not the End - 51

 

When my visa ran out I reunited with a friend from Costa Rica who became a sister to me during our travel stints in bits of Thailand and Indo.

 

This is Not the End - 52

 

After eating half of Bangkok

 

This is Not the End - 53

 

we took the slow boat across the Mekong in Northern Laos

 

This is Not the End - 54

 

swam in waterfalls in Luang Prabang

 

This is Not the End - 55

 

explored caves in Vang Vieng

 

This is Not the End - 56

 

drove motorbikes around the Bolaven Plateau

 

This is Not the End - 57

 

and rode bicycles through fields full of water buffalo in the 4000 Islands.

 

This is Not the End - 58

 

Then I returned to Cambodia. Only this time it did not feel heavy. I was able to listen to painful stories and witness alarming poverty and feel compassion without guilt.

 

This is Not the End - 59

 

At the end of my journey in Otres I was confronted with and worked through personal demons I sought to escape since I began my travels two and half years ago in Puerto Viejo.

 

This is Not the End - 60

 

This brings me to where I am now, back in Bangkok, preparing to leave Asia and fly to my hometown of Seattle in the United States.

 

This is Not the End - 61

 

When I departed for Hanoi, eight months ago, I went with the hope that I might find Pura Vida in a far away land. But honestly, I never did.

 

This is Not the End - 62

 

I found something better.

 

This is Not the End - 63

 

As the months passed I surrendered to where I was instead of wanting it to be more like somewhere I wasn’t. Eventually every place I set down my bag felt like home.

 

This is Not the End - 64

 

Over time the insanity became comfortable, the stimulation became normal, and the people became family. Again and again I received internal confirmation that this nomadic life is the one I am meant to live.

 

This is Not the End - 65

 

I made mistakes and I had many moments where I wanted to give up. I contracted illnesses and heartbreak; I endured physical and emotional wounds. But I surmounted my struggles and I met people who have forever changed my life.

 

This is Not the End - 66

 

For eight months Southeast Asia was my entire world. It’s hard to imagine no longer being there. I know that there is so much that I will miss.

 

This is Not the End - 67

 

I will miss the way the sunlight hits the gilded roof of a temple and blinds me in the early hours.

 

This is Not the End - 68

 

I will miss sitting on red plastic stools made for toddlers while hunching over bowls of steaming noodle soup.

 

This is Not the End - 69

 

I will miss eating in night markets with ladyboys, backpackers, refined Europeans, and orange robed monks.

 

This is Not the End - 70

 

I will even miss hearing the words “Hello Lady! Tuuuukk tuuuukk?”

 

This is Not the End - 71

 

I will miss not understanding the food, the people, and the language, surrendering my trust to foreign people in a foreign world.

 

This is Not the End - 72

 

I will miss the feeling of the wind billowing beneath my mountain of hair as I weave past rice fields and canyons and karsts.

 

This is Not the End - 73

 

I will miss abruptly stopping so that water buffalo and cows can pass.

 

This is Not the End - 74

 

I will miss the laughter and smiles awarded me by children who live in poverty yet beam at me instead of judging me for my unfair privilege.

 

This is Not the End - 75

 

I will miss the simplicity, the humility, and the generosity.

 

This is Not the End - 76

 

I will miss the softness.

 

This is Not the End - 78

 

I will miss the warmth.

 

This is Not the End - 79

 

 

But more than I will miss anything, I will appreciate everything.

The places I went, the experiences I had, the people I got to know.

 

This is Not the End - 80

 

And I will remember that because I am a free adventurous wanderlust nomad, I can go back whenever I want.

 

This is Not the End - 81

 

So this is not the end friends.

This is just the beginning.

 


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Comments

  1. Camille, I hope you enjoy your visit at home in Seattle – I look forward to reading of your future travel endeavors. You have a beautiful way with words, and your travels are inspiring :)

  2. I loved that post Camille. I hope you get your well deserved rest and will feel healthy again so you are ready to hit the road again. Do you have any ideas about where your travels gonna take you again? I am kind of doing the same; recovering from 10monts in central and south america. Than I will see where life will take me again.

    Btw how do you manage to travel on that little money for such a long time? I know you live on a budget while you travel. So do I. However, do you get all your income from writing blogs?

    xx
    Andrea

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 8, 2014 at 4:45 pm

      Hi Andrea,

      Thank you so much :) Wow, sounds like you’ve had quite an adventure yourself! I may spend a bit of time to recharge in Costa Rica and visit friends before setting off on another big adventure. Right now India, Mexico, Cuba, and the Philippines are all really calling my name.

      While traveling I worked a few hours every day on freelance writing assignments as well as my blog. With freelance writing I made about $1000 per month, which was the budget I set for myself. Currently I do not monetize my blog. I’ll definitely write a post about this in the future!

      x Camille

  3. Just tremendous. What a tremendous, powerful experience and beautiful writing and photography. I do so love the life I lead, but thoroughly enjoy the glimpses into yours, too.

  4. AMAZING. Stories like yours fuel my desire to follow my own wanderlust. How long will you be in the States? (Also, Seattle is one of my favorites!) Safe travels lady!

  5. Paulette Says: June 6, 2014 at 11:53 am

    I admire you & I’m so envious of the life you live. I cannot wait to read what is next for you. Enjoy your time with family & friends back home.

  6. What a beautiful recap of your time away Camille, I loved reliving some of those times with you as I made my way through the photos and links. I love how you have walked through heartbreak and not let it define you or defeat you. You are continually an inspiration.

  7. Thank you so much for your insights. Simply said, your words are real and heartfelt. I have enjoyed following your blog for the past two months. Best of luck on your future endeavors.

  8. So beautiful. I am so glad that I got to meet you!! You have inspired me greatly…

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 8, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      Aw thank you Valen! It was so wonderful to meet you. I KNOW we will be seeing each other again somewhere, so until then… :)

  9. Beautiful! I relate more and more as I read your blog posts. You’re a great inspiration Camille and a reminder that I too am on the right path in my own way.

    Thank you as always xx

  10. Banana Bug Says: June 7, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    An incredible adventure! A poet (think it was Rod McKuen) said, “When I die, I hope my heart and body are so scarred from love that it makes an autopsy impossible”. So happy that you are home safe in Seattle (scars and all). I look forward to your next journey, the photos and poetic writing. YOU are amazing!

  11. Camille,
    Now that we have you back in Seattle for a bit, it is really special to have this post to look back with you on where you have been these last eight months. I know that every photo and every story has so much more to it….and I appreciate what a life-changing experience this has been for you.
    Always love,
    Mom

  12. You are an absolute inspiration! I have stumbled across so many travel blogs, but yours always keeps me gripped! I love reading up on your adventures. Hope you have a wonderful time back at home and hope to read more on your travels soon! x

  13. I’m not sure how I found your blog but I’ve greatly enjoyed reading it. I’m so glad that this isn’t the end.

  14. Hello there Camille! I’ve been thinking of you today and now I know why…you are probably already back here in Seattle! Wishing you rest, relaxation and rejuvenation!

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 9, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      Hi Liz!! How are you?? I didn’t realize you kept up on my blog :) Hope all is well with you xo!

  15. I feel your heartbeat, Camille. We are forever changed by our experiences in other countries.
    For all the heartache and pain, you will carry in your heart the beauty and humility that saturated your soul.
    Blessings always,
    Joanne

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 9, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      Thank you Joanne. I hope you are well and I hope to see you somewhere again one day! <3

  16. Try to get a job with lonely planet. You would be perfect. The next path is just ahead.

  17. You are inspiring beyond words. I always enjoy reading your heartfelt and honest work.

  18. Wonderful post about a lifetime changing experience! Thanks for sharing your inner thoughts.
    About to leave for a few months trip in Latin America (including a yoga teacher training in Peru) I do feel excited and also afraid to maybe find out that this nomadic life is what I was looking for all these years!

    • Camille Willemain Says: July 5, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      Amazing! I can’t wait to hear about it. Pleaseeee tell me how Peru is my heart feels very drawn to it!

  19. Loved this post! I’m actually going on my first solo trip in Vietnam in May and, as excited as I am for this trip, I am also so scared! I’ve traveled before (my last trip was to Costa Rica and Panama, so I totally get looking for the Pura Vida vibe !) but always with friends.The idea of having to rely on myself only is nerve-racking, but that’s what makes it fun, right? haha anyway, thank you for the little boost of confidence!

  20. absolutely love this post! had me all choked up for you-felt like I was there with you, although I’ve never been. Sounds like it was an amazing learning experience you will carry forever.

    • Camille Willemain Says: September 29, 2015 at 8:04 pm

      It was, I still think about it. Even though I’ve been “traveling” since then, I don’t feel like I’ve traveled since then… Asia will definitely pull me back sooner or later…