This is Not the End
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.
With anxiety in my gut, I run my hand down my leg and feel nostalgia as it passes each imperfection.
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.
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 teeth sunk his into my flesh remind me of the fever that followed. Yes, I may have briefly had rabies in Koh Phangan.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I made the flight that night. The plane did not crash. I arrived in Hanoi.
I continued to Ha Long Bay
and the Mekong.
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.
I opened my heart and released lanterns with thousands of others in Chiang Mai for the Loi Kratong celebration.
I hung with hippies on the river in Pai.
In search of adventure, I crossed from Koh Chang to Cambodia
Fell in love immediately with Koh Rong
but jetted out early to catch up with a guy in Indonesia who already won my heart in Thailand weeks before.
I beach hopped in Bali’s Bukit
shared Christmas with expats in Ubud
spent weeks with a new family of travelers in Gili Air
and finally learned to drive a motorbike in the hills in Kuta, Lombok.
I worked tremendously on opening my heart and letting people in.
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.
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
and Koh Phangan,
before taking a vacation underwater with the fish in Koh Tao.
I felt gratitude on an unprecedented level.
in Siem Reap
Koh Rong Samloem
and a second time in Koh Rong.
This time I fell in love with the people of Cambodia and their humbling kindness.
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.
After eating half of Bangkok
we took the slow boat across the Mekong in Northern Laos
swam in waterfalls in Luang Prabang
explored caves in Vang Vieng
drove motorbikes around the Bolaven Plateau
and rode bicycles through fields full of water buffalo in the 4000 Islands.
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.
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 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.
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.
I found something better.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I will miss the way the sunlight hits the gilded roof of a temple and blinds me in the early hours.
I will miss sitting on red plastic stools made for toddlers while hunching over bowls of steaming noodle soup.
I will miss eating in night markets with ladyboys, backpackers, refined Europeans, and orange robed monks.
I will even miss hearing the words “Hello Lady! Tuuuukk tuuuukk?”
I will miss not understanding the food, the people, and the language, surrendering my trust to foreign people in a foreign world.
I will miss the feeling of the wind billowing beneath my mountain of hair as I weave past rice fields and canyons and karsts.
I will miss abruptly stopping so that water buffalo and cows can pass.
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.
I will miss the simplicity, the humility, and the generosity.
I will miss the softness.
I will miss the warmth.
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.
And I will remember that because I am a free adventurous wanderlust nomad, I can go back whenever I want.
So this is not the end friends.
This is just the beginning.