I'm a pisces. (That's right, I'm going full hippie on you all). I'm a pisces and therefore have an unshakable connection with water. Nothing revives me after a rough day as much as sitting in a warm shower and feeling the patter of water on my back. I used to complain about my February birthday because I desperately wanted a pool party. My dad would get angry with me as a kid for playing barefoot in the rain in the dead of winter. Even now, no matter how cold the day, if I see fresh water, I am going to jump in. Like I said, I have an unshakable connection with water. Which is why I jumped at the opportunity to go kayaking in Gozo.
It's not so much that I love kayaking. I mean, I do like kayaking, but I don't fell a need to kayak the way some people do. But I do feel a need to be close to the water. It doesn't matter what kind; lake, river, ocean--even rain will do. There's something about being in or near water that makes me feel calm. It feels like a homecoming.
Why kayaking in Gozo was exactly the break I needed
The past year has been one wild ride. But not in the typical adventure sense.
I've been working hard to complete a Master's degree while also working two jobs and attempting to maintain some semblance of sanity. In addition I have been living in a foreign country, thousands of miles away from my family, my boyfriend, my friends, and really anything familiar whatsoever. On top of that, I've had to cope with the death of a loved one, the overwhelming political tensions of my home country, and my constant battle with OCD that makes everything just a little bit harder than it has to be.
Don't get me wrong, I love Edinburgh and I have had an amazing experience here. But it hasn't been an easy year. My stress levels have been in the red since September.
Which is why, when I finished class, one thing was glaringly obvious; I needed a break. I couldn't afford to take off work, but I am lucky enough to work from home, so I packed my computer and purchased the cheapest tickets I could find. They were going to Malta; so I went to Malta.
While staying on Malta's sister island, Gozo, I connected with Gozo Adventures. They are the company for any and all outdoor adventures in Gozo and they offered to bring me along on one of their all-day kayaking tours. I responded with a very enthusiastic yes. I needed a day to step away from it all. I needed a day on the ocean, feeling the sun on my face and watching the sapphire waters move beneath me. I needed to escape from the stress and return to the one thing that can always make me feel calm: water.
Meeting Ted and coming back to my center
By the time Saturday rolled around, I'd been in Malta and Gozo for three days. I was already feeling more relaxed. Meandering foreign streets, hiking through wildflowers, watching the sunset over the ocean; these are the kinds of things that fuel me. But during those days of exploration I was also working and stressing about finances. I was far from stress-free... yet.
I was in a purgatory between stress and relaxation when I met Ted. Ted is an Irish native now living in Gozo and leading kayaking tours. He picked me up at the bus stop and together we drove to the ferry port to await our fellow adventurer, Rich. While we waited, Ted talked my ear off.
He rambled about the importance of doing what you love, but it wasn't his words that captivated me. I was immediately taken by the spirit with which he spoke. Every sentence ended with laughter. His face struck a permanent smile. I don't know if it was his words or his demeanor, but I got a feeling that for Ted, the real joy in life was simply living.
It was contagious.
By the time Rick showed up I was already laughing a little easier. I was returning to the carefree, easy-going woman I become whenever I hit the road. Ironically enough, getting away from everything I identify with; my family and friends, my job, my apartment, etc; has always helped me return to myself. And as we pulled into the harbor and got a low-down on the kayaks, I was starting to feel much more myself.
Getting into the water and out of the stress spiral
I am not an experienced kayaker. I have kayaked before, but only a few times here and there. Most of my experience is in paddleboarding, and mostly on lakes rather than oceans. But I eagerly jumped into the kayak Ted presented me and paddled into the heart of the sea. The sun bore down on me, warming the skin beneath my shirt. Every paddle stroke brought a soft splash of water to the side of the kayak. I paddled softly, aware that we'd be out here all day, and let the rhythm of the paddle striking the water fill my ears.
I was the first one into the water and as I waited for Ted and Rich to join me, I turned away from the shore and stared at the massive expanse of blue water stretching in all directions. I rested the paddle across my kayak and dipped my hands into the water. It was cold, but not uncomfortably so. I brought my face close to the ocean and splashed a handful of water over my head. It felt refreshing. Not cold-lemonade-on-a-hot-day refreshing. No, it was more of a fresh-breath-of-air-after-weeks-locked-inside kind of refreshing.
Soon, Ted and Rich came up beside me and we began paddling once more. Ted led us in and out of caves, under rock arches, and around El Comino island. We shared laughter, sandwiches, and the fear of being stung by jellyfish. I've written more about the actual adventures here, but for the sake of space I'll summarize it with a single sentence:
For the 6+ hours we were on the water, I didn't think about the shore once.
I was entirely engrossed in the experience. I felt the thrill of adventure as we attempted to surf waves in our kayaks. I felt the soreness of my muscles as we got into the last hour and my body screamed for relief. I felt the exhaustion of spending all day in the sun mixed with the joy of spending all day outside. But most of all, I felt peace.
The peace of returning to the ocean.
The peace of returning to myself.