My life philosophy is simple: say yes whenever possible. When presented with a new adventure, I ask myself a few simple questions: Am I physically capable? Am I mentally able? Do I want to? Can I afford it? Is it (probably) safe? If the answer is yes, I say yes. Kayaking in Gozo soared through the test and before long, I was on a little red Kayak in the middle of the ocean with my guide, Ted, and fellow adventurer, Rich, on our way to El Comino Island.
El Comino is a small island between Gozo and Malta. I had signed up for a full-day tour with Gozo Adventures during which we would circumvent the island; a feat that would take six or so hours and consist of 9+ miles of kayaking.
And thus the kayaking in Gozo adventure begins
I know how to paddle and I can get in a kayak without falling over. That's about the extent of my kayaking talent. Meanwhile, Ted and Rich are experts. The minute we hit the water I worried I would have trouble keeping pace with these pros, but the guys struck an easy, relaxed pace and the wind was on our side. We made our way leisurely across the ocean, leaving Gozo behind and making our way to Comino.
The sun was shining bright that day and the crystal-clear water shone a million shades of blue. We paddled a few feet away from the shore and I gazed in wonder as the rocky island changed shapes; around every corner was a vastly different (but equally beautiful) view. When I wasn't gawking at the views, I was listening to Ted as he filled our day with jokes, stories, and anecdotes. His joy was contagious and soon the three of us were laughing our way around the island.
Discovering the magical world of caves
After a solid spell of kayaking, Ted pulled us aside. "Have you ever kayaked in a cave?" He asked. Rich, with his years of kayaking experience, had been in more caves than he could remember. I did a quick mental recount of my life experiences and admitted that not only had I never been kayaking in a cave, I had never been in a water-side cave. In fact, the more I thought about it the more I realized just how limited my cave experience was.
Ted was going to fix that. He gestured to the cave behind him and insisted I go in first. I paddled into the narrow, low cave. I was nervous. What if I navigated improperly and banged my kayak against the rocks? What if I made a wrong turn and got stuck? I wasn't so worried about my safety as I was my pride, but I was nervous nonetheless. So I paddled slowly, inching my way out of the sunshine and into the cave.
The water splashed against the rocks with a loud boom that echoed all around me. I could feel the reverberations in my spine. The water was a deep, dark blue and the walls were jagged with shapes formed by the unrelenting waves. In this small, easily overlooked cave on the coast of some random island I'd never heard of before, I was overcome with awe. Overcome with the feeling of witnessing something truly incredible. How many people would never know this cave existed? How many people would never hear that sound of feel the coolness of the cave's air? How was it that the strange, winding path of my life somehow included a random turn in which I came here and experienced this?
A light splash from behind told me Ted and Rich were paddling into the cave. We gazed at the beauty and each of us took on a unique countenance of joy; mine, a beaming smile; Rich, a peaceful gaze; Ted, a booming voice. The waves played bass as his voice rose and fell, filling our small paradise with the warmth of an old Irish folk song.
Eventually it was time to go. I successfully paddled back out of the cave and into the sunshine. I soon learned that this small cave was one of the many, many caves around the island. We explored shallow caves with bright, turquoise water. We explored deep caves with dark, velvety water. We even found one cave that went far into the rock until the sunshine disappeared. In the pitch black we found a small patch of sand and docked our kayaks, eager to explore the depths of this hidden beach. The walk-able part was small, dank, and dark; I felt certain I was going to find the bones of an old pirate back there.
In the end, I can't even remember how many caves we saw, but I do remember that I never tired of them. Each time we paddled into a new cave, I felt that same sense deep sense of wonder and awe.
Other exciting escapades
Kayaking in a cave was not my only first during this trip. Less than an hour later, the second first appeared: my first jellyfish.
Until that moment I had only seen jellyfish at the aquarium or in Spongebob episodes. I had been warned there would be jellyfish in the water and hoped to see one, but as we paddled out of our first cave I looked down to see not only one, but hundreds of jellyfish floating just beneath the surface. I shrieked with joy and flapped my arms like a toddler seeing a puppy (or like me seeing a puppy). Rich and Ted laughed, "Have you never seen a jellyfish?"
"No, I haven't!"
"You can touch them, if you want," Rich told me. I raised my eyebrows and glared at him, as if to say, I'm not that dumb. "No, really," He insisted, "only their tentacles sting. You can touch the top of them." I reached my hand gingerly into the water. I stuck out one finger and lightly stroked the top of one of the jellyfish, then retracted my hand and let out another excited shriek. I poked it a few more times out of curiosity before Ted and Rich convinced me to keep kayaking. But much like the caves, it turned out the jellyfish were plentiful around Comino and I had many more opportunities to ogle them.
As the day went on my muscles grew tired and my shoulders protested the unfamiliar movement. But the sunny weather and sparking water kept a smile on my face; I felt at ease on the water, happy to get away from the stress that waited on land. And Ted did a good job of keeping that stress away. Between the peaceful stretches of kayaking and cave exploring, he brought us onto land for the occasional break and on-foot exploring.
When our lunch break rolled around, Ted suggested we all hike to the top of the hill for a spectacular view and a visit to the fort. He led the way, teaching us about the history of the large complex, which had apparently acted as a quarantine during the plague and later a mental hospital where some frowned-upon experiments took place (and is not most definitely haunted). The fort at the peak was closed, but that hardly stopped us. We stepped over the rope, walked past the "Closed" sign, and climbed to the top, walking around the edge and gawking at the 360-degree view from up there. I was stuck into silence. Mind you, I'm a sucker for a good view, but up on that tiny island staring at out the ocean and the massive rocks, I feel certain anyone would have been impressed.
Before I knew it, Ted was pointed across the ocean to the other island. It was time to return to Gozo. I couldn't believe we had made it around the island. It had gone so quickly! I was so full of energy! But the wind was picking up now and the waves were rolling in. The work was far from over.
I paddled hard, but I had neither the experience nor the strength of my kayak companions. Every wave carried me off course and I struggled to keep my kayaking moving forward. I had suddenly gone from tired but comfortable to exhausted and ready to reach the dock. But my paddles didn't seem to bring me any closer and Gozo remained a far off destination I was convinced I would never reach.
Ted came up beside me. His face was full of smiles. "Paddle straight ahead until the swell catches you, then ride it out!" I turned my kayak in perpendicular to the waves and started paddling. The swell lifted my kayak and I lifted the paddle. The wave pushed me forward and I gathered speed, surfing across the ocean. Except the wave pushed a little too hard and suddenly I was rocking. Then I was grabbing my paddle, desperately trying to find center. Then I was laughing as a splash of water hit me in the face and my kayak steadied itself.
"Nice save!" Ted yelled over the wind.
We kept on like this for awhile, turning the waves into a game rather than a challenge, and soon enough I was back on shore, changing into a dry pair of pants and helping load the kayaks back onto the rack.
Rich suggested we all go get a drink. We picked up Will, one of the other kayak guides, along the way and went into town. Ted took us to a small bar on the corner where we got tea and a local Gozitan pastry for less than a pound. The place was full of locals and we had to squeeze into what few open seats we could find. We sat for awhile, enjoying the delicious food and nourishing tea, laughing at our own dumb jokes, and riding the adrenaline high that still pulsed in our veins.
Soon, it was time to say goodbye. A few hugs later and I was walking home alone; back to my warm bed. Back to a bottle of wine and a shower. Back to my cozy pajamas and a long sleep.
As I walked away from my day's companions, I smiled to myself and thought, "This is why I always say yes to adventure."