During my junior year of studying at university, I had the opportunity to do something that most students can only dream of doing. I figured out that with the courses I had left to complete for my degree, I could take an entire semester off and still graduate on time! This was wonderful news to me. Should I get another job? Should I travel? What should I do with this semester? It was in the midst of these thoughts and quandaries that my roommate at the time told me all about her experience volunteering the previous summer in Hawaii. Volunteering…. Hmm… I liked the sound of that.
I applied to volunteer in several other countries but did not really hear anything back from the organizations I was looking to work with. As winter break quickly approached, I had to figure out something. So I sent in my application to volunteer at the University of the Nations in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii “just in case” nothing else worked out. They got back to me within a week and before I knew it, I was told to buy my plane tickets and be there for the end of December. I did not know anyone there or really anything about what I had just signed up for. But while my friends registered for the spring semester, I packed my bags with shorts, T-shirts, and flip flops, hopped on a plane. I wound up on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
My first impressions were positive. The people I would be working with seemed nice and we had a pretty good set up. We received free accommodations and food for volunteering, so there was really nothing to worry about. As I unpacked my suitcase and surveyed the room I would be sharing with my new roommate, I was filled with anticipation and excitement for the next six months.
In the midst of this blissful moment of reflection, I heard a loud knock on my door. “Hey, wanna come with us? We are getting a group together to go see some manta rays!” Standing at my door was a blonde gal a few years older than I. Sure, why not? She told me to find a flashlight and a ziplock bag, grab some snorkel gear, and head out to the truck in five minutes. So I quickly changed, rushed around my new home trying to find some gear, and jumped in the bed of the truck with ten other new faces.
We drove along the highway for about half an hour until we pulled up to a very (and I mean VERY) nice hotel, overlooking the ocean. It was dark already, but the lights from the hotel shone brightly to illuminate the surrounding area. What are we doing here? No matter. I followed my new found friends through a garden of the hotel and around one of the sides of the building. We soon approached some lava rocks that provided a barrier between the ocean and the hotel. “We are here!” someone in our group exclaimed.
(On a side note: I really had no idea what “Seeing some manta rays” would entail. In my mind I had this picture of our group slowly wading into waist-high water somewhere along the coast while manta rays just swam joyfully around us in the shallow water (think Sea World or the likes). Clearly I misunderstood.)
We dropped off our things on the rocks, placed our flashlights in the ziplock bags, and strapped on our snorkel masks and flippers. There was one area of the ocean illuminated by a spotlight from the hotel. We were going to swim out to where the light reflected on the surface of the ocean and look for manta rays there. I got this. I can swim! No problem… I think…? As I stepped closer to the edge of the rocks from which I would jump into the ocean (hopefully in sync with the waves crashing to and fro), the pit in my stomach dropped deeper and deeper.
I was in. There was no turning back now. All I could think to do was to continue swimming towards the light. The ocean seemed so vast and dark compared to the little light produced from my flashlight in its ziplock bag. But boy did I swim. The water was deep enough for me to know that I did not really want to take into consideration what could be under the surface. So I just kept swimming.
When I finally reached the hotel’s spotlight on the water, I was relieved to see the friendly faces of my fellow adventurers and to be reminded that I was not alone in our mission to see the manta rays. We ducked under the surface a few times to check out the illuminated water around us. Sure enough, we could see the shadowy figures of some huge manta rays. They drew in closer and closer as they seemed to dance around our feet kicking beneath the surface. What a wondrous sight!
After some time, we headed back to the rocks, climbed out and jumped back into our truck. As we drove back to our new home, we chatted about all that we had just experienced. Is this what the next six months will be like? I wondered. I had little idea of what would be in store for the months to come on that island, but I did know that as of that night my life would never be the same. This was the dawn of a new era; a time of taking risks and going on wild adventures; a time of simply saying “yes” and jumping into deep waters.
What is a risk you have taken that has led you on an awesome whirlwind of adventure? Are there any risks you are thinking of taking? Share in the comments below! 🙂