I am a Scuba School Dropout

It’s never fun to admit failure, but it’s true that I threw in my fins and quit scuba school.

In doing a little soul searching in the wake of dropping out of my (non-refundable) open-water scuba training, I can take the unpleasant admissions one step further: I just didn’t fit in on the island of Koh Tao.

Sunset on Koh Tao
Sunset at Crystal Dive Koh Tao. (Koh Tao means “Turtle Island,” hence the large turtle.)

It’s possible that I was just adjusting to island life, since Koh Tao was the first of the Thailand islands that I visited. By the time that I left the islands for the mountains of northern Thailand, my sunburned skin was bronzed, my makeup bag was forgotten, and I had entirely embraced the fact that my thick hair would never be fully dry (I have yet to find a working hair dryer).

In those early days on Koh Tao, my wetsuit irritated my constant sunburn, I was still trying to use a credit card in an entirely cash economy, and I hadn’t learned to take my shoes off before entering a store, or to throw tissue in the bin instead of the toilet. Shoot, I hadn’t even been on a scooter yet.

Beach hair
Beach hair don’t care! (But it took a minute to get there.)

Even so, looking back at all of the places that I have visited across Thailand, Koh Tao remains the one place that I walked away from without making a friend.

Part of it is that I will never be a proper beach bum, and Koh Tao is a surfing, diving, snorkeling mecca that attracts the type of people who somehow look good in wetsuits and who have the kind of hair that dries into natural, sun-kissed waves about the shoulders.

Sunset on Koh Tao.
Proper beach bums enjoy a sunset on Koh Tao with guitars and the local beer (Chang).

Part of it is that, for the first time in the eight months of wandering the world solo, I felt truly alone on that island.

The Buddy System

It started with Day One of the classroom lessons of the PADI Open-Water Course at Crystal Dive Koh Tao. We learned the importance of always having your “buddy,” your dive partner, in your sight. I looked around in horror, was anybody else in that room alone?

The answer: No.

So, I was paired up the next day with a group of five young friends who walked over to the resort each day from their hostel on the other side of the island. My buddy was a quick study and a water lover. My nervous approach to the whole endeavor was like a lead weight to his buoyant enthusiasm.

After a day of feeling like a floundering idiot, I decided to drop out. And, as I consoled myself with a beer on the beach, I had to admit that it wasn’t just that I didn’t fit in on Koh Tao, or with my scuba group.

No, it was the fact that my buddy in life wasn’t there to ease my fears.

While I believe that Jeff always has me – and all those he loved – in his sight, cheering me on from wherever his spiritual journey has taken him, it doesn’t change the fact that I needed his physical presence in order to finish that course.

Finding Zen on Thailand’s Islands

I left Koh Tao for its neighboring island of Koh Phangan and found an entirely different vibe that was much more my style. Though I was walking into another experience that I was nervous about, I immediately met like-minded friends with whom I danced until dawn at the legendary Full-Moon Party.

Post party, I had a sweeter admission to make: I would have never gone to the Full-Moon Party before I met Jeff (who would have relished the chance to dress up in all neon and dance the night away). I would have missed out on an experience that I’ll always remember fondly.

I also had to admit that I needed a detox. So, I hopped into a songthaew and headed for the remote hills, into a yoga and healing center surrounded by woods and waterfalls.

Songthaew in Thailand
Different from a Tuk Tuk, a Songthaew is the Thai version of a shared ride, or Uber pool.

Now this experience I knew how to handle.

Yoga mat. #myyogamattravels
I took this picture on Koh Tao after I dropped out of scuba school and went back to my yoga mat for comfort.

The Wonderland Healing Center was exactly what I needed. Between yoga classes, meditation sessions, mango smoothies, and hammock naps, I met people from all over the world, and of all ages, with whom it was easy to share a laugh and a life story.

Wonderland Healing Center dinner
Guests chat in the dining area of the Wonderland Healing Center on Koh Phangan.

It was a peaceful experience that even taught me to love island life a little.

Koh Phangan
One of the beaches of Koh Phangan

(Though, in full disclosure, I did struggle with the vegan detox and may have escaped on the back of a friend’s scooter to share a cheese pizza – only to end up with a 24-hour bout of food poisoning. They call that Karma, I think.)

Traveling to Thailand? Save for Later!

10 Comments on “I am a Scuba School Dropout”

  1. Pingback: Surfing and Sunflowers in Canggu, Bali | The Lens of Jen

  2. Jen, this is a great piece and tells the real story about travel and life— being open to new experiences but knowing when to bale! Sending hugs from freezing Chicago…Nina

  3. Pingback: Summer Camp at the Cave Lodge | The Lens of Jen

  4. Jen, I admire your bravery at ditching corporate America and have enjoyed reading about your adventures. I know we only met for a few days on one of Allison’s yoga retreats in Mexico but I feel I know you through your interesting, entertaining and sometimes heart breaking writing. I feel even more connected to your story about “life’s too short” and “seizing the moment” because I recently lost a friend of 20+ years to Glioblastoma (brain cancer). She was 49 and left behind her husband and 2 young kids. She had amazing zest for a life and contagious Joy and I still can’t believe I am never going to see her again, hear her laugh or hear one of her many jokes. I am glad to hear you are finding your way to heal. Thanks for sharing!

    • Gia,

      I saw the news on Facebook about your friend. I know quite personally that there are no words, though, please know that you’ve been in my thoughts and that I’m deeply sorry for your loss.

      For me, I turned to yoga and meditation and a book called “Awaken the Spirit Within”. I’m still searching for the person who sent me that book just as I was leaving for my four-month whirlwind through Europe. It just turned up in my mailbox with no note, and it changed me.

      Sometimes I think that moments like that are infused with a little nudge and love from beyond. I’ll never know, but it gives me comfort to think so.

      If you ever need anything (other than a good laugh at how much I suck at swimming and biking!), please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m happy to chat at any time.

      Sending love,

  5. Jen…Thanks for including us in your journey. My husband, Joe, and I are friends of Alan and Susan’s. I have know Susie since Bucknell, and we just returned from a trip to Arizona with them. I look forward to sharing in your adventures.


    • Janie…You must have been in Arizona then when I heard from Susan who said…”hey, we all subscribe to your blog, but we never get an email.” Ha. I needed that kick in the pants! It turns out blogging is a lot of work!

      So, thank YOU both for the nudge to get going and for following along on my adventures.

      All the best,

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