"People wondered why they didn´t take more risks, why they worried about having enough money in the bank" - Paul McDermott, Pilgrims.
During my four months in Koh Lanta, Thailand, at the start of this year, one of my fellow DMTs (Divemaster Trainees), Jane Waites, set up a DVD library which proved to be a huge hit among the staff at Blue Planet Divers.
If you had to be up at 6 a.m. for a day out on the boat, then it was great to lie at home in your beach bungalow and watch a good movie on your laptop instead of going to the pub of a week night.
One of the first videos I took out was called ´The Bucket List´, a tale of two old terminally ill characters, played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, who decide to live out their dreams before they "hit the bucket". They go all around the world and have a whale of a time, chasing adventures, but ultimately Freeman´s character (the poorer one) teaches Nicholson´s millionaire that all that really matters in this life is love.
The film really struck a chord with me as I came to the realisation that I was ticking off items on my own ´Bucket List´during my 2010 gap year.
And when I returned the DVD, I was thrilled to note that Jane had rented it out the night before me.
During my time in Thailand, Jane was an inspiration. For starters, she was older than me, when I was afraid on the way over that all the other DMTs would be 25 year old hunks and babes.
She had battled breast cancer two yeas earlier and, along with husband Chris, decided to change her life by selling her house in England and touring the world, becoming DMs and Instructors in the process. Two years on, they are still on the road and loving every minute of their new lives.
Jane is just one of the courageous people who have inspired me in 2010, just one of the amazing people I have befriended since I left my ´comfortable´(but unfulfilling) life in Galway behind in early January.
Since I left home I have lived on a tropical island in Thailand, become a professional DM (after 12 years of diving as a hobby), spent a whole summer in Spain (which just happened to be the year Spain won the World Cup!), learned an awful lot about Spain and the Basque Country, visited a tropical rainforest in Malaysia, and now I am living with a wonderful family in Panama, while learning even more Spanish for two weeks.
I´m enjoying knocking back the beers with the Panamanians on Saturday nights, but I have also seen how hard Pucho and Rita work in order to provide a better future for their teenage sons. They get up at 5 am every weekday.
In my daily walks around the beautiful mountain town of Boquete, I see indigenous Ngoble Bugle children whose futures are already bleak because their parents don´t bother to send them to school. Life in Panama is not easy, but what an incredible experience it is to live among these beautiful, friendly people, who love music and have a zest for life.
All of these experiences would be on my own personal ´Bucket List´... and so many people I´ve met in Thailand, Malaysia, Spain, and Panama have renewed my sense of adventure, plus my faith in humanity. Nine months on, I can´t imagine how negative I would be right now if I had not taken this career break from my job in the Connacht Tribune back in Ireland.
This morning, for example, I enjoyed a tranquil three hour trek through a beautiful rainforest. Then I spent four hours talking Spanish with, and learning from, my beautiful teacher, Leydis, at the Habla Ya school. She gets up at 4.30 a.m. and earns about 400 euros per month.
Today, I talked to a Danish couple who are touring Central America for five months with their two and five year old daughters. Life seems full of possibilities, instead of the negativity I experienced back in Ireland last month.
In the mornings, I leap out of bed, full of adventure and anticipation of what lies ahead. I can´t remember feeling like that at home in Ireland for a long time.
So I guess my point is that we should all make our ´Bucket List´right now ... because the time is now.
If I had toured the world when I was 25, I probably would have drank too much or got into silly drunken scrapes along the way. Right now, like Jane and Chris, I feel as though I´m living life to the full.
Why wait until you are 70 or 80 to live out your dreams? Because none of us really knows what lies around the corner, aren´t we all better off to live life to the full, right here, right now?
At 42, I thought I was too old for a gap year. Instead, I have been encouraged and enriched by all the good people I have met on my travels, and I still have two months of voluntary work to come.
For me, the biggest problem is going to be trying to convert my new found positivity into my mundane life back in Galway. But at least, in 2010, I have lived out my dreams to the full ... for the first time in over 40 years on this earth.
The quote at the start of this piece, by the way, comes from a hospice for the terminally ill.
It´s too late to regret not taking risks when you are at the end of your days, sitting in a wheelchair in an old folks´ home.
So thanks to the Tribune for giving me 12 months to explore, dream, and discover, and thanks to all the people who have inspired me along the way.
I´ve had fears and worries and down days on my travels, but this has been the most enjoyable year of my life so far. By a long shot.
Because, like others I´ve met this year, such as Emma and Raggi in Thailand, or Amanda in Spain, I had the courage to try to live out my ´Bucket List´.
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