I just met a good friend for dinner, and we realised something.
The last time we met more than a year ago, life could not have been more different for both of us. Especially for her.
The last time we saw each other was in October last year in Copenhagen. At the time, I was wide-eyed with fascination after moving 10,000 km up north, while she had felt trapped living in Singapore and wanted to move somewhere else. That was what compelled her to go on a solo trip to Europe, and I was lucky enough to have her visit me while I was still studying in Denmark.
Fast forward a year later, she is living half a world away in San Francisco, a whole new world of opportunities right in front of her. While what brought her there might not be a job like how she had planned, she did break free in the end and is in the midst of her own kind of adventures.
Whereas for me, I am situated slightly less up north than last year. While I knew that I had signed up for a life of uncertainties when I decided to drop everything back home and enroll into my Master’s programme, it still did not prepare me for just how different and unexpected things could be in a year’s time.
Exactly this day last year, my sister would be arriving at the Central Station in Aarhus and we were about to embark on an exciting adventure in Norway. I would have broken down the night before because my computer had crashed 10 minutes before my exam deadline, forcing me to submit an incomplete paper without the bibliography. I would have feared that I might get expelled for accidental plagiarism and might have called my programme coordinator crying and begging her to still allow me to go to Berkeley even if I were to fail that exam (I passed). I would also have barely recovered from the shock of having my room broken into in the midst of my exam period.
This year, I am having a quiet night in my cosy room in London (theft-free, hopefully) on a Saturday, my legs sore from standing for 7 hours a day for the past 5 days working in a shop in Camden Market. Instead of going further up north for my winter break, I am flying home to see my family and friends again after having been away for only 4 months.
And as I am sitting on my bed overlooking the misty night pondering about this, I realised something else about myself.
That I truly am a procastinator.
It has been exactly a year ago since I went to Tromsø. Whilst I did manage to scrape something up about my successful Northern Lights chase, I have completely ignored writing about another major nature wonder that we did in the lovely city (and had spent equally a lot of money on): the whale watching.
Being a great travel planner that I am, I did not even know that whale watching is a highly recommended activity in Tromsø. It was not until a random guy who came to teach us fishing in the freezing cold on our first night there told us about it that we came to know about such expeditions.
At first we brushed the idea aside as some kind of tours that tourists get cheated into. However, when we failed to see the Northern Lights on our first attempt, my sister and I resolved that we would not leave Tromsø until we saw something else other than some snow and the all-day darkness.
So we signed up for the whale watching tour on a whim, not knowing what to expect apart from the fact that we would be freezing our a** off in the middle of the Norwegian Sea.
We came back home way after midnight the night before and had to wake up at the crack of dawn the next day to take the bus. The tour that we took left from the city centre and took us to, you guessed it, the Whale Island (or Kvaløya in Norwegian).
When we got there, we had to don a spacesuit-like outfit because apparently no normal winter jackets could protect us from the crazy temperature we were about to experience.
We started easy, staying pretty close to the shore. For some time all we saw was nothing…
But not long after, something happened that might have made me shriek with joy and excitement.
When people first mentioned whale watching, I mistakenly thought that we would be sitting inside some big boat, binoculars in hand, ready to spot some black speck moving in the sea once every half an hour. I totally did not expect to see them swimming so gracefully next to my boat and sometimes passing under it.
At times when the whales decided to hide from our sight, the sea would be calm, and I would start to notice how my fingers went from being numb to painful from the freezing temperature.
But every time I heard a splash and a huff which normally indicated that they were reappearing, I would immediately forget how cold it was, take my hand out of my gloves ready to shoot with my camera. My mouth was probably in a constant state of gaping throughout the whole episode.
But how could I not? It is not every day I get to chill (literally) in a boat with so many whales around and such a majestic sight in front of me.
While out in the sea, I experienced a constant struggle between keeping my fingers warm whenever the whales were out of sight but at the same time making sure that I would be quick enough to have my camera ready whenever they suddenly reappeared.
The cold made it feel like we were out at the sea forever, but still, I couldn’t get enough of watching the whales. By the time it ended, I was half relieved to be able to feel my fingers and toes again and half saddened that I would no longer experience the thrill of seeing the whales emerging from the water.
It was an exhilarating journey, so much more than how I had imagined it to be: we got to see the whales so much closer than I thought, and my fingers were in unexpectedly a lot more pain than I was prepared for.
Just like how the past year has been, things tended to blow up so much out of proportion, the good and the bad times were so pronounced, catching me completely off guard.
2016 has truly been a tough year. Just like how I chose to go out there to freeze in the Norwegian Sea, this year I have deliberately opened myself more to be vulnerable. As a result I was hurt way too many times, just like how my fingers and toes were in so much pain from the cold. But I did it again and again anyway – I exposed my fingers to have my camera ready, because if I didn’t, I would have missed out on the majestic whales that could suddenly appear.
I might not have come out completely unscathed (just look at my hair in the picture – and my boots smelled fishy for the next few weeks no matter how many times I washed them), but I made it till the end.
All the struggle that I went through this year, while some of the wounds it left still sting, I know that I have grown so much stronger than ever. With about two weeks left till the end of 2016, I know that I will make it there somehow, ruffled hair and all.
And the whales that I saw along the way throughout the year? They were completely worth it. 😉