When I was a tot, my dad threw me in the ocean in an attempt to teach me how to swim. I was weird, even then: instead of being severely traumatised, I fell in love. With the water.
Then, six years ago, on a whim, I signed up for an open water course while on holiday in Khao Lak, Thailand. I did it simply to see if I could conquer my fear of enclosed spaces. (In case you’re wondering, when you descend for the first time, it feels like the ocean is closing in on you.) Turns out, I could. It also turns out, with prolonged and consistent exposure to boats, one can also overcome severe seasickness.
And sometime between then and today, I fell even more in love with the ocean than I had believed was possible.
I love skimming the ocean’s waves as much as I love being under them, exploring new worlds. I love staring out into an expanse of ocean, feeling like the smallest, most insignificant being that’s ever breathed. There is something very liberating in being inconsequential.
So hiking’s never been on my list of to-dos. I mean, I don’t even like to walk. Why walk when you can swim, right?
Until The List.
For the first time in my 30 years, I visited MacRitchie Reservoir Park. I feel ridiculous admitting it in the public sphere, but I take comfort in the fact that this blog is anonymous.
So, I had a plan. I had a goal (the Jelutong Tower, in case you were wondering). I printed a map. I packed a bag. I slathered on sunblock and drowned my clothes in mosquito repellent. Tightened my ankle guard. Plugged in to some random Spotify Classical music playlist. I set off.
(If you’ve not come to this conclusion yourself yet, there’s a large part of my personality that is Type A.)
But I was not expecting what came next.
As I entered the silent forest and the deserted trail, I felt the most unbelievable sense of peace. It almost felt like how I do underwater — the surroundings closing in, and you’re completely alone; just you and your breathing, rising and falling, over and over again. I loved it.
I loved the monotonous and constant thak thak thak my shoes made on the soggy soil. I loved looking up at the green canopy of leaves, seeing the sunlight come through. I loved the smell of the damp soil and trees. I loved the sounds the forest was making: the light chatter of the insects, rustle of the leaves and the random bird calls. I loved how calm it all was.
After an hour of brisk walking, I arrived at a fork in the road, and discovered that the trail that would’ve led to my goal was closed. Type A in me screamed, “Just walk back around the reservoir and hike the other way! Or go past the barricade — what could possibly happen?“ For a good fifteen minutes after, I walked back and forth, up and down different paths, and out someways at the exits that were available, trying to find another way to the the tower.
Then, it hit me what they mean when they say: happiness is in the journey, not the destination.
You see, goals are all well and good, but I tend to develop an almost unhealthy focus on them, as a means to happiness. And when I don’t achieve what I set out to do, I stop counting the blessings that are apparent. I mean, I was standing in the midst of magnificent nature, and all I could think of was this tower?
So I took a deep breath, stopped listening to my personality, and found a comfortable spot by the river. After spending some time listening to fish cartwheeling in the water, and watching kingfishers circle overhead, I trekked back the way I came, enjoying the same path I had tread on so joyously before. I allowed myself to be delighted all over again.
Perhaps, the next time I visit the park, I will turn right instead, and find my tower. Or not.