I remember when the glorious colors of the sunset faded into darkness. It was then that it started to hit me. The feelings of ecstasy I felt at having just witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets started to plunge my very being into loneliness with the fact that I was traveling alone.
Darkness started to descend on the island. I made my way back to the porch of the only hotel on Kai (also known as Kei Island) with its flickering lightbulb, where my dinner sat waiting for me. In daylight, I had treasured the fact that I seemed to have this entire island and its beautiful beaches to myself. I had swam in its gorgeous waters alone. And, I had loved the break in having to make conversation with anyone in this untouched place. A place where not even an internet signal connected me to the world outside.
But, the sight of the table with five huge overflowing plates of food consisting of fried whole greasy fish, rice, water spinach, cold omelets, and green beans just made the blackness of the night and my mood seem even darker.
There is nothing like sitting at a table full of food set for one to make you realize that you are in Paradise, but you are in Paradise alone. And there is nothing or no one to face except yourself.
Then, halfway through my meal, it happened. The power went completely out and I sat in complete darkness. Darkness thick as black velvet surrounded me. I could see nothing as the whir from the wings of bats whizzed by my ears. And, I could no longer see my food to eat it. I suddenly felt more alone than I’d ever felt in my life. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if traveling alone was a good idea after all.
But then, the owner of the hotel appeared. He held a lighter over my head, so I could eat. My eyes met his, and I knew I was never really alone. There was always someone watching, someone who cared.
This led me to go on. Onward to Ambon, the bustling port city where I met the only other foreign tourist, who asked me, “What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?” He then proceeded to guide me through its durian scented streets showing me fruits I had never tasted and sights I’d never seen.
Next, I journeyed all the way to Papua to Raja Ampat where I swam with manta rays and starfish and sharks. Dancing by the light of the full moon, I waited alone for the sun to come up. I listened to flying fish jump through the water. Friendly people greeted me, their only transportation a canoe that glided through the waters with the fish they had caught that day.
I saw the happiness of people who had very little, and thought of the contrast with how busy my life had become. So busy, always surrounded by music and chatter and technology and people who I could hardly bear to watch a sunset alone. I started listening to the silence around me and started looking at who I was and what it was I wanted from this life. I realized all that I still wanted to discover and that more than anything I just wanted to be still.
What Traveling Alone Taught Me
And so at the end of my journey, I came back to the Western world, and I started taking time each day to just listen. And to watch. I started noticing the shadows of the clouds and not just the clouds. I noticed the light in between the tree branches. And I listened to what the breeze said to me. Then, I sold everything that I owned, so that I could go traveling alone. Then, I went on an even bigger journey. A journey that took me to see more of this beautiful world and more of its beautiful people, but, most of all, a journey that took me to see who I am in the center of it all.