“I know people are scared to say this, but right now, I love you,” he said in Spanish. His tone was light and playful, but sincere, and as I looked out into the lavender clouds, I knew exactly what he meant because I felt it too – an overwhelming feeling of joy and euphoria and gratitude towards everything. I was in love, not just with this stranger, but with this place, this sky, this moment. Above all, I was fiercely in love with myself. “I love you too,” I said to him and to the wind as it carried my words out into the sand, the ocean, the Universe.
I’ve been saying goodbye to places and people for as long as I remember. My mom is a gypsy incapable of staying in one place, so we moved around a lot, but the fact that I’m constantly on the move, has never kept me from falling in love. Everywhere I go and with everyone I meet, I leave a little piece of me. I’ve always been a lover and a dreamer, and traveling has only made me love harder and dream bigger.
The past two months in Asia were full of life changing moments and experiences that deepened my understanding of my existence and the Universe. I went to India seeking enlightenment, and along the way developed a more passionate desire to be fully immersed in every moment of my life. Dreamville Hostel in Kuala Lumpur blessed me with amazing strangers who became my family in less than one week. We danced, we drank, we sang, and we bonded over the fact that all of us were wanders on a path with no real destination, just aimlessly exploring the wonders of this beautiful planet. I haven’t been blogging that much lately because I’ve been so enthralled with my travels, but I feel ready to open up about my experience in Indonesia because that is where I found it, what we are all so desperately looking for – happiness, the kind that floods your body and soul, that reminds you of what you felt when you were a kid so young and naïve, that causes you to sob uncontrollably because you’ve realized this is it, this is really it.
I arrived into Denpasar, Indonesia Monday late at night and took an Uber to Ubud. For those of you who have read Eat Pray Love or seen the movie with Julia Roberts, this is where Elizabeth Gilbert found love. I wasn’t expecting to meet a gorgeous Brazilian man who would whisk me away on a boat, but I was hoping for something special. The next morning I went into the city center looking for Wayan the Healer from her book. I paid about $35 for a reading, but ultimately I didn’t feel the same connection to her that Liz did. She was charming and sweet, and although I don’t necessarily feel scammed, I also don’t feel like she told me anything about myself that I didn’t already know. I had come to this medicine woman seeking some kind of guidance, but I left with no new knowledge of what was coming or my self.
During my brief stay in Ubud, I found myself feeling lonelier than I had during my entire trip. Everyone around me was coupled up or with their families, and although I have developed an appreciation for being alone, I wasn’t really connecting with the city. I decided to leave on Friday for Gili Trawangant, a small island off the coast of Bali.
Because it was low season, it wasn’t uncomfortably packed with tourists. You can walk the entire perimeter of the island in less than half a day. On Gili T there are no cars or motorized vehicles, just bikes, carts with horses, and the occasional electric scooter. The water was crystal clear blue and out in the coast you could see the mountains of Bali. Like the rest of Indonesia, the Gili Islands are predominantly Muslim, so there was a beautiful mosque that broadcasted the daily prayers five times a day. Many native women wore the hijab, and there were signs around the inside part of the town that asked women to not walk around in bikinis out of respect for the culture.
I checked into my dorm at Gili Gypsy, a hostel about 10 minutes away from the beach, and began wandering. Because the island is fairly small, I explored without fear of getting lost. Most of the restaurants and bars for tourists are by the beach, but the inside of the town is mostly for residents. Locals seem to be okay with travelers and have a very warm and open attitude towards us. When I started feeling hungry, I moved towards the more touristy area. I kept scanning the restaurants, looking for something that would catch my eye, but instead I found someone. We made eye contact, acknowledging each other’s presence with a look of interest. I sat seat near him and asked, “Are you Latin?” He said he was Spanish and joined me at my table.
We talked for about two hours, switching between Spanish and English. Julian was an ex-pat living in Gili T. During a day trip, he fell in love with the island and decided to move. He became a dive instructor and has been living here for four years. He explained the enchantment of the island, and we discussed our travels and lives. Of all of the places I could have walked into, I wandered to the dive shop where he works. There was an undeniable spark. When I left we exchanged info and agreed to meet later for dinner.
I continued exploring the island and ended up on a beach with a swing and hammock in the ocean, the perfect spot to lie down and do nothing. I met two female travelers and they quickly took me into their group. We spent the next few hours laughing at tourists who came to take a picture on the swing, and then planning how we’d get the perfect picture as well. In Ubud I felt lonely, but the magic of Gili T had connected me with amazing people within hours of arriving. When Julian messaged me about dinner, I parted ways with the girls with the promise that we’d meet up again soon.
We went to the night market for dinner where I ate some amazing local cuisine and a delicious Nutella banana pancake. Our conversation picked up right as we left off. We walked around the island hand in hand, glued to each other, like that annoying couple in the honeymoon phase, not wanting the night to end.
The next day, I woke up craving the ocean. I rented a snorkel and goggles and went to the beach. Around 3:00 p.m. as I was walking by the shore solo, I heard someone call my name and saw the two girls I had met the day before. I joined them on their beanbags, and we relaxed by the water in bliss. I kept looking out into the distance thinking, wow, I can’t believe I am actually out here in this beautiful island. The girls asked if I’d like to join them on a snorkeling trip the next day and I enthusiastically said yes. We agreed to meet the next day, and I went back home to shower and nap before dinner.
Around 5:30 p.m. Julian messaged me about meeting up, but I felt a strong urge to go out to the beach on my own, so I ignored the message and went back out to the ocean. In Goa I fell in love with the sunset, but here in the islands they call the hour after the sunsets the “anti-sunset.” I found an empty beach and sat down to bask in this magical time by myself.
I watched the sky change from bright blue to burnt orange to light pink to soft lavender then back to a dark shade of blue. I sat on the beach focusing on the colors of the sky, the sounds of the waves, the feeling of the ocean breeze, and I sobbed, overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of everything. People come to Bali for a life changing experience, and I felt like this was it. Seeing all of that wonder in front of me made me realize how breathtakingly beautiful my life is. I closed my eyes and let all of the emotions hit me. I let go of sad memories, I forgave myself for mistakes, I thanked the Universe for blessings, I sent out my love to people who I missed, I basked in the brevity of life. I’m not sure how much time I spent there on the beach, lost in space, but I can still feel the sand hugging my skin from when I laid down and looked out into the stars.
When I felt ready to come back to reality, I walked over to Sama Sama, a reggae bar, and messaged Julian. We spent the first half of the night jumping around from bar to bar, enjoying different types of music and each other’s company. Then, we ended the night at an Indian spot smoking hookah as I told him about my emotional experience by the sea. I didn’t have to explain it too much, because he knew exactly what I had felt. It’s the island. We sat there in silence, cuddled up on the pillows by the pool at the open-air restaurant. I felt such a deep feeling of peace and gratitude in my heart.
The next morning I woke up early to meet up with my girlfriends for our snorkeling adventure. It was my first time ever actually going out into the ocean to snorkel, and I felt a combination of nerves and excitement. I could feel my body resisting the ocean, but with the guidance of my friends, who were both experienced divers, I was able to dive deeper into the ocean and see the wonders that live in the water. I was in awe with it all. For less than $10, I was able to explore a whole new world of blue.
After the five-hour dive trip, I went back home to rest. I met up with Julian a little later, and we went on a sunset walk out by the beach. We found a lounge with beanbags on the sand facing the ocean, so we ordered some drinks and got comfortable. I shared with him my enthusiasm about the ocean, and he laughed saying that one day he’d like to take me out diving.
There was so much warmth between us. He looked over at me and said something about how glad he was that we had met. Then those sheer words of honest vulnerability came out, so open and unafraid. I love you. In two days we had fallen in love, and maybe it wasn’t the kind of love that couples who have been married for decades share or the kind of love that you would take a bullet for someone, but it was the kind of love you feel when you allow yourself to fully open up to someone without letting your fears and insecurities get in the way.
“I fall in love every time,” I told him. And he said that that’s a good thing, “How nice it must be to allow your self to truly feel everything.” I’ve never understood why people are so timid to say I love you. I say it all the time, to my friends, to my family, to strangers because I’m just bursting with a strong current of warmth and compassion towards everyone around me. I had met this beautiful man who let me in, and I was in love, and I didn’t care how crazy it sounded. “I find that saying goodbye isn’t that hard anymore,” he said, “Because you realize that everything is like the ocean coming and going.”
I didn’t understand how he could feel this way. For me, it’s always been difficult to leave a place or a person, even though I always find somewhere or someone new. “I don’t want to leave,” I whispered. “Just be here right now,” he responded. We sat quietly, feeling each others’ warmth, and I let the colors of the sky, the sounds of the ocean, and the sensation of his skin pressed against mine bring me back to the present. I thought back to one of my favorite quotes from The Alchemist…
“I love you because the entire Universe conspired to help me find you.”
What a miracle. I was in love. With the way he wasn’t afraid to feel things, with the way he spoke about life and its wonders, but most of all I was in love with the way he looked at me, like I was magic.
“Sofia, you’re a dreamer. You have so much passion for life,” he said pulling me in closer to his chest. When you fall in love with someone, you don’t just fall in love with who they are, you fall in love with everything you see about yourself in them. Julian and I had recognized the same fire in each other and had allowed our selves to completely let go for those few days. Because I would be leaving soon, there were no expectations on our relationship, no pressure. We were just two souls that had happily collided on our journeys. We stayed like that in silence with each other, saying nothing, but feeling everything.
Our bliss was interrupted by our dinner plans with friends. The night ended with us in hysterics as we tried to find our way back to our hotels slightly tipsy without any streetlights to illuminate our path.
When I woke up, it dawned on me that this was it, that I would be leaving tomorrow. Julian had gotten the day off, so we spent it together getting completely lost in the water, the sand, the island and each other. It was the perfect ending to my time on Gili Trawangan. There were no tears when we said our goodbyes the next day, no sorrow, and no promises that we would reunite soon, just love and gratitude for everything that had brought us together. We embraced each other knowing that it might be the last time we ever would, but with the knowledge that the Universe worked in mysterious ways and maybe, just maybe one day we would collide again.
I got on my boat and left the island in peace, ready for whatever was coming next…