I’m sitting at the airport with a heavy heart and a shivering soul. I have packed all my belongings into a backpack and I’m ecstatic to see the world again. I have been longing to get away from materialism and wealth for so long and I feel like this might finally be my chance. I might finally learn how to make peace with my past and embrace my beautifully flawed self. I’ve never been one to strive for a successful career or some fancy social status. I was always the wandering girl losing herself to one of her daydreams. When I became a medical school dropout, I stopped molding myself to society’s expectations and started devoting my life to adventure instead. Traveling across the world was always my first love. Long before I even met him. As I flew alone to the opposite side of the earth, my heart began healing in ways I could have never imagined.
I first landed in Jakarta. I stepped out of the airport and felt overwhelmed by how busy it was. The heat was unbearable. I thought to myself those gentle snowflakes in my Amsterdam layover were long gone. I gazed upon the continual coming and going of people and cars. Families coming together. Lovers running into each other’s arms. There was no single soul waiting for me there, except my own. But in that moment, I realized it was precisely what I went looking for. Myself. Broken, yet still standing. And it would have to be enough. I’d have to be enough.
The next day, I flew to Yogyakarta. It had been three days since I left France. Three days since I last had a shower or a chance to take a nap. My body was covered in mosquito bites and I suffered from crippling back pain but none of these seemed to matter because here I was, embarking on the craziest and most fulfilling adventure of my life. Singing with locals on the bus and getting kissed on the cheek by complete strangers. Asia was bringing its share of wild surprises and I was ready to soak them all in.
After walking around back alleys for what seemed like forever, I finally reached the house I was looking for. I put my backpack down before engaging in a conversation with the sweetest owner. I then proceeded to take a shower and excitedly hurried back into the beautiful jungle of Yogyakarta. No matter how jetlagged I was, I refused to waste any time. Wandering around the streets, I watched barefoot old men play chess directly on the ground. Their eyes sparkled with joy and a sense of wisdom I had never seen before. The funny thing about coming from a developed country is that you may have all the money in the world but it doesn’t make you any richer. In fact, I had never felt poorer than when my eyes met theirs.
Three young girls befriended me on Malioboro Street and we spent the afternoon hanging out and laughing like lifelong friends. I couldn’t understand why but they all seemed to be looking up to me and I giggled at the silly idea of being a long-lost sister to these sweethearts. We’d stop quite often so that locals could take a picture with me, which felt absurd and embarrassing at first but I gradually went along with the crowd. I looked back on those endless bus rides to high school, desperately hoping for strangers to connect with one another. I remembered the time I gazed at that ridiculously shy boy on the bus for the first time. If I had been brave enough to ask for a selfie – alright, maybe just say hello to begin with -, we wouldn’t have had to wait years before falling in love with each other. Reflecting on all those missed opportunities, I started embracing all the awkward selfportraits I was asked to be a part of. I hugged people on the street who were no longer strangers but had become friends. I came home shortly after midnight and decided to book a sunrise tour to Borobudur Temple. I had only three hours left to sleep so I rushed into an unknown dorm and fell asleep instantly.
At 4am, I met up with an Italian solo backpacker and we hiked together until we were high enough to watch the sunrise over the Indonesian hills. As we entered the temple and walked up the stairs, I found a sanctuary within myself and felt a form of enlightenment. I sat quietly next to the heart of the Buddha and everything slowly became clearer. This path I was walking was the tangled path towards my own heart. It is messy and painful but maybe every trauma, loss and heartbreak we go through is meant to be a lesson in the end. Maybe we have to endure storms in order to experience how beautiful rainbows feel like.
Six months ago, my whole life collapsed. After years of gathering all my forces into saving others, I lost my first love. But what I didn’t see then is that I had lost myself long before. I used to spend all my energy nurturing affection and trust in other human beings. I had so much love for life and every breathing soul in the universe, except my own. Failing to feel love from within was the saddest truth of all. After Kevin and I broke up, he started sending me letters and there was one in particular that stuck with me in which he wrote ‘Don’t ever doubt yourself. You don’t see how glowing and spirited you are, but I do. Everyone around you does too but it won’t make any difference if you don’t start trusting yourself. If you had as much love for yourself as you do for others, you could change the world. I’ve always thought you could. And I promise you will’.
And so I focused on seeing the light inside my own heart. After my crazy day in Borobudur, I embarked on yet another adventure. This time, I hopped on the cheapest night train I could find and made my way to Malang in the early morning. I kept on sacrificing sleep for adventure. No matter how rough the night had been, I felt invincible. I wasn’t about to let anything stop me from reaching that exquisite volcano I had read so much about. I managed to take several buses that looked more like miniature toys with no doors, but I didn’t mind the precariousness. I dangled my feet out of the bus and embraced the shakiness of such unique expedition.
My heart danced and danced, until I got off the bus and realized I was utterly lost. I walked down a foreign street in some place called Purwodadi, trying to make it to the next bus stop until I figured there was none. A man tried to scam me, which I had gotten used to by then and knew how to politely decline so I could continue on my way, except this time I didn’t have one. He pressured me to get into his car and said he’d take me to Tosari, which I refused but before I knew it, there were over ten men surrounding me, fighting for me or should I say, my money. I kept saying no and trying to pull myself away but they were so insistent and didn’t seem to be planning on leaving anytime soon. I could feel myself getting weaker and weaker until I finally managed to take shelter in a tiny supermarket. I tried to ask some help from younger workers but alas they knew no English. One of the men who had been harassing me came in and got pushier. I was drained of all energy and literally shut down while the checkout assistants tried their best to make the man leave. When he eventually did, they made me sit down and brought me some water. I thanked them and broke down in tears.
A few minutes later, I heard a woman talk to me in a broken English. Her name was Jalo. She was 29 and had a lovely 4-year-old daughter who took my hand and softly brought it to her cheek as a way to comfort me. Jalo was running errands when she saw me crying. She asked me where I was going and confirmed to me there was no minibus nor safe transportation over there. She offered to take me back to her house so I could rest and suggested to drive me herself to the next village on her motorcycle. I hugged the workers tightly then left with this woman and her daughter. As we got to her house, she introduced me to her family. Her younger sister took my backpack off while her mother made me tea. They could probably all see how tired and hopeless I was yet there was no judgment in their eyes, only compassion and utter kindness.
My Indonesian angel drove me to Nongkojajar where we made a stop at her brother’s house. It had almost been 24 hours since I last ate something so she cooked some delicious traditional meal for me. I met up with her eldest sister and children who kept smiling at me. They all welcomed me into their home as if I was family. I probably said thank you a million times to which Jalo responded ‘We help out each other’ with a smile. Her brother ended up giving me a ride to Tosari himself. It was the most beautiful motorcycle ride of my existence. I was no longer falling apart. It felt like I was a wide-eyed child seeing the world for the first time. We passed by people who’d wave at us with the warmest smile and shout ‘Hello!’ from the roadside. We finally reached the very top of the mountain – which would be my starting point to hike Bromo, an active volcano, the following day – and it was time to say goodbye. I kept thinking about ways to thank them but Jalo’s brother refused to take anything from me. He wished me a happy life and disappeared down the road.
Reflecting on this day, I see precisely why I travel and why I’ll never stop exploring the world. Traveling isn’t always rainbows and butterflies but it gives you such incredible introspection and consciousness. It allows you to open your mind and soul to others. It makes you practice gratitude. It reminds you to embrace life fully and to strive for the love within yourself. It heals wounded hearts and nourishes spiritual freedom. It’s a constant ode to Life, and it is too magnificent to ever give it up.
I woke up at 4am the next day and met up with an Indonesian man on a motocross. We hiked Bromo together, which was spectacular and possibly one of my best memories from Java. The owner of the homestay I was staying at gave me a ride back to the city and I arrived just in time for my train to Banyuwangi. I was sweating under the layers of clothes I’d had to wear on our morning hike so I opened my backpack and looked for the lightest item I could find. I had casually undressed on the railway platform, facing dozens of strangers in my underwear and here I was, struggling to find any proper piece of clothing as I’d had the bright idea to wrap my clothes in exotic fruit. I put an old pair of shorts on and laughed at the awkwardness of it all as I licked the rambutan off my stained teeshirt.
Maya welcomed me into her beautiful oasis under the pouring rain. I rested on a hammock for the rest of the day and went to bed at 7pm, before waking up at 11pm and hopping on a car that would be taking me to Ijen volcanic crater. Ijen is famous for its electric blue fire and it is beyond anything you could ever imagine if you make it past the crazy night hike. Fortunately, I was delighted to meet with fellow female travelers from all around the world and no matter how strenuous the hike was, we turned it into a beautiful flood of stories. We were all breathless and sleep-deprived but the stories kept unfolding and the connection I felt that night is one I’ll forever hold onto.
After chilling in a stunning deserted waterfall, I made it back to Didu’s Homestay and was greeted with banana pancakes and a dragon fruit smoothie. Needless to say, I went to food heaven and felt overwhelmed with gratitude for Maya and Djoko who might very well be the greatest hosts in the universe. I had to be heading to Bali in the evening and if two of the girls I had met earlier in Ijen didn’t turn out to be going as well and checking into the exact same hostel I had booked in remote Lovina, I would have certainly extended my trip in Banyuwangi. Alas, the way I travel is very similar to the way I feel. It is restless, chaotic and whole. My heart just never seems to stop. It strives for love and adventure. Always.
Julia and Annabel became the sweetest and funniest travel companions I could have asked for. I wasn’t expecting to walk part of the way with anyone but they became true friends and I had a hard time letting them go. Fortunately, we kept on bumping into each other and figured it was fate. We watched the sunset together, we faced a bitter old man together, we had horrible food together, we attended an amazing show together, we befriended monkeys together, we lost ourselves in the rice terraces together, we swallowed all the vegan food in Ubud together. I love being on my own but spending time with these two was beyond refreshing. I also felt safe enough to let them in and tell them about my story. One day, we met up for dinner after I had been reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s words all day on a hammock and I felt unusually confident and peaceful. I kept repeating I was as strong as a mountain and as blooming as a flower. In the following days, if I were to wither, Annabel would say to me ‘Laura. You’re a flower’. And so I chose to always remain a flower.
After I said goodbye to Julia and Annabel, I headed to Kuta but it was far too busy so I escaped to the ocean instead and spent all my days surfing and counting the new freckles on my face as the sun went down. The place I was staying at was an absolute mess so I found shelter in a vegan place where they even showed indie movies at night and before I knew it, I was on a boat to yet another island. I explored so many places and befriended so many kind-hearted souls my heart felt overwhelmed.
Those island days felt timeless. In the morning, I’d ritually ride my bike to Captain Coconuts, a healthy vegetarian cafe, and have the most filling breakfast. I’d drink a fresh coconut then head into the water and explore all kinds of life. Of course, snorkeling in paradise had to turn into me stepping on a sea urchin and bleeding to death. But that wouldn’t be fun otherwise. I’m the clumsiest, most gullible human but I’m so stubborn I persist in adventuring fervently and passionately around the world, making mistakes, falling down and getting back up, with possibly a few spines still stuck in my feet but maybe these thorns don’t need to be taken out. Maybe we’re all roses wrapped in a crown of thorns. And maybe we’re beautiful too, regardless.
It’s been two months since I came home. All days haven’t been as revealing and peaceful as I wish they could have been. The waves of unworthiness and doubt still come but I am now certain I won’t drown. I have been shredded to pieces but every storm runs out of rain and I’m ready to embrace the madness of Life again. I’m ready to forgive and to love with all my heart. I refuse to put up emotional walls. I forbid to ever shut my feelings down, because there is still so much to feel. It won’t always be as pretty as a picture. I know that, now. And somehow, that makes me so much more grateful than I ever was.
The lessons I’m learning are shaping me into a better human. I can feel myself transforming and growing. I’m looking deep within my wounded heart and while it still breaks at times, I understand it no longer has to. I’m meditating each day now and forcing myself to focus on the Now. I’m sitting on this couch with my love rubbing my feet and foolishly smiling at me. We’re filling out forms for our first apartment and although I’m usually terrified of the future, my heart is currently bursting with joy and anticipation. I can’t pretend I know anything, but in this moment, I feel nothing but gratitude and love. And it is more than enough. I also feel more conscious and more alive than ever before. I breathe in and I see myself as a flower. I breathe out and I bloom from every inch of my body. And it’s excruciatingly beautiful, if you’re asking me.