The train strike ended and I picked up right where I left off. The next morning, I said goodbye to Ventimiglia from the window of my eastbound Trenitalia train.
I had a feeling that my next destination would forever change me. Even from the pictures I had seen of Cinque Terre, I felt a stirring in my soul. I couldn’t wait to see it in person.
Cinque Terre, Italian for “The Five Lands”, is comprised of five villages – Manarola, Riomaggiore, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. They are only accessible by train or hiking trails. There are no cars, buses or corporations here.
Needless to say, it’s a tricky place to get to. When my train arrived, I lugged my suitcase 1km uphill because my AirBnB is in the mountains of La Spezia, Italy. But as in life, any destination worth getting to won’t be easy.
When I left California, I didn’t know where I would end up. I booked a one-way ticket and purposely left my travel plans open. I found Cinque Terre by way of a travel blog. All it took was one photograph to know I was meant to be there.
The next morning, I began making my way to each of the five villages. And when I arrived at Manarola, I had to stop and wonder whether it was a mirage. Maybe I should just rub my eyes because this place just can’t be real.
Only it is real.
To know that I’ve lived a lifetime not knowing this inexplicably gorgeous place exists, makes me feel like I’ve been living life wrong. I’ve been missing out. I haven’t been living.
Because if Cinque Terre exists, with its multicolored houses perched high along the cliffsides of the Italian Mediterranean coast, then what else have I been missing?
It’s too much to bear. I don’t even know what to say. I can’t stop staring. This place is magic. It’s so beautiful it almost hurts.
On my second day, I make my way to Riomaggiore. I find a rock to sit on, just below the cliffs. My senses drink in every sight, smell and sound as if they have been starved. I sat there for hours, just listening…
To the fishing boats sploshing around where the river meets the ocean.
To the distant call of seagulls.
To the waves crashing along the cliffside.
It looked as if Mother Earth had turned up the saturation, because every color was as vivid as I’ve ever seen it. If heaven exists on earth, this would be mine.
The picture I just painted with words don’t do it justice, so here is some footage I shot. Like Jhene Aiko says in this song, “There’s no place quite like here. There’s no better time than now.”
And then I start crying.
I swear I’ve been hella emo (emotional) on this trip. I probably could’ve burst into tears at the sight of two birds preening each other. I need to get my shit together.
In the midst of my entrancement, I suddenly realized I had no one to share this view with. No one to take pictures with. Nobody to stare off into the ocean with.
Even if I could Skype home, they’re not even awake yet. I look around me, and I seem to be the only person without a companion. People around me are taking pictures of each other, holding hands, sharing gelato cones.
I feel so fucking alone right now. I know it sounds ridiculous to be feeling sorry for myself when I’m in a city that would top anyone’s bucket list. But somehow, I yearned to connect with someone in that moment…to share in the beauty of what I was seeing.
Even if we didn’t speak a word.
To just sit there, in silence, on a giant rock and watch the waves crash along the rocks.
Or watch hang gliders land right in front of you on the beach (yes that really happened!).
I’m so proud of myself for being here. For my whole life up until year ago, I couldn’t stand being alone. I never had to be. I purposely kept my social calendar full, even if it was with the wrong people.
That’s part of why I’ve traveled so much – to know what and who I really need in my life.
I’ve lived out of a suitcase for a while now. The only people I communicate with regularly are my boyfriend, mom, and two best friends. And I’m okay with that. I don’t need my travel experiences to be validated by anyone, but I’ve spent so much time alone that I longed to share this moment with someone.
I started to feel like I did in Barcelona at Fontana de Montjuic. My solitude is starting to catch up with me. I just want to be seen by someone who knows me. Someone whose eyes tell me that they recognize me and are happy to see me. I miss having the companionship of someone familiar. It’s different when you converse with strangers.
Although the anonymity can be liberating at first, eventually it starts to feel quite empty. I’m not in each city long enough to make friends. And even when I have, I inevitably have to say goodbye to them. Familiar faces replenish the soul, and mine is starting to run on empty.
And then I realize that, until now, I had never enjoyed my own company. I couldn’t stand to be with myself in silence. It gave me too much time to think.
But that’s all starting to change now. By traveling, I’ve put myself into Companionship Detox, in a sense. Because if I’m not comfortable spending time alone, then I’m making it too easy for the wrong people to occupy that void in my life.
Don’t allow people to occupy space in your life unless they are contributing something – unless they are reciprocating your time and your efforts.
Otherwise, you will inevitably find yourself drained and disappointed. I know this all too well.
This isn’t the realization I expected to have during my time here. But it’s a realization that was long overdue.