“One fine day, it will be your turn. You will leave homes, cities and countries to pursue grander ambitions. You will leave friends, lovers and possibilities for the chance to roam the world and make deeper connections. You will defy your fear of change, hold your head high and do what you once thought was unthinkable: walk away. And it will be scary. At first. But what I hope you’ll find in the end is that in leaving, you don’t just find love, adventure or freedom. More than anything, you find you.”
– Isa Garcia
One of my best friends had a dream a few years back.
We were sitting on a beach somewhere with rocks around us and she looks at me and says, “I know you’ll have a beautiful journey, but I’m going to miss you Steph.”
“It’s okay Tams, I’ll be right back. I just have to meet someone at the lighthouse,” I replied.
Before I started walking away she says, “I’ll have to go my own way for a bit. But I’ll meet you there.”
We weren’t sure what the lighthouse meant or if that dream truly meant anything. But we believed it. Our thoughts would drift to the unifying belief that maybe, just maybe, something or someone was waiting for us on the way there. The lighthouse was that piercing light glimmering through the darkness, the one that leads us to wherever we’re meant to be. Whatever that is, we would always follow those light beams. Even if it led us to different directions, different places, different people, we’d find our way back to the lighthouse.
Weeks before I came to Australia I got an email from a stranger, a fellow California photographer living in Sydney who offered to show me around. We had amazing conversations about everything and anything and nothing. Since then we talked everyday. I was stoked to meet someone who I thought was in the same wavelength, someone I thought I connected with in levels most never touch. He offered for me to stay at his place, I was hesitant at first but eventually I accepted the offer. I came to Sydney, intoxicated on expectations. The first few days were lovely but it didn’t work out. I felt myself falling and opened up too quickly, since I felt like I could be. But I was wrong. So I packed my things, bid the short romance goodbye, thanked him for a beautiful time and left. Then I piled his name with the other names of men that never came to be and carried on.
My dear friend Nirrimi welcomed me to the Northern Beaches with open arms. It was the night of the full moon in Manly. I hadn’t seen her in the flesh since we met on that night in Ubud, it felt good to be reunited again. We spilt to each other everything we’ve missed since then. We wrote manifestations and intentions on paper, then walked to the beach. We ran to a couple men to borrow a lighter. I lit up my paper and watched it burn under the moonlight. I thought of everything I wanted to alchemize and manifest into my life, closed my eyes, breathed every second of the the present moment until my paper turned into ashes, until the waves swallowed its remnants. I look back at Nirrimi and smile in the dark. Life is surreal. I remember when I just first started out with photography, she was one of my first favorite photographers. I’d follow her throughout the years on her blog, back then she was just a 13-year-old girl with a fiery passion for creating images and taking the photography world by storm. Back when she started traveling with her old love around the world shooting campaigns, when she gave birth to her daughter, and all her pains, heartaches, triumphs, and moments of bliss were exposed to the world. I’ve always admired for her courageous vulnerability. For this impetus inside of her, a blazing passion for life and beauty found the simplest things. Her spirit echoes with mine. My gaze moves from her and back up at the moon in gratitude. Our dreams and wishes are now up in the ether, its ashes now floating in the sea.
The next morning we went to Avalon and had a picnic on the grass by the shore with little Alba and Nirrimi’s friend, Noel a fellow photographer and California native. We had a picnic and drenched ourselves with sunshine. We’d watched Alba dance to salsa music with Noel with her eyes closed, as if she’s been dancing it for lifetimes. She curtsies after, proud and high. This kid, I swear. One of the brightest little fairies I know.
Then Nirrimi and I ran to the ocean pool. I told Nirrimi to stand by the edge, she sees a big wave forming and opening its mouth to consume her but she stays and soak up the salty wave anyway. She laughs then strips down to her underwear and slides in the pool like a mermaid floating and getting lost in her own universe.
We spent time together almost everyday for a week until she left for Perth. We’d wander around Sydney with Alba, taking trains, buses, ferries, getting lost in our own world. On those rides Nirrimi would put her earphones on and start humming and singing to music then out of random bursts of joy she would take off skipping and dancing like there wasn’t a day left in her life.
On her last day in Sydney I watch her jump happily into her friend’s car with her golden child, thrilled on a new life and a new love that awaits her in Perth. I give her a huge warm hug. I wave goodbye, promised I’ll see her soon as she beams and waves back right before the car disappears into the dusk covered street. Then my heart wished her all the goodness and love that exists in the world.
In Manly I also met my sole sister Lauren for the first time in the flesh. She let me stay at her granny flat for sometime while I got settled in. We would have wine nights and talk about our love for photography, for the open road, gypsy living, our hopes and our dreams and everything beyond. She’s an Oregon native, she was the untethered teenager hitchhiking around, trying to make sense of it all. She left America five years ago and kind of forgot to go back. She’s wandered through Europe, taught English to Thai kids, slept with a tribe in the desert of Namibia, just a few glimpses of her travels. She’s a fellow nomad. A free spirit. A modern gypsy. She’s also one of the sweetest humans I know. I told her that in a year I’d go back to America and start living in a camper van to travel across the Pacific Northwest. She lights up and says that she’d be back in Oregon around that time to explore the place she was born into.
“It’s perfect!” I said.
We reckoned our paths were always meant to converge. And now they run parallel, unfolding itself into the near future.
I met up with my Lombok friend, Andres in Bondi Beach. We talked all throughout the coastal walk which was beautiful, I thought if Venice Beach and La Jolla made love and had a baby this would be it. We ended up sitting along the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever been to, right by the cliffs. We asked each other what we want to do with our bodies after death. I said I wanted half of my ashes sprinkled around the world and half of it planted to grow into a tree. The waves were calling him from the distance and the sun started going down so we parted ways. I walked back and caught a bus to Circular Quay where the Vivid Festival was taking place. The whole harbor was lit up in colorful animated lights with interactive light art and music for the public to experience. Sydney on shrooms. I laid in the grass by myself and watched in awe for a while with the moon by my side.
Years ago, I heard about a little beachside town in Australia called Byron Bay from fellow travelers, then I kept seeing it on pixelated screens. I came across this hostel called The Arts Factory and I said to myself, I have to make it to this town one day.
“You have to go there Steph, you will love that place.” they said.
They were the different faces, in different places, in different times rolling the same words out of their mouths with that same look beaming from their eyes. If that wasn’t a sign to go, then I don’t know what is. There’s a reason why this place had me spellbound, so I leaped in and trusted its gravity.
On the second day of June, my plane landed on Gold Coast.
I walk out and I hear a soft, familiar voice say my name. And there she was, shining in a bright yellow dress in front of me. It was Tori, my dear friend who I met in a volcano town in Costa Rica almost four years ago. We’ve remained contact over the years. She visited me and my dear friend David in San Diego. She came to the Philippines and we explored Coron Island together.
“I’ll see you in Australia, Tori. I promise.” I said to her three years ago before she disappears into the doorway of my wooden guesthouse in Palawan.
“Tell me wherever you are and I’ll meet you there.”
I kept my word. And there she was, picking me up from the airport and radiating in her beautiful golden energy. I’ve missed her and her gorgeous light. We share stories and catch up on the time we’ve missed, picking up where we left off. I hold on to those kind of ties with people. When you’re physically absent from each other’s lives for a while and when you’re reunited again, you fill in the gaps as if there weren’t one to begin with.
“We’re here! This is Byron, Stephanie!” she said as her face continues beaming a smile.
She took me to Clark’s beach first. The sun was setting into the mountains in the distance and everything is gold. We drove through the windy roads leading to the lighthouse, I get a bit nauseous as my motion sickness rolls in. Then we reach to the top of the lighthouse and it numbs my nausea out. Tori is so sweet and motherly and takes care of me. She made sure I was as comfortable as possible. Her van has a bed in the back and she lets me lay there for a while. I take a nap in the back with a full glimpse of the full moon. I let it’s brightness shine on the parts that need light and drift to sleep.
The next day, I woke up in my dorm room. It was my first morning in Byron. I still felt a bit sick, but much better than the pervious night. I needed to peel this town’s layers, I want to know it from inside out. I know there’s more to it than its surface, there’s always something deeper beneath skin no matter how thick it is. I went downstairs to have some breakfast, worked on my laptop for a bit, then walked back to my room to got ready for my little solo bike adventure. Tori was kind enough to lend me her black mini bike, I was stoked to give it a spin on a little adventure around town. Then a girl with long, brown hair walks in with a surfboard. I introduce myself to her, she says “My name is Vali. Like Valley but Vali!”
She’s from Austria and had just come from Sydney from an overnight bus. We talk for some time while I get my stuff ready and she unpacks her things. She mentioned that she was at the Ben Howard concert in Sydney. I blurt out a “Noooo way!” and told her I was actually supposed to go, but the tickets were too expensive and I ended up forgetting about the concert date. She told me how she actually canceled her ticket because they changed the dates and she thought that she wouldn’t be able to make it on time. But on a bus to somewhere in Sydney she realizes which date it is, and so she purchases the ticket again and goes to the concert. “That’s funny, maybe we would have met there too.” I said with a smile. I instantly felt a connection with her just from her aura, she’s my kind of human. I had an inkling she would turn out to be another traveling sister, and that feeling was right. For the past few weeks we’ve spent most of our time in Byron together. We’ve become each others second limbs. I live for those sisterly bonds, those special connections with women are the ones I’ve treasured more and more over the years. She’s a vibrant being with so much innate wisdom seeping from her old soul. We continue to learn and expand our minds through each other as our bond grows tighter as the days pass.
Two years ago, I got a message from a guy named Ben. He read one of my articles from High Existence and he reached out to me to say I’ve inspired him to follow his bliss. He told me his dreams, his plans of opting out of Uni and that he’s going to start traveling around the world soon. I didn’t know him then, but my heart was bursting with happiness for him. He wrote something that would always resonate:
“Just remember that every little thing you do, every carefully chosen word and every portrait poised has a wonderful effect on someone, you may never get to see the fruit of these trees but my goodness how the seeds grow more and more and manifest themselves beyond into the whole community of the world.”
I kept those words.
I met him in the flesh a couple weeks ago. He was a ball of light with a guitar strolling into the Arts Factory, I felt like I knew him already. He’s a wonderful musician, he played us his beautiful songs. It gave me chills. Him and his friends would set up bonfires at Tallows Beach. We would walk into the darkness. We were the shadows under those orange street lights, singing, humming and strumming along to songs. They led us through the woods and we sat in a circle worshipping the fire in front of us as we sang, shared stories, and laughed under the Milky Way haze. He told me stories, like the night he met a man who has a heart condition and has died 123 times. He said this man was like a god, he’s been to the ether and back many times and brought wisdom along with him. He was in the presence of the divine that night.
He said he learned a year ago that we are divine beings, existing as the universe experiencing itself. Existing to experience the highs and the lows. Love and the loss of love. Everything within. Every moment all at once but spread out so we can understand it, spread out through time.
“How much can we live? How much can we feel? How much detail can we see? How alive can we be?” he asked.
It was inspiring to witness his light. He wants to understand everyone he meets, he wants everyone to feel understood, to feel loved, and to be embraced for who they truly are. He shows a kindness to strangers and a fire for life that reflects the humanity inside us all. “I’m off to Thailand after this,” I recall him saying to me. “I’m off to see the places you’ve inspired me to go to.” Funnily enough he has inspired me more. So that’s the lesson isn’t it? When we set out to inspire others and to live the lives we’ve always dreamed of, we plants seeds. Those seeds gets nourished, they turn into a tree and the tree starts bearing fruits to nourish more people so they can plant more seeds. Although, Ben was wrong when he said “You may never get to see the fruit of these trees.”
Because I see it. I see it in you. I see it in him.
We watched the sunrise at the lighthouse one day.
At one point I wandered on my own, found the edge of a cliff and sat down. I listened to Ben Howard. I watched the dawn breaking through the darkness. I watched a sail boat floating through the pastel reflected azure sea. I watched whales peeking in the distance. I sang to Bones. Then out of sheer joy, I cried. Just the beauty of being alive can be so overwhelming and my heart can’t help but burst. Then we went back to the hostel and I ran to the beach. I ran to the other end. I peeled myself down to my undies and jumped in the ocean. I laughed by myself. I smiled at the moon setting. It replenished me, it fed me light.
Love your moments. Love it with every piece of you, every hair, every cell in your body, down to the brittlest bone. Don’t be afraid to feel everything and let the bits and pieces move you. Not everyone will understand it, nor will they see it, or feel it. So choose to see it so that they’ll take a second look and maybe, just maybe, they’ll feel it too.
Long, misty, empty beaches, wheat fields, lagoons and feathery skies. This place is peeling off its layers and my heart begins to beat at its pace.
I just know that decades from now, I’ll always remember this fondly. Walking all the way to Tallows Beach for a bonfire. The boys leading our crowd through town while playing beautiful music. The path to the first bonfire was paved by tea lights and streamers. We all sat around laughing, drinking, singing, talking, burning under the moonlight. I was surrounded by such beautiful souls with such vibrant energy, talking about things that stir our souls and shoots our bellies into laughter. I listened to them play magic music with their enchanting voices as I watch the wood burn and the embers fly. I fall into a trance and get lost in my moments. I look up at the night sky and the sea of stars are looking right back down at us reminding me how whole I am. These are the kind of nights that gracefully seep through the depths of me.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like fabulous hello roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
I decided to follow Val to the Byron Bay Hinterland called Mullumbimby and WOOF at the banana farm she’s staying in. Living with naturists for the past two weeks made me learn some things. Really important things. Like embracing nakedness.
I’ve been doing things I wasn’t fully comfortable doing before. Like taking all of my clothes off with Vali in broad daylight as we run to skinny dip in the ocean. There is nothing between me and the sunshine and it feels too damn good. A couple of days ago we stripped down to our flesh and mulched banana trees naked. The past two weeks I’ve been showering and bathing in a little jungle space while watching the surreal pastel sunset over Byron in the distance as I listen to birds singing. I can feel myself expanding. I feel like I’ve been born again. It’s one of the most liberating things I’ve ever felt.
It’s a funny thing actually. Why is it that most of our lives we’ve been taught to be ashamed of our bodies, to be ashamed of being naked? Yet the fascinating part is that the more time I spend naked, the more I love my body. And more light beams are coming out of it.
Perhaps my friend’s dream wasn’t a mere metaphor. Perhaps it was the actual lighthouse that brought me here too. Maybe. Who knows. But I know this for certain and it is enough for me:
Byron is stirring and feeding me, setting my timid parts on fire. Each night I look at the window into complete darkness and every ten seconds a light beam makes a breach to remind me of where I am and how it is cracking my soul wide open.
“Close your eyes, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, stop breathing for 3 seconds, listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world, and you will remember the lesson you forgot, which was taught in immense milky way soft cloud innumerable worlds long ago and not even at all. It is all one vast awakened thing. I call it the golden eternity. It is perfect. We were never really born, we will never really die.”
– Jack Kerouac