It had been nearly four months since I had seen Sorrel when we reunited in Alicante on Spain’s Costa Blanca. That day coincided with the Spring Equinox, the New Moon, and the Solar Eclipse. It was undoubtedly a day for new beginnings.
I met Sorrel this past fall in Puerto Viejo, where she’s been living since I left for Southeast Asia the year before. We immediately connected the night she held an ecstatic dance party in the jungle next to her wooden cabin. Quickly, she became a big sister to me.
In some of my greatest moments of struggle, she was my greatest source of support. She offered me shelter, guided me in yoga and meditation, and encouraged me to play, hula hoop, and giggle.
Sorrel creates community wherever she goes yet meanders independently. Sorrel loves organic kale and chocolate covered everything. Sorrel sees the world through the eyes of both an enchanted child and a wise elder.
After losing my ego in Europe this winter, reuniting with Sorrel felt like reaching for a life raft to bring me back to who I was before I left.
I spent the four days prior in Barcelona with Marthe Hagen from The Freedom Experiment, a woman whose blog I fell in love with before I even started traveling. She invited Sorrel and I to come to her parent’s vacation house just outside of Alicante, and Marthe and I decided to explore Barcelona first.
Barcelona felt wonderfully familiar, Spanish flowing off of my tongue after struggling to even pronounce street names in German, but also frighteningly over-stimulating after being in the snowy Alps in the middle of nowhere.
Marthe and I met for the first time and I imagine she hardly recognized me, well acquainted with the freedom loving bikini-clad girl on my blog. Instead I was stressed and overworked, pale and carrying apple strudel around my waist. I didn’t even recognize myself.
When I reached Sorrel in Alicante, she looked just the same. She had come directly from a pilgrimage to the Turrialba Volcano in Costa Rica, which began erupting just before she left. With a group of other women living in Puerto Viejo, she went to receive the powerful energy that released with the flow of lava. Her feet still had the dirt of Turrialba on them.
It was rainy and cold, but Sorrel was dressed in a tropical onesie and popped cacao beans into our mouths. They were smooth and sweet, and so fresh that the white fruit clung to their skin.
She told us stories from her journey to Guayabo, an ancient archaeological site almost entirely undiscovered. No one seems to know what the place was or why it was abandoned. Guayabo remains a mystery.
Some people believe that the inhabitants, who allegedly fled just before the arrival of Colombus, were forewarned about the conquistadors and sought refuge in the Talamanca Mountains, which sit above the South Caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo, my home.
Sorrel told me about sitting on the ruins and feeling so clearly that this was the place where she was born. That like many others, she began there in Guayabo, and eventually made her exodus with the indigenous people to Puerto Viejo.
As she spoke I felt full body chills and tears welled up in my eyes. Her story reminded me of how it felt to be so connected with the earth that trees spoke to me and animals offered the answers to questions my heart longed to uncover. I hadn’t really felt that since I left Costa Rica.
That night, in honor of the celestial convergence of a super new moon and a solar eclipse, Sorrel, Marthe, and I came together in ceremony. We drank a special cacao potion Sorrel created from different herbs and powders that she brought in her suitcase. We created an altar around the gifts that friends in Puerto Viejo sent with her. We sang and chanted and I sent Reiki around the circle. It was 4am by the time we went to bed.
The sun came out in the morning, despite the weather forecast for rain all week, and Sorrel went on a meander while Marthe and I stayed at the house working. Sorrel had been gone for less than an hour when I heard her shout, “Hey you guys, guess what, we have guests!”
She walked into the courtyard, followed by two police officers, who had picked her up at the nearby café for not wearing shoes. Sorrel had been sitting outside, enjoying the view of the mountains and sipping an Americano, when the officers told her to get into their car.
“Sin zapatos?! That’s not normal!” they exclaimed, pointing at her feet. She cackled and refused to get into the car, and instead invited them to walk with her back to the house.
They spoke rapidly in Spanish, asking me who she was and if she actually lived in the jungle. I laughed and explained to them that not wearing shoes is totally normal in Costa Rica, and many other places in the world for that matter. Traveling through Southeast Asia, I became accustomed to almost never wearing shoes as a gesture of respect. They stared incredulously and demanded to see her passport.
While she went to retrieve it, they asked about our travel plans and wanted us to go party with them in downtown Alicante. They seemed simultaneously suspicious and enthralled about our lifestyles. It was like being interrogated and hit on at the same time. The younger officer excitedly told me about his recent travels to Thailand and asked for the name of my blog.
“So, party here tonight then?” they asked. I shook my head.
The officers left, satisfied to see that Sorrel hadn’t exceeded her 90-day European Union visa, rather that she had only arrived in Spain the day before. We spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering around the neighborhood, smelling flowers, singing songs, and dancing.
“You’re like a different person than you were in Barcelona,” Marthe said.
“I guess I don’t really thrive in city environments,” I replied. But part of me believed that the real shift came from Sorrel’s energy, which had woken me up from my winter hibernation.
Lying in bed that night I tossed and turned, excitedly considering how this journey through Spain would evolve. Sorrel and I had plans to get a camper van, find the most remote wilderness, and walk the Camino de Santiago. Of course there was the inconvenient issue of my visa, which expired in just two weeks, to consider.
Then, quite suddenly, I felt anxious and surprisingly alert. The doorbell rang and I lay frozen in bed. Who would come to the house, far outside of the city, in a neighborhood full of retirees, after midnight?
A moment later, the person who rang it returned to a car parked in the alley and drove away. I had a bad feeling in my stomach. Sorrel opened my bedroom door and asked if I heard it. We lit some Palo Santo and smudged the house and the surroundings.
“We need to be more careful to protect our energy,” Sorrel said.
The sun greeted us again the next day, and we decided to drive down to the nearby beach. I found my one pair of jeans and a thin, long sleeved shirt, the only practical items in my suitcase full of wool under layers, puffy coats, and snow pants.
A few days prior, on a sunny but chilly day in Barcelona, Marthe and I walked to the city beach. I hadn’t seen the ocean in more than three months, by far the longest it’s been since I started traveling. Surfers balanced their boards down the city streets and changed into wet suits on the boardwalk.
I looked down at my leather boots. I really wanted to run with reckless abandon out into the ocean, but I considered how it would feel to put my sandy feet back into my boots and walk through the city of Barcelona with wet clothes. Instead I went over to a rock and watched the surfers.
I saw a group of shirtless men doing backflips, pull ups, and arm balances on a jungle gym built on the boardwalk. I wanted to strut over and bust out some of my own moves, but I lacked the confidence. I wondered if I even knew how to do arm balances anymore, and whether my tight jeans would allow it. So instead I watched them.
I remembered the hesitation I felt in Barcelona when we arrived at the windy beach South of Alicante. I sat for a moment staring out at the ocean, my forever soul mate.
Then I gathered my purse, my camera, and my shoes. In that moment I saw them as possessions holding me back from freedom. I ran out to the car and threw them inside, remembering that I needed them less than I needed weightlessness. I rolled up my jeans and shouted to Sorrel and Marthe that I was going for a walk.
One foot in front of the other, unsure how far I might go or when I might turn back, the sea on my left, the dunes on my right. Though I still felt some hesitation. I felt worried that I might get sandy or get my clothes wet.
“What’s happened to you?” I asked myself.
“Three months away from the jungle and you’re already tame?
Did the five star hotels and gourmet dinners put you back inside of the boundaries of comfortable living?
Are you back to valuing your hair or your outfit over your freedom?
Remember how it feels to be alive?
Remember how good it feels to get dirty?”
I looked out to the ocean, and one foot in front of the other, I waded in.
I splashed my face with saltwater, combed my fingers through my hair, and then I laid down in the sand. I started to roll, covering my hair, my skin, and my wet jeans. I got as uncomfortable as possible, so that I could remember what true comfort really was.
The sun hid behind the dark clouds as I walked back to the car. I looked up at them, chilled from my wet clothes, and I begged for it to rain. Something had awoken in me that had been hibernating for months.
A couple of days later, Marthe flew back to Norway and Sorrel and I began our journey in a tiny Fiat. But my energy had shifted. I no longer felt like singing and dancing and laughing. I no longer felt like traveling without any plans. I felt like resting and having stability. I felt like turning inward. I felt burned out.
Rather than accepting where I was, I judged myself for failing to sustain the playful, silly energy that infused me as soon as I saw Sorrel. I judged myself for failing to sustain my Costa Rican “wildness”, by wanting to have a plan, to have a routine, and to wear shoes. I judged myself for adapting to the environment I had been in, seeing it as conforming to the conventions of society.
We stopped in Elche late in the afternoon to visit the famous Palm Grove. It was arrestingly gorgeous, with over 200,000 palm trees mingled with flowers and cacti. Swans rested in ponds and white doves fluttered in the trees.
I needed to use the toilet after the long drive, and I told Sorrel I was going to look for a bathroom.
“You can just pee behind a tree somewhere,” she said.
“I think you’d probably get arrested for that,” I replied.
I wasn’t sure if this was true, but something seemed inherently wrong to me about leaving my mark there. Peeing outside is completely natural, and admittedly I love doing it, but this was not the Costa Rican jungle. No matter how many palm trees there might have been. We might all be children of the Earth, but in the world of culture and countries, I am very much a guest here in Spain.
Eventually we found ourselves in Altea, a beautiful old town with Moorish architecture overlooking the Costa Blanca (Spain’s “White Coast”). The white washed facades of homes and shops formed a labyrinth we got lost in repeatedly.
Narrow passageways wove their way down to the turquoise Mediterranean Sea, which sparkled beneath marble mountains and hillside covered in olive trees.
We drove our tiny Fiat along the highway that snaked from Altea to Calpe, to climb to the Penan d’Ilfach at sunset in the evening. Calpe was extremely developed with towering skyscrapers and a concrete promenade beside the beach.
Yet when we reached Penan d’Ifach, that world seemed to disappear. The impressive rock jutted out into the ocean and towered above me like an ancient deity. It had a presence you couldn’t help but bow to. Flocks of seagulls swarmed overhead and the moon hung low in the sky.
We climbed the switchbacks and sought refuge from the wind inside of a cave that passed through the mountain. The city below remained bathed in golden light while we sat in darkness. Sorrel lit tobacco to invite its grounding, masculine presence to surround us.
As we chanted, the cave acoustics made me feel like a choir of monks had joined us. It was beautiful. I spontaneously guided us through a visualization that came to me as I spoke.
I envisioned lava flowing through our bodies, protecting us from the cold wind, keeping our internal fire aflame. Tree roots kept us grounded into the earth, tree bark covered our skin like crocodile scales, and our arms were branches that bore fruit. Our heads were those of birds, always ready to take flight.
The light from the sun had long melted behind the hills, but the city kept the pathway well lit. We stepped out of the cave and music from clubs on the beach in Calpe vibrated against the mountain. When we reached the bottom and looked up, we saw that the mountain glowed against the night sky. It absorbed both sound and light from the city. I wonder if it also absorbed our ceremony.
In the morning I gawked at the striations of aqua and deep cerulean from atop the Sierra Gelada that flanked Altea to the South. Sorrel climbed around like a billy goat, while I took the paved path with the tourists.
I internally battled with myself over this. Why is it so much easier for me to feel wild and free in the Costa Rican jungle or on the back of a motorbike in Indonesia than here in Europe? Why had I become such a conformist?
We reached a cliff that had been roped off, and Sorrel climbed over the barriers to get a better look at the glowing sea. She cradled herself in the side of the mountain and collected pieces of crystal and white amber. I clambered to the other side where a flat rock jutted out over the sea.
Looking down over the edge, the wind blowing my hair into a wild nest, I noticed a strange feeling come over me. A combination of fear and excitement. I felt both terrified and turned on at the same time. I calmed myself by sitting on the warm, sun soaked rock, and watched the seagulls soar over the water.
The words of a dear friend came to me, “where you are is perfect, who you are is perfect.” And then, a miracle happened: I shifted my perspective.
I reconsidered what I had negatively perceived as conforming, and saw that I had in fact lovingly sought to learn from the local culture. I had humbled my ego enough to explore something new. I had humbled my ego enough to listen.
Which was the whole reason why I came to Europe in the winter. The whole reason why I travel in the first place. And rather than lose myself in that, I expand myself in that.
Winter didn’t take my wildness. Europe didn’t take my wildness. Rather, I surrendered myself to see how it might feel to be a bear in hibernation, a journalist in a five star hotel, and a tropical palm tree in a beautiful, manicured park.
I’m not here now to be who I was in Puerto Viejo or Southeast Asia or anywhere else. I am here to be who I am in this very moment. I am here to allow for transition and transformation, by accepting who I am in this very moment. Because self-acceptance, radical, wild, unapologetic self-acceptance, is the truest freedom that exists. And no one can offer me that life raft, except for me.