Tag Archives: philosophy

What Changes While You’re Away? The Inevitability of Missing Out When Travelling or Living Abroad

‘Never heard of Fomo?’ asked a Guardian newspaper headline of its readers, ‘You’re so missing out.’ So common is this Gen-Y social condition that the acronym FOMO – fear of missing out – was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. Their definition states:

Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website

The latter part bothers me less. I accept that social media can help travellers and expats to stay connected with friends and family back home. But the first bit? Yes. I admit, I have occasionally felt guilt, sadness, frustration and longing for events that I have been unable to witness or attend due to travelling and living overseas.

Logo stating FOMO in red and definition below, which is fear of missing out

©thesilverpen.com

And yet it’s not to do with me not having a fun/special/interesting/englightening time, or even worrying that others are doing funner, cooler, more ambitious things than me. Nope. It’s more along the lines of I am not there to share those special moments with them. I am away.

Having first left the UK in 2011 to travel through South America and the Pacific, I had just left it all behind, again. As I flew back to Australia, I digested all the many meet-ups of a six-week whirlwind catch up tour.

Some things really had changed beyond recognition. Some things I had truly missed out on. But all those things, I realised, had common threads weaving through them.

  • The first thing apparent was changes in relationships. Weddings, break-ups and new loves. A lot can happen in a two-year cycle, apparently. Friends who were separated when I left were now married, singletons were engaged, and those who were solid and steady were ramping up for parenthood, life’s next adventure. Having already missed the wedding of one of my dearest friends in Devon, I planned my UK trip to coincide with a university friend’s marriage to a woman who neither my swot crew nor I had previously met. She was fortunately quite the kind bride, and I saw that her husband – my friend – had grown and adapted his outlook from me to us. As we sat around a music themed table, I looked at my group and realised that we were all moving on, in our relationships and life.
  • The next thing that struck me was the talk of birth and the arrival of babies. Lots of them. Everywhere. My trip back to the UK had been planned to coincide with my nephew’s first smiles, but once back on British soil I realised it was not just my sister who had flung herself into the all things motherhood. Some friends had become fluent in baby talk, others waddled around with uncomfortable lumps protruding, and others questioned my future baby plans. Not many seemed keen for all night partying. It was a strange yet somewhat expected shift.
  • Ageing, in all of its facets, was another area where changes were apparent. Sure, the relationship and baby changes are to be expected within friendship groups once you hit your 30s, but there were moments when I looked around and saw the sensibilities and concerns of adulthood creeping up on my friends, where I noticed the shrinking of my elders, where I chatted as an equal with those whom I had babysat when I was barely a teenager. And yet, despite some changes being glaringly obvious, when it came to my mum’s newly embraced grey, I only saw my mum. Some changes are just surface.
  • Other changes, however, were more shocking, as with ageing comes illness and stress. Stress was trying its hardest to become my father’s new best friend as everything he’d worked for – volunteered his life for – had become a battleground between human sensibilities and institutional red tape, and he was a frontline warrior, searching for ways to make the truth prevail. Same family, different generation and my grandmother – oma –suffered a heart attack that she and I assumed would mean we’d never meet again. With the oomph that I’ve come to expect of my oma, she did pull through those moments, a little shook up but recogniseable underneath the change.
  • Unfortunately, though, the same cannot be said for my other grandmother who died ten days before my flight home to the UK. The prospect of a death amongst our nearest and dearest is one of those events that has the potential to paralyse us from travelling or living abroad. I was unable to make it to the funeral. I would have wished to have been there to say goodbye to my grandmother, or at least to listen to relatives telling stories of her happier days. Instead I visited her grave and planted forget-me-nots a few feet above where her head lay. I grieved for the sadness in her life, and for my mother who had now lost her mother.

Some things were still the same, some familiarity, some recognition. I care massively about my friends and their lives, and I drew comfort from knowing that our connections are still intact, despite separate life paths.

Now, leaving again, I wonder what will change between now and the next time I’m again in the UK. Life happens, whether you’re there to see it or not. I get that.

My FOMO suffering is far less influenced by Facebook than by knowing I’m missing key moments in the lives of those who have helped to shape my life, but maybe it’s time to let go of the missing out stuff and appreciate the bits I do get to be part of instead?

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Leaving, Again

Kings Cross train station at rush hour. A business man walks across the frame pulling a suitcase.Does saying goodbye ever get any easier? It’s all a bit strange, this leaving thing, when you think about it. Traveller or expat, I’m sure we all feel it to varying degrees, this need to get on and do what we need to do and be where we need to be jostling alongside the emotional pull of the other life, the familiar life and of folk ‘back home’.

So here I am, on the first of many long haul flights. I’m leaving England, again, and although I’m excited to be returning to friends in Australia, the sadness of saying goodbye to my family just a few hours ago took me by surprise. In the end I could barely talk.

And I wonder why I get this lurch of sadness, more pronounced the older I get. When I lived in England I saw my family maybe four times a year, if I was lucky. Life just happened. We were all busy. Now I see them every year and a half, if I’m lucky, and when I see them I do feel lucky, because we all make an effort to make the most of this limited time together.

Something happens when you’re flying high above the world, at least it does to me. Maybe it’s the physical disconnect with the ground that makes me reflective, or it’s possibly the forced situation of not being able to busy myself with duties and distractions. Either way, thoughts about life and location bubble up.

After over a month of catching up with family and friends, I’m now back acquainted with some me moments, and as I fly half way around the world I have time to ponder on what has changed and what might change again before I next revisit the Great British Isles.

And I wonder, will the next time I leave be any easier or will it be as much of a wrench? I’m curious to know how other long-term travellers and expats experience and deal with this.

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Travel Word Play on World Poetry Day 2014

The Greek philosopher Aristotle reckoned that ‘adventure is worthwhile’, thus giving travelling the thumbs up, while Edgar Allen Poe is quoted as saying that ‘to elevate the soul, poetry is necessary.’ Both are worthwhile and both are necessary, in my books, so to give a nod to World Poetry Day 2014, I’ll share some of my favourite poems that I relate to travel.

I want to start with one that takes me back to my life in England, to a time when I’d catch myself in moments of routine and yearn for a different life, one that I hadn’t yet figured out. It’s sometimes difficult to put your finger on what you want, but reading this is a good reminder of how to feel alive, whether that be through travel or otherwise:

He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones “it’s” rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly.

He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,
dies slowly.

He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know, he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
die slowly.

Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.

This poem, Die Slowly, reminds me of my own need to drink in as much of life as possible. I’m not sure that it is actually by Pablo Neruda, as suggested by some online sources, but nonetheless it reminds me of Neruda and takes me back some years to when I was studying Spanish, ideas of travel forming in my mind. I would read Neruda’s poems slowly in Spanish, trying to make sense of their meaning, and then look to the mirroring page of the book that my godmother had given me and read the English translation.

And this poem?  Neruda or not, I hear it. I chose to mix it up and live a little. And that included making the decision to travel and leave everything I knew behind. 

Throughout my travels I – like any traveller – have had to make choices about the howswhyswhens and with whos, and  so often I’ve had moments when I’ve thought: have I made the right decision? Robert Frost plays with this idea in his famous poem, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This poem speaks to me about making decisions that are right for you. Have I made the right decisions on my journey? Yes, apparently. Whoever I ask says the same thing: whatever path you chose was the right one. Or neither was the right one. Or something like that.

And so during my travels I’ve immersed myself in places and experiences that have pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and  I’ve connected with people and situations that I might not otherwise have come across. Like with any traveller, these interactions and experiences have left deep imprints. When I take a minute, such as now, to contemplate my own journey, I can relate elements of my experience to this classic poem by William Wordsworth:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

The theme, one study source states is about the importance of connecting with nature in order to understand oneself and one’s place in the universe. For me, that has often been through travel.

And those daffodils? Those moments on my journey? Each time I remember them, meditate on them, I am back there, surrounded by sight, smell, sound and sensation. Each time, I feel life. 

Have any recommendations? I’d love to hear from you. Feel like reading over a few more? Have a glance over some of these travel poems.

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Travel, belonging and reflections on home

A moment for reflection (courtesy of travel writer Pico Iyer) before the Travelola travelogues move Melbourne way.

 

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Total solar eclipse: the power of the universe puts things into perspective

I’ve been putting off writing this up for some time. Why? Because everything I put down on paper feels empty compared to the actual experience, because each moment and emotion described feels shallower than the reality, an indignity, an untruth.

Sunrise, clear skies

Sunrise, clear skies

Yet, I was one of those fortunate enough to witness the universe lock in to a moment of perfection and the experience touched me. Deeply.

During the days following the event I did little other than describe it as ‘amazing’, which is pretty nondescript, bland even. I couldn’t come up with anything better. My senses were pricked and I was filled with awe for the universe, and yet I was somewhat dumbed.

So what happened? Time to start finding my words.

Wrapping up the pre-eclipse party just as dawn breaks

Wrapping up the pre-eclipse party just as dawn breaks

At around 5.30AM on 14th November 2012 I made my way from base camp at the Eclipse 2012 festival up in Far North Queensland Australia, back past music stages where I’d recently bounced to Fat Freddy’s Drop and later stomped about to a DJ I can’t recall, stages that were now winding down. It was the first break from beats we would have in a whole week of celebrations. Respect the moment and the magic. Instead, birdsong was the gathering call.

Ravers, families and a man dressed in a mask and gown gathered on the hill by the Moon Stage as the sun rose, warming the dusty ground and the bones of people who had not stayed up to party, sleepy bodies re-awaking for this unique moment in time. Against a pinky orange sky, a little girl of maybe two snuggled into her father’s cuddle whilst the man in the mask started to sing out in monotone. He raised his face and stretched out his arms to the rising golden orb.

People start to make their way to the viewing spots

People start to make their way to the viewing spots

Sun worshipper

Sun worshipper

Crowds start to gather for the eclipse

Crowds start to gather for the eclipse

And then came the moon, crossing in front of the sun, starting at the top left, a creeping blackness.

The first quarter passed quickly but then time slowed down and the moon seemed to stick on a partial cover up. I took off my glasses and looked around at everyone else. Hoards of people, crowded up against makeshift fencing, creating silhouettes on the hillside. A raft of upturned faces standing, sitting, lying on a sea of festival dust, eyes protected by paper solar safe shades. Some people headed away from the crowds in search of a private observation spot.

By now all festival stages had hushed, completely, and other than quieting birdsong, an occasional charged ‘whoop’ or a monotone ‘ooooh’ from the sun god worshipper, the world started to silence.

Each minute that the moon moved closer to total cover-up brought with it a drop in temperature. I shivered and wrapped myself up in a jumper. I put my safety glasses back on and stood still with this collective of people who all seemingly had the same intention to watch this process unfold. Occasionally someone shuffled about but mostly people, having found places to perch,  were still, some having resigned themselves to the fact that they would probably not be sharing the eclipse experience with their closest buddies. Finding anyone in these crowds would be a considerable mission, one that might take away from actually taking in the event. No, sit still, let things unfold. Observe. (And be glad that you weren’t one of the ones that woke up mid-morning and wondered ‘Have I missed the eclipse?’).

It became dark. The moon was now firmly between us and the sun and the birds fell silent.

And then, in a flash of sunny brilliance, it all locked into place.  Light shone out of the sides, bright rays crowning a ball of the deepest black. We took our glasses off.  I started with my limited ‘amazing’ exclamations and listened to equally immature and breathy responses that only awe can generate. And lots of cheering. This wasn’t a film, hell no! How does life do this? How is our world so damn beautiful?

Lock in

Lock in

I felt comforted by this vivid reminder that there are far bigger things going on in our world, forces that we try to understand yet still contain mystery, patterns that can be predicted but only up to a point, beauty that generates a moment of wonder shared, appreciated by a humanity hotchpotch.

So much was going through my mind – my life events, choices and hopes – passing through in a moment of clarity and understanding. It all made sense: it didn’t really matter. And, yet somehow, in relation to everything else and everyone else, it did.

Lie back, watch the sun re-emerge, choose whether to join the post-eclipse party or finally go to bed

Lie back… watch the sun re-emerge… choose whether to join the post-eclipse party or retreat to camp and finally go to sleep

Just over two minutes later and the moment of magic was broken as the sun and moon moved out of alignment, and we were back to reality. The light and warmth returned, the birds started to sing once again and the doof doof of the party started afresh.

Days later I still carried the magic with me, and months later the memory can still evoke a stomach flip and an utterance of ‘amazing’. Because it truly was amazing. Even the dismissiveness of a self-proclaimed eclipse king has done little to dampen my wonder.

And so I may yet become an eclipse chaser. But, would I get that same sense of awe, that absolute natural high from repeating the experience in another setting? Would it not, like any repeat experience, lack the magic of the first time? I’m hesitant.

The next total solar eclipse takes place in 2015 and is visible from Iceland, Europe, North Africa and Northern Asia whereas if I’m still Oz-side, I’ll have to wait until 2028. Might I see you there?

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Filed under australia, culture, festivals, natural wonders, nature, oceania, travel, wow!

And then it was over

australian-flag-mapAs I sat on the flat, spongy mattress of a cobbled together dorm room near the airport on the island of Tahiti listening to the woes of an eighteen year old French lad who’d had his money and laptop stolen whilst on a cruise out to the Tuamotus and now didn’t have any other option but to wait for a flight home, I realised that this too was the end of my journey.

Well, not really. If Stage 1 had been my initial South American adventures within Ecuador and Peru, and Stage 2 my previous time in Australia and New Zealand, then this travel through Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador followed by a delivery sail from the Galapagos Islands to Tahiti could be deemed Stage 3.

So Stage 3 was drawing to a close. There would still be more adventures up ahead, surely?

One of my favourite modern-day philosophers, Alain de Botton, says: ‘We’re getting better at learning how to structure journeys so that they can assuage what we’re lacking within us.’ And when I looked inside myself and questioned what was lacking (and causing a bit of concern), it was simple: health, familiarity, money. And a big, fat cuddle.

The biggest issue was my health, and my body was begging me to settle for a while. In the last few months, Bolivia had physically punished me and although I’d felt fairly healthy – inactive but healthy – during the Pacific crossing, now Tahiti had delivered up a fever thanks to some tropical sores, sores that stretched the skin on my left leg so tight that touch shot sharp tingles right down to my foot and up to my thigh. My immune system was shot. (I think if you’d told me then that I’d still have another two loads of antibiotics coming up once I was back in Australia, I would have cried. Seven lots of antibiotics within six months? Sorry body. Some people deal better with South America.)

I booked the cheapest flight back to Australia that I could find. But where to? Melbourne had been my original choice destination, a cultural city with opportunities for work and an agreeable cost of living, but Sydney was starting to appeal to me with its sailing scene. So why was I descending into a peachy, sunset Brisbane in mid-June?

I thought back to my French friend and hoped that his misfortunes hadn’t overly soured his impressions of paradise or deterred him from the wonders of travel. Life without travel, without adventure? Unimaginable.

I got off the plane, cursed the fact I’d worn flip-flops and a vest top as I shivered into an Aussie winter, and paused for a moment before I stepped through the Arrivals doors. My heart beating faster and a smile twitching on my lips, I pushed my airport trolley into a politely crowded Arrivals lounge. Still far from my UK home, Australia would be home for now.

Stage 4 starts. An empty page. Some good ideas, hopes and needs, but no plans or expectations. But definitely adventures. Always.

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Marooned: what the hell do I do now?!

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Time to say goodbye?

It was never a guaranteed that I’d stay on board all the way to Australia, and with space for only one of us, either Matt or me had to make a move to a different boat or a different whatever. The rules of the world dictate, first on last off. I had no problems with that.

It was only as we got closer to Tahiti that we finally broached the subject and thrashed out the reality of the situation. As it turned out, Matt wanted to stay on board, so I was off. It gave me a few days thinking time. As far as I was concerned, I had three, no four, options:

1)      Find another boat to crew for. The positives are that I might even find paid work, the negatives that most boats would want to do some exploring of the islands. Bora Bora? I heard it’s amazing, so why a negative? I wanted to get back to Oz sooner than August. I needed to go earn some money, catch up with friends and family.

2)      Find a stout Tahitian man and get stuck into island life. A beautiful place, who wouldn’t want to settle in tropical paradise? Nah, my ideals say that something like this, should it happen, would be spontaneous and emotionally driven, and not a calculated decision. And honestly, my heart was a little too distracted to really consider this option.

3)      Find a cheap flight to Oz. After nearly a year of being transient, I was ready to put down roots for at least a few months. My bank account suggested that it was a necessity to get some paid work quickly, particularly if I hoped to finally return to my family in the UK for Christmas.

4)      See what turns up. This approach has worked well for me over the last year. I’ve freed myself of the need to plan and be overly prepared. It’s liberating. Only occasionally has it fallen flat, like when I turned up to New Zealand not having booked a hostel after taking three flights. Of course, everywhere was fully booked because the Foo Fighters were playing that night. But generally, adventures and interesting experiences have presented themselves when I’ve just been open to seeing what turns up.

So here in Tahiti, I started to pack up my bags and prepare for pastures new.

What would life have in store for me?

The logical thing as a free-spirited, solo traveller would be to continue the sailing adventure through French Polynesia. But something else was pulling me in a different direction, no, not just the one thing, some things.

As I sat in the sunshine sipping a fresh fruit juice, gazing out at a fleet of yachts, Pride told me to find another boat, to do the full Pacific crossing. What’s another two months? he asked, you’ve come so far, why give up now? Because, I replied, I’m actually quite ready to stop for a while. Tropical islands are all well and beautiful but I want to be with friends again, be part of a little community that doesn’t dissipate in a few days, get somewhere where I can talk to doctors in English and get these tropical sores treated.

I recalled a friend’s wise words about there always being more opportunities to do things in the future. If I want to sail around French Polynesia, if it’s really, really important to me, I’ll find a way to come back. I wouldn’t be giving up, I decided. None of my adventures had had definite start and end points so why force this one? No Pride, you don’t present a strong enough argument.

Adventure perked up. You like Tahiti, right? Imagine more of this, more remote, more beautiful, more Bora Bora. People would sell their souls to get to Bora Bora. And then there are the Cook Islands and Tonga and maybe Fiji. You could spend months sailing, not spending much money, maybe even earning some, months enjoying waters perfect for snorkelling and diving and splashing about. You would be in paradise, away from the responsibilities of real life, putting off your return to rent and taxes and all things boring.

In many respects, it sounded appealing. Adventure talked my language, romanticised escapism, abhorred conventionality. But how realistic was Adventure? Did she not realise the power that denial and stresses played on the mind? No, life in its conventional sense of salaries and so forth needed to be addressed.

Responsibility smiled. Finally! he said, you’re starting to be a bit more level headed. Level-headed? I cringed. Maybe you don’t want to return to teaching, but drifting along will soon become tired. Know that you have lots of options. If you really want to be a little less responsible, if you really want to be a writer, he paused and raised an eyebrow, then you’ll still need to find some other work to cover your living costs. You may actually feel quite good earning money again, – you’ll be able to treat people and be independent and, if you must, save for further travels.

I thought about it. Responsibility was right. My return to Australia could just be a stop-gap. If it happened to extend into something more long-term then fine, but if I approached it as just another step in my adventure it would panic me less, and be less of a reason to run for the hills. Or the sea, in this case.

Finally, when I was ready, Love added her two pence worth and told me what I already knew. You have a friend in Australia who is soon moving on to pastures new, you have a cousin arriving into the country before too long and you have someone there who is so looking forward to your return.

Pride tried to butt in but Love was having none of it. She continued. Your family would be so, so happy to see you at Christmas, and I know how much you want to catch up with friends back in the UK. So lightly listen to Responsibility – he makes a few good points – and realise that the journey is never over. To continue your adventure in a meaningful way, you know what you need to do. And the stout Tahitian man that you mentioned? He’s not for you, dear. Leave him be.

Three hours later I had a flight booked to land in Brisbane, Australia. But first, another two weeks in paradise.

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Filed under activity & sport, culture, pacific, random, sailing, sea, tahiti, travel

Winding up life on board

It’s all whizzing by so fast now! I’m watching the miles tick by and it’s making me a bit nervous. I’ve mixed feelings, of elation and apprehension. Some excitement too. How do people go back to real life after sailing the seas?

Our ration of sweet things ran out over a week ago. Alan, the captain, disappears into his cabin and returns with a Toblerone bar. I make a mental note to remember to have my own secret stash on future voyages. Surprising the rest of the crew is priceless. We each break off a piece – dessert for the evening – and leave the rest in its packet in the middle of the table.

We’ve eaten well on board, a little too well and I know I’ve definitely put on some weight. The lack of ability to exercise has been frustrating, but I’ve resisted keeping up with the boys’ daily press-ups and sit-ups in favour of lounging in the hammocks and watching sunlight speckle the ocean surface with a million diamond fragments. Between losing myself in Paulo Coelho books and reflections brought on by the Ya Ya Sisterhood, I’ve been listening to Keith Richards on my MP3 player. Stories. People. Life. I can’t get enough.

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Hammock time to tune in, tune out, switch on

And I’m writing like a woman possessed, articles and diaries full of thoughts about past and future, about opportunity. Out of nowhere come contemplations on life and philosophies that reveal some growth and the start of a connection with something a bit bigger. And hope and confidence. For the world and everything in it, including little me. Cabin fever has got to me, it would seem, in a crazy, creative sense.

Two days later and we glimpse land for the first time since leaving the Galapagos. With no deep-rooted earthiness, in some respects this coral collective is a bit of a cheat claim to sighting land, but the tree-lined strip of the atoll nonetheless breaks up a constant flat horizon and reminds us of a different view, of a world we were part of not too long ago.

Mirage fuzz or something more?

Mirage fuzz or something more?

Later I wrote in my diary that it

‘was so exciting to see something other than ocean! Birds were flocking towards it, around it. Signs of life. Wonderful.’

Suddenly the excitement of a piece of chocolate is put into perspective. It was important, for sure, but this sighting? Something else.

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Three weeks of Pacific sunrises

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Somehow I got lucky and landed the sunrise watch.

Me and early mornings have a love-hate relationship but in this situation, where I had to be up anyway to do my boat duty as we crossed the South Pacific Ocean, I just had to get on with it. Getting to sit in on sunrise every morning was incentive enough for me to crawl out of bed without too heavy a head.

I looked forward to my watch.

There is something so quiet and magical about watching the sky shift from total darkness to a soft, peachy hue as the sun rises and pushes through horizon morning mist. On some days, lines of light – God lights – streak out from behind a cloud glowing bright golden; other times her appearance is more gradual and gentle, a soft glow building in luminosity until the sky is aflame with pinks and oranges and a ball of warmth.

How often do you get to sit in an empty ocean completely by yourself watching day break whilst other souls sleep below deck? I decided to photograph my sunrise moments and share them with you.

On Day 1 I was given time to adjust to life on the boat so I hadn’t yet started my watches. Day 2 I sat in on and observed other people’s watches, so it was only on Day 3 that I started this little project. Enjoy.

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A little boat and a vast ocean: are we the only people in the world?

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Our world

In my South Pacific sailing adventure there was no getting away from it: hundreds of miles from anywhere and anyone, we were in the middle of a big blue ocean, and for three weeks that ocean was our world.

Crewing on a boat from Galapagos to Tahiti with three strangers, this was an adventure in learning to live at sea, a reminder of routine, and a privileged opportunity to totally remove myself from civilisation and see what long distance sailing was really about.

And, I realised, it was largely about being alone.

The first sense of aloneness was that of looking out at a vast ocean brimming with blue-grey choppy waves and not much else. After a tuna catch on the second day, the only sea life that seemed to still show itself to us were flying fish and little, squidgy squid. Initially both littered the deck, but even they started to desert us as we sailed on, passing the 1,000nm and then the 2,000nm mark. Dolphins made a brief appearance, playing and ducking and diving at the bow of the boat, and a still-day swim and snorkel allowed me to see salps and sunlight streaking the clear, 4,000m deep water. But human life? Nothing to be seen.

For most of the voyage, all we had were 360° views of water leading to a drop-off some 8nm away. Sometimes choppy, sometimes eerily still, there were no indications that anything else existed out there. Instead of being scary, it was strangely calming. The heavens reached horizon to horizon over the top of our world, day times presenting Simpson skyscapes and night times a brilliant blanket of dense starriness and Venus brightly guiding us on to the West.

For twenty days, I didn’t see another boat, another sign of human life. My world was me and these three new friends. Supposedly, whilst I slept, we passed by a Japanese sailing ship that the others made contact with, but who knows that they didn’t dream it up after weeks with no interaction. No, unfair, I did later hear some chatter on the radio, an unfamiliar language. I scanned the horizon. Where were they? But nothing.

There was also the mental and emotional test of being disconnected from the ones we love. My skipper had a satellite phone from which he sent regular updates, but beyond that, no one knew where we were or how we were all really doing. Surprisingly, this wasn’t too much of a problem. Despite only meeting my crew a day before I boarded the boat, we all got on fine; good chats, interesting views, plenty of learning points. Maybe I’ve just got so used now to not being surrounded by my usual friends and family that I easily adapt?

It was only after two weeks that I realised if something big went wrong, we were fully alone. Sure, the EPIRB would fire off and let the main guys around the world know that we were having problems, but the best that they could do would be to find a boat close to us, which could be hundreds of miles, and direct it to our rescue. ‘What if my appendix ruptured?’ asked Joel. ‘Surely they’d send a helicopter or a rescue plane?’ I asked. ‘The best they could probably do would be to get us to a bigger ship with better first aid provisions’, said the captain. Death at sea, then, was a possibility. ‘I give you guys permission to operate on me’, said Joel.

So here we were, four strangers sailing in the middle of a big blue ocean, and for three weeks that ocean was our world.

And, at least in terms of humankind, we were very much alone in that world.

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