The Sun Rises in the East
You wake up at first light, back aching from weeks of sleeping a centimetre off the hard and rocky ground. Your feet are bruised and bloody from hundreds of kilometres crossed in shoes you’ve had no time to break in. There have been times when you felt like giving up. But when you take your first step out into the cool, sharp dawn, none of it matters. The sun is in the long, slow process of breaking over the horizon, and the only sounds are the gentle rise and fall of the waves lapping at the shoreline ten feet away from where you stand in your boyfriend’s old shirt and the bikini you haven’t taken off for a week. There are no time limits, there are no goals. There is just one simple plan – live. You are free.
In the summer of 2014 I spent two months hitch-hiking over 1000km between Barcelona and La Rochelle. It was the most rewarding, exciting, and challenging experience of my life, one which changed my entire perspective and even my personality more than anything else I have ever experienced. Waking up to sunrise on the beaches of the east coast, and watching the sunset from the beaches of the west give you a profound respect for nature. Walking through the lower peaks of the Pyrenees, almost hallucinating from lack of food, water, and sleep, give you great fear. At this point, I apologise, mother, but I had to ignore you, climbing into the back seat of the first truck to go past. I was driven away to safety, and that I will never forget.
I was given food by strangers, driven for hours by families who had no reason to trust me, and given worldly advice by people generations ahead of me. I was even given forty euros, breakfast and a tour of Toulouse by a 70-year-old German man, who the previous day had driven me to a canal to camp. Before this dramatic yet stabilising period of my life, I was questioning my faith in human kindness. Some of my experiences on the road had left me drained, exhausted of all feelings of empathy. The generosity and understanding that I experienced in those weeks on the road proved to me that I have much left to discover about human nature.
At this point in my life there is nothing I long for more than the freedom and hope that comes from exploring this planet, not as an enemy to others but as a friend. In this day and age, so many see nature as simple statistics – a percentage of rainforest destroyed or a disappearing coastline – and they cannot fathom this loss. To sit by a silent lake, kept warm by the fire you made yourself from the kindling you found in a nearby forest, listening to crickets and the birds singing their evening chorus, is an experience without which humans would never have developed to what we are today. Settled atop an old wall of an abandoned monastery, at the peak of what had seemed like an insurmountable climb only that morning, staring across at the patchwork of forests and farmland, the town you left only days before is invisible in the evening haze. Only there, when you have abandoned all that made you who you were before, when you have ignored and dismissed all of society’s rules and regulations, can you appreciate the truth. We are a part of nature, we are simple animals, living in a world that we share with many others, a world full of beauty and experiences, if only you go out and seek them.