The clouds part for a moment and I can spot my mountain, the towering volcano that has shaped and colored and comforted my entire life in Bali. The sun hasn’t come up yet but already the world is bright. Roosters crow the dawn and the hum of crickets fills the air. I curl my legs into my body and wrap the sheet tighter around my shoulders. It isn’t cold here but the cloth feels like a hug.
I am alone. Mostly. I mean, there are people all around me. The village neighbor plays traditional music from a speaker lodged high in the coconut trees. I can hear the staff driving up on their motorbikes to the Eco-camp. I know guests are a stone’s throw away in their own tipis. I cuddle in closer and take a few more moments of solitude.
In the buzzing silence of dawn, I find myself relishing independence. I want to lounge in the comfort of my own presence. I don’t want to talk to people. I don’t want to be seen. I want to watch the volcano and journal in peace.
As I travel, I work to balance independence and solitude with cultural exchange and getting to know my neighbors and staff. It can be hard in a society like Bali where no one is ever alone. Where community and family are valued above everything. In fact, when I retreat to my tipi to listen to a podcast and stare at the stars, I’m often whispered about.
It is difficult as a traveler to strike this balance. To fit into a new culture but maintain your own identity. To feel like you’re missing out on the travel experience that everyone else is getting. To want to go out for a Bintang on the beach but feeling exhausted by the sheer thought of it. To have to exert extra energy to communicate in 2 or 3 languages.
In Chile I took pride in my independence. I relished my strong streak that got me through a break up, over a language barrier and into the wild. I didn’t need anyone. I could do it all myself.
In Bali, I am drawn to the support of other people. It is the community I have built that has gotten me through impossible loneliness, over cultural barriers and into the silliest of situations. I need people. I can’t do it myself.
There is a cost to independence. To pushing away people just to prove to yourself you can make it alone. You forget the love of your family. The support of your ancestors. The friends that could have alleviated the hard times and enriched the good times.
But as an extrovert-introvert, I need to make space for myself. I need to spend moments of quiet and respite contemplating the wind in the bushes, the ants crawling over my legs, the coolness of water on my throat.
So while I will spend my entire day around people, screaming along to The Black Eyed Peas in the car, brainstorming in 3 hour long bilingual meetings, chatting under a sky of staggering stars, I must take the moments of solitude that fuel me.
I pull my blanket tighter. I wiggle my toes in the dirt. I breath in deep the fresh air of another humid, chaotic day beginning.