Chasing the Sun
The harsh truths of a real life sea-change
Everyone dreams of escaping their comfortable life and moving to some place near the ocean. Somewhere it’s always warm and the people are beautiful. Somewhere you wake up early and run along the beach, have a glass of wine at sunset and take up painting or some equally unrealistic yet creative way to make a dollar while you’re ‘living the dream.’ People think about it, they talk about it, but many people get tied down, make excuses and never actually do it. I did. And it didn’t look anything like what I had imagined.
Growing up, my parents who would sweep me away once a year to lie in the sun in a small town in North Queensland. When every minor stress of childhood/adolescence would torment me, this was my escape. Every member of my occasionally dysfunctional yet loving family would drive each other insane, but we were in paradise. For as long as I can remember, living there had always been a future goal of mine. So one day, without giving it too much thought, I decided to make the most of a time in my life where nothing was permanent. I resigned from my great job, left my abundance of amazing family and friends and lived out this fantasy I only ever partly believed was a possibility for me.
Life in paradise is different to a holiday in paradise
Before I left, I remember one familiar comment that repeatedly presented itself as those around me wished me well on my adventure. ‘Think of us slaving away while you’re sitting on the beach drinking cocktails won’t you?!’ I remember thinking ‘what do these people think I’m going to be doing up there?’ Making fucking jewellery and giving psychic readings for a living? This was going to be my life. I would have to work, survive, meet people so that I didn’t die of loneliness and make rent each month. Plus I hardly even drink that much and I have really white skin. Drinking double shot cocktails in the sun was going to give me sunstroke and potential skin cancer.
When I finally arrived and settled into my perfectly suited one bedroom ‘Queenslander’ apartment, it was holiday season. People were everywhere just as I had remembered it. My friends and family utilised the fact that this was now my home and chose to holiday there while the weather was perfect and the town was buzzing.
A month or so in everything started to die (including my soul and the fermenting mangoes falling from the trees outside my window). I started to run out of money. I hadn’t spent time with an actual person in weeks and was starting to talk to the Bougainvillea plant my mother had bought me to pretty up the balcony. The people I did meet briefly, well, I judged them quickly and struggled to find anything to talk to them about. Many of them had never left this gorgeous ghetto town they grew up in. Because they were in paradise right? Why would they need to?
Sometimes it’s best not to have expectations
My initial belief of what this lifestyle was supposed to look like was completely distorted. The problem was that I had put too much pressure on those expectations. So much in fact, that I couldn’t enjoy the bliss that was surrounding me. I fell into a pool of depression. I didn’t want to leave the house. I missed my friends and family painfully. I was in no way one of the women running along the beach and enjoying my amazing present.
I was incredibly fortunate to get a job in a beautiful vintage inspired clothing boutique, while many people doing the same thing as me were slaving away in sweaty kitchens waiting tables. My house was divine and as the weather became hotter and more humid than I had ever experienced in my life, I would wake up to the sound of heavy tropical rain falling through the giant fan palms my back balcony would look onto. Regardless of the beauty that was surrounding me, by the end of the third month I was at my worst. And then something wonderful happened. I made friends.
When you are so far from your family, you create your own
One afternoon a beautiful sprightly English girl with gorgeous eyes, sparked a conversation with me. She was surrounded by about 5 scary looking dudes covered in tribal tattoos that I wouldn’t have wanted to cross in a dark alley way, one of which who decided to approached me as I sat alone and terrified on the beach. Thankfully I never saw him again. She however became my best friend for the rest of my time in paradise.
On our first night out together we discovered one blatant similarity. We were two city girls stuck in a town where things like racism, homophobia and overall narrow mindedness were a little to prevalent for either of us to feel comfortable. But she had found love and I was finding… myself apparently, so we gave embraced our fate and we did it together. Maybe I was the most narrow minded of all, judging these people based on very little information. So I sat and watched her boyfriends friends comment (loudly) on pretty girls as they walked past, rolling my eyes and giving them a look for being misogynistic pigs. Then I got over myself and saw more. As my relationship with them became stronger I started to see kind, loyal, refreshingly honest, hilarious and fun loving humans that I couldn’t get enough of. They welcomed me into their world without question and made me forget that we had only known each other for a few weeks. Yes, one of them would proposition me on most evenings that we went out drinking and I lost count of the times he claimed I would one day be his wife. But we all soon became a very close knit and devoted ‘family’ (no I didn’t marry him). We got drunk together, we were (always it seemed) hungover together, we drank cider on the beach together, we laughed together, we rode shopping trolleys down the street at 3am together and we borderlined taking part in criminal activity together.
True loneliness makes you appreciate ‘your people’ in a way you never could have before
Sometimes you have to be completely isolated and miserable to trust that it’s all supposed to teach you something. I learnt that the people closest to me remind me of who I am. Without it I lost my sense of identity and worse still had no one to share my joys or pain with in person. They bring the best out in me and remind me that I am enough at my very worst, when I feel as if I am not.
Loneliness taught me that everyone has something to offer even if its not what you thought you needed at the time. Fate will probably present you with what you need, but you do in fact need to leave the house for that to happen and more importantly be open to any experience, not just the one you carefully planned in your head.
My most important lesson was that home is not where you live but where people understand you. I’m pretty sure I ripped that quote off from some inspirational sticker from a crystal shop, but this experience couldn’t have been summed up more accurately. I don’t think I can ever leave my favourite people for that amount of time again — the ones that know me better than I know myself and possibly even like me more than I do during difficult times. One thing I do know however, is that if I ever chose to leave again I will be lucky enough to meet exactly who I need to at the time in order to grow.
I still visit my little ‘family’ in tropical paradise as much as I can. We all live completely different lives and have many different interests and some different beliefs. But nothing ever changes and we ALWAYS undoubtedly have the greatest time together. More than that, they remind me to slow down, take a breath, live in the present and appreciate everything that is in front of me in that moment. And of course, that you are never too old for late night trolley rides.