When I leave a place I’ve stayed for long periods of time, it always brings instant nostalgia. That subtle pang of pain that creates a knot in the throat. It isn’t felt everywhere, just places that I’ve planted temporary roots in, only to be ripped from the ground when it is time to move on. Well, in this case, anchored temporarily, as was life for the past three months living and working aboard sailboats.
On the road or at sea, it’s always time to move on eventually. The wake tails off with the horizon, it’s time to say goodbye to Croatia.
Life on a sailboat for 3 months was the opposite of comfortable or convenient, but that isn’t a negative aspect. I’ve become accustomed to laying my head in odd places over the past 5 years of on-and-off travel, to the point where you become numb to the brutality of budget travel. So a tiny cabin on a tiny boat with 3-5 people living on it wasn’t so much of a bother. Most of the time.
I did need a break from it badly nonetheless after 90 days. I’m not an introvert, but I do love my space and time to myself, and there is almost none of that when you work in a flotilla of 8 boats with constantly changing guests each week.
I needed time to get back into writing, something I haven’t been able to do for months now given most of my time with guests or editing photos. I needed time to wander and not think about which boat to hop on or how to get the same shot different. I needed to stretch my sea legs and walk on solid ground for more than a few hours.
// Where am I now?
SERBIA! I’ve just arrived in Belgrade to start my week and a half off from working with Medsailors before I head to Greece to finish off the sailing season. And I plan to take full advantage of having nothing to do each day, and to start back on this blog! To enjoy not constantly swaying. To walk. A lot of walking.
What has life been like the past 3 months?
You just don’t get a whole lot of free time when living on a boat as a photographer. My start as a photographer on the sailboats was a rough one because of a flash bout of depression and anxiety, only to fall in love with life on the sea after a few weeks once I settled into the role and the lifestyle.
As weeks went by we all became quite a close-knit team. Good friends you could say — even a small family. After all, we were around each other every day all day, and on a rare night off, we’d hang out together. A big ole’ band of brothers and sisters hooting and hollering and kicking back pivos (beer in Croatian) and sailing into the salty breeze and sunshine.
// Diving headfirst into the sailing life
There were a handful of skippers who called me their “apprentice” and loved taking me under their wing to teach me as much as they could about sailing. And I love that aspect of the job. I went from waiting tables in Australia to snapping photos of people on sailboats and learning to sail as a part of it. Sometimes I’d drive the boat the entire day, or a skipper would guide me while parking the sailboat. Those are my favorite memories of the past 3 months, spending time with the awesome people I worked with and gobbling up as many skills as possible. Hell, it made me even want to pursue my skipper license next year.
And the swim stops in beautiful locations wasn’t too bad either…
It wasn’t all sunshine on the sea.
After the first month and half, it seemed like much of the energy and excitement faded. Not just from myself, but from everyone. I fell sick for nearly 3 weeks with a cough and cold that went around to most skippers. The doctor prescribed 3 days rest in bed and I proceeded to laugh because there wasn’t a chance in that happening. Some days I could barely get out of my cabin, but I had to. Most nights we would go out to dinner with guests, or I would have to explore with them to get my snaps. No rest for the wicked, or wickedly sick.
Exhaustion and fatigue in a gig where you have to always be active and social and one that is physically demanding can be brutal. And it was during that time trying to keep up. I had to disconnect to really get better. To stay in instead of going out. To opt out of tagging along with guests on excursions and hope to get enough good photos for the week while taking it easy. To say no to pivo with your boat mates and be a recluse. That’s a hard one. It had to happen to get better, and eventually I did.
That wasn’t the hardest part of the job.
Just because a gig is difficult or demanding at times, it still revolves around my passion — travel and photography. And really, I was living in the Adriatic. The job wasn’t the hardest part, but leaving that new family behind was. Those days where we would all get together as a team and sip beer and bullshit or gripe about things or share stories and laugh — that is hard to leave. I will see some of the skippers when I hit Greece in the beginning of September, but as the team began splitting apart it was tangible that everybody felt the same.
Even though we all might see each other later in the year in London for an after season party, goodbye wasn’t as easy as usual. There are the locals I can’t forget to mention — I spent many nights sitting with them sipping a beer after guests left and laughed through our broken communication to make some close and unexpected friends. We’d dance nights away in small 15th century hole-in-the-wall bars and smile and enjoy life.
It’s a strange thing about travel, always saying goodbye.
It’s as if the fading horizon holds all of those moments in a vessel that flows the opposite direction from you, out of sight, and vanishes into oblivion over some grand waterfall into the Universe. It swallows that place and the time you spent there into the blackness of distant memory. Did it happen? Those moments we leave behind every time we leave a place becomes the past — and we flow ever toward the new. Ever into the Now.
And as much as we want to hold onto those moments and carry them with us, to take those places and people along with us in their physical embodiment — it all slips through our fingers like trying to grasp water. It’s impossible. On occasion, we can continue on with a handful of friends, but we can’t take everyone. That merry band of hundreds would soon hold each and every person back from their own path. But we’d still like to.
That feeling of leaving a place, and perpetual goodbyes, is a familiar part of a travel lifestyle. For myself, I hope to see them again — the people I shared smiles and coffees and beers and philosophical hippy conversations with. Each time, I become somewhat hardened to attachment, each place left behind brings forward a new and unknown one, with new friends yet to be met. I can’t get attached because it’ll be soon time to let go. Or at least we try to tell ourselves that.
As travelers, we look forward with excitement and not behind at the past; always on the move and in the moment with no room for what-ifs. A traveler travels and that’s that and there ain’t no time for thinking about lasting relationships and trying to make something work or making future plans to maybe or maybe not meet up. About maybe coming back to a place when there is so much more to see. It’ll happen if it happens, left to chance. I’m not just talking about lovers on the road because much of this applies to friendships born of adventure. And that country? To explore it isn’t a mystery anymore, so is it scratched of the must-see map now? Been there done that right?
It still doesn’t damper a secret yearning to hold on to friendships and times had and the desire to revisit it. Would the country be the same without those people and in a different moment or scenario?
I have a terrible habit of going long periods without speaking to people back “home” or keeping in touch with travel friends for a few weeks after only to drift into less and less contact, and many perpetual nomads share the same habit. So do we become calloused to leaving places? Or just learn to deal with it as a part of this lifestyle, to pretend that it doesn’t affect us?
Try and try as we might, keeping in touch with everyone is nearly impossible. Even keeping in constant touch with a few is hard. We all share one common knowledge though as travelers, that we will go for months at a time without speaking, but we’ll always share a place in time together.
As I flew out of Split the jagged mountain ranges encircling the turquoise waters like a giant jawbone seemed to swallow the landscape, the limestone canines and barren rock molars rising up before disappearing beneath the haze and clouds — moments left behind but memories taken with me. White noise of the plane engines taking me to trade troughs and crests for valleys and trees. For now.
// What’s next?
I have 10 days total in Serbia where I plan to spend time getting back into writing and probably way too much time in cafés, but I’ll be looking to escape the city and do some hiking in a couple national parks around Serbia. I rented an apartment for the start of this, and even after 2 days, I find myself restless in such a large space alone. Though it is nice to have a massive bed to sleep on and no creaks from the boat every night.
Once in Greece, I’ll be there until mid-October to finish my role as a photographer. I’m planning to make more time for myself so I don’t get burned out, and so I can feed my creative hunger. One thing I’m looking forward to is reuniting with some of my crew from Croatia who are transferring over, and I’m excited that the lead team I spent 3 months living with in Croatia is sticking together! From there, as always, is open to chance like most things as a nomad. Autumn brings about change, and I have some exciting ideas for possible new adventures.
// Goodbyes are tough, but it comes with travel.
Though it aches to see the friends and moments drift out of sight, there is no stopping it. If you were to stop and reach back too long, your new horizon would drift along without you taking with it possibility, and the other you’re trying to hold onto would still slip into the distance. Hold on to the memories in a movie reel in the mind to replay, to close your eyes and smile at.
At some point the people in those memories will meet you again on a new horizon to create new memories if it’s meant to be, otherwise we have to know that our path is our own and we have to continue to follow it. The people along the way aren’t expendable remnants we let go, they made the journey what it is and will live in that memory. All we can do is hope to share another drink with them, and not dwell.
On to new horizons.