In a forgotten journal entry from 2015, I wrote that "September is the new January.” It’s a month of fresh starts, spring cleaning and untapped potential. It marks the fourth quarter of the “game" as the clock runs out on the time for annual goals and New Years Resolutions. Seasons take a brisk turn, either down colourful autumn lane (back home) or onto the long sunny days of Summer. It's the final countdown.
So much happened this month of September that it felt I was mid-leap from the spring of an inflection point I mentioned in my last post. If July endured the hardest combination of grief, joy, bittersweet pride, love and gratitude, then August was for healing and September was for building up my strength again!
By absolutely no coincidence but, rather, a few fated opportunities and a stroke of intuition, I spent a long weekend in September taking my first entirely solo trip: in a town called Long Jetty in the Central Coast of New South Wales.
I arrived via taxi after a two-hour train from Sydney. Sloped slightly downhill in number nine’s slanted driveway, I noticed I was being greeted by a banana yellow door like its AirBnB listing had promised. I approached the door and touched the digital padlock with a Hogwarts-sort of magic: the numbers glimmered to life on the screen and silently prompted me to tap: one one oh six. Unlock.
The first thing I noticed was a coastal theme: warm hues of sunshine and sky blue adorned each room. In the master bed and bathroom, alternating blues and gold suddenly reminded me of my arch nemesis, the UCLA Bruin. That slid from my mind as I glimpsed seemingly local and aboriginal art; a wise elephant in Noir filter glanced down her trunk at me knowingly. This could work for my private thinking sanctuary.
The next thing I saw was a critter on the floor, in stark contrast on the cream carpet and disrupting the otherwise peaceful ambiance. Deep breath. I delicately grabbed him up in a paper towel and freed him onto my private patio - let’s be honest, I chucked him onto the grassy depths below it - since the alternative was risking his company in my fresh white bed linens that night. This was not a replay of Jubilee Pocket in Airlie Beach circa earlier this year; I didn’t have a brave companion like Scott with whom I could chase and capture unwanted flatmates until all hours of the night! First proud moment of solitary courage: check.
It was early afternoon, so I took my time to settle in and observe my spacious quarters. My room: cozy with electric blankets and three simple furnishings only. I took my three weekend outfits and placed them cozily rolled onto my corner chair. A hanging mirror and its protruding frame made a quaint shelf for my single pair of earrings and four rings. Later that evening, I’d place my precious findings from the day’s beach walk there.
Past my room, a small dining table neighboured a lonely guitar and small houseplant. The room-length bookshelf featured classics and modern pop reads, mysteries like I’d find on our bookshelf in the pink room [back home]. My three-ring-binder of a host-guide told me there was Foxtel and Netflix for my enjoyment. I thought, I think I’ll avoid them in favour of the rarities only available on the Central Coast.
I set out for my first bout of exploration, inspired by the daily ritual and sole tourist attraction native to Long Jetty - The 3pm Pelican Feeding at "The Entrance" (fondly known as such for its unique and narrow waterway from the Pacific into a saltwater bay-like Tuggerah Lake). The birds were fearless, bigger than small preteens and resembled the epic pelicans that came out of Jumanji! After taking a look, I continued on an easy jogging path that circled the entire peninsula from Long Jetty (on the west side, facing the lake and the rest of Oz) all the way around the Entrance and several more ocean bays (named Blue and Toowoon). There were ocean baths, rocky beaches with treasure troves of abandoned shells, and only a scattered few passerby or vacationers (likely due to my weekday timing). I passed a pair of women, sisters, who walked their dog lovingly and asked what had brought me there. I also spied a beach bungalow hideaway back in the trees that I later discovered hold's the homey name of Kim's beachside retreat. I can see myself returning someday.
Upon reflection, I am just now noticing this coastal pocket's resemblance to a nearly-whole heart. Little did I know when I chose and booked it that such a whole-heartedly heart-encompassing journey would ensue. Bonus! Being positioned on the west coast of such a quaint peninsula (see "Long Jetty" on the map) would mean sunrises over the ocean and sunsets over the Lake just beyond my private backyard - see below.
When I returned home that first evening, I found my patio to be framed in magic hour sunshine softened only by the second floor’s wooden pillars. A glass-top table and five wicker chairs look out over the lower patio deck, inviting with a giant outdoor sectional and black-brick fire pit that’s square in shape. To its left was a half yard of grass, an herb garden speckled in red and a hammock that’s been unjustly neglected according to its sun-faded hues. The thick, smooth branches of the yard's mystery-trees slashed starkly against the sky’s glow, resembling a monster-size urchin resting behind this cottage of mine (see it there behind my tea mug?). The autumnal cloud-cover made for some heavenly witching hour-lighting.
Enter: Day two of my first-ever solo retreat and vacation
My first morning’s jaunt was to the nearby Glass Onion Society, a neighbourhood corner haunt boasting coffee, food and vibes on its front door. All were served. In one of the first effortful activities of my phone-free day, I savoured each rare colour and taste on my plate instead of photographing them… like I normally would. Button mushrooms, cherry tomatoes on their vine, half a perfect avo and multi-coloured grain sourdough toasted to a crunch. Meals don’t often get better than that, but this one did - thanks to an almond flat white and tropics smoothie (featuring pine, mango, passion and coconut).
I returned home to rest in my queen sized bed under a checker-quilted duvet in Long Jetty. There was Morning Tea at my bedside and a fresh apple in my belly, books stacked at my feet where Simba should be. As I both read and wrote and wondered what else would come of this retreat, I realised that Rilke’s words from Letters on Life touched on why I love journaling about my experiences: he says,
"The longer I live, the more urgent it seems to me to endure and transcribe the whole dictation of existence up to its end, for it might just be the case that only the very last sentence contains that small and possibly inconspicuous word through which everything we had struggled to learn and everything we had failed to understand will be transformed into magnificent sense.”
When I wasn't scribing my innermost thoughts, musings on my career goals and writing down every rich and lovely detail of my discoveries on this trip, I made time for activities that we don't often fit into the daily, city routine. I decided to attempt a digital detox on Day 2 and left my phone on airplane mode. I went for another stroll through the coastal path lined in rainforest-y foliage and did some sketching in the aforementioned backyard. I jogged through a protected marshland and waved to more pelicans; I even forewent headphones in favour of nature sounds.
I picked up litter! Finally, I went back to the Glass Onion Society and listened to Central Coast locals share brave snippets of Spoken Word. Over a light Mexican food dinner at a cozy recommendation by my BnB hosts, I people-watched and appreciated the unique eccentricities of this quaint coastal town.
When asked how was it? about this quiet solo adventure, I reflect that it was both beautiful and quiet, raw and confronting. I had space to think, remember, dream and imagine. I reached several moments of the clarity I had set out striving toward. I savoured love and gratitude as well as well as longing and mourning. Finally, I watched the sun recede beyond the still lake and mysterious hills of NSW mainland. As quiet strollers and amateur fishermen and -women passed me on the long jetty, I acknowledged the 180-degree panoramic view of lake-sea around me (and no, not through my iPhone's Panorama setting). We should remember to unplug more often.
Here's to have taken time for what's in my heart, and to many more solo adventures to come.
Abroad Down Under