I stuff Danger in his crate, hug my friend whose backyard AirBnB in Chichester I’ve rented for the past week and climb into my car. A soft low mist is hanging over the country roads as I drive towards Newhaven to catch the ferry across the English Channel. It’s romantic, mystical, the perfect picture to leave this island with as I trade it for another.
Apprehension of the border crossings ahead leaves me feeling tense. There’s an inner conflict growing within me, as I try to merge the version of myself that I have known from the past who would travel through the most questionable situations with complete grace and trust, and the version of myself now who feels overwhelmed and drained by the unpredictable uncertainty of the everchanging travel rules that make zero sense to me. I want to be cool, chill, at ease… but instead, I’m leaning into the subtle fear and trepidation reminding myself that whatever happens, it will be ok.
Boarding the ferry offers a welcome respite from my concerns. They check nothing as I leave the U.K. Even the security guard who is supposed to inspect my car asks me to open the trunk, takes one look and says “That looks very neatly packed, I’m not going to mess it up!” and then advises me to hide the houseplants so that I can smuggle them into France. I have 4 hours to fill and answer emails on the shoddy wifi and manage to press publish on a fun article I write on 13 films and series to inspire entrepreneurial women.
On the other end, I slowly roll through passport control prepared with my test and documents where I “on my honour solemnly swear” not to have the C-word and to get out of the country within 24 hours or isolate for 7 days. The 3 men squeezed into a tiny booth are excited to talk to me. As the only young woman amongst 200 pensioners in their mobile homes and 50 cyclists on tour, I imagine I am some respite to their boredom.
They look at my car, packed with life-things, the cat crate on the passenger seat and delightedly ask “You finish with UK?”. I assume it’s a rough translation for ‘are you leaving the UK?‘ and smile and nod. They celebrate with looks of glee and French-British rivalry is evident on their faces. They don’t ask me for my papers the I hurriedly had printed and then painstakingly filled out the night before. Nor my negative test. They look at my passport and see that it’s European and then pass me the scanner to scan Danger’s microchip. He’s cleared and they wave me off. After all the government elucidation on the website, I am surprised. I had anticipated an unpleasant inspection and interrogation.
I drive out onto the road towards the only hotel I have booked for the 4-day journey ahead and remind myself ‘right side, we are on the right side now’. I am surprised at how natural it feels. The relaxed entry into Europe makes me wonder a few things. One, I wonder if all these ridiculous rules have less to do with a virus and more to do with politics. I’m starting to believe that this pandemic has become a convenient excuse to globally tighten control. Two, I wonder if, since they didn’t ask for my paperwork, I am no longer forced/required to get out of France within 24 hours. Because a 10-hour drive tomorrow to make it out in time is terrorizing. Four hours later I arrive in Orleans. I decide to risk it. I look at the map. It’s a 12-hour drive to the ferry port in Barcelona and book another hotel in France for the next night 6 hours drive away.
Two more full days of driving ahead, I have a lot of time to think. I think about how I haven’t been very present with myself nor my life recently. I think about how I’ve been feeling like a body operating on autopilot. I think about how I miss feeling immersed and enchanted by the human experience despite its ebbs and flows, ups and downs. I think about how I used to be able to transcend and override fears and doubts quickly. I think about how I used to pride my ability to be present with things, moments, hours. I think about whether pride is an ego-driven feeling and if it’s spiritually healthy to recognise one’s strengths. I think about the fact that I have concluded that, no matter how consistent and comprehensive your spiritual practices are, they cannot compete with a lifestyle and culture that requires you to be racing forward, geared in the direction of more, more, more all the time. I, at least, cannot be the centred, present, whole I like being in this world.
I think about how, when I was at my happiest I had very few things, commitments, nor agendas. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved travelling to developing countries. No one holds you to the expectations of your culture and society to ‘pursue validation via success’ when you are in a culture or society that values being present, making food and family connections. Most of all I think about how I miss bathing in my own essence. I’ve been busy/avoiding it/feeling tense/uncomfortable in my own skin. I’m feeling the duality of shame and disappointment in myself, I want to be better than this, while also having compassion and understanding, for a life that has felt hard lately.
There is a moment, in a hotel room in the south of France when the pain back pain from my recent injury wakes me. I turn to see that it’s 1.30 am… and I breathe into the area, massage it and work on it the way my physical therapist and osteopaths have taught me, consciously thinking words of healing, release and learning when suddenly the pain subsides, and my left hip relaxes back down to its normal position for the first time in weeks. The body always holds the score. While I still can’t intellectually make full sense of it all, I know this injury is here to teach me something big and meaningful and necessary.
France is beautiful. I take all the no-toll roads. The idea of having to stop the car and run around to the other side every time I need to pay at a toll booth impales me. Id’ rather drive an extra hour here and there and see the scenery. Small cute villages, sunflower fields and windmills, a palace of dreams softly glide past. On the third day of my drive, I go up into the Pyrenees to cross the border into Spain. I need to wee but I decide to wait for one of those cute French roadside rest stops. Three hours later I’m still waiting and desperate and nearly at the top. I finally pull over on the side of the road, skip out into some bushes and pray that my wild wee will go unseen. Back in the car I’m so overcome with relief I miss the exit to Spain and drive into the tiny shiny shopping mall, liquor store and petrol station bespeckled tax-haven Andorra by mistake.
20-minutes down the mountains on the other side I see a Spanish flag and assume I must have crossed into Spain. Eventually, two men in uniform on the ragged edge of a road wave me down and I roll to a stop. I pull my passport out but they just ask me where I’m going and where I’ve come from and tell me to have a good trip. At the outskirts of Barcelona, I stop. I haven’t eaten all day and I run into a shop and buy a cheap sandwich. I’m relieved and exhausted. The final part of my journey, an overnight ferry to Mallorca, is a few hours away.
Danger is an absolute angel the entire way. Happily snoozing in his crate in the car without complaints, exploring the new spaces and demanding cuddles when we arrive in the hotel rooms. Until we get on the ferry. We have a cabin to ourselves but the engine is loud and the motion unfamiliar so he panics and tries to escape into a hole in the cabin wall. Finally, he settles in the little round port window where he can watch the water down below. Neither of us have much rest. I book a pet-friendly hotel 20 minutes out of Palma while I look for our new home for the next few weeks.
Exhausted, bleary-eyed I arrive at the hotel at 6 in the morning. Check-in is not until 2 pm but I hopefully ask if we can have a room early. They tell me to bring my bags in and then wait for a couple of hours. I ask if I should leave my cat in the car or bring him in too. “Cat?! We don’t accept cats.” the receptionist responds. I had emailed them two days earlier to check and received a response saying they accept pets up to 5 kg. Danger is 6.5 kg but no one is actually going to weigh him to check. I show them the email. “We have to wait for management to come in to ask,” I tell them I’ll be back soon and go find my car. I sit down in the driver’s seat, close the door and cry. I’ve reached my limit. I know everything will be ok, but I have no more capacity for anything.
Half an hour later, armed with a list of hotels that will accept us, I walk back into the reception. “It’s fine”, I tell them, “I’ve found another place”. It’s next door. An expensive resort hotel with a private beach, spa and sauna. I walk in and they get us settled by 9 am. Danger loves manifesting the best life for us, always. I have some breakfast at the breakfast bar, take a nap, and go straight into a full day of calls with private clients.
The first four days are full of work commitments. Between working and sleeping and trying to recover my energy from my injury, all the changes, and the long drive I have zero time to explore this new place I hope to call home. I struggle with the fact that I feel so exhausted and depleted. I should be happy. It’s warm. The sun is shining. I can swim in the sea. But I have no capacity for feeling pleasure right now. All I can think about is getting through this week, and letting my body rest and heal.
I start to feel some kind of reemerging. I’ve been here a week. My body is brimming with stagnant emotions that need to be cleared. No amount of shaking and meditating and journaling is shifting it. My mind keeps going to really dark places, filled with insecurity and self-doubt. I find it hard to respond to texts, kind words from friends, or do anything that extends beyond the most necessary. I know this is not who I am, but a response to how my body is feeling. I need help. I go see a craniosacral therapist. Her touch is tender, nurturing, subtle. She confirms that my body is completely depleted and full of sadness, anger… The next day I spend the entire day crying in the car while I try to understand this island, look at some potential apartments, and get an idea of where I might want to live. I’m releasing so much. It’s not pretty but it’s necessary. I need time to rest/cry/feel/read/process. Time that I don’t have right now.
Many parts of Mallorca are starting to close down for the winter. I don’t want to be isolated and lonely and decide I need to stay closer to Palma at least for my first 6 months while I find my feet, and narrow my search to 3 specific areas that give me good vibes when I’m in them, 10-15 minutes out of the capital. I look at more apartments. There’s one I like. It has a balcony with sea views, cute cafes nearby, and feels warm and welcoming. They offer to furnish it from IKEA for me. I negotiate a 100 Euro monthly reduction from the asking price and ask them if they would allow me to give them my preferences for the furniture. They agree. I have a home. We move in next week.