One Woman’s Search for Everything You Can’t Find in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’
I have travelled in love, out of love, by plane, ferry, on the hump of camel – endless ways of getting from A to B and beyond in my life. Yet, when I come across the sunbed paperbacks that promise to cure the existentially erratic female solo traveller, I cannot relate.
When Elizabeth Gilbert wrote Eat, Pray, Love, she believed that a broken heart could be mended with Italian pasta sauce, chanting and the multi-cultural “perfect” man. If I were to scream the alphabet at a confused tourist, holding a jar of Dolmio tomato sauce in each hand, I doubt it would achieve the same effect. It seems that the secret ingredient of Gilbert’s fulfillment would be travel itself. This is something that I can, at least, agree with.
The structure of Eat, Pray, Love consists of three parts to reference Gilbert’s Indian prayer beads called Japa Malas. Each location unlocks a new soul-searching token. In Italy, she is granted pleasure. In India, it is peace. And in Bali, she finds love. I have decided to follow suit. I hereby present three examples from my own adventures, because three is a magic number, and the exact amount of chicken strips it takes to make a decent wrap.
Seeking Pleasure With Pharaoh’s Revenge
“If you get lost in the middle of the ocean, all you have to shout is “AL MEDINAH!” and I will rescue you!”
As he gazed down at his flock of pasty tourists, the leader of our snorkelling expedition tried to reassure us that the waters of Sharm El Sheikh were not our enemy. But as I felt the food poisoning churn from deep within, I wondered if screaming “AL MEDINAH!” from the boat’s single toilet would bring me sweet relief.
My mum and sister had taken refuge back in the hotel room, but I was coerced to join my brother and dad on this pre-booked voyage through hell. Swimming through shoals of fish and dancing corals did not scare me at 12, but the fear of blasting a stranger in the face with my detritus was paralysing. I sobbed on the boat, locked myself in the bathroom and prepared to bring shame upon my family.
To Elizabeth Gilbert, I ask this: where was my cultured Adonis when pharaoh’s revenge was coursing through my bowels?
But when the boat eventually stopped and I tumbled into the sea, I truly experienced pleasure. Stomach settled in salty water, I kicked my legs and sank into the aquatic wonderland. The fish were unbothered by the goggled masses and I could see my dad mouthing “brilliant” in a bubble of Northern Irish wonder.
Seeking Peace in Pineapple Pants
I was studying at North Carolina State University for a semester and experienced cultural immersion in the form of a dorm party. As music and hormones raged together, this Hawaiian themed party united all three floors of my residence hall for a night of red cups and Party Punch.
Amidst the chaos, the floor suddenly cleared as Flo Rida’s ‘Low’ began a sacred ritual of (one) decade past. Pupils were dilating, hips were gyrating and I was going low, low, low. Too low, in fact, as the seam of my tropical jumpsuit ripped from crack to crotch. Frozen mid squat, with my pineapple-print laden Feeling Fruity knickers exposed, this was not the American dream I had envisioned. Nor had I imagined that my Aussie partner-in-crime would collapse onto the floor, heaving with enough maniacal laughter to draw attention away from my predicament. My escape was swift, and a new change of clothes restored my British decency.
Whilst my commitment to Flo Rida has changed irrevocably since that moment, my memories of American life are not fuelled by such chaos. They are sweetened by iced tea and distant jazz music. Soaked in the sunlight of vineyards and echoed between mountain ranges. We found peace sleeping under the fireflies that blazed and faded between the trees of a forest. We didn’t know what we believed in, and it did not matter. For me, that was enough.
Seeking Love All Around
As far as exotic romantic encounters go, mine are cursed by my tendency to imitate ancient cretins. Some humans flirt, I choose to scrabble down beaches pretending to be a crab while my sister, 15-going-on-30, asks my parents just exactly how we are related.
When I was 14, my sister and I drifted down a lazy river in Dubai. We greeted each lifeguard we passed because that was polite and increased our chances of being retrieved from the rapids. One guard, aged around 29, sat on his poolside stool and blew his whistle at the Power girls. We waved and he offered a flower to my clammy hands.
“How old are you, nice woman?”
“14. My little sister is nine,” I reported back.
“Hmmm… I can wait,” he smirked.
Hands paddling like flesh motors, we escaped before he could arrange Valentine’s Day plans with me at the restaurant that night.
Following the February 14th 2012 debacle, it is hard for me to place travel and love hand in hand and send myself off into the sunset. I would like to stress that the experiences that have brought me moments of clarity abroad are without a romantic agenda. But I would be lying if I said I hadn’t found love in the places I’ve visited and from the people I’ve met.
Where’s My Happy Ending?
I’m not knocking Gilbert or any other female writer who has dedicated their time and emotions to travel narratives. It’s so easy to fall into the pages of someone else’s fairy-tale and wonder when your own will begin. Even though it has taken a global village to raise me up, I’m still nowhere near ready to be an adult.
I am 21 years old, parent to only my dogs and sometimes only communicate with others via memes. But, unlike Gilbert, I believe that you don’t need to travel to know you who are. I’ve never “found myself” because I’ve always been me. I am just constantly finding ways to rethink my narrative. Travelling only takes you so far, but you still have to return somewhere and answer to yourself.
Seeking Answers to Big Questions
I’m learning to treat my body with the confidence of a skinny-dipping Dane. I’ve tasted home-baked love in Swedish cinnamon buns, and embraced the freedom of running barefoot like the Aussies. I want to better my community with Canadian kindness, host guests with American hospitality and party with the passion of a Spaniard. I don’t need to find one person who changes everything. I only need to surround myself with people who inspire me to feel love for everything I do.
Cover by Sebastian Pena Lambarri