There is no feeling in the world, like that of sleeping under the stars for the first time. Looking up at the endless blue-black universe smudged with stars and mist, you cannot help but feel an overwhelming sense of belonging. Of intoxicating infinity. Like the head rush of falling in love, and the tragedy of falling out of it; only all at once, all together – all rolled hastily into a blurry mess of feelings pressing on your chest, that’ll have you so euphoric and dejected and dizzy that sleep is absolutely out of the question.
So perhaps I should rephrase; there is no feeling in the world like the first time you lay awake, awestruck, staring into the night.
The smell of salt sticks to my teeth, to my skin, is soaked up by a stray strand of hair which has escaped the hood of my green sleeping bag. The scent of this Sicilian summer’s night is heady, fragrant – capers and lemons and salt; that pungent taste of salt which demands to be experienced and permeates every other sense, fine as the sand which grinds and crunches under my every movement, turning each toss and turn into a chalky shiver down my spine.
I close my eyes; a futile attempt at rest, really. And yet my energy seemed to evaporate, today, rising in the brightness of the open sea as visibly and tangibly as heat on asphalt. A memory, a faint echo of white and blue and turquoise shimmers inside my eyelids – taunting, tempting me into sleep. For a while, I can almost believe I’m halfway dreaming, the rhythmic lapping of the sea (the tide rising dangerously close to our sleeping bags) almost hypnotic in the blue-black night.
An hour or a minute passes – time is elastic in this darkness. All is still except for the crickets and the tide, each singing their summer lullaby to the milky way; beating their own time, whistling their own tune. Hardly in harmony – somewhat like us, a haphazard group of improvised sailors, fleetingly united from every walk of life by a common, irresistible yearning for this elusive something which tastes so much like freedom. Yet there is a musicality in these late night concertos, a hidden prettiness which I am learning to appreciate. Sailing will do that to you. You learn to listen; listen! To the ropes and the deck and the sails – creaking, groaning, moaning from their mooring in the rising tide.
I wriggle myself up, the rustle of my sleeping bag on the sand only a whisper in the enormous night. Even sitting still feels unreal here – it is too mundane to fit into this intoxicating darkness. Too bland to contain all the sensations which seem to be coalescing into fireworks and pyrotechnics in my chest – one feels compelled to stand and tango with the breeze, to tap-dance for the olive trees. And yet here I am, sitting on a slither of beach with the waves inching closer each time they race along the shoreline. There is a moment, when the sea has stretched to its furthest point on land, when the water is at its thinnest and each pebble and grain of sand which lies beneath it is magnified. In the moonlight, as it comes and goes behind the gathering clouds, this gives the beach a lilac shade which dances on my face like a disco light, like a streak of a crazy Van Gogh carelessly strewn like litter on this very stretch of sand.
I glance around at my sleeping travel companions, scattered around me. Someone sighs. Someone snores.
Then, just the crickets and the tide.
And a quiet thump.
A raindrop plummets onto the hood of my sleeping bag, tracing the lines of my eyebrow and cheekbone, leaving a chilly trail behind as it falls. It moves slowly, a self-conscious newcomer trying to pass unnoticed and blend with the black sea. A distant clap of thunder, like an afterthought, announces the cascade which envelops us a moment later. Sleepers wake and snorers sputter as the sudden shower blurs fantastic dreams of crystalline seas to the murky no-colour of dirty paint water. Half dreaming, half laughing, half frantic, we stumble to crowd under a little wooden shack by the olive trees – nine shadows cocooned in dripping, fluorescent tints. Laughter and sneezing and gentle, dozing banter follow – we had said it would rain and will you please listen next time and come on, it’s an adventure and after all, isn’t that why we’re here?
Then, at last, dawn. And the salt, and the tide.
Share your story of independence in our Independence Travel Writing Contest. Free Entry. Cash Prizes.