“Please don’t cry, Billy,” he says while I struggle to hold back the tears. My eyes are feeling like an overworked dam and that dam is about to burst right open.
In the background, flight announcements are echoing and we’re being blasted by icy cold AC air. We’re sat in Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, and Ankit’s first flight of four home is about to start boarding. I have been dreading this moment ever since we had made this post-Bali/post-travels plan – I’ll be heading to the UK and then Cyprus, while Ankit will be heading back to India to get his Cypriot visa before joining me. Unfortunately, we don’t know how long the visa will take to be processed.
As the announcement starts to call out over the speakers, I realise our time is up. It’s time to say goodbye.
“I want you to smile, baby. You’ll give yourself a headache like this,” he continues, while I wipe away a stray tear. I spot a couple approach the gate, hand-in-hand, and I feel jealous. I don’t want to have to say goodbye to him. We should be boarding my flight to Singapore together.
This scene may sound a bit like a bad Hollywood rom-com, but Ankit and I have spent pretty much every single living moment together over the last nine months, so saying goodbye isn’t easy. Ever since we decided to leave Dubai and travel, we’ve lived and breathed and shared everything together. Looking back, I realise that it has made our relationship stronger than it’s ever been. It really is make or break when you’re on the road and have no one else – in our case, it brought us closer together. Right now the thought of being away from him for even a day feels strange and I don’t want to have to do it.
He takes me in his arms and we joke that we’re doing an Ubud hug (Ubud hugs, which are typically exchanged by expat ‘hippies,’ are known for being long and awkward). We exchange repeated I love you’s and I’ll miss you’s, while he holds me tight and strokes my hair. I look at him and my eyes well up. There’s no stopping the tears now.
“Be brave, Billy. I’ll message you at every airport.”
“Bye, baby,” I reply, as my hand lets go of his and I leave him at his gate. As I get to the elevator, I look back and he’s watching. I wave. He smiles, but looks sad. I turn around, carry on walking and get into the elevator. I don’t look back again, because if I do, he’ll see that I’m crying uncontrollably.
A few days previously, we decided to take a trip to the Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple. We only had a couple of days left in Ubud at that point, and had heard that this place was great for photo opportunities. As we had a motorbike and it was only a half hour drive away, we let the scorching midday sun subside before putting on our helmets and hitting the road in search of some new travel stories.
Google Maps led the way as we weaved in and out of the cars that we met on the road. It was around 4pm at this point, and yet the sun was still beaming down on us strongly. I gripped onto Ankit on the back of the bike, remembering how scared I had been the few times we had driven one in Vietnam, and thought of how far we’ve come since we first hit the road last August. It’s taken nine months, but I’m finally at the point where I can close my backpack with ease. This thought instantly fills me with pangs of nostalgia, and it hits me: this is it, this is our last excursion together on this trip.
As we carried on down the road, we got slightly lost and ended up in a village. There was no other tourist in sight, and the roads were lined with Balinese women, colourful sashes tied around their waists, transporting various vegetables in baskets that they were carrying on their heads. We passed a temple that had been decorated in vividly coloured fabrics, and a small group of children were playing by the side of the road. One thing I love about travelling on a motorbike is how it allows you to catch quick glimpses into local life while you drive along. Without the car acting as a barrier, I also find that people are more likely to wave or smile at you as you pass, too.
Out of the village, we were then treated to views of rice paddies – the same postcard views that Bali is famous for. I felt the temperature drop instantly as we drove through the shade of the trees and smiled as I caught the sight of ducks playing in the mud. One of the great things about Ubud is that all this beauty can be found a mere ten minute drive out of town. We left the rice paddies behind and drove down a steep road that led us into the thick of the jungle. We crossed a bridge where we could hear the water flowing below, and by this point we were both gushing with repeated “wow’s.” There are no words that can do any kind of justice to this beauty – you have to see it to really understand how stunning it is.
It took us half an hour of rolling rice paddies, small villages and jungle scenery to reach the temple. The entrance was lined with market stalls filled with the usual Bali tourist tat – penis-shaped bottle openers (because you can never have enough of those), Bintang t-shirts, harem trousers and batik-style shawls.
We paid the entrance fee, walked in and headed straight for the main part of the temple – a large pool that has water shooting out of a number of jets. The water at this Hindu temple is considered to be holy, so local people come here to submerge themselves and become purified. I sat and quietly observed the rituals performed; people were carrying offerings with them – small baskets filled with flowers, incense and the odd sweet or biscuit – and were taking them to the jets, performing a small prayer, and leaving the basket on top. Some repeated this over and over at each one of the jets.
Over in another corner of the temple, there were three women holding a small red flower each in between the tips of their fingers, which they then raised to their foreheads. Their eyes were closed and they were praying. Despite the fact I’m not religious, I never fail to feel moved when I watch people pray – there’s just something humbling and beautiful about it.
We stayed for about an hour taking pictures of the temple, the people, and the surrounding landscapes, before heading off back to Ubud. The sun had started to dip low, and we wanted to get back before it got completely dark.
The drive back was even more spectacular. In photography, one of the first things that you’re taught is that the ‘golden hour’ – that is, the hour before sunset and sunrise – is the best time to take photos, as the lighting is gentle. It’s no wonder then that this is also the best time to watch nature. As we passed through the rice paddies, we saw silhouettes of palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, the sky a striking red behind them, as well as random people in the rice paddies wrapping up their day’s work. The sound of the motorbike and crickets is all that could be heard.
“This is beautiful, isn’t it?” I asked Ankit as I put my head on his back.
“It really is,” he replied.
As we got closer to Ubud, a sense of sadness washed over me. All I could think of was how I was going to miss it – me, him and the road. The last nine months have been both the most challenging and rewarding of my life, and it’s moments like these that have been exhilarating, almost ethereal. How will I adapt to normal life again? How will I not get bored? How will I ensure I never lose my sense of adventure?
And just before all traces of the sun disappeared, we reached our guesthouse.
I always knew this day would be hard. Change is a bit difficult for me, even when the change that’s coming is change that I know needs to happen. But whereas I always thought that it would be the idea of ending our trip that would be filling me with sadness, now that I’m alone all I can think of is how much I miss Ankit already, and how much I wish he were sat on the seat next to me.
Who cares if I’m heading home? I realise now that this may be the end of this trip in particular, but that doesn’t mean that we’ll ever stop exploring. We’ve both realised how important travel is to us, and we intend to spend a great chunk of our lives together out there, seeing the world. We want to spend our money on experiences, not belongings, and I know that this is an ethos that we’ll carry with us forever.
What I care about right now, though, is him – this man who came into my life unexpectedly three years ago when I was going to embark on a trip around the world of my own – and all I can think about is the next time I will see him. Who knew that I’d never leave Dubai because of him? Who knew that two years later we’d leave Dubai together to travel the world? Who knew that he – the man I met in a bar and who my first words to were ‘Nice biceps’ – would end up being the man I’d end up spending the rest of my life with? The thought of what my future with him holds fills me with so much excitement, sometimes I’m afraid that it will actually spill over.
As I sit on my seat on the plane, which is still on the tarmac at the airport, I look out towards the twinkling lights of the terminal, and at planes landing and taking off. As flashbacks of the last nine months start running through my head – Cambodia, Thailand, Bali, India, Vietnam – I’m not thinking about my next trip, next adventure, next destination as I expected I would. I’m sat thinking about making my way back to the man I love, so that we can continue on our journey – the journey being the rest of our lives together.
And I realise that sometimes it’s not the destination of the journey that’s important. It’s the person that you’re on the crazy ride we call life with.