After three rewarding and enlightening months of traveling around Europe, one backpack, waves of memories and great feelings, I wanted to end my nomadic lifestyle in order to be home for the holidays in December.
I come from an island in the Indian Ocean, called Reunion Island. It is undoubtedly beautiful, sunny and laid back, with white sandy beaches that contrast with the high mountains. Some may think that I am very blessed to live a “tropical dream life”. However, I felt like I was stuck. I had lived there my entire life; I had seen and experienced everything the island has to offer and couldn’t do anything other than go in circles.
photo via jadawin42
Cilaos, my hometown, feels even smaller and is up in the mountains, completely surrounded by them. The town has about 6,000 residents, and – yes, you guessed correctly – we all know each other. Some people say that living on an island would make them feel claustrophobic and this sensation can be even stronger in Cilaos. It is so calm and quiet. For someone who doesn’t live here, it makes a great place to find some peace, but for someone who is a permanent resident it is quite a different perspective: there are just a few restaurants and hotels, two grocery stores, one drugstore, one clothing shop, one municipal pool, one library and – that’s about it. No cinema, no theater, no shopping center, no pub where you can meet with friends to catch up on anything and everything.
I was already feeling stuck on my island, but I also ended up feeling trapped and overwhelmed in my hometown, with absolutely nothing to do but hiking or reading books at home. I needed to breathe, to get out and have a change of scenery; I simply couldn’t handle this banal daily routine in my town, and I could no longer see the beautiful elements of my homeland. I was only focusing on the negative aspects of living there. So, I decided to fly away, get some space between us – to take a break from our relationship.
photo by Julien
During my three months away, I saw the world – well, Europe – tried different things, met new peoples, visited some amazing places, and learned about other cultures. I saw the Eiffel Tower in Paris, ate Franzbrötchen (cinnamon rolls) in Hamburg, discovered the lake of Zurich, tasted good pizzas in Cinque Terre in Italy, took a lot of funny pictures with the tower of Pisa, stumbled upon the Colosseum in Rome and stepped into the wonderful Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
I loved every second of this adventure. However, I undeniably missed my hometown. I was 12,000 kilometers away, but still thought about it. I compared everything. What all of these cities have that we don’t, and what precious things we do have that other towns do not! That was my past time. Sitting on the subway and thinking that no, we don’t have subways in Cilaos but how great is it, to avoid the overcrowded trains during peak hours, for example? Or, sure, the island is very little but how wonderful it is, to have 340 days of sunshine per year?
On my way back home, I was convinced that taking this trip was the best idea ever. I needed to leave in order to come back better and stronger. It was strange to be at home again and see my mountains after a few months of travelling. For the first few days I somehow felt like I didn’t belong in Cilaos anymore. It felt as though the time that I was away, discovering and exploring, time had stood still in my hometown.
I was completely overwhelmed with how little everything had changed. Everything was the same, but me. And yet, I started to see everything around me with new eyes. For the first time in a very long time, I could see the beauty of my home again. I love the fact that it is so peaceful. I can come home after a long day and feel rested, or read a book outside if I need to relax (yes, really!). I love the mountains; I love hiking and breathing the fresh air. I enjoy this small city of mine, because there are never any traffic jams. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want, without thinking about how much time you are going to lose stuck in traffic.
photo via yepyep
And that is really it. That is how it works for me. Every time I leave Cilaos, tired of the city, I come back a few months later loving it, and seeing all the details I didn’t notice before, and doing some local activities I always refused to do, even after 22 years of living there. I always come back with new eyes and the ability to see my town differently, in a positive way.
Cilaos won’t change; it will always be my beautiful, calm and peaceful hometown. But I will. Someone once said, ‘home is not a place, but a feeling’. And I really feel like home is in Cilaos, where I grew up. I love traveling but I have never experienced this feeling anywhere else. Maybe it is because I have my family who lives here and that gives me a point of reference? Or maybe it is because I know every corner of this place and I could move around with my eyes closed knowing exactly where I am? I am not sure why exactly Cilaos feels like home, but what I do know is that our relationship will always need continuous renewal. I love you to hate you to love you again, but the love grows a little stronger every time.
This article is part of our AT HOME series featuring stories from and about the meaning of ‘home’.
This is a guest post by Erika G.
Erika grew up with sunburns, sand in her hair and had to fly away to discover new things; the kangaroos in Perth, the Niagara Falls by Toronto, the snow in Hamburg, the delicious Ritter Sport chocolate in Berlin, the Empire State of Mind in New York, the delightful grilled chestnut in Zurich, the frozen lakes in Austria, pasta with pesto sauce in Manarola, çay (Turkish tea) in Istanbul. She is now back on her island, ready to enjoy life before another trip. Greece? South-America? Ireland? The destination is not defined yet, but that won’t be too difficult. Follow her on her blog and Instagram @erikagrdn.Tweet