Going Solo

Tatler Philippines|June 2020

Going Solo
Over the last decade, women of all ages have travelled alone more than ever before. We discover the draws of a solo sojourn with a journalist who describes how seeing the world on her own serves as a learning experience like no other
Sara Lieberman

It’s February 2001 and I’m a 22-year-old backpacker. Staring out at the Indian Ocean, I bury my toes into the burnt vanilla-coloured sand of Kuta Beach in Bali while watching the sky turn a pinkish-orange. Suddenly, a woman approaches.

“You want a massage? Only 70,000 rupiah,” she says. Ooh, that sounds lovely, I think to myself. And right here on the beach for what was about US$7 at the time? “Sure, yes,” I reply.

“Manicure, too?” asks another woman, who seems to come out of nowhere with a basket filled with nail polish.

Hmm, I think. It has been a while ... “Sure, why not,” I answer, nodding and smiling with approval.

They lay out a sarong and dig a small hole in the sand under it for my face. I nestle down toward the Earth. One woman sits on my lower back, while the other takes my right hand. Just as I begin to lose myself in the sounds of the waves crashing onto the shore and the scent of coconut oil mixing with my salt-kissed skin, it begins to feel like there are more than four hands on me.

Is my hair being pulled? I wonder. Is someone braiding my hair? And my feet... how can my feet be getting rubbed at the same time as my back?

I try to ignore the notion that something is wrong since everything should feel so right, but then I pick my head up to notice no fewer than six women gathered around my every limb: one on each of my hands, another two on my feet, one on my back and another up by my head.

Feverishly warm with embarrassment, I scramble upright wondering how many people saw me get “spa attached” as I lay there like an oblivious tourist, but more on this later.

ON THE ROAD

It’s September 2019 and I’m a 41-year-old professional journalist.

Once again, I am alone on a beach. Only this time, I’m staring at the azure Mediterranean waters and actually seeking a spa treatment—one that I can do for myself.

The partly sandy, partly pebbly Kalogeros Beach on the Greek Cycladic Island of Paros is known for its clay-based boulders that can be used to make do-it-yourself mud mixtures to exfoliate the skin. I see the boulders, but I am not quite sure how to turn Mother Nature into a beauty regimen, so I approach a couple who appear to be there for the same reason.

“Hi, Bonjour, Shalom,” I say, using an amalgam of the three languages I can muster. “So, how does this work?”

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June 2020