No matter how many sunsets I have seen, I always scramble on a rock, peak, or headland to admire the next one. I pause in awe. I sigh. I quiver with a sudden rush of inexplicable emotions, longing for the tenderness of human touch, or simply remaining in idle contemplation.
A knot of feelings – affection and sorrow, warmth and remorse, happiness and sadness – lingers entangled in the chest, as if something is lost forever, leaving though a wet trail, an invisible Ariadne’s thread, towards hope. For, somehow, the sunset seems to carry at the same time the pain for an end and the joy of a beginning: light and dusk, lucidity and mystery, the masculine and the feminine in a yin-yang embrace. Even though the sunrise should be expected to arouse similar feelings perceived from a reverse point of view, it never does. Despite its magnificence, it seems to be missing the mystery touch: an essence of tears locked inside a momentarily erratic, elated breath.
There has been no trip without a sunset photo. Blurry or grandiose, with flaming skies or subtle crepuscular lights, there is always a snapshot clipped lovingly among the pages of my travelogue: a memoir of an eerie moment whose elusiveness will never be captured by my camera and poor photographic skills but will always be interpreted by the primordial Oracle within the human heart. Leafing through my scrapbook on a cold winter morning, I handpicked some that hold a special meaning for me.
We were strolling with my friend down Rue Beaubourg, about to reach the Seine and cross l’Ile de la Cite towards Saint-Germain-des-Pres on the other side of the river, when we noticed a faint rose glare illuminating the habitually colorless buildings. Still surrounded by tall walls and with no visibility of the island yet, we paid little attention to the detail, but for the fact that it was apparently getting late and we should hurry if we did not want to lose our restaurant reservation. We hastened our pace, and we were quickly washed up by the Boulevard on the quay, just in time to witness the celestial sphere being set aflame above the familiar Parisian skyline, the water reflecting the crimson hues, and a bateau mouche ready to cross dimensions towards the fairyland.
Great Wall of China
It was our longest day on the Great Wall, and by the time we reached Jinshanling, the sun was about to set. The Dragon shook the last remnants of the day off the rocky flakes of its body. The embrasures and the watchtowers were diligently detailed against the titian sky, and the cobblestones were momentarily veneered in gold before the night turned everything into amethyst, melanite, and jet.
Cape Sounio, Greece
The Temple of Poseidon rose behind us, its presence the cornerstone of the Greek psyche erected along the energetic meridians of immortality and enlightenment. Ahead of us, King Aegeus perpetually mourns the loss of his son through the wakes and moans of the sea, and, out of habit, we stretch our eyes as well to figure out the color of the passing sails. Against the setting sun, we can never tell: the sails will always be black, and we are often tempted to follow the doleful father into Poseidon’s underwater chambers. But then we remember that, ultimately, Aegeus was mistaken, and there is hope coming invariably our way.
Along the Inca Trail, Peru
On the third day of our hike towards Machu Picchu, we reached the camp at Chaquiqocha (altitude: 3700m), with a great view on the Sayac Marca ruins. The surrounding mountain peaks alternated in shades of blue, toying with the clouds, hiding and surfacing, like giants with an eternal childlike predisposition. Ahead of us, the path plunged into a deep descent towards Intipata – the Sun Gate – remaining concealed, for the moment, in darkness. The sky seemed endless, and the heart was ready to open up to mysteries untold. It was the night the milky way shone brighter than before, and stars kept shooting in celebration. Despite the bitter cold and the very early start the next morning, we delayed as much as possible retreating to our tents, because that night – or was it the land, the spot, the trail? – had been too mystical to easily let go.
Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco
The tallest minaret in the world surged towards the heavenly heights, bathed in the twilight, salt-kissed by the Atlantic Ocean rumbling at its feet. We had just arrived in Casablanca, our last stop during our Imperial Cities’ trail, after having hiked on the Atlas Mountains and wandered with the Berbers in the desert. We took our last pictures and hurried away, for we still wanted to explore the old medina before flying back home the next morning, and we were advised not to linger inside its narrow alleys after the sunset, given our foreign looks. Still, we ventured into the experience, and we were lucky to discover the authentic heart of the city: a place raw, crude, and much less touristic than other old Moroccan towns, but original and fulfilling.
Jimbaran, Bali, Indonesia
We sat at a fish taverna quietly settled on the seacoast, amongst a colony of several similar establishments lined up as far as the eye could reach. The tables and chairs were firmly rammed into the sand, the waves kept lapping on our bare feet, the shade of the itinerant peanut seller who lingered around during the afternoon hours dissolved now behind the colorful jukungs pulled away from the sea, and a platter with crabs and shrimps served with baked potatoes, tomato dips, and vegetables landed in front of us. We were already five days stranded in Bali due to a volcanic eruption on a nearby island that discouraged all airline companies from flying to and from Denpasar airport for a few days. We looked at the sun setting on the horizon, we played with the straws in our fresh coconuts, and we smiled at each other: it was not so bad after all!
Masirah Island, Oman
The day was coming to an end. It was my name day. We pitched our tents along the crescent curve of a small beach on the southwest side of Masirah island, a nook deserted like all other beaches on this land, but of a biblical beauty. The sun set in dark mauve waves, and we barbecued our fish – a gift from friendly Omani fishermen – along with baby corn and potatoes. In a while, 50 – 60 turtle eggs were going to hatch at our feet, as we had unwillingly set our camp next to the nest, and we would spend the evening hours protecting them from predators, and observing them taking their first steps in life. It was going to be an unforgettable night. For the moment, though, we were still watching the sun dive down into the sea.
Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, Abu Dhabi, UAE
A pair of flamingos flew off against a sky painted in brushes of golden tones. We sat quietly in the bird-watching observatory of the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, monitoring the evening rituals of numerous species of birds around the lake. Most people picture the UAE as pure desert, dotted with a few cities of eccentric modernity. Few have witnessed and enjoyed the beauty of its biodiversity. There, in the serenity of the moment, it felt as if we had transcended to another land, and the noise of the urban life stretching just a few kilometers away had faded away into oblivion.
Falaj Al Mashayikh, Oman
The sun was setting, and we were left with just a few minutes to find our next camping spot. We were on a road trip in Oman, aiming for the Wahiba Sands for the night. We finally had to settle among the last clusters of ghaf trees a few kilometers away from the sand dunes, for we were soon to be plunged into abysmal darkness. The last drops of daylight glided down the exhausted branches like a libation to the ground, and the sun spread its arms towards the universe in a last, goodnight embrace.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
We had received warning of an upcoming storm and were forced to leave the comfort of our boat, relinquishing our long-awaited overnight stay on the jade waters of the Ha Long Bay, for the safety of the land. The archipelago of the ancient limestone formations – solid curved backsides of Jurassic creatures covered in turfs – remained placid, in a similarly serene twilight ambiance that seemed to foretell nothing of the imminent turmoil. We stayed ashore, spending the evening at an itinerant café settled under one of the Corniche coconut trees, crouched on Lilliputian stools or mats spread on the pavement, smoking the traditional Vietnamese pipe, drinking bitter black tea, and munching on sunflower seeds. The night remained peaceful. The squall never came.
By the Tissa Lake, Sri Lanka
The path was narrow and muddy; our footprints left long lasting marks of our presence. On one side, paddy lands stretched out, dotted with faceless figures who, trudging through the swampy ground, were trying to wrap together the last tasks of the day. On the other side, Tissa lake – a 3rd c BC artificial reservoir – extended proudly, reflecting the protective arches of Indian rain trees. Crocodiles lazed on tiny island formations, and countless species of birds tweeted the last gossip updates before nestling down.
November 2010: Palmyra basking under the gilded shades of the autumn sunset, just a few months before the break of the civil war. A photo – a moment – of historical importance.
Kythnos Island, Greece
We settled at anchor for the night at the Kolona Bay of Kythnos island. I had already spent almost a month sailing in the Aegean and the Ionian Sea. It was the end of August, summer was coming to an end, and my life was about to change drastically in a few days when I would receive a call that would push me to consider moving to the UAE. But, at that moment, I did not know anything yet. I just breathed the essence of Greece deep into my lungs and dived into the pellucid waters, going after the last rays of the sun. The sea around me was clear and fresh, yet it felt thick as mercury. Little did I know that this kind of liquidity was soon to be the nature of my reality.
Forbidden City, Beijing, China
A line of photographers settled quietly along the moat next to the Forbidden City. They could just be amateurs, though their serious technical equipment dwarfed to nothing my newly acquired camera in its maiden voyage. Still, when the twilight turned the ornamented rooftops into exotic shapes and the tranquility of the moment reflected on the violet water, I ventured a photo of my own.
Photos: © Konstantina Sakellariou