How to Avoid Pickpockets and Other Stories

A small brown face rounded the length of booths that separated the sellers from the buyers. Her eyes were deep and her face devoid of expression. Nothing moved beyond the reaches of her mouth as questions and short answers were pushed at me, neither begging nor demanding, but landing solidly between the two.

I had purchased a plate of papaya from the woman she was with. Five Fijian dollars for five of the sweet ripe fruit. I had noticed the girl watching where I pulled the equivalent of $2.50 in American currency from my bag. Her gaze had grabbed for the few fives I had kept in that pocket.

At her second appearance, I swung my small backpack to the front of me. She’s going to try to pickpocket me. Maybe she won’t, but my traveling mama Heather taught me too well to think otherwise.

I purchased a mango from an Indian man, languishing in conversation behind piles of sticky fruit. He passed the plastic bag and a dollar coin into my hand.

I turned and gave it to the girl. Maybe she wasn’t going to steal. Maybe I could give something small. I wasn’t afraid of her. It was worth a shot.

I asked if she knew of good pineapple. Without an apparent thought, she pointed to the stall directly beside her. It’s likely she didn’t care. Maybe helping the stupid foreigner would get her a few more dollars.

(The pineapple did end up being good.)

“Do you need anything else?”

Nope. Thank you for your help. See ya!

I made my way to the bus stop. After two hours in a foreign city, encountering friendly temporary guides who got me where I needed to go, a creepy old woman leering into my face about hotel activity expenses, flirtatious men, beautiful and bored Indian women, a small boy playing peekaboo with me among the dress racks, and a swindling restaurant manager, I was ready to just go back to the hostel. Perhaps it wasn’t very brave of me. Perhaps I could have kept on and continued collecting stories.

But God I was tired of the internal alert I had set to make sure I was okay.

The heat I loved was licking energy from my body. An apt description would be to say the South Island had frozen me and now Fiji was using me for popsicle. I was dripping enough. No matter how much I was happy to sweat instead of shiver, I could not deny the drain it has initially.

I tried to stride with purpose past groups of men who I knew meant me no harm but instinct devoloped in California streets kept me moving forward intently. I could not count the number of “Bulas” called over my shoulder with a smile that did not mean I would chat.

“Wailoaloa Beach/New Town” read the piece of wood dangling over about 18 inches of sidewalk. I didn’t heave a sigh of relief, but I did look over my shoulder to see if the girl had followed me. If she did, my bag was staying firmly in my arms.

I didn’t see her and my flip-flops slapped against uneven concrete to the bus stop.

A stony face appeared again at my side.

Okay. Well. “What’s your name?”

“Patricia.”

“Pretty name.”

Nod.

And then she asked if I had any more money.

I fished $3.50 out of my otherwise empty pocket.

She asked if I had more. If I had my card with me. What my name was. My parents’ names. More cash. Am I staying with a Fijian or Indian family. Stand closer to her. Am I coming into Nadi tomorrow. She needs a helper for something. Am I sure I don’t have anymore money.

I don’t condone dishonesty. But my parents’ names are not Em and Allen. I am not leaving Fiji 3 days ago. My money is never left at a hostel without me.

I don’t care what I looked like with my bag sagging into an artificial beer belly and my hand on my ass holding my phone, I climbed onto that purple bus with all of my belongings and a small thank you to the woman who took me across the world throughout high school.

Patricia, if that was her name, has a story I don’t know. I don’t blame her for anything. After all, she technically didn’t do a single thing wrong. I gave what I felt I could without jeopardising much more than a few dollars.

No matter where I go, each new shift wrecks me from the inside out. I churn with the uncertainty of a different country, my safety, and the creation of another home. Do other backpackers and travelers feel like this?

Maybe it’s just me wrestling with a significance I assign to another country. Or it’s everyone. I’m not sure.

For now I’m on an island, removed from all but the occasional ego of an Israeli and the enthusiastic greetings of comforting staff.

I’m liking one of my new nicknames though. “Locke and Load.”

Bula, Bro.

Pingponged Intensity

A pigeon ran into my leg today.

And I have accumulated 3 good bus stories since my arrival in Wellington.

1. If you and another teen sprint past a bus through the outskirts of the capital while looking amused and panicked at the prospect of walking 45 minutes, the bus driver will wait a split second longer for you as you come puffing up to the next stop.

2. If a look of extreme panic passes over your companion’s face when she sees a bus coming and you can’t make it to the next stop, the driver will stop for you just before he is supposed to, (provided you are the only people about to be on the service).

3. “You know this bus doesn’t depart for another 10 minutes right?” Yes. But it’s warmer in here than out there. “Fair enough.” The following conversation was genuine, kind, and was a good solidifying reminder to talk to bus drivers. There is a high chance they are bored out of their minds.

I also developed a way to deal with my body’s fear of turbulence on my way from Queenstown to Wellington. Close my eyes, breath deeply, listen to Eminem. (Worked better than anything else I’ve tried so far.)

The city is a good place to think. Most people seem to be preoccupied by this activity, or at least the act of trying not to do it, here in concrete worshipping centers of population. It is also a good place to nurse depression into a worse state of being. No wonder everyone is so damned pessimistic about everything. My most cynical theories develop in direct correlation to how many people I’m around apparently.

But at the same time. I love it. I love how many stories there are. How much potential for creativity and niches. How I am reminded of my futility and possibilities. How I am no different from anyone else.

No matter what my ego tries to whisper in my ear.

I also happily pingponged my way through the museum today. The interactive bits are the best. (Like when they let you play with shadows.) OR when they dedicated a giant space to playing with colored light. If I don’t balance ridiculous amounts of cynicism with ridiculous amounts of happiness, I shall be crushed.

Sometimes I wonder if there are less intense ways to live. Probably. But they usually sound much less fun.

Borax Mines

Four deep, rich eyes filled with curiosity watched me as I answered their questions one by one.

“Is there Borax in America?”

“What kind of cars are in California?”

“Can you send me pictures of the big cities?”

“What sort of music do you listen to?”

“How do you solve a Rubiks cube?”

“Why do you have to leave?”

I’m rarely at a loss for words. And I definitely wasn’t here, but at the same time, it gave me pause.

Why do I have to leave? If I really wanted to, I could have stayed.

And then I remembered, I don’t want to stay.

I’m not good at hiding. Or being quiet. Or subtlety. I hate feeling stuck. I am constantly aiming to expand the places I feel at home so I have more places to return to. I’m addicted to thinking and consequently I always see the possibilities beyond my current place.

With each home my roots grow, and the rest of me shudders with the anticipation of my next move.

Yes there is Borax in America. I’m pretty sure the mines are near where I live.

I think there are more kinds of cars in California than here.

Of course I can send pictures.

Not the kind of music you know well.

You memorize steps and practice.

Because I was not created to simply stay.

.

.

.

And because I’m getting emails from the New Zealand Department of Immigration saying I have to leave…

“I Choose this Madness”

“You are weird!”

I have never been so happy to hear those words together. An Australian friend had walked out on me splitting wood, after I had brought the group some cookies, asked them to take part in a personal project of mine, and explained my old school to them.

I was seen.

The day before was very difficult. I felt slow as I continued training, I made mistakes, and I went to bed just wanting to be back in California. I slogged through the moments wondering if all the things I believed about myself being an interesting individual worthy of being seen as an equal to everyone was really true.

After all, so much of the world seems to want to shove it down my throat that “You’re young. Wait till real life starts. Too many people think they are above average when in reality they just need to learn to work hard and understand they aren’t being coddled anymore. Life is hard. You’re young. Wait till real life starts.”

Those words played through my head on repeat. I struggled to fight them off, but went to sleep with tears in my eyes.

Tomorrow would be better. I was sure of it.

I woke up knowing that I had to start my day with my full routine. I meditated for ten minutes, practiced a qigong exercise for another ten minutes, and did some body strengthening exercises. I told myself I was going to have an amazing day. My life is beautiful. I am interesting and worthy of being known.

I am not here to take people’s bullsh*t.

And my day was absolutely fantastic.

My work was more efficient and better quality. I met people from Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, and France. I baked cookies. I attended fire training again and was told to put on a uniform so I could participate in the exercises that weren’t potentially dangerous. I used one of the hoses and learned techniques to deal with the pressure of the water.

I went for a walk alone under the stars and breathed deeply.

“I am mad/but I choose this madness.” – Gloria Anzaldua

50 Kilo Ladders

“Damn it. I left my earrings in the pocket of a firefighter.”

My whole world is driven by possibilities. My mind constantly spins with thoughts of “I could do this! Or I could try that! How do I make that happen? Who should I talk to? Oh, I could totally learn about that! I wonder if I can find someone to teach me how to do this.” I constantly seek opportunities to try something new and experience something different.

I came into this year with the goal of volunteering at a fire department at some point during my stay. I found out that Americans can volunteer while I was in Wellington. Once I arrived in National Park Village, I wandered over to the Fire Service to ask if they might allow me to work with them while I am here.

I was met with the disappointing news that I would need to be here for at least a year in order to become a part of the service.

So I settled into my new home, all the while holding in the back of my mind that I was going to find a way to bring them cookies or sweep their floor or something.

Sure enough I found a flyer asking for volunteer firefighters. You could call, which I already had, email, or show up to training.

I showed up to training.

National Park Fire Service holds some of the friendliest, most interesting, badass, strong people you will find. Immediately I was able to talk to them about my situation and despite the fact that I still am unable to join, I am allowed to return to Monday night trainings.

I watched them lift their 50 kilo ladder, don breathing apparatus’, crawl through the local playground, and clean their equipment. They allowed me to put on the BA backpack and follow their route, gave me ginger beer, and provided me with the info I needed to know should I choose to stay a year and be a volunteer firefighter.

I’ve sifted through many career opportunities, picking them up and putting them down like new hats. I get excited about each of them, but my excitement for this one is unlike the others. Fire Service will take me where I want to go, but in the meantime, I will have a community and lifestyle unlike any other.

And thus I will keep attending training and happily accept rides in the engine. My future’s going to work itself out, but it’s nice to know that I can actively seek things to help it along.

My Humming Heart

“The previous owner didn’ like backpackers, but we want to make it a place that’s real backpacker friendly. Then we’ll still have the lodge bit an all that, a course. So you’re comin’ in in the middle a this transition. We’re gonna teach you the new system. Much more efficient that way.”

When I applied to Howard’s Mountain Lodge in National Park, I knew very little about it. The ad didn’t even have the name of the lodge. I had no idea where exactly I was working until I was accepted. I was aware it was in Taupo area, but not where specifically. On top of that, I did not apply for anything else. I sent my resume to only this place, trusting that perhaps it would be the right spot for me.

It is.

Howard’s Mountain Lodge has just shifted owners and it is being moved towards a safe, friendly, efficient environment for families, school groups, and backpackers alike. Basically it is in the process of remaking itself into something better suited to a brighter future.

“National Park needs a heart. These hostels and lodges should all have at least an eight outta ten on their reviews. We’re gonna make this lodge have a heart. You wanna hear a hum when you walk into the lounge. It’s a place to relax and have fun, you know.”

My new little home is gorgeous. I am able to amble National Park’s entire circumference in about three quarters of an hour, less if I am intending to make it back from the store before the rain soaks through my jeans. There is a sizable play structure which I intend to claim as my makeshift jungle gym on dry afternoons. Blue skies gives you the chance to see the stunning peaks of Mt. Ruapehu and Mt. Ngauruhoe. They take my breath away. A nearby hostel has a full on climbing wall, (which kinda boggles my mind considering this town has a population of literally less than two hundred). I am currently working on negotiating a pass that lets me climb frequently. My goal is to be able to climb routes that are at least New Zealand grade twenty before I return to California. Once I figure out hitchhiking, making friends with people who have cars, and the local shuttles, I will have access to a wide range of hikes nestled within the mountain slopes.

To top off these exciting things, my British coworker and I have learnt quite a bit about the lodge’s new booking system by checking in a wide range of delightful guests. As expected, Chewbacca and Han Solo proved a bit of a challenge as we downgraded their rooms, upgraded them, put them in separate bookings, and then sorted out their payments. McGonagall was charged extra for the cat hair, and Merry and Pippin are enjoying their shared dorm room.

Luke Skywalker checks out tomorrow.

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Our hike yesterday left us feeling as though an elf was going to glide past us on the path.
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Seaweed moss (as I have come to call it) is a personal favorite aspect of this area.

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Seaweed moss believes in a diverse community with many shapes and colors. Be more like moss.
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Still working out what this plant is called, but I love it.
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It’s a jungle out there. Cheers.

 

From Far Away

As of tomorrow, I will have been in New Zealand one whole month. Last week sometime I thought through that fact and freaked out a bit. “Time goes so fast! It will be a year before I know it! Ahh!”

I’m learning how to not be afraid and also give myself permission to be honest when I feel fear. It’s a balance. I spent a good chunk of the past several weeks pulsing with nervous or anxious energy in some form, telling myself that I knew without a doubt that it would work out and be exactly what I needed.

To my delight, I have walked through today without an ounce of fear. I found the correct platform, was thankful for the wonderful bus driver who ensured my luggage and self have been on my destination bound buses, and I am watching the world go by. Or maybe I am letting myself go with the world.

I could not feel more eager for this job and place. I know I will have more hard days. It’s inevitable. I also know that I will only continue to grow in ways I cannot see and collect memories from moments I do not anticipate.

On a side note: sheep are really cute from far away and so are the baby cows. (I do know they are called calves.)

And did you know that New Zealand has one of the most interesting collections of flora in the world? The Ice Ages did not eradicate as much of the temperate vegetation as it did in the Northern Hemisphere. Consequently, it is not as homogeneous a native forest as it is across the temperate zones up north. There are much fewer conifers and deciduous trees down here.

I am rather fond of trees.

North Tomorrow

It’s been a bit since my last post. The thing about irregularity is that your world keeps moving. My thoughts continue at their previous pace and I have so very many things I can say, as usual.

I suppose the best thing to do in such a place is to tell you the bits that will dramatically affect future events.

A bit less than a week ago, I applied for a job at a lodge in Tongariro National Park. It’s the national park where the mountain used for Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings is located. I found the job searching through one of the New Zealand backpacker job sites. To my delight, I was selected and asked to come as soon as possible.

I catch a bus headed north tomorrow.

I spent the past couple days saying goodbye to some of the places I love. Or perhaps it was more of a “see you soon.” For the most part that meant the library and the Quaker Meeting. I’ll be back. After all, when I decide somewhere is home, I don’t ever leave it completely.

My bounding excitement for this next part of my journey has been showing through in my many good days this week. I will be at the lodge for a minimum of three months, working as receptionist, cleaner, and whatever else I can make myself useful doing. And I’ll be near a mountain!

Wellington is one of my favorite places in the world. (A lot of Wellingtonians seem a bit confused as to why.) I have been able to feel safe in a windy, unpredictable, little city snuggled between hills and withdrawn into a bay. I have been able to rest as I sort my thoughts into the many possibilities of my future.

But more importantly, it has given me a fascinating place to simply be in my present moment.

I have rested a while. Time to continue on.