Of Hot Chocolate Evening Proportions

“What if I’m not the main character?” I think it ought to be more understood that we should be the main characters of our story. I think it should also be understood that we are not the main character in anything else. Your life is a hardly a flash in the span of the universe’s grandeur and time and all of our delusions can be easily removed from the cosmic scale with hardly a ripple.

Scary, isn’t it? All that we are is laughable. For if we don’t at least snicker at the comedic value of living, than we are overwhelmed by its tragedy.

I spent a part of yesterday playing mandolin the park, letting my moment be photographed by passing tourists. I ate dinner with two of the most wonderful people I have ever met. I curled into the warmth of knowing I am loved by forces and people far wiser than me.

And today we hiked and drove. I ran from a bird. I swear to god these Keas are scary.

It was a good day.

“Like a Slingshot, Eh?”

I entered a travel writing competition on the transformational power of travel. I realized I write because I like to and I hate being judged for it. This is the first competition I have participated in for my writing. Here’s hoping.

“Like a Slingshot, Eh?”

My fingers strolled up the neck of my mandolin, wishing for the experience only practice gives. However if wishes were fishes, we wouldn’t have a severe overfishing problem in our oceans, so I set my instrument aside and began learning foreign words from the backpackers sitting nearby.

Bat’se. Czech for “afraid.”

People often choose to tell travelers that we are brave. They act as though our discomfort within the comfortable is something to be deeply admired. They tell us that courage is being fearful and doing it anyway.

But to be honest, most of us just feel like we are backflipping off the tightrope spanning bravery and stupidity.

I entered my first solo venture to New Zealand terrified of ATMs and banks. I knew nearly nothing of cooking and it would be my first experience in applying for a job. I had no clue what I was doing. On the worst evenings, I would curl up beneath the covers of a borrowed bed, tell myself “But I’m doing it anyway,” and find a way to move forward.

Provalo. Italian for “try it” or “prove it.”

Comparisons run rampant through hostels and travelers. The constant appraisal of your priorities becomes exhausting. The drinkers, the campers, the partiers, the hitchhikers, and those who fit all of the above share rooms and subject themselves to the scrutiny of social interaction. But I don’t fit.

I value hiking.

But not as much as the Englishman who chose to hike the length of New Zealand.

I value home.

But not as much as the German who dreamed of being home for Christmas and will likely not return to this part of the world.

I value community.

But not as much as the Irish girl who stayed at her hostel job for nearly the full duration of her working holiday.

At what point will I realize my values will never align with another’s and my achievements can only matter to me? Glancing at dusty camping gear and watching the intrepid walkers taking on mountains, I breathe deeply to remind myself there is nothing to prove and everything to try.

Selbstbewusstsein. German for “self confidence.”

I adore the moments of falling in love with a stranger, not for their body, but for something I cannot explain. I don’t speak to them, but I watch them, glance behind me, and wish I was wearing sunglasses so my gaze could linger. Some strange magnetism, or maybe just their style, drew me in for that space. My favorites are the confident ones. Their stride catches my eye and I wonder what inspired their sureness of self. Who was inspired from childhood and who found it in the satisfaction of jobs well done? Who learned to love themselves from a significant other and who chose to reinvent themselves?

And which of them is just a bit of an arrogant prick?

My gait has changed since being away from home. I walk and wonder if others see the person I have become. The limp from a chronic injury is fading and my shoulders are straighter with the experience of being alone. Even on my worst days, I find myself smiling with the privilege of wandering the world.

For comfort zones expand and life becomes a process of exploring its boundaries.

Jilear. Peruvian Spanish for “flirt.”

“May I kiss you?”

There are many reactions to that simple question. My favorite is the look of surprise. “I mean sure. But why?”

Why not? I find you attractive. Perhaps I just want to know how you taste. Perhaps it is my way of telling you that you are absolutely fascinating and worth my time.

Or perhaps it is a desire to grow a little more aware.

I don’t measure my growth as time passes overseas, but if I did, I would observe who I was at each kiss. Nervous and unsure. Temporarily infatuated, but aware of my own beauty. Amazed and willing to take the first step. Mutually attracted and curious. And straight up “I wonder what would happen.”

Sometimes I ponder who I would be if I was still home. Possibly searching for some relationship built to last or discovering my polyamorous nature while surrounded by people whose opinion I fear. In its own way, it would still be a journey. But there is something about the average American mentality that avoids those odd girls rocking faded blue hair who ask for a kiss.

Or maybe I just wasn’t looking before I left.

Transformera. Swedish for “transform.”

“You are facing new things all the time, Abiel. People who haven’t had to deal with that will never quite understand.”

Mom somehow manages to say it best.

I worry about coming home. I left just after highschool. I will return God knows when. I chose travel as my first adult lifestyle and the chrysalis I emerged from, cannot be what I return to. I guess it is meant to be just another adventure, another season of transformation.

Yet even with this thought process, you can never go back. Not to a place, not to a memory, and definitely not in time. You can only watch yourself accelerate towards the end.

“Time is relative and linear, but it always seems to go faster.”

“Well maybe time is like a slingshot, eh?”

Maybe so, my friend. Maybe so.

Infinitely Futile

I was letting my mind ramble today and I came to this string of thoughts.

Maybe we are infinite. Maybe we are here a moment and vanish for all eternity. Maybe everything matters and maybe nothing matters.

Either way.

It’s a hell of a lot more fun to consider it all and have a good life along the way.

I mean, maybe we are bugs. Literally the bottom of the chain, fretting about something silly like what to eat and if that person likes me and what should I wear.

Like wtf. None of it matters. So all of it matters.

If this life is all we have, I’m going to throw myself headlong into it.

If it’s part of eternity or one of millions of lives, I’m still going to throw myself into it. I’m too small to be miserable.

Life isn’t easy. And I promise you I am aware of the many issues that plague our world. I know not everyone is in any state to be laughing about the absurdity of life. But most of you reading this aren’t in those states of being.

The world is one big joke. Might as well go about making it a better one for those who ended up the punchline.

And laugh along the way.

Poetic Bastards

We are travelers.

Souls who refuse to be restrained by bodies designed to stay in one space.

We are poetic bastards, the children of vanity and curiosity, cheating on stability and small mindedness to pursue our affair with the unknown.

And oh what a glorious affair it is, unrestrained by “shoulds” as our kisses of hope pull us further into this being we can’t understand.

Volcanic slopes

This past week I have sincerely missed home. Not just people there, but Visalia, California. I miss the river and oak trees. I miss the citrus and Mexican food. I miss my Quaker community and the lovely downtown. I miss my cat. At one point I considered that I could simply go home. The thing is, going home means…what? I have all of those things that I long for. I have family who love and accept me. I have my cat.

But then I find a job. I start classes at COS. I struggle as I build another friend group from the ground up. I try find my place in the world.

When I think about that fact, I take a deep breath and remind myself that things are changing for me soon.

I leave National Park in one week. I go north to Rotorua to visit a lovely friend. At some point after that, I return to National Park to do a 4-5 day trek around Ruapehu before heading south to Wellington. From there I venture to the South Island. There is no timeline on this and when I reach the South Island, I have no plans, I know no one, and I will be going where the wind takes me. After all, I came here to wing it.

And here I f*cking go.

 

Better than a Hangover

I have the option of making this a new year post. Happy 2018 and whatnot. I could share my goals and thoughts, what this year is going to mean for me and the fact that I have no clue where I am going to be one year from now. I could share memories that I love from these past 12 months and gush about how SO much has happened and I’m SO thankful for everything I’ve learned.

And all those things would be true and I would make them come from a real place. But I have stories I would rather tell. I’m just going to trust that 2018 will be shaped by moments like the following

“Walking at 0230”

I had the pleasure of watching 2018’s first sunrise from the top of the Tongariro Crossing. Pushing myself up hundreds of steps beneath moonlit clouds and sparkling stars, I thought of the insignificance of my very big problem: my camera was soaked by a leaking water bottle and refused to turn on. I did my best not to be worried, (even when I lost my instant camera and my phone ran out of storage space). I was wandering through Mordor to watch the sky paint itself red, orange, and pink in the chilled morning air. Truly a camera can’t be that important.

(Okay it can and if it hadn’t started working after being left in a bag of rice for two days, there would have been tears and some very upset cussing. All is well now. I’m still leaving it in the bag of rice for two more days though.)

We huddled into a soft shell shelter waiting for the sun to peer over the horizon. My hands defrosted slightly when I stuck them in a small culvert that spewed warm steaming air. Volcanoes definitely have their uses. I had no profound moments standing at the top. No overwhelming “oh my gosh. Life. It makes sense” kinda feeling. Just one big smile.

As my friend said on the way back down, “Better than a hangover.”

“You’re sure you don’t want a beer?”

Pretty sure. Yeah. Thank you though. However, I’ll definitely take the hamburger. I’m starting to really appreciate the philosophy “Laugh louder and eat more.”

A Filipino group pulled me into their dinner of barbecued meat and vegetables. I let myself be carried by the conversations that overlapped and circled each other, punctuated by echoing bursts of laughter.

“Hey when you’re in Welly, hit us up. We’ll show you around.”

Topics ranged from vegetarianism to the German pronunciation of Volkswagen to how much snoring took place in the guys’ room. I didn’t necessarily understand every comment, nor could I hear about a third of it. But I really didn’t have to. We were really just there to laugh.

“I’m thinking about being a kindergarten teacher.”

It’s crazy the people who happen to waltz into conversations with you. Or maybe it’s not crazy because I talk to everyone. But I’m still amazed by it.

You can tell when people know how to talk. I’m not referring to those who simply destroy silences with words. I mean the ones who ask questions, tell stories, supply facts, experiences, and thoughts to a conversation, creating an entity that is able to move all its own because of the people who care about it. They make eye contact as they learn about and from you, all the while teaching about themselves and their world. I love when I meet people like that.

A mathematics major with bright blue eyes and a consideration for being a kindergarten teacher happened to walk in as we made dinner, beginning a discussion that quickly outgrew us and became its own curiosity of politics, country comparisons, and New Zealand experiences.

The next morning brought about a discussion of long distance friendships. While backpacking, you are surrounded by fascinating people. You soon have to understand you cannot stay in contact with all of them, but one of the hardest feelings is finding a person who you would love to keep knowing, but doesn’t seem to want to know you back. Messaging them makes you feel like a bother and you begin to wonder if it’s even worth keeping up with some of these people.

Long distance friendships are effort. They require a desire to know someone, a willingness to continue contact, and a certain amount of diligence. In some ways, long distance is the fastest way to weed out real friends. Who do you choose to text when you’re far away? Whose life interests you when you don’t have to see them?

Basically backpacking shows us time doesn’t rule friendships and technology shows us space no longer has to either…

So long as you’re willing to put in the effort to know and be known.

“You made the list of people I want to stay in contact with.”

“You did too.”

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Unedited new year skies
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Grey and gold
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Volcanic alpine terrain
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Mt Ngauruhoe Color No. 78
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Mt Ngauruhoe Color with Hiker No. 3387

Far More Useful than a Chocolate Teapot

When I first arrived at Howard’s Mountain Lodge, there was a grand total of three people here.

And I was one of them.

The other two were our boss and a dignified English woman who sort of intimidated me at first.

“Everything comes with a cup of tea.”

I shouldn’t have been in the slightest deterred.

I have often thought how lucky I’ve been to have had Rachel as my first coworker in my first job. Her enthusiastic spiels, knowledge of theater, love for Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Disney were always delightful. I gleaned new music, trivia, and films from her love for these arts. She sang and began to learn ukulele. She danced better than all of us and happily told stories of students she’d taught, concerts she’d attended, and places she loved.

I’ve watched her work hard and grow happier as we shared cookies, cups of tea, cooking duties, and nice walks. We hitchhiked together, singing along to “Life is a Highway” with our thumbs out. I was always thankful for the research she never failed to do on the locations we chose to visit. Basically she’s just absolutely bloody amazing.

And today she left.

I’m not quite sure how to properly express my disappointment at her absence. And I doubt I will figure out how to. But we will miss you, Rachel. You’ve left a print here at Howard’s Mountain Lodge. (Seriously. I’m going to be saying “can do,” “go on then,” and commenting on the improper geography of Harry Potter’s London routes for a very long while.)

We love you!

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Superfluously So

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I am exactly one week away from having been in New Zealand for three months. As is typical with such things, it feels much longer and much shorter than the time it has been.

Before I left, my mom told me that the first three months is where you sit there going “What the hell am I doing?”

She was right. As usual.

About two weeks ago, I felt myself settle. Things aren’t feeling quite so urgent. My ideas and plans are stretching themselves to fit into the flow I have created around me. My overarching state of mind is no longer bent on relating my present to the past, but on deciding how I could associate it with my future.

The other day, someone asked me about my plans after New Zealand. I was rattling off four or five ideas I had, when my coworker informed me of a totally new option in a place I had been considering. “That is also something I might do.”

As one of my favorite people here has been telling me “You have time.”

I’m finally getting myself to believe it.

Some days it feels like I tumble head over heels into all the possibilities or places I create in my mind. I lay on my bed and curl up with a pillow, doing exactly nothing, thinking about how I could be learning to do this or that or walking here or practicing this. My mind propels me as I lean against it, wondering if perhaps I’m alright without all this ambitious desire to be, in some cases, superfluously multifaceted.

You know all in all I just get to laugh. I have time. I have the moment. I have a sometimes ridiculously poetic brain, framing my experiences in words that sound nice when typed out.

And I get to make more cookies this afternoon! Gingerbread. It’s my Christmas contribution for the summer.

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Welcome to National Park
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I love watching the trains go by.
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Mt. Ruapehu looks different in every photo I take as the lighting shifts, the snow melts, and my perspective is altered.
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If rainbows mean promise, than I am promised beautiful things. If the end of the rainbow means gold, than National Park is the perfect pot of gold. If rainbows mean gay as frick, than I have some really awesome people to meet. 
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Bush walks and flower crowns
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An unedited photo of a fern. The fern is the unofficial national symbol of New Zealand, and for good reason as the tree ferns can be several meters tall and make up a good portion of the local foliage.
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Icy blue in boiling temperatures
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A cave harboring heated water at the bottom
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Geothermal places

 

 

Hitching on the Highway

“There really are no rules. Smile in a big cheesy way. If they shrug it means no room in the car. Carry a sock full of stones. I’ve never had a bad hitch though.”

Sweet as. Let’s do this.

Whakapapa Village is about a four or five hour walk away from where I live/work. It has lots of hikes and is at the base of Mt. Ruapehu, the large volcano. I don’t have my own car, so getting there is a bit difficult unless I hitch.

I figured it was high time we gave it a try.

Rachel, my English coworker, joined me as we set out for the junction that would put us in the right direction.

“We’ll give it 20 minutes before we head back. It isn’t the best time of day.”

Five minutes later, a Frenchman with long hair and California tan pulled his car onto the gravel shoulder.

I mean he also ended up taking us too far, but all good. We were a bit amused by the fact that we were on a stretch of road less likely than before to have people who would pick us up and was frequently without traffic.

I put the Disney playlist on shuffle.

“LIFE IS A HIGHWAYYYYYY. IM GONNA RIDE IT ALL NIGHT LOOOOONG.”

How fitting.

Eventually another sweet Frenchman picked us up. He was also headed to Whakapapa Village and we were able to begin our actual hike to Taranaki Falls.

It’s a lovely waterfall. If you ever head this way, be sure to take a look. I was able to scramble along behind it and you have beautiful alpine views for the whole way back.

“I’d like to be back by six so I can go climbing with a couple of the firefighters. But that depends on whether or not we can get a ride huh?”

“Yup.”

We stood on the edge of the street watching the empty lane stretch up the mountain.

So what we were learning from this at that point is the nicer cars are less likely to pick us up, camper vans have converted seats, and obviously don’t bother with the shuttles unless it’s Tracy, our lodge’s shuttle provider. We figured she’d probably stop for us.

“Someone will stop eventually. We aren’t stuck here.”

“Unless there is no one to stop.”

Fair enough.

Before too long, a Polish couple pulled up. They were ultimately headed the other direction, but we got to the crossroads, saving ourselves at least 7km of walking.

“It should be pretty easy to get a ride from here.”

15 minutes later: “YOU HAD THREE SEATS IN YOUR CAR, ARE LITERALLY GOING DIRECTLY TO OUR HOME, AND ARE CLEARLY A BACKPACKER. We’re two females for crying out loud. We can’t do anything to you culturally speaking! I swear to God I’m picking up hitchhikers whenever I can.”

Then a nice Canadian couple, who were headed to accommodation down the street from Howard’s Mountain Lodge, slowed for two ladies with their thumbs up and somewhat desperate smiles.

“Thank you so so so much!”

We swapped stories about the North Island, passed on advice about the Tongariro Crossing, and expressed deep gratitude for their willingness to give us a lift.

I made it to climbing by 6:30.

Not bad for our first hitch, ey?

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I’m liking these campervans more and more. Although my favorite is still the “Death is Hereditary” one.
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A small water chute on our way to the falls
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Unedited and unbelievably beautiful

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These were growing behind the waterfall
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Totally worth hitching
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Taranaki Falls

Splitting Rhythms

There is something comforting about splitting wood. Your arms swing in rhythm with your shifting feet and the crack of splintering logs shudders down the ax handle.

And then you miss.

The ax head digs itself into the stump used as a prop. Or gouges a small piece out of the flagstone. Or whiffs completely.

I could make some grand metaphor about life, but I don’t think I need to. Your arms grow tired as you thrust your energy into chopping what once was living. People sometimes look at me a bit funny when they see a small female figure throwing herself into the reduction of a substance.

I smile back. There is too much that is odd and interesting and beautiful in the world to begrudge anyone the curiosity of something unusual.

(Here are some of the photos from the other day’s hike. The featured photo is one angle of my little home.)

 

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Just beyond those rocks the water drops off into the waterfall shown two photos below.

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They used this pool for Gollum’s fish catching scene.

Perhaps the Greater

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“I can’t wait to do the Tongariro Crossing!”

“You girls want to go tomorrow?”

Yes.

The Tongariro Crossing is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. You traverse volcanic fields to see sulfurous craters, ringed by snow streaked mountains. The Emerald Lakes sparkle against the dusty background as you slip and slide your way down loose rocks to meet them. One of my favorite parts was the mist that slunk across the ground to meet the opposite mountain peaks. It curled around us as we made our way up and over the last bit of high elevation before beginning our descent home towards the Blue Lake.

I was simply amazed throughout the entirety of the day. The contrast of the snow, the smell of sulfur, the fact that I was literally on Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings, all of it took my breath away…along with the elevation and large amounts of uphill hiking. One of the later legs of the trip provided a kaleidoscope of golds, reddish browns, blues, and lichen greens along with a desperate desire to reach the next restroom because the last one was over four hours back. We joked and sang as we heaved ourselves over the next ridge. They cursed me under their breath when I ran up a hill because of how excited I was. We got geography lessons about how if you happen to find yourself in a pyroclastic flow, you’re f***ed. (High temperature, high speed death cloud of ash.) Those of us less geographically and geology inclined have taken a liking to Amy’s original phrase “I’ll igneous your rock.”

Off to watch Lord of the Rings. May the Force be with you.*

(All photos are unedited.)

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We hiked to and over the low point between snow capped Mt. Ngauruhoe to the right and the slopes of Tongariro to the left.
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Clouds best served with volcanic craters
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Up to Mt. Ngauruhoe
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Icy footsteps in snowy places
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Shaped by erosion’s hand
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If you placed your hand on the stones you could feel the volcano’s warmth.
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One of the Emerald Lakes
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My favorite part of the hike
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Blue Lake seductively revealed only a small portion of herself to us, hidden largely in the shroud of mist.
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Over the volcanoes and into the lands beyond.

 

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Lichen is the Earth’s way of bringing color to the grey surfaces of the world.
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“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” – The Fellowship of the Ring

*Definitely a Gandalf quote.