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.

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Rock Up

“Abiel!!! Welcome home!”

A few months back I fretted about how I was going to make my way up the North Island. I was fraught with self-made pressure to see things I hadn’t seen. Try not to spend money better saved for next destinations, but still get yourself to those places you ought to check off your list.

I’m so damn thankful I stopped letting my mind spout that BS.

I bought a plane ticket from Queenstown to Wellington. I listed the 3 places I wanted to go because they held people I wanted to say goodbye to. I have hitchhiked and bused my way north, reflecting on how much has changed since I last did this.

I did it. I f*cking did it. I am 10 days short of a solid year away from home and 3.5 months shy of seeing that home again.

And yet, as I rocked up to Howard’s Mountain Lodge, my first workplace, and poked my head into reception, I grinned widely. Man. I made this my home.

“Abiel! You’re back! We have a bed for you upstairs or wherever you like. You know how it works. It’s so good to see you. You’re home now.”

Yeah. I am. I woke up to reggae pounding through the room. I baked cookies and wandered streets I loved so well. I watched snow drenched mountains show off their majesty. I knocked on doors hoping for hellos.

Hugs enveloped me. “You’ve changed Little Blue. You don’t talk down to your hands anymore. You are so confident.”

I guess I just know it will work out now. I actually know it.

I baked one more batch of cookies, watched Romeo + Juliet, curled around reflections of who I was before. “I reckon I’ll hitch up to Taupo for a night.” My manager called the sister hostel. “They’ll give you a bed free of charge.”

If you find a new way to say “thank you so so much” please let me know. I think I’ve exhausted my quota.

I’m the experienced one now. I remember watching the people who had been here for almost a year or more. The understanding they had that you can manage anything. I get to reassure other young women that they can hitchhike. I can give them advice on where to go. I can sit in a corner of the common area and feel completely comfortable with all I have done and seen. I can go to hot pools alone and watch the girls who are there be surprised that I’m doing this without anyone. I’ve done it. With all the work and self doubt that came first.

“Aw mean! When did you get in?”

“The guys who picked me up outside Taupo just dropped me off here. They said they didn’t trust Rotorua to leave me anywhere else.”

“Come in! You know where your room is. You picked the perfect time to rock up.”

And she hugged me, fed me, talked to me, welcomed me.

I will make my home as hospitable as you have made yours. I will model my generosity off of yours. I will always remember the home you gave me. I will always be thankful that instead of pushing my way through new places, I cultivated the relationships who shaped me as I worried my way through the beginning of 18.

“Love ya, girl!”

Putting the I in Write

Why do I write?

I’m in the process of considering this question and I came upon a piece of the answer today.

It’s a less obtrusive photography.

I can pull out my notebook and highlight what I want to remember about you. The pieces that stand out. The funny thing you said. But my camera may just make you uncomfortable.

I stood in The Spice Room kitchen trying to photograph what I could with the gentle shutter clicks. Still it felt…off. Maybe their stories didn’t need photographic evidence or maybe I just told myself that so I didn’t have to admit how little I know about my craft.

But with a pencil, it is not immediately known that I have seen. Omit a name and it was never about you. Rearrange a few words and suddenly the world gets what I wanted them to notice.

With words I can show you that pureed spinach actually looks closer to an emerald or the jungle than it does vomit. I can note the scars of chefs who have burnt and cut and created until their bodies subtly reflected the lives they lead. I can tell you that some of my favorite smiles come from these men who sing to themselves and say “the curries will miss you.”

I write because it’s how I think.

I write because we are saturated with images.

I write because this way, you see what I see.

And sometimes my occasionally egocentric self just prefers it that way.

(also I’m constantly in awe and it’s nice to share that)

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.

 

Well, Have a Good Life

A Swede, Nederlander, Frenchman, Australian, and American walk into a bar to solve the world’s problems…

Whoever can come up with a punchline wins a high five sent from New Zealand.

Living at a hostel presents a lot of interesting challenges. It is basically one giant sociology experiment.

To be a backpacker means you are alone. You may be constantly surrounded by people. You may be in the middle of nowhere and completely without human contact.

Guess which one often feels the loneliest?

To be a backpacker means you are being shoved in and out of friendships that may span two hours total. Time becomes both everything and nothing in your relationships. You have listened to yourself say where you are from, where you are heading, how long you have been here, what you are doing, and why you’re here over and over. You say goodbye to people by saying “have a nice life,” often certain you will never speak to them again. You are constantly surrounded by the interesting so many degenerate into finding nothing interesting. Life becomes “life” again. Even as they are in amazing places, I have met individuals who somehow manage to sound as though they are in a terribly boring situation.

How you see the world is everything.

So how do you find the people who sound like the start of a bad joke when you go out to eat? How do you find the people to kiss under the stars and talk deep without drink? How do you find the ones who you walk into a conversation with them and think “I am going to make sure our friendship lasts longer than a moment”?

I’m not entirely sure.

But I’m determined to keep making it happen.

This post is dedicated to Stuart, George, Sonja, Viktor, and Pierre. I wish you all the homemade cookies you can find.

Heady Freedom in Homemade Cookies

I remembered the scent of alcoholic breath as I listened to the waves of voices and laughter coming through my closed window. Beer-induced jokes and youth-induced carefree natures collided in what felt like a cacophony of slurred sounds.
I remembered the faces of individuals searching for a reason to be, something to enjoy, as they moved through a beautiful country. Armed with camper vans and sleepy smiles, they lit places up with the fires of heady freedom and fearing a future of boredom.

My favorite part was bringing them cookies.

They had all returned from the Tongariro Crossing on a day that almost literally swept them off their feet. Wind and rain soaked through jeans and morale as if it were toilet paper. Many were thankful for the experience, but all were weary. Remembering the cookie dough I had left in the fridge, I bustled off to heat the oven.

Thirty minutes later I walked out with a plate of cookies cut in half and still warm. I propose we add a new facial expression to the common ones: “receiving a warm cookie after hiking for too many freaking hours.” Those smiles were some of the most sincere I have ever received. Homemade cookies may not be able to find your path, but perhaps they can coax you just a little bit more towards what a warm life can mean.

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.

 

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.

Welcome Friend

It’s a beautiful little space. Not out in the country like the one I have spent all my time in previously, but one that is cared for, full of light, and traditional in a way that feels familiar.

I walked into a room with straight backed chairs arranged in a semi circle of two rows. The little table in the middle had a guest book, two small vases of flowers, and some pamphlets that looked as though they held the thoughts of people who cared. I was instantly aware of the eyes that were assessing me as I entered. Not out of judgement. Most don’t do that in this circle. They were gazes of curiosity. Visitors aren’t terribly common, especially rather young ones with blue hair.

I found an easily available seat, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. I’m home.

I have said it before and I will never hesitate to say it again: the Quakers are some of the most badass, incredible people you will ever meet. They call themselves Friends and are honestly the most apt community to do so. Quaker acceptance, generosity, and desire to change the world radiates through words and smiles, but most importantly it is shown in their actions. The Friends work to change the world, and their efforts are visible.

I had one of the most wonderful mornings with the Wellington Friends. A warm thank you to your meeting for showing me the kindness that would be shown to you at the Visalia Meeting. I am grateful for my new community.

You are all being held in the Light.

Turmeric Coconut Kombucha

I got the fairy lights to work

Quiet laughter

From tight embraces

Small smiles

And large eyes

 

I get to watch

A new way of life

Wrapped in routine

And seeking something beautiful

 

There’s tea if you like

The set is from

My grandmother

It’s quite pretty isn’t it

 

My brain just doesn’t

Work like that

I’m constantly

Solving problems

 

I’m hungry

I made it

There’s our favorite bakery

It’s gone so fast

 

Lifting more

Studying long

Whiskey sips

And puzzles unsolved

 

Little gardens

And guitars

Moroccan lamb

And love

 

Have you planned

Your next adventure?

 

 

(Featured photo has been edited)