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.

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“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.

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

I’m From California

I never say I’m from America.

There are a couple reasons for this.

A) America is so freaking huge that saying the country does very little to put you into scale.

B) America is a shameful nightmare of politics led by one of the most abominable human beings who the whole rest of the world recognizes as such.

C) I love California and it makes me happy to be from that particular state.

While hitchhiking the other day, I got picked up by a lady who had never left New Zealand, but she had traveled up and down it many times. She loved exploring her country and was in the process of traveling for the heck of it. I was pleasantly surprised by this. More often than not, people either travel far, or very little.

California is chock full of absolutely incredible places. We harbor deserts, cities, mountains, forests, beaches, fields, wet, dry, hot, cold, and people of all kinds of beautiful and heartbreaking backgrounds. We are also the sixth largest economy in the world. It is a privilege to live there. Where my family lives, they are an hour and a half from Sequoia National Park, two and a half from Yosemite National Park, and four hours from two of the most envied cities in the world. I tell Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders of where I have had the pleasure of living, and they are amazed.

A friend asked me not too long ago “Do you feel fully alive?”

“Well yeah. But I felt fully alive before I left.”

To be Californian means I am louder and more open than many I meet. It means my blue hair makes sense and my loud laugh is a bit more understood. I am able to relate numerous camping adventures to the crazy things I am currently doing and I encourage every kid who goes on those trips to enjoy and appreciate them. They are traveling. Camping is traveling. Moving is traveling. Being fully aware of the intense diversity of a state that is bigger than the whole of New Zealand, is traveling.

After all, for us Americans, a five hour drive is nothing.

(That can get some Europeans through 2 or 3 countries.)

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