Why travel (on reflection)

I draw inspiration from some great muses, as I nostalgically reflect on adventures been and journeys to come.

“We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life” George Santayana

Need is a strong word. And yet Santayana continues:

“There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humour.”

I’m all for a nimble mind, and a good sense of humour.

“Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love” Pico Iyer

I stay up late at home, but generally disappoint myself with the sensibilities of life.

“We live without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation…” ]

You could be anyone. I inevitably always am myself. I think this is a good thing.

“There are, of course, great dangers to this, as to every kind of freedom, but the great promise of it is that, traveling, we are born again, and able to return at moments to a younger and a more open kind of self”

It’s not being young per se that attracts me, but the sense of freedom and ability to frolic frivolusly.

“Traveling is a way to reverse time, to a small extent, and make a day last a year”

It is true. One the road days last forever. The stresses of life wither away. I laugh constantly.

Friendships created in days, felt like friends of old. I felt at home. Broad smiles, sun kissed tans and friendships built on beer pyramids. Many are transient, short and sweet. Yet a collection of people I’ve meet over the years stay with me, there faces etched in my memory.

“All good trips are, like love, about being carried out of yourself and deposited in the midst of terror and wonder….And that is why many of us travel not in search of answers, but of better questions”

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Bear necessities

If you’re hiking in the Romanian woods and run into a bear, apparently you should play dead.

I’m not sure I’d trust my acting skills in such a dire situation. Then again, lying in foetal position in a frozen state of panic probably wouldn’t involve that much acting.

If the bear proceeds to try and eat you, apparently it’s then time to talk in a firm voice. I can’t help but wonder if he’d understand the Kiwi accent?

Bear etiquette 101. This was quickly googled after many a traveller returned from Transylvanian hikes proclaiming they’d smelt bears.

Yes, no joke. Apparently you can litterally smell them.

“What sort of smell is it?” I enquired, ever so casually.

“You just know. Go the other way if you smell them.”

Great. Very reassuring. Honey face masks probably not be happening this week.

But bears are not all grrrrrrrr. Sometimes they get depressed. I learnt all about it at the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Brasov, Romania.

A lot of bears became depressed at the hands of cruel owners who used them to attract tourists. The bears would refuse to eat, or worse, self mutiliate – eating their own paws.

There were many other horrific stories as well. Bears with arthritis from being made to sit still for too long. Bears who had never been to the forest. Bears scared of other bears. Bears blinded from the flashes of tourist’s cameras.

When you see these fellas with their soulful eyes, playful paws and feigned cuddly ways you can’t help but feel incredibly sorry for them. But surely modern day tourists wouldn’t be so stupid.

At the sanctuary there were many huge signs, warning of the electric fences around the enclosures. Our guide kept reiterating not to get more than 1m close.

Next thing there’s a gasp, and everyone had gathered. As I got closer I realise someone had dropped their iPhone 6 in the enclosure.

“Who would be stupid enough to do that?” I muttered to myself.

“We did!” A couple next to me admitted sheepishly.

Opps. I feigned sympathy as they retold how he’d leaned too close with his phone, got electrocuted and phone went flying in.

Well at least now maybe the bear could take selfies? That seemed to help depressed people get a self-esteem boost.

I wonder what you should do if you come across a depressed bear in the wild? Give him a hug?

I’d like to hope they wouldn’t be depressed in nature. And luckily I follow the advice of google, not my desire to get the ultimate bear hug.

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L o s t in the world

If a girl screams in the forest and no one hears her, does it make a sound?

If you go into the woods today you might get a big surprise…

But let’s not spoil the ending, we’ll start at the beginning.

I’ve done short bursts of solo travel, but never such an ambitious trip. I guess you could call it a cathartic journey.

Post quick fire break ups it wasn’t just that I wanted to escape into the oblivion of travel bliss, it was that the very core of me was screaming for the need to be alone – in fresh scenery, with head space.

People rave about the merits of solo travel. The autonomy, the freedom, the sense of accomplishment -navigating across new cities and countries alone! But no one speaks of the challenges.

Solitude is a two edged sword, and sometimes with it comes a bitter loneliness. And yet when you come face to face with it, it’s not as bad as anticipated.

Perhaps it was for this very reason I was drawn to countries off the beaten track, minus the hordes of backpacking revellers – forever looking for their next drink and their next root.

Lost in the world, but purposefully so.

I thought my lowest point was stuck in a Latvian hospital for 5 hours, awaiting a brain CT scan after a bicycle incident where I didn’t remember hitting my head.

That was until I spent a night in a cabin in the woods clutching my nail scissors. They were sharp, but not as sharp as I would’ve liked.

I’d found a travel oasis. Solo cabins, surrounded by beautiful forest beside a beach on one of Estonia’s western islands. Only €15 per night. There were no other travellers there, just a handful of local families on holiday. Initially I revelled in such a find off the beaten track, but then as night drew in a sixth sense told me this was too isolated. I was too obviously foreign and too obviously alone. All the empty cabins seemed to be watching me as wandered past. I decided the next day I’d leave for Tallin the capital.

Tired still from the remnants of the concussion I went to sleep early. Something snapped me out of my deep slumber. The door handle jerking? My patio light was on and a tall man was standing there looking in. How long he stood there I do not know. Watching me sleep? I didn’t know his intention but I knew it wasn’t good. I’m not sure if I moved, or if he saw my eyes snap open but he swiftly disappeared into the night.

After what felt like an eternity, I slowly reached over and checked my phone. 210am. I checked my surroundings, trying to devise a plan if he came back. The only exit was the glass door where he’d been standing. The window to my left had no openings. I debated whether I could throw my phone through it and climb out. My toiletry bag? That was heavy. It was going to be a long sleepless night.

Maybe I should call the police? I cursed myself that I didn’t know the number and hadn’t gotten around to topping up my phone. Idiot! 911 – that was universal surely? Next thing I was being transferred to an English speaking operator. And before I knew it two policemen were outside my cabin.

“There’s no one here.” Obviously. But there had been.

“The light. The censor light came on” I stammered. Why wasn’t it on now then I wondered? The policeman raised eye brows at each other, obviously thinking the same thing.

“There is no one here. Go back to sleep. Lock your door”

As the 4am sun rose, I fell into a fitful sleep clutching my phone and nail scissors wondering if I’d imagined the whole ordeal.

When I awoke I noticed the patio had a light you switched on from outside. So the creep had been watching me sleep, and that explained how he dissolved into darkness so quickly.

Counting my blessings I googled the next bus out of there.

The moral of the story? It’s one thing to be utterly absorbed in a new world, it’s another to go so far astray you might not be found.

For all my soul searching and radical adventures across the Phillipines, China and the Baltics, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 2nd half of my trip had somehow been interspersed with good friends from home.

Whatever it was I’d been trying to prove to myself, I guess I had proven it.

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Stillness

Since returning home I’ve felt an intermittent sense of boredom, restless and loneliness.

Friday night before a long weekend and I scrawl the net in search of a beach side oasis. No luck. Damn all the organised folk who book ahead.

I awake on Saturday morning to a sunny sky. I text a few people. They too have already made plans. Damn.

After a moment of self sympathy I decide a bit of Kesha time is actually probably a good thing right about now.

Since returning I’ve been torn with indecision. A few life changing decisions I can’t quite get clarity on.

A conversation with my father this week started with “well at your age”… as he reminded me that I was no longer 20. As if I needed reminding. And besides I completely disagree with him, my age is the perfect time to be taking risks.

I drive aimlessly blasting music that sounds how I feel. I find myself at Ponsonby central with a Mayan fire smoothie in hand and a piccolo in the other. Next thing I’m chatting to an elderly European man who’s selling me a cransky and Balkan relish.

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Contented with my treats and buzzing market atmosphere I head to the beach.

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With 4 books in tow I lay in the sand feeling my body soak up the relaxation. Crickets and birds chatter, boats hum and yet there is a stillness around me.

Life slips from mind, and I feel happy with today and the little things. My only regret is my severe lack of a bikini and water bottle.

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Why travel (on reflection)

I’m drawing inspiration from my favourite travel muse Pico Iyer, as I nostalgically reflect on adventures been and journeys to come.

“We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life” George Santayana

Need is a strong word. And yet Santayana continues:

“There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humour.”

I’m all for a nimble mind, and a good sense of humour.

“Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love” Pico Iyer

I stay up late at home, but generally disappoint myself with my sensibilities.

“We live without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation…”

You could be anyone. I inevitably always am myself. I think this is a good thing.

“There are, of course, great dangers to this, as to every kind of freedom, but the great promise of it is that, traveling, we are born again, and able to return at moments to a younger and a more open kind of self”

It’s not being young per se that attracts me, but the sense of freedom and ability to frolic frivolusly.

“Traveling is a way to reverse time, to a small extent, and make a day last a year”

It is true. One the road days last forever. As I journeyed for 9 weeks, I found the stresses of life withering away. I laughed constantly. I felt alive and happy. Young and invincible.

Friendships created in a week, felt like friends of old. I felt at home. Broad smiles, sun kissed tans and friendships built on beer pyramids. Many are transient, short and sweet. Yet a collection of people I’ve meet over the years stay with me, there faces itched in my memory.

“All good trips are, like love, about being carried out of yourself and deposited in the midst of terror and wonder….And that is why many of us travel not in search of answers, but of better questions”

 

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Homecoming

Day 2 waking up back in New Zealand. My plan to sleep in destroyed by an insatiable hunger and a little bit of jet lag. It’s 7am.

I lie in bed willing myself to go back to sleep, yet I feel more awake then I have in a very long time. 2 early nights have apparently done me well.

I wonder what time it is in Los Angeles, in Central America. I think about all the things that are happening over there. I think about myself, and what I’m going to do today. Nothing rushes to mind, so I linger in bed warmed by a heater not the sun — a first in a very long time.

I gaze at the roof of my bedroom, willing it to burst open and transport me back to a hot balmy climate. A place where I have nothing to do each day but peruse at my leisure, eat what I feel and chat to whomever I wish.

I don’t feel sad or bored, just a lingering happiness as I nostalgically ponder all that has been. After being saturated with people it’s nice to sit isolated in my own company and reflect.

9 weeks went so fast, and yet it feels like a lifetime I was away. All the memories, and places and the people still exist but now just in a facet of my imagination. It feels as if it was all one beautiful dream. I’d love to fall back into its blissful sleep but I have awoken. I feel fresh, alive, tranquillo and happy — happier than I remember feeling in a very long time.

While I could ponder these abstract whimsical ideas infinitely, once again I’m driven by my desire to eat. I grab my fleece dressing gown, brace the brisk winter and head into the kitchen to cook my first meal in a very long time.

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It’s a kinda magic

Occasionally you go somewhere new and it resonates you. I guess that’s why we travel, perpetually in search of that something special.

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica instantly hit me as somewhere a little big magical. I felt both at home, yet utterly enchanted. I guess it’s a little bit like love.

My newfound friend Leah from LA is huge on energies. I stayed behind in Bocos del Toro, Panama and she messaged me “Kesha, you’ve got to get here – you’ll love it”

She was right. The energy of this place feels good. Earthy. Chilled. Authentic. Beautiful. Coupled with a Caribbean rasta-love and the “Pura Vida” (Pure Life) meaning to enjoy and appreciate the simplicities of life.

And I do. Everything I see makes me smile. I’m pretty sure I haven’t stopped beaming since I arrived. Though I’ve had my fair share of homemade icecreams, chocolate, and fresh veggie juices all under a sun that like me is beaming.

Push bikes are the main means of travel here, complete with a cute wee basket. If you’re on a budget one can suffice for two, though this can be a difficult feat – particularly by night with no street lights.

By both day and night tops aren’t required. A bikini is sufficient, and it’s so hot I’m not one to protest. It’s liberating. Besides, I stopped wearing a bra and make up a long time ago.

Beautiful stretches of surf beaches are surrounded by intense jungle, and down the jungle roads you bike at your own leisure. Always looking for the next swim or cafe stop.

Artisan products and homemade chocolate are proclaimed on café jungle side boards, as well as yoga, massages and surfing.

Today a guy offered me a free surf board for as long as I wanted, in exchange for being his Girlfriend. I thanked him kindly for the generous offer, but said I was happy to pay $10 to hire the board.

Although this is the type of place I could set up camp and chill for ions in the happy vibes of the Pura Vida.

Unfortunately I’ve only got a week left in Central America and felt the itch to keep moving.

I was pondering over a breakfast for one what to do next – the options were endless. Later I ran into an Aussie couple I met on my boat to Panama. They happened to be leaving in 2 days for Nicaragua via some white water rafting. That sounded good to me, did they mind if I joined?

Next stop, somewhere on route. To be continued…20140725-002939-1779660.jpg

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