Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Slow my roll.....

Since you are sitting there reading this blog right now, you can safely assume that I survived the Milford hike. It was my first multi-day hike that I did alone...well, sorta. There were about 40 other people hiking the track on the same days as me and we would all meet at the shelter each night to sleep. So, even though I was hiking hours a day alone, there was some accountability for where I was and people were aware of the other hikers on the track.
Still, it was a really unique experience for me. I carried my own pack, cooked my own food, and was the sole person responsible for myself. I was even in charge of talking to myself on the hikes for 6 hours a was beautiful, cold, rainy, sunny, awesome, exuberant, refreshing, and well....just a tad bit lonely, I must admit. One of the things that I have been struggling with on my travels is wishing that I had some family or friends to experience some of the things with me.....if only I could borrow my mother's eyes for a day and have her look at the view I was looking at. Or how fun would it be to have Carly and Robin out with me for a night in Queenstown? I think about this a lot. Even though I meet a lot of people and share many experiences with them, it isn't the same as your close family and friends. A cool thing about this hike though, was that my sister-in-law had completed it a few years ago. So every time I had one of those moments where I wish I could share it with someone close....I would remember that Kelley had been here and done this before. She would understand where I walked and what I had seen.
Of the 4 days that I was hiking....4 of the days it rained. And I am not talking about drizzle....RAIN...raining to the point that everything I owned and was carrying with me was soaked. Even though I had on rainproof gear, I didn't stand a chance. Everything was wet....and at night it would half-ass dry, but it didn't matter because I would walk right back into the rain again for another long day of wetness. It is not that surprising that it rained, though. 200 days of the year it rains in the Milford area. In fact, if you do the hike with no rain at all, then you have actually not hiked the Milford Track (at least that is what the rangers say to cheer you up each night). Rainfall can reach up to 6,800 mm (Approx 270 inches) per year. Austin, TX has an average of 32-48 inches per yeah.. it rains a lot here. The environment is plush and green and wet everywhere...100s maybe 1000s of waterfalls surround you throughout the hike. There were several moments when I would be looking down, watching my steps meticulously (since it was slick) and then I would stop to look up....and see waterfalls pouring down the cliffs all around me. WOW...I would just stand there in the rain amazed at how alive everything was...the water rushing everywhere. I have some pictures of the falls, but they don't give any justice to the depth of what I was looking at. SO MUCH WATER....EVERYWHERE! Gushing so hard that you think it should all stop sometime since there is no way there could really be this much water...when would it run out? But in the 4 days I was there it didn't stop once....there was never even a hesitation of the water stopping. Meanwhile, the birds would still whistle and fly around as if it was a bright sunny day outside...they understood the environment they lived in....truly amazing!
One night, it was raining so hard that the next morning our hut ranger, Ross, told us to wait a few hours before we started hiking. He wanted to see if the rain would calm...because the rivers flooded bad in this section and it could get dangerous. If the rain continued at this level, then we would have to be flown out by helicopters (which I thought would be equally as cool as doing the hike). After a few hours, he said he was going to hike to the rivers to check them out...we were more then welcome to follow along. A couple "go- getters" jumped up and started following him immediately, and since I was alone and only had to take care of myself, I happened to be ready as well. So, there I was...following the ranger and a couple experienced hikers to go "check out" the if I were really qualified for any sort of danger that may be ahead. Fortunately, there wasn't any major danger....a few trees had fallen in the track that we had to move and the flooding wasn't bad enough that they needed to call in the "copters". The water only went up to our THIGHS at the river crossings so apparently that was not helicopter status. Yes folks, I was proud of this moment....I truly feel like I have hiked in New Zealand now. I had to hold my pack up and walk through a flooded river that went up to my thighs. One of the couples with us took off their boots as if they weren't going to get wet with all the rain....I just looked at them like they were idiots and plunged into the river with my shoes and pants and everything on. It was adventurous and crazy and fun!!!! I felt like an avid hiker :)
Overall, the Milford Track was a great experience and I am glad to add it to my list of adventures during my travels. It is rated one of the most famous tracks in the world and with some of the views that I saw....I can understand why.
After the hike, I went back to the small town of Te Anau....bought a bottle of wine and decided to do laundry to wash all my nasty clothes. Now that I was on my own, I really didn't have a plan. I didn't know where I should head the next day or what I should do. I figured that after my laundry, I would go to the internet and book a bus ticket out of town towards Dunedin. I really wanted to hitch a ride, but I wasn't brave enough to hitch alone....I kept going back and forth about it. I met this chick named Laura when doing my laundry. She was a witty girl and I couldn't place her English accent. Turns out, she was born in Germany, spent some time living in USA, then moved to South Africa and now resides in France. Her father works for some big USA corporation and they moved around frequently. Because of this, she knows 3 languages fluently and flips back and forth speaking them all the time. She speaks German with her mother, English with her father, and French with her sister. We hit it off immediately and both had the same sense of humor about things. You could tell she was easy going, laid back and up for whatever....she had traveled a lot and didn't expect much from people and went with the flow. After chit-chatting, she asked if I wanted to go grab a beer with her and some friends. I explained to her my dilemma of leaving the next day and if I were to get the bus, then it left at I probably shouldn't go out..blah blah blah. She said fair enough...they would be at the bar if I was interested. I finished my laundry and headed to the computer to book my ticket....then it hit me. I had been alone for 4 days hiking in solitude...what the hell was I doing passing up an offer to the bar. I really could use a nice stout beer and some good conversation. I'll either hitch out of here tomorrow or book a ticket for the next day...regardless, it would work itself out somehow. I met Laura and her friends at the bar and had a few drinks. The beers were going down smoothly too...I have not been drinking much since I have been in NZ (giving the liver a little break), so after only 2 beers I was feeling pretty nice. There was a guy sitting next to us who seemed to be alone. I invited him over to our conversation. His name was Thomas and he was from Switzerland. After speaking with him for a bit I found out that he had his own car and was heading to Dunedin the next day. I was like...seriously? "I am trying to get to you want some help with petrol (gas)?" And then like that....things worked themselves out. I paid Thomas $10NZ for the 4 hour ride which would have cost me $50NZ by it worked out fine indeed.
Through my friend Brad, I had a hook-up with a place to stay in Dunedin. The girl had a flat in the city, but was currently doing her residency for med school in another city. So, she was not there at the moment, but she had 5 other flat mates and said just to go to her place and stay in her room. I felt a little strange doing this, as I had never met her and surely didn't know her flatmates either....but I thought it was cool that she offered her room and decided to check it out.
When I arrived to the house, there were trash bags filled with beer cans and wine bottles sprawled out on the front porch. There were about 6 vintage chairs/lazy boys surrounding a make-shift coffee table on the porch as well...all of this was next to the fridge (not one of those small office fridges, but a full-sized kitchen fridge)...all on the front porch! I had to smile to myself...I realized I would fit in just fine with these new random people that I would be staying with. I knocked on the door, but no one came. I knocked and rang the doorbell several other times, but one came to the door. was only 10:30am and from the looks of the front porch, everyone could easily still be sleeping. I peeked my head through the window just as I saw someone coming out of a bedroom and knocked again to get his attention. The guy came to the door with his hair all messed up and sleep still in his eyes. "Hi there, ....I'm friends (I guess) with Amelia and am staying in her room for a few days."...I was all smiley and chipper holding my bags...the guy was probably "who in the hell is this chick!". He mumbled something along the lines of..."cool...yeah..whatev...just.. you can go to her room." And then he left the door open and walked back into his room. So there I was, with my backpack, standing in this house....with not a damn clue which room was Amelia's. I decided to walk upstairs and that is where I ran into JD, the french dude. He was really cool and showed me her room. Then I met Kate, and some other guy who I can't remember his name. Anyways, it's a big house with 6 roommates and craziness all about. There is clutter and everyone's personality written all over it, but somehow the bathroom and kitchen are clean and it just seems like everything works together well....a good atmosphere and vibe. I felt like I was in college again...there was even a jar of condoms in the bathroom with a sign that read "no hubba hubba with out a rubba rubba". This would be my accommodation for the next few days and I thought it was awesome!
Dunedin was a cool city. It is a university town with a mixture of funky art, music, food, and theater. Gorgeous Victorian style homes fill the hilly neighborhoods...some kept up really well and others falling down in shambles. It was a good town to chill-out in for a few days...enough to do, but not too in your face.
One day I went on a tour to the Otago Peninsula about an hour away. Here I was able to see seals, sea lions, and yellow-eyed penguins. I have never been up close to that type of wildlife before and it was really cool. Penguins are soooo stinking cute. The way they wobble from the ocean to the land...trying to sneak by the sea lions and escape another day with out getting eaten. I even witnessed a sea lion take a huge crap on the beach. At first I thought something was wrong with him...then his face got stern and next thing I knew, out came a present. I have pics of the animals on Picasa as well.
After a few site-seeing days in Dunedin it crept up to me again...this weird feeling that I have been getting every so often the past few weeks, but I have pushed it back deep inside my mind....there should be no reason that I am having this feeling and I am not going to face it right here...right now. It doesn't make sense to me.
Basically, everything around me is great...Before I left on my travels everything in my life was great as well. I had a family that loved and supported me, friends that I could count on, a stable job, lived in a fantastic city, rented out a comfortable house, boys to go out with....I mean what the heck else could a girl like me ask for? But even though I had all of this, I was unsatisfied and it lingered in the back of my mind. Why was I not content with my life?
I came to the conclusion that the life I was living couldn't be the final end all....there was more ...WAY MORE out there and I wanted to see it and live it before I got too comfortable where I was at. So I planned this trip that I am on now....when I arrived to South America I was on a high for 4 months experiencing the culture, people, food, was exactly what I needed at that moment in my life. I was getting the satisfaction that I was craving. And now, here I am again...6.5 months later and I sense that feeling coming up in the back of my throat and I don't want to say that it is happening again because it doesn't make any sense to me. How can I not be satisfied with my life right now.....I am on a year holiday!!!! This is EXACTLY what I asked for!!!!
I have been doing a lot of thinking the past few days and trying to figure out the sensations and feelings I am having and getting to the bottom of it...I think what it is, is that I am over the whole "tourist" thing. I walk aimlessly through city streets watching people, drink lattes, read tons of books, visit museums, go on multi day hikes, and venture to the next town to do the same thing over and over and over again. It is wonderful....a fantastic holiday, but can I move like this for the next 10 months? Was the real purpose of my journey to take tourbusses out to the ocean and stare at sea lions for 1 year? I am sick of site-seeing....I am ready to "live" amongst people and "do" something during my travels. Not just stick my nose in guide books and carry a city map in my hand 24/7. I have decided that I need to slow my travels down and get involved with some of the communities that I visit. Perhaps I will volunteer, or take classes, or work....but just do something that I am accountable for. Instead of being a tourist, I will be more like a short-term resident. The world is a big place and I can't see all of it on this trip....I don't even want to try to see half of it. Quality overrides quantity for me right now!
As we all know, I enjoyed my time in Banos, Ecuador. I was taking Spanish classes and getting to know people in the town....I had my favorite places to eat and knew all of the hikes in the area. On the weekends I would travel to nearby towns and visit other places. Banos was my "hub" and my time there was was enough time to figure out the city, but I left before it became monotonous and routine. I think it's time for something like that again....a place to slow my roll....breath...and not worry about what bus to take and what village to breeze through tomorrow. I have a few more days in NZ and then I head to Australia to visit a dear friend in Sydney. My time in Australia will be short as it is fairly expensive to travel there , but once I get to SE Asia I hope to slow it down a notch. I am making some contacts for volunteer opportunities, but since I am not affiliated with a church it may be difficult. I also found some cooking classes in Cambodia & Vietnam...that could be another unique way to get to know a city. Those are my thoughts right now about for listening.
Anyways, in a few days I will be heading to a town called Kaikoura. You can take a boat out in the ocean and there is a 98% you will see killer and blue whales. I know, I know.... I said I was sick of tours and site-seeing....BUT WHALES????Seriously? Besides Sea World, I have never witnessed a whale yes, I am pretty excited about it. I can play "tourist" for a little bit longer I suppose :)

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