Journeying into the unknown
This month’s travel blog linkup is all about Journeys, somewhat appropriate for me since my entire life feels like a journey!
For me a journey is discovering the unknown around the world and inside me. Something that I’ve never experienced before that has grown me in so many ways.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
– Lao Tzu
Journey 1: Discovery of passion to travel
One step ten years ago took me onto my first journey outside of New Zealand, across the other side of the globe to Austria to study as part of my post-graduate scholarship in Computer Graphic Design… that was possibly the best time of my life up until that point. So different and out of my comfort zone. At the time, living amongst students of different cultures felt a world away from my life in New Zealand.
I made some life long friends in Austria, some I would meet up with many times in the years to come. We escaped on mini escapades across Europe when possible on a student-style budget. Freezing in tents during winter in Florence… thesis reading on trains… ancient paintings across Italy… random St. Patricks markets in Prague… the list goes on!
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin
Journey 2: Discovery of solo travel and unique countries
My next defining journey was returning to that side of the world, this time to live and work in London and travel the globe from there. It was close to 5 years of ups and downs, but so many memories to hold dear.
It may have taken a couple of years to grow friendships from nothing, but London had me hook, line and sinker. During that time, public holidays signalled travel. More often than not, I’d be off somewhere in Europe alone seeing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
On the odd occasion I’d book a small group tour to places that were a bit more unique and different. Bosnia and Herzegovina taught me hash lessons of their violent recent history in such a beautiful country. Africa tore at my heart strings with it’s incredible array of wildlife so happy and free. Hiking to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda cannot be compared to anything else.
East Africa also showed me poverty like I’d never seen before and taught me lessons in materialism. Seeing how happy people could be with so little, really was eye opening.
My solo travel journeys during my time based in London showed me the world was my oyster, I could go just about anywhere I wanted to. The world is vast and has so much to share and teach us.
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things
– Henry Miller
Journey 3: Discovery of being a real backpacker
Leaving the comforts of London and travelling for close to 8 months on my way back to my homeland of New Zealand taught me what it was like to be a real backpacker.
Being a real backpacker, a solo one at that, means lugging your life around on your back and sometimes your front… and sometimes trying to signal to a foreign bus driver that you’d like his help to get your life on your back, because there’s no park benches around to assist in that process.
I returned to Africa, the destination that stole my heart. I volunteered at a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia, learning just how dirty I could actually get. Realising each day there was little point in washing those dirt-filled shorts, because tomorrow they’d just look the same.
One night I was on violet-duty which meant showering and sleeping with a baby baboon in nappies. That was an experience to say the least. Another night, I saw fork lightening for the first time in my life, setting off fires in the distance. Hearing wild dogs in the depths of the night and experiencing steroid-driven creepy crawlies like you wouldn’t believe. It was a growing experience in country life, very different to growing up in the countryside of New Zealand.
My backpacking journey took me from Zimbabwe down through Botswana and Namibia to Cape Town in South Africa. Each country was so raw and beautiful with nature and wildlife, camping became the norm and having a flushing toilet was a luxury.
In Africa I was surrounded by people that spoke English most of the time, my next leg took me to a continent where I hardly knew the languages that people spoke. My 8 weeks of Spanish classes in London were far behind me and unpractised. Brazil was stop 1, where getting lost in translation was immediate.
I headed clockwise around South America, taking buses from one destination to the next, some which were almost 24 hours long! It was time to experience un-planned travel. By the time I got to Chile and north-west Argentina I was planning only a few days ahead of myself. Learning quickly that talking to people as you go gives you a great insight into some great destinations that would otherwise go unknown.
Seeing mannequins hanging from lampposts in Bolivia and parts of Peru as a sign of ‘neighbourhood security’ showed me how real my care for my own safety was. Being thrown out of a hostel in Peru and threatened just for writing honest reviews was shaking. I rarely went out alone at nights and my DSLR camera often stayed behind in hostels when I was visiting especially dodgy towns. There were hairy moments, where despite my best efforts I felt uncomfortable, but those were few and far between.
About halfway through my South and Central American journey I hit that point. The point where I just wanted to give up.
I’d been very sick a couple of times to the point that there was very little goodness left in my guts. I’d dealt with stupid European teenagers while volunteering on the edge of the Amazon in Ecuador and had a sea urchin break its spikes through a flipper into my foot while snorkelling in the Galapagos. This all happened in a matter of weeks.
Those destinations may sound amazing, but going from hospital to hospital struggling to communicate and feeling so alone when I was down and sick was hard. A couple of times I managed to find someone to translate for me, but it was nothing like going to the doctor in the UK or NZ. To this day I still don’t believe it’s a good idea to inject pain meds into a vein in your hand (thank you military hospital in Puyo, Ecuador).
I’d like to believe every backpacker goes through a stage of being over it or homesick at some point. It’s these times that I think it shows real strength and courage to get yourself back up, lug that 20kg + backpack on your back and continue onto the next country.
Change it up and appreciate the moments you have.
Everyone is handed adversity in life. No one’s journey is easy. It’s how they handle it that makes people unique.
– Kevin Conroy
Journey 4: Rediscovering who I am back in my homeland
Finally I think this brings me to my current journey of living in New Zealand. Sounds easy right? It’s been just as difficult as it was to begin any of my other journeys, just in a different way.
It’s been the constant checking in with myself if this is what I want my life to be and wondering where I see my future heading. In previous years I was always heading towards travel and making the most out of my life. Now it’s a mix of travel, reality and the dreaded question of ‘do I want to settle down and where?’
Less be said, it’s an ongoing journey that has had ups and downs along with a few decent hard hitting spanners thrown in the works to test me. I think life is forever changing and the reality is nothing will ever be the same again, the journey is one of discovery and seeing where life leads me.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour.
– Mark Twain