This afternoon, I had lunch with my mother’s banker’s husband’s parents. Yesterday I had coffee with my pen pal’s pen pal. Last week I explored with a gal I lived near my freshman year of college and in different countries ever since. Last month I parked in my former coworker’s cousin’s friend’s partner’s driveway.
Travel gets complicated quickly, but once again, solo travel you are only alone if you want to be. Anymore, I shrug at the six degrees of separation: each of these strange connections is now my own first degree again and the world spins tighter and connections weave more intimately.
Winter is creeping up the islands, and I’ve migrated into the latest phase of my working holiday. Get amongst it, the Kiwi’s call. But the mountains are a bit foreboding in the back of a van, so instead, I’ve gotten amongst them. I signed up for a housesitting website and have started flitting across the north island, staying snug next to the fire with dogs and cats and chickens, sipping on local wine and trying to sort out what I’ll be doing when the other half (!?!) of this year is finished. Every few weeks, I find myself sitting at a new table, talking with families who are leaving their homes in my care. In Auckland, I worked almost exclusively with Kiwis instead of backpackers and explored how they lived their lives and what their concerns were about their own country and their place in the world. I had to make an intentional effort to be okay to be still: my time in New Zealand is so short and there’s so many places to see that I struggled with not going out an exploring much. After all, it’s a bit like Neverland here:
Of all the delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed.
-J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Months ago, I met a hitchhiker with a tattoo that ingrained itself into my memory. We talked about it for several hours as we traversed in the same direction and discussed the philosophy behind it. It read simply, “I can’t wait for right now.” To be so close to so many adventures and not be able to go on them while I saved up cash, I had to reframe my thought process. Right now is just as beautiful and good and surprising as Tomorrow in That Other Place. Surrounded by real people living real lives and having to crawl into the nooks and crannies where the locals find their culture instead of where Lonely Planet tells tourists to go was a challenge and a gift. That mantra allows for the excitement of adventure to bubble up in the mundane. It allows all the hopes of the future and warmth of the past to be held in this moment, a gem in time to be cherished and loved and to overflow. It allows the good and the bad to hold its place, the past and the future to hold their time. It allows for this moment to be wonderful and terrible and all piled up into itself.
In this space, I feel strange. Housesitting is one of the rare occurrences that is incredibly mutually beneficial: the perfect barter where no money changes hands. Nobody loses, both parties win. I am given shelter, wifi, laundry, and hot showers. They, in turn, have someone keeping an eye on their home and don’t have to put up the cost of boarding their pets. It sounds so simple, but I can’t get over how much the homeowners thank me. In a country where weekly rent is easily monthly rent in Denver, it is they who give me a free roof over my head, but they thank me profusely for cuddling their dogs while they’re away?! I mean, I adore Goldie, but she is just a thin shell against the winter rains and near-freezing temperatures and I’m not a fan of cooking in the wind. So it is I who feel like the winner, being trusted with a near-stranger’s home as my base in each region. Each time I fall asleep in a new house, I’m grateful and the excitement wells up in me. I can’t wait for right now.
I’m loving traveling in the offseason, to boot. I’ve become acutely aware of the Instagrammer, and know that I’m guilty of it myself. In so many places I’ve wandered, I’ve been surrounded by dozens of people, each scrambling to the tiny plot of space where their friend can snap a picture that makes it look like she alone is on top of the mountain, and he just happened to be doing yoga on the beach at sunrise, and their contemplation wasn’t interrupted by the shutter click in that ‘candid’ shot or the jostling busload of tourists who just arrived. We all pretend we’re here alone when the reality is much busier and much louder than we care to admit. So these few, precious months when the weather is lousy and school is in session and normal people are at work, I am able to slip away and feel like I can breathe. Instead of seventy people surrounding me, there’s fewer than a dozen braving the wind and rain. We shiver together in solidarity as we admire the rocks that carry a stark beauty even though they aren’t bathed in golden light.
It is strange, it is beautiful. New Zealand holds me tighter as together we spin around on this crazy globe, picking up the pieces of stories that tie them together. This year is already half gone, yet it’s only just begun.