Taking Stock

Only 15,008 km from New York!

One month ago yesterday (OK, yesterday at the time of my actually beginning to write this), I arrived in New Zealand. Simultaneously, I became what I think I’ll start calling a nomad – though admittedly I often think of John Travolta’s “without employment, place of residence, or legal tender” speech to Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction when considering my current situation. In any event, it’s odd to sit here and realize that I’ve been in the land of kiwis for a whole month. The last 32 mornings, I’ve rolled my clothing into neat little packages and hefted them onto my back with a bit less of a wobbly stagger each time. For four weeks, I’ve woken up, with half a dozen exceptions, in a different place each day. I’ve spent an entire lunar cycle’s worth of dinner times analyzing the cost-to-health benefits of fruits and veggies vs. peanut butter and jelly. And because I’m getting so accustomed to it, it can be easy to forget that I’ve learned a few out-of-the-ordinary lessons along the way.

  1. The bus – and believe me, there is no elegant or writerly way to put this that would be more accurate – sucks. It’s an efficient way to get started exploring a new country, but beyond that it’s just not for me. Spending extended periods of time on the road is one thing; being stuck with a bunch of 22-year-olds with an undying passion for Katy Perry and a misplaced sense of duty to hijack the vehicle’s iPod hook-up is not a pleasant experience.
  2. That being said, the bus is a great way to meet new people. Like Hayley, Courtney, and Steph, with whom I rented an ironically super-sweet Nissan Sunny the other day and hit the open road unencumbered by bad music, non-optional group photo stops, or gaggles of German-speakers.

    Sunny’s newly purchased selection of previously owned cassette tapes: Madonna’s “Ray of Light;” a very, very ’80s Jimmy Cliff album that sounds like it probably has a lot of overlap with the “Cool Runnings” soundtrack; a Bruce Springsteen tape we’re convinced never actually got released in the States due to its general awfulness; and a collection of “Elvis party mixes” by a group called the Memphis Session Singers.

  3. As you can see, Sunny is the kind of car that was probably always out of date. Consequently, she’s fully equipped with about half a dial’s worth of FM radio and a cassette deck. Now, I want you to take a moment to think about this: when was the last time you tried to track down cassette tapes? If for some reason you needed some right now, say, to break up the staticky drone of your car radio throughout the sheep-grazed hills of some foreign country, where would you even begin to look for them? What would the selection be like if you found a store selling them? And how much would you pay? I’m learning that these weirdest-case-scenarios are very much realistic possibilities on the road.
  4. Speaking of making due: out of the 33 pounds of clothing, shoes, and make-up I brought with me, I have worn maybe 5 different outfits this whole time. Give me a freshly laundered $5 tank and I’ll prance around like Julia Roberts on Rodeo Drive in Pretty Woman. A dab of concealer and a few swipes of blush and I will strut down the street like Gisele. And you know what? It feels pretty great.
  5. Also: bruises, bumps, and bites. These pop up out of nowhere when you’re backpacking, and so frequently that you often can’t remember the offending sand fly or mosquito or accidental bump to the head. Yesterday I discovered an apricot-sized bump on my forehead with a mosquito bite on top of it. I have not the faintest idea when or how I got either.
  6. A surprising number of people snore. When stuck in a hostel room with several other random people, someone will, without fail, snore like a moose with sinus pressure. Rest assured that, upon waking up, they’ll complain to you about what a crap night’s sleep they’ve had while you laid awake between four vibrating walls.
  7. While we’re on hostels: the top bunk is no longer a fun novelty like it was, oh, the entirety of my sophomore year of college. Now it’s the thing you have to stumble down off of in the middle of the night any time you have to pee.
  8. But you know what’s awesome? Unexpectedly ending up with a full-sized, ground-level bed in a hostel with free wifi. Waking up in the morning, rolling across a wide expanse of mattress, and picking up your computer to check the day’s weather is a luxury you only understand after you’ve checked out of the real world.
  9. It’s always exciting to see that a hostel has a guitar. Slightly less so when it’s once again confirmed that any guitar at any hostel will undoubtedly have no more than five strings, three of which will appear to be made of fishing line.
  10. Half of the food products that say you need to refrigerate them after opening do not actually need refrigeration. I’ve been carrying around a half-used jar of strawberry jelly for weeks. It’s still good. (I hope that, by writing this, I have not doomed myself to a case of Murphy’s-law-induced food poisoning tomorrow).
  11. Despite all of this, waking up in the morning in a town you’ve never heard of on a farm in the middle of nowhere to have your morning coffee with a crowd like this kind of makes it all worth it.

    I totally blend.

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