Zhengzhou, China. Disoriented and exhausted. A constant bombardement of incomprehensible foreign information had begun taking its toll. The days pased in the shadow of a throbing in my temple. That no amount of rest would ease.
Tired, I went off to bed. The unrelenting pounding in my head refusing to cease. I rolled onto my side, arm outstretched and numbing slowly under the weight of my head. Pins and needles slowly working their way up my arm, my ability to move and wobble my fingers fadded.
Something. A soft voice. Speaking in what I can only assume was mandarin, whispered to me from the far side of the bed. Frozen stiff, I had become completely paralyzed, unable to turn my head. The voice faded until inaudible and then became louder, taunting, moving around the bed. Louder and louder, rambling frantically.
My world had shrunk to the confines of my room. Had I fallen asleep? Why can’t I move? Terrified I listened as the foreign voice multiplied. A woman now, and a child. Yelling.
The floor fell out from under me. Falling, endlessly. The walls darkened and shot up, with incredible speed, to the sky, taking the form of Chinas skyscrapers. An overwhelming sense of the insignificance of my existence washed over me.
Awake. But not by waking. I shot up in bed, sweating and confused.
This ‘dream’ remains the most vivid and terrifying experience of my life. The small amount of time between laying down and being surrounded by voices making it hard to believe I fell asleep. Was it some kind of exhausted daydream? Maybe. Did it mean something? Probably not. But it sure stuck in my head.
When we landed, we knew that we were potentially in a very dangerous situation. At the time Spain had an unemployment rate around 25%. It was night time, and very dark. From the airport we needed to get a train in to Madrid to get to our accommodation.
The train was occupied by locals and various other travelers, mostly in groups of at least two, others by themselves. When the train pulled up to our destination, my eyes were open and I was fully aware of my surroundings. There were many suspicious characters. The kind that seem to take the same turn far too many times, whilst seemingly communicating with others nearby but not immediately present. I made sure that those in our presence knew we knew they were there, and they seemed to keep their distance. Before finding our way out of the train station, we noticed one of the suspicious characters that I suspected was following us begin opening the pack of a lone female traveler. My friend spoke up, the thief left unrewarded for his efforts.
For such an awkward arrival time the streets were teeming with people. Seemingly, the excessive unemployment rate forced many people to do whatever they could to make a buck on the streets. We were completely new to the country and spoke none of its language and the locals were already trying to get us to participate in street performances. Magic tricks, with cards mainly.
I always pack lightly and as such only had a backpack, but it still made me paranoid. We must have obviously stood out as new arrivals. Expensive things must be in those bags. We were disoriented and unsure of which way the hostel was. The city is nothing like Melbourne, directions were given from plazas, open areas where roads meet. Eventually we found the hostel and found some relief. Our things were safe. Time to go for drinks.
I have many fond memories of being in Spain. Perhaps some of the most memorable are the innovative street performers. The ones that didn’t harass, but instead used a bit of creativity to make you feel obliged to give them some cash. The one I can remember the most clearly was sitting with a guitar in the alley ways of Sevilla quietly playing away in wait. As soon as our tourist group turned up he noticed and got right in the middle as we passed through the narrow alleys forced almost in to single file and started playing music that we all recognized. Though I can’t remember the song, for some reason i’m thinking it was some sort of Britney Spears, because everyone was in hysterics and his guitar ended up covered in cash.
The very first thing I noticed when walking out of the airport in Queenstown, New Zealand was the purity of the air, so fresh and surreal. Looking up, regardless of direction, we were completely surrounded by mountains, all of which were capped with pure white snow. New Zealand is the only place I have ever been where I am convinced we have not caused detrimental impacts to the environment (though perhaps I am unaware of all the details). Besides the airport, the land immediately surrounding it and the surface of water, it seemed that flat ground didn’t exist. Everything everywhere was on a hill. The ‘stumble’ back to our accomodation, though remarkably close to the town centre, included a steep hill and an endless flight of stairs which never seemed to be a challenge during the day, but caused havoc at night.
Our first stop was the local supermarket. The struggle to find the freshest piece of fruit seemed foreign, the place was packed full of the freshest fruit I have ever seen.
The Town Centre itself was very small, perhaps because a bigger one wouldn’t fit. The locals all seemed to be in hiding. Queenstown really is a tourist town, full of young and care free people with no concern greater than which mountain had good snow and where to find the cheapest beer. Day 1 I was told we needed to get a Ferg Burger, not that I knew what that was. The burger place was completely full, with a line out front every time I went at every hour. I was told it closed its doors for a few hours every day, though I didn’t see it, and I had a lot of amazing burgers.
I recall walking along the boardwalk, with no destination in mind, staring out in to the water. The clearest water I have ever seen. Pebbles clearly defined beneath the surface and not a piece of trash in sight.
The snow was the main attraction. Of a 10 day visit I recall doing 8 trips to the snow. One at night after we told ourselves we weren’t going that day, and ultimately decided later to go anyway. The mountains were unlike anything I have experienced in Australia. With so much talk of which mountain had better coverage and where was patchy in town, I struggled to find anywhere that I didn’t deem to have almost ideal boarding conditions. Too many trips to Mt Buller, squeezing through hoards of the fumbling and stumbling, avoiding grass and ice at every turn had perhaps given me rose tinted goggles.
Despite my many trips to the snow prior to NZ, it was there that I really learnt how to control a board. I will return there one day. The sooner the better, though I have learnt that I have a tendency to convince myself that the last place I visited is my favourite, and that the best decision is to go somewhere new. So to somewhere new I will go.
74 days left. Then I am once again free to live my life.
I love that feeling. The last day of work before the next adventure. The trip to the airport, the only concern being the location of a few bucks, a boarding pass and my passport. Always concerned that there is something illegal, according to some fine print, somewhere in my bag. The exact moment that all my luggage is checked in, the complete release from responsibility, so rare in the lives we lead, immediately washes away the stresses of life and the trivial stresses of the workplace. There is no place more free than an airport. Knowing that whatever the destination, it’s something new. No matter how much I think I may know, the one certainty is the unexpected. But is that not why we do it?
Then we wait, often for hours, wait for the journey to begin, for the flight to board. Flight delays.
Time zones clash, cultures become entwined and confused. A foreign family, all wide awake and hysterical beside a lone sleeping lady. The rushing man, pushing through a crowd of relaxed youth smuggling beers out of the pub. Lines everywhere, people pulling, pushing and dragging bags suitable for drum kits. At all times , watchful eyes scanning the masses for anything suspicious. Not a care in the world.
Boarding call. A moment of panic. A located passport.
A last minute book purchase, a puzzle, a means of entertainment and then the walk to the plane. Air currents fly through the small square corridor leading to the plane door and the flight attendant takes my boarding pass pointing me to my seat. People squeeze politely through and around each other passing bags along and jamming them as quickly as possible in to the overhead compartments. Slowly everyone takes there seats. How long until the destination? Where will the next plane land?
So foreign, so crowded. Children would flock, follow and point at the white guy. Travelling off the tourist paths, even the adults seemed taken back by the foreigner. Many would say something incomprehensible, smile and eagerly appear to wait for a response. Others would frantically confront and yell. Not a legible word in sight, symbols all around, if it weren’t for Roger (Chinese friend from University) I would have been lost, ripped off and terrified.
Everywhere, in all directions, buildings climbed to the sky. People poured in and out of anywhere and everywhere. Street workers prepared food, dragged enormous containers behind bikes and odd three wheel scooters and cleaners scoured the streets. Breakfast could be bought by the side of the road for 18 Australian cents at the time, or bought in a restaurant for hundreds of dollars.
It was mid afternoon, and we were about to see off a friend from Beijing. With too many bags, it was only polite that we helped her on the train before saying goodbye. A moment later the train departed, at around 250km/h for over 4 hours, with Roger and I on it and wondering how the hell we were meant to get back. The next morning we were booked to head up to the Great Wall which was now not even a possibility.
We were young and relatively care free. It wasn’t hard to make light of a tricky situation. These things happen abroad, not once has a trip ever gone perfectly to plan. The conductor began inspecting tickets and despite Rogers explanation of our situation insisted that we must pay, and so we did. 4 hours later and entirely unprepared, we got off the train. The temperature was way below zero (I want to say negative 20 Celsius though that sounds ridiculous). Our friend felt terrible and her family had brought us some basics to get back with, snacks, rubix cube and some cards etc.
But things now got really interesting. We had already had an encounter with thieves, and got away with all of our belongings, but the only way back was on an economy class train and would take over 12 hours. We took our seats and it was immediately obvious that I was a high risk, all eyes were on me, and what I had on me. Roger translated the conductors ramblings, most of which warned of thievery and to be aware. Not 10 minutes later we upgraded. GTFO. Not that the upgrade was that much better. We had crappy beds and were at least away from most of the people.
We got back to Beijing safely. Needles to say had to see the Great Wall another day. But we’re just glad to be safe and not too far off schedule.
We were on a Bus, traveling along the southern coast of Spain to Costa Del Sol. For hours, the landscape had switched between enormous fields of olives, sunflowers and windmills. The road was lined for hours with pink and white shrubs. Occasionally, an old castle would become apparent in the distance and entire townships could be seen built in to the landscape.
The landscape seemed never ending, mountains as far as anyone can see. At one point, the guide abruptly interjected “everyone quickly look off to the right”. What we could see, the distant land, was the northern border of Africa. Looking from one continent to another. These are the moments that we remember, the moments that are stuck forever in my memory. The surface of the Mediterranean Sea beyond the mountains of Southern Spain with Africa on the Horizon.
Soon we arrived at the beach. But no one warned us about the killer alcohol.