Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Peace in our time?
In the middle of the night when doubts dart like daggers and sleep is elusive, it is natural to feel more like Clark Kent rather than Superman. I, the fumbling, mild-mannered Doppelganger, am reporting to you in the wee hours from the Northland in the small town of Russell, New Zealand on the Bay of Islands. Yesterday, I bit the so-called "speeding bullet" and departed the security of my lodging in Auckland and ventured out, lacking a clear direction nor a confirmed place to stay. As I rolled north, I became disappointed as I passed a meaningless Fall landscape of burnt-colored, brushy hillsides, vacant farmland, small patches of degraded tropical forest and peek-a-boo ocean views. I felt like I had seen this all before in Hawaii or in California. The architecture of the towns and the faces of the people that I encountered did not excite me either. Of course, I didn't expect huts, nor primitive people, nor signs in strange languages nor exotic animals, although I was truly gratified when I spied the carcass of a roadkill kiwi. Frankly, most of what I saw, I found downright boring. I knew before I left America that this would be a different trip than previous world travel. I had expressed with pompous conviction to someone who asked me why I had chosen to travel to New Zealand, that such an adventure would require finding new ways to be challenged and to discover meaningful information. Now the challenge was suddenly at hand and I began to feel unnerved about what to do on this unfamiliar road of immersion into the familiar. I had no one sitting next to me to bolster my courage or assure me that I hadn't made a mistake in coming. Predictably, I felt in my gut the onset of loneliness, the pernicious dark shadow of the solitary traveler.
Shortly thereafter, the once busy highway quieted and narrowed over a one-lane bridge and then curved through a grove of strange tall trees and unusual ferns. A sign at the crest of a hill announced a turn-off to Russell which needed to be accessed by ferry. My guide book had extolled the scenic virtues of this place and so, with some skepticism, I decided to take the exit which, after a bend, immediately offered an amazing panorama. Within moments my disposition began to change. Before me lay an azure and sea green bay that was pocketed by lush islands. A number of sailboats, luxury craft, and curious-looking work boats were tied up near a quaint landing. A pleasant looking, middle-aged woman flagged me aboard the ferry along with five other cars. Much to my surprise she was the skipper. Immediately the lady inquired about my nationality and then gushed proudly about her community, thrusting a map in my hand, and jabbering on about where I should stay and what I should see.
At a tourist office built at the end of a pier another incredibly cordial lady booked me a room in a boutique motel and then suggested a snapper fishing trip for the morning. I was treated with deference and hospitality. On my return to the car I walked along the strand past well-preserved historic buildings and hotels shaded by ancient trees. Calmed by a gentle breeze and perfect temperature, I began experiencing a genuine tranquility and a feeling of safety that reminded me of no similar sensation on any of my travels. It occurred to me that my other journeys have been intense, educational, exciting, awe-inspiring in their beauty, and even dangerous, but certainly not relaxing.
Perhaps, mate, I was onto something special and unique about this land. My first lesson of this trip is that a visit to New Zealand is learning how to slow down and enjoy. It is what locals call being on "holiday".