Thursday, January 05, 2012

Full Circle

I have stamps in my passport from twelve different countries, a British student visa and a sticker from a cruise in the Bahamas.  The pages are soft and worn around the edges.  Whether that’s from the number of times I’ve flipped through or because it was once soaked through during a rainstorm in Marseilles, I’m not too sure.  Yesterday, my passport received its final stamp as I was passing back into Australia from my trip to NZ.  Ten years after I got it in preparation for Neuchatel, the thing will finally expire this June. 

This I realised as I sat watching the sun set in Makarora several nights ago.  I was in a reflective mood, on account of it being New Year’s Eve, and a substantial amount of pain due to excessive hiking earlier in the day.  My decade of travel started and ended in the mountains.  When I headed off to Switzerland, I thought I was so grown up.  Off to see the world and all.

God, I was such a newb.

Ten years ago, I could neither drive nor find my way around my hometown, even with the aid of a map.  Last week, I flew to Christchurch, rented a car, and drove it to Queenstown over the course of seven days without killing anyone, getting lost, running out of fuel in the middle of a national park or straying to the right.

Some bits I also did without breathing, as it’s scientifically proven that holding your breath decreases the likelihood of falling off the edge when performing tight switchbacks down a mountain where there’s only a wee guardrail between you and many metres of certain death.

I loved the Southern Alps.  They were beautiful and desolate and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  They’re harsher than the grassy slopes I saw in Switzerland but rounder than the rocky peaks in Alberta.

I loved the lakes too.  Under clear skies they were the most brilliant shade of blue you’ve ever seen.  On one of my photo stops between Mount Cook National Park and Makarora (I was allowed only three to maximize my chances of actually making it to Makarora), I climbed up to a lookout over Lake Hawea.  It was bright blue and perfectly calm, surprisingly, considering its size.

NZ is the land of adventure.  The adrenaline addicts go to chase up bungee jumping, paragliding and skydiving with late-night recovery parties.  It’s also, I discovered, the perfect place to go when you want to escape from the rest of the world and ponder the whichness of the why, the disappearance of the moa, and the way the earth looked before the glaciers retracted.  And when you’ve figured out all that, there’s always another mountain to climb.

The customs man at the Sydney airport put his stamp on the page directly opposite the first stamp I received while passing into Austria.  Book closed.  It’s time to start a new decade – and I already know what the first trip is going to be!

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