Category Archives: Travel
I have just returned from three days’ camping along Georgian Bay. It was stunningly beautiful landscape and a much-needed break, but now I am exhausted. As such, no real post this week: just some pictures and a very special “What I’m Listening to this Week.”
What I’m Listening to this Week
“Wanderer’s Lullaby,” by Adriana Figueroa, is a gently lilting piece based on a music box theme. The lyrics are perhaps a little self-indulgent, but they are also exactly what I needed to hear this week.
I’m typing this somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, on my way home after a week in Ireland as visiting choir at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (I wasn’t the entire visiting choir, don’t worry—there were close to 40 of us singing). Conveniently, Ireland was next on my “Want-To-Visit” list after New Zealand, so things worked out quite well.
After all, I have a lot of upcoming fiction that either draws from Irish history/mythology, or straight-out takes place in Ireland. So while the choir was there to sing, I used this as a research trip alongside.
Mostly, this research consisted of walking around and looking at things. Getting a feel for Dublin and its qualities of light; how the air lies against the skin; the smells and shadows and tastes. My pal Erin and I took some day trips as well, so I did the same heading north to the Giants’ Causeway, and then cutting across the country to the Cliffs of Moher.
It’s a funny thing. When you’re in this research-mode, you’re always hanging back a little. You take notes, mentally or otherwise. My phone is full of things like, “Horn spoons can’t be sharpened,” and “Mugshot mirrors,” and “Body-snatching cemetery near Kilmainham: jail visible.” It’s kind of like being a spy: silently gathering information as you move through the world.
Of course, you still enjoy yourself. It’s true: there’s something about the Cliffs of Moher that take the talking away from you. At the same time, it’s like having double-vision: gasping at the Cliffs of Moher because they’re really quite shockingly beautiful, while also saying, “Right…this is the contrast of grey-lilac cloud and bright green. This is how it looks.”
I think that writers are simultaneously hyper-engaged with the world, and standing apart from it. Constantly stroking the limestone (smooth, warm, grainy under the fingers), really paying attention to the salt on the wind (it gets on the lips), studying our bus tour group (that passive-aggressive woman insinuating that maybe the driver can stop at her hotel, not the official bus drop-off). You’re right there, but always saying, “So that’s how it is, I can use that.”
Really, though, you don’t need to travel to conduct this sort of research. Watch the people on the subway—the power dynamics over shared seats. Pay attention walking down the street—ears open, eyes wide, breathing deep.
It’s tiring. I don’t think anyone can do it all of the time. Sometimes, you can’t be standing apart, taking notes. But I do think I made the most of my time in Ireland. I understand it better; we’ve gotten to know each other a bit.
Now, of course, even more fun and hard work: taking those impressions and scraps and synthesizing them into good stories. 🙂
What I’m Listening to This Week
Ah, it’s been “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” (no, I’ve not seen the movie; yes, I want to). There was a lot of Irish history on this trip. There’s a wonderful crescendo about midway through this piece that cuts to a lot of grief—it’s given insight into a certain character.
I understand him better; we’ve gotten to know each other a bit.
One play that I’d really like to see in its entirety is Carol Shields’s Arrivals and Departures. Once upon a time, when I was a wee teenage drama student, we did excerpts from it in class. It’s a series of vignettes: slices of airport life.
I like airports, better than I like the actual flying part. While I can think of a million ways that flights can go wrong, airports appeal to my slightly neurotic side. Everything has signs, everything is scheduled, labelled, and ordered, and the rules are quite clear. Then there’s the notion of airports as liminal space, in-between space. That concept of the way-station, the passing-through point, appeals to me.
Plus, I write really well in airports.
Over the last year, I’ve been in a lot of airports. So many that when I tried to tally them up, it looked kind of obnoxious, and I wasn’t even sure if I remembered them all, and it just seemed better not to try.
You get good at airports, after a while. You learn their individual quirks, and how to adapt to new ones. You also learn to entertain yourself, which is what I’m doing right now as I sit at yet another gate. And so…
THINGS AIRPORTS TAUGHT ME
– Proximity to outlets is the most important factor in determining where to sit. Sometimes this is the floor. That is ok.
– It is also ok to wear dirty jeans and lug a giant backpack around, even if everyone else has a suit and briefcase.
– Jaffas are not the healthiest lunch, but you will survive. And if it is your birthday, you can eat all the Jaffas you like (yes, I spent most of my last birthday in an airport, but it was Auckland, so I can’t complain).
– I am generally pretty awkward, but I am getting good at whipping out my laptop, finding every last coin in my pocket, and shucking off my coat in no time.
– Sometimes, you know best. I cannot count how many times I have had the following conversation:
- “Ok, dear, come through.”
- “Wait, I haven’t taken off my belt!”
- “You don’t need to.”
- “But it always beeps!”
- “You can leave your belt on.”
- “No, trust me, it—”
- “Come through, dear.”
- Beep. Beep. Beep.
– Everyone has a story.
– Random things distinguish airports. I remember that Dulles has a Starbucks by the baggage claim. Wellington has the weird pay-as-you-go computer terminals (or was that Auckland?). The Island Airport has the awesome lounge of free things.
– Stressed-out, sleep-deprived people are not the brightest.
– The mantra of air travel: I guess we’ll find out.
– Departures is more fun than Arrivals, unless you’re arriving home after six months.
– Window or aisle? is a more revealing question that you’d think.
– Information travels best by osmosis.
– Free wi-fi is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
– Sometimes, looking young and helpless is not necessarily a bad thing.
– Air New Zealand rocks.
– Responding to “Purpose of visit?” with “A science fiction convention!!!” will, in fact, get you weird looks
Time to board!
I’m a worrier. Always have been, as far back as I can remember. Those “what ifs” can get vicious. And so, one of the most important things I learned while travelling is the ability to say, “I guess we’ll find out.”
Will I have enough time to make this connecting flight? I guess we’ll find out. What if I miss it? I guess we’ll find out. Would they send my backpack without me? I guess we’ll find out.
However, IGWFO only works in situations over which I have absolutely no control. When I’m stuck in traffic, when I’m travelling, when I’ve done everything I can, it is brilliant for stopping the circular, racing thoughts (oh hai, anxiety).
There is nothing I can do. I guess we’ll find out.
But, if I have even the slightest bit of agency, all bets are off.
What if Hapax-the-Novel flops? IGWFO doesn’t work here. This particular flavour of worrying is almost a really bizarre optimism. If there is any possible way at all that I can actually do something, you can bet my brain will seize on the chance that maybe we won’t have to find out.
So, what if Hapax-the-Novel flops? OMG we need to do more promoting – what else could we do, who else can we talk to, OMG are we doing enough? Are we doing too much? Not enough? What if we – what if people – what if – what if – what if….
Ah, what if: the writer’s favourite question.
But in all seriousness, it’s good to distinguish between things that I should worry about, and things that I really can’t worry about. Three separate accidents on the bus route that takes me to work? Nothing I can do. Book coming out and now we need to drive sales? Yep, I can do things
to help that.
It’s not perfect. But in twenty-one years, it’s the best thing I’ve discovered for managing my own worrying.
So. How will the next few weeks and months go?
I guess we’ll find out.
Just a quick note, thanks to free airport Wifi.
One last stop on the South Pacific Gallivanting Tour – Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands. I hear internet in Raro is expensive, so this will likely be the last post until I get home. There will be a recap of sorts then, but I’ll also be overhauling this blog, shifting the focus from “OMG TRAVEL!!!” to Hapax-the-Podcast, Hapax-the-Novel, and projects yet to come.
For those who have followed: thank you. I appreciate it so much. See you on the other side!
I never thought I’d go to Uluru/Ayer’s Rock.
To start, I thought my chances of making it to Australia were low until quite recently, and even then, I figured I’d be hugging the coast. But a reluctance to tackle Oz on my own landed me on a tour.
Find a map of Australia. Stab your finger right in the middle. That’s about where we went.
After gaping at Uluru from afar, we got to walk around the base. I found myself walking next to a guy named Josef (nicknamed “Swissy,” by our irrepressible guide, to go with “Frenchie,” “Dutchy,” “the British Brigade,” “Big Fella,” and me, “Katie-Kates”). Josef and I are both fairly fast walkers, and we had just enough to talk about to keep the silences from getting awkward, though neither of us minded tramping along with our own thoughts, which kept the conversations from getting awkward, too.
Towards the end, we arrived at a water hole, nestled into the side of the rock. A helpful sign informed us that it was a sacred site, the most consistent water source around, and guarded by a snake spirit that provided the Aboriginal people with water. It also suggested that this was “a good place to listen to country.”
So we did. Gradually, the sounds from the not-too-distant carpark and roaming families fell away, replaced by the wind rustling the reeds and whistling through the stones. The pool was absoutely still.
Until it began to ripple. It sparkled, as though tiny copper beads were being drawn across its surface- slowly at first, then quicker. Very pretty, but slightly unnerving.
See, the water hole was in complete shadow. The sky was cloudless, but that bright Australian sun missed us completely- I’d just done my jacket up again. I was wondering if I was insane when Josef coughed.
“The water, it’s shining. But that is not possible, is it?”
“I don’t know,” I answered.
We watched as the lights faded. And then, before we could exhale, they started again, even more of them. Josef shifted nervously.
“Perhaps it is reflecting the rock face?”
“Maybe.” I looked up. The sun hit a slab of orange rock a few metres above. The colour wasn’t exactly right, and I’m still not sure about angles, but it may have been possible. “I don’t know.”
We spent a few more minutes. It was still so, so quiet, and I think we were both slightly disquieted when we left.
Trick of the light? Spirits? Something else?
I don’t know.
And that’s fine with me.
Although my career goal has always been “author,” rather than “historian,” it seems that the following words are my catnip:
So, when I heard about the historic, recreated nineteenth-century mining village that is Shantytown Heritage Park, I knew I’d be making a stop in Greymouth. Greymouth is a town of about 10,000 on the West Coast of the South Island. That makes it considerably bigger than Fox Glacier, which my bus driver described as a “township” (with a total of two streets, even that felt optimistic).
Regardless, Shantytown is the reason I didn’t make a trip straight from Fox Glacier to Nelson. So imagine my dismay when I discovered that the shuttle to Shantytown doesn’t run in the winter, and a return cab would be about $70. At 12 km outside of town, it is just too far to walk. Luckily, my hostel is awesome (PLUG FOR NOAH’S ARK BACKPACKERS). Not only did they look up a route for me on Google Maps, they lent me a bike.
Biking in downtown Toronto forces you to become fairly fearless, but I white-knuckled my way along the main road, spending most of the trip muttering, “On the left, on the left..” While I mostly managed to avoid veering right (except whe I was really startled or stressed), I still pulled into Shantytown with a soft, “I didn’t die!”
Shantytown itself was fine. There was a decent assortment of buildings, including a church, a jail, and a school, and the Chinatown area was actually really well done. That being said, the lack of interpreters was depressing. It was awfully lonely wandering from building to building, glancing over artifacts in silence. In the “hospital,” I met a young New Zealand couple who felt much the same. “I wish there were people to tell us what we’re looking at,” they said. “Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of old stuff.”
Luckily, the hospital had many of the same instruments as the Doctor’s house at Black Creek. Also lucky: Doctor’s is one of my favourite buildings, and probably the one I’ve been in most.
I was warned this day would come….
So, after a little impromptu interpretation of another museum’s artifacts, I walked around some more, rode the steam train, and then biked 12 km back. I’m glad I went, even just to reaffirm that what we do is important. Living history museums only work if there are, you know, living people in them…
Ah, well. Nelson tomorrow, and then onto Wellington for a third and final time.
Sorry it’s been a while. While I have been lucky with internet lately, it’s been the “check email, check facebook, oops, out of time” kind of internet.
Luckily, there is free internet here in Kerikeri (which is the northernmost town I could get to on the intercity bus system), hence this post.
Without further ado…
10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking
10. You actually do sleep a lot.
I’d been preparing myself for six weeks of poor sleep, anticipating drunkenly stumbling roommates, roommates that wanted to read at 2 am, and hard beds.
Actually, in many smaller towns, there’s not much to do when the sun goes down, and most people have been out sightseeing all day, so many people turn in early. Add sleeping on long bus rides, and I’m clocking more hours than I have in years.
9. Hostel parties don’t always happen at hostels.
Some of this may be due to my selection process: I was careful to pick “quiet” hostels. Still, most of the time, people who want to go drink don’t stay in the hostel. They go to bars, leaving things relatively quiet.
8. “Clean” and “dirty” are not absolute states, but a spectrum.
Clothing is never just “clean” or “dirty” (nor are you, for that matter). There is a spectrum ranging from “washing-machine clean,” to “I washed it in the sink clean,” to “it still smells ok clean.”
You don’t want to know about the gradations of “dirty.”
7. Internet is everywhere, if you know where to find it.
I thought I’d be mostly disconnected while travelling, but I’ve been able to check things pretty consistently. Most hostels have internet for a price, some have it for free, and you can find it free around cities: in libraries, cafes, and the random “hotspots” in Auckland.
6. You read a lot.
I love the book exchange system in hostels. I love it so much, I may do a separate post on it. For now, suffice it to say that I’ve plowed through several novels already.
5. Kid rules still work.
Remember when you were a kid at a function with lots of adults, and a few other kids? Typically, the kids get sequestered in a basement or rec room and a movie is thrown on. How do these kids, who have never met each other, coexist peacefully?
Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be loud. Play nice.
People slip into movie lounges, watch, and then slip out again. As long as they follow the above rules, no one ever minds.
4. Backpacking is like a constant frosh week.
Ah, frosh week, that magical time when people are so desperate for friends, they’ll talk to anyone. Solo backpackers are the same way. Eye contact made? Instant conversation!
3. Fight Club was right. They are “single serving friends.”
Nonetheless, you know you’ll probably never see them again. While random conversation provides enough social contact to keep you on this side of sanity, it doesn’t last long.
2. Always, always ask for student rates.
This is less in regards to hostels, and more for general travelling. An adult ticket to the top of Auckland’s Sky Tower is $28, which feels like a lot. A student’s is $18, which feels much better. A student ticket on Wellington’s cable car is $1. The only catch is that you do need an ID. I have two, from Toronto and Otago. Since the latter is a New Zealand university, I’ve been using it to avoid hassles. Thus far, I’ve been so glad to have it.
1. You develop a rhythm.
A new city every few days, no longer than three nights in a bed, constantly changing people? How do you develop a rhythm?
Get into town; find the hostel; drop your stuff; locate the supermarket, i-Site, and library; sightsee; write; sleep; wake up early; sightsee; write; sleep (repeat until departure); get on the bus…
And do it all over.
And there you have it: 10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking, or, 10TNOTMAB. 😛
I’m in Nandi airport, waiting to return to the Land of the Long White Cloud after a week-long sojourn to Fiji. When I initially planned my South Pacific gallivanting, I hadn’t really considered much other than NZ, Australia, and the Cook Islands. Then, a few months ago, my friend asked, “Hey, want to go to Fiji?”
Against my better judgement, perhaps, I agreed.
We booked ourselves onto a tour promising adventure, culture, and beach time. The one snag was that scheduling conflicts left us with one day in Nandi by ourselves.
Culture shock is putting it mildly.
Nandi is a huge tourist town, but we stood out like the proverbial sore thumbs. We couldn’t walk more than a few paces without offers of more tours, souvenirs, souvenirs for all our siblings and friends, taxi rides…Add to that the fact that we really hadn’t given our free day much thought other than, “Fiji! Whooo!” and you have one incredibly exhausting and stressful day.
But, after three bus rides, two nights in a tiny hostel, and an impromptu kava ceremony, we finally boarded our tour bus. There were thirteen of us, mostly from various parts of Great Britain, Canada, and the States. Our guide promised that we would get wet every day, which sounded fine by us.
Day One was mostly a beach day. Day Two was nothing short of amazing. We trekked through the jungle to swim in waterfalls. Fijian jungle, as it happens, is full of rich, reddish mud. At first, we daintily hopped from dry patch to dry patch, but by the halfway point, we’d given up. River crossings became nothing more than a opportunity to wash your shoes…temporarily. Cleanliness and jungle don’t really mix.
But oh, man, that waterfall was worth it.
Day Three was our culture day. We visited a secondary school and spent some time chatting with the kids (one was quite impressed that Justin Bieber grew up about two hours from my hometown). Then off to Nausautoka village for kava and dancing – I have never experienced such a warm welcome.
I do apologize for the tone of “then we did this, and then we did that,” but I think I’m still trying to process everything. Fiji is a poor country. Looking at the school, and looking at the village, I was struck by what was lacking (water sanitation comes to mind), but also by what they had. The high schoolers kept asking us to add them on Facebook. People, in general, looked happy and healthy.
I think the most striking image, and perhaps the one that best captures the day, is that of two boys playing rugby at Nasautoka. They were around five, and ran up and down the road, tossing a half-filled plastic water bottle back and forth, and occasionally tackling each other in a fit of giggles.
Kelly from Ireland summed it up well: “Kids will play anywhere, with anything. These kids don’t have much, but at least they have the chance to play.”
Certainly an experience that will stay with me…
As it was a hop-on, hop-off tour, we then bailed for a few days of snorkelling and poolside relaxation. I needed it. While I lay in a hammock, under palm trees, watching the sun go down over the South Pacific, I finally breathed a sigh of relief.
It was a long road to get there. And when I get back to Canada, I hit the ground running and don’t stop for even longer. So it was nice to lie in that golden, addictive sunlight, and store up some rest for the months to come.
And as soon as the weather clears, WELLINGTON!
So, I’m twenty-one today.
No big deal.
This is certainly one of the more…interesting birthdays I’ve had. As I type this, it’s actually five days before my birthday. I’m sitting in a hostel in Picton, NZ, taking advantage of free Wi-Fi to write this post in advance. When it actually goes out, I’ll be in Fiji, having spent most of my actual birthday on a plane.
As much fun as it is to look ahead, birthdays are also a good time to look back on the past year. When I turned nineteen, I mostly remember being excited to turn twenty, because it seemed like it would be a big year.
It certainly was.
I found a home.
This was the year I moved out of res, and into my own place. I love my house. I can’t repeat that enough. I love my house, and I had two of the best roommates ever. Pranks, adventures in Christmas tree decoration, James Bond, Donkey Kong, extravagant cooking, a spare room (that is huge for student housing – we had so much space, there was an entire room we didn’t know what to do with)… I’m the kind of person who needs a safe place to come home to every day. This was the year I found it.
I found a job.
In May, 2011, I was kicking myself. I had decided not to return to my summer job as a camp counsellor, but I couldn’t find another job to replace it. Thankfully, my uncle offered to take me on at his restaurant.
Then I got the call.
I had applied to be a Theatre Programmer at Black Creek Pioneer Village, but had assumed I hadn’t gotten it. Turns out their timelines were different than I expected. I was in.
Oh. My. God. Best. Job. Ever.
I spent last summer running around as Peter Pan and Anne of Green Gables, while working at the restaurant on my days “off.” The people, the history, the actual work itself… I loved it so much that at the end of the summer, when my contract expired, I went to my boss and said something along the lines of, “I love it here. Can I please stay?”
She said yes.
While I’m in school, I can only work on-call through the fall and winter. But that’s ok. I found more than a job, I found a happy place. What’s more…
I found my groove.
I admit: I suck at the work-life balance thing. Through the fall, I was working two jobs, attending choir and Quidditch practices, and taking a full courseload. I was sleeping maybe five or six hours a night. Often, the only social time I got was during two-server shifts at the restaurant, or on long bus rides home from Black Creek.
But I was so happy. I was so, so happy.
I might not have seen them much, but between my roommates, my uni friends, my choir ladies, and my coworkers at both jobs, I had good people in my life. I was exhausted, and stressed, and oh-so-slightly burnt out, but I hadn’t felt so good in years.
I found a publisher.
In November, I had the idea of podcasting Hapax. After all, I had six weeks between my last exam and my flight to New Zealand – what else was I supposed to do? In December, I heard that Dragon Moon Press was holding an open submission period. I hemmed and hawed, and finally submitted Hapax on Christmas Eve. I didn’t tell my voice cast until the request for the full. Even then, I cautioned them, “It’s a nice ego boost, but probably nothing will happen.”
They liked it. They wanted to publish it. When I first read the email, I had been battling a stubborn cold, and was so sick, and so drugged up with cold medicine, I couldn’t be entirely sure it wasn’t all a Nyquil-induced dream.
After a flurry of emails and phone calls, I spent two hours walking around and around Trinity Bellwoods Park, trying to process it. Six months on, and I sometimes still have difficulty believing it.
I found an adventure.
But I couldn’t just stay in Toronto forever, playing with podcasts while my friends went to school. In February, I flew to Dunedin for a six month stay in the Land of the Long White Cloud. I’d planned this trip for a ridiculously long time, but all the planning in the world doesn’t really prepare you for life in a new country. It’s been detailed on this blog, but let me say – it’s exceeded my expectations in almost every way.
Otago was fun, but it was time for me to see the rest of the country. The South Pacific is a big place, and I’m so excited to be exploring the edge of the map.
And… that was my twentieth year. My thanks to all of you who made it so special.