My feet will wander in distant lands, my heart drink its fill at strange fountains, until I forget all desires but the longing for home.
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2004-11-09 5:55 PM
Stewart Island (Rakiura)
Sitting in the bar of the South Sea Hotel, one of the more public places to enjoy the Internet of any I have yet tried.
Speculating about the people laughing, explaining, sitting, and drinking around me ... how many are locals, which are tourists, are there many of the folks who were stranded this afternoon when the ferry cancelled its return trip due to high winds (there has been a sprinkling of rain on this otherwise fine day, but I prefer to trust the experts when it comes to weather at sea) ....
Speculating about my own place here; working up the serenity to enjoy time spent doing "nothing;" working up the courage and conviction to move out and do "something."
Using the full 15 minutes that my $2 coin pays for, and then inserting another 'cause I'm not done with the last thought ...
I have been two weeks in Winton, and this week am taking a breather on Stewart Island. I feel constrained to do nothing; maybe it is something I need to learn...
On the flower farm, I like the work best when it is simple, mindless, but still necessary, because it requires human attention: such as weeding things by tracing and removing runners and roots, or picking the stunted buds off of the peonies to allow the best ones to grow large and lush. To solve these problems with chemicals or engineering tends to raise bigger ones; they are the kind of thing I am patient with, to solve the old-fashioned way.
Here "hiking" is called "tramping;" I'm not sure if it's a one-to-one identity, or perhaps tramping is more like what we might call backpacking, to distinguish multi-day trips from more casual outings.
I have been contemplating a three-dam tramping track, called the Rakiura track, since before I arrived here on Stewart Island. Currently, I'm in transition between seeking to find a partner or group to join, for safety, and just packing up and going myself, trusting the locals and returning hikers who describe this excursion as "no problem" to do alone, and "you'll find people on the track."
As locator beacons and camp stoves are available for hire, I think I can do this without feeling like a fool. Part of me thinks, I'd be fine with a knife and a rope; part of me thinks, after waiting this long for companions, am I getting impatient?
Someone in the background is humming "Silent Night," or perhaps "Stille Nacht" judging from the accents. Hard to reconcile oncoming Christmas with oncoming summer.
Last night, I went walking with a couple of girls from the hostel, Ann's Place, to see penguins. You might ask, as I did, why one would go to see penguins in the dark. It seems they come up to sleep on land at night, and ten or ten-thirty is the best time to find them, sleepy but not quite dead to the world, crossing your path. However, as we are instructed not to approach them closer than 5 meters, and not to shine flashlights directly on them, seeing them remains problematic.
Tripping over them in the dark, as we nearly did, produces a feeling of mingled triumph, glee, and embarrased guilt. At one point, catching sight of a black back literally half a step from kicking it, I turned around and averted my light with exactly the same speed and sensation as if I'd walked in on someone in the shower.
There was something about chasing sleepy, little, waddling birds around their home territory in the dark that was uncomfortably reminiscent of the whole experience of being a tourist. My companions chatted most of the time. I tended to stay on the front edge of their flashlight's glow, or just beyond, so I could hear a bit better and keep my night vision.
But I wonder, what sends us all out into remote and moderatly uncomfortable places, to bother the things that live there with our wish to see them, and to encourage the alteration of whatever was there before to include clearly-marked gravel paths, hostels, Internet cafes, and cappuccinos?
I can't blame the Stewart Islanders for having mixed feelings about tourism -- yes, it's the staple of their economy, it's hard to get us to pay $22/kilo of day-old fish, but we're quite willing to spend an hour or two on a tiny boat to get somewhere we can hassle ... see ... rare birds. A New Zealand pigeon whuffled over my head yesterday to land on a tree beside the road; I'd tried in vain to see them in Northland, where my host Mike would excitedly peer out of his car at all angles to see one in the distance, possibly returning to the restored native bush.
The local store in Oban does a brisk business in family groceries, camping and hiking staples, hostel quick-cooking foods, and the traditional racks of sugar to be found in any convenience store. Everything that is not caught or printed here, comes on the ferry I rode Friday; everything is priced accordingly.
Fishing boats fill the harbor, swaying at their moorings in the wind.
What would the place be without tourists? Quieter, nothing open on Sundays, poorer, perhaps safer, perhaps lonelier.
As far as history goes, this has never been a place to welcome stable human populations -- the Maori came and went in season for fish and shorebirds; the sailors came and went in search of whale and supplies; the miners came and went after tin and gold; the settlers come and go in search of fish, jobs, and family. There must be a few old families of true "islanders," but they don't seem to be a majority.
One more $2 coin, last thoughts ....
Days here go back and forth between sparkling, brilliant color, where even the seaweed resembles confetti on a narrow strip of neutral sand just chosen to offset the bule of the sea, and then within an hour everything goes to slate, steel, rain, and pale grey weather worthy of Oregon. Picturesque old things become dingy and worn, and then flashes back again. It's like watching a two-image hologram, flesh, then bones, then flesh, or a smile that comes and fades and transforms a face.
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