Closer together // up north

Lighthouse Cape Reinga

 

End of July.
– Thanks for driving me home again.
– No problem, I like driving around with you.
– I like that, too. I even like the traffic jams. (Yeah… that’s a statement.)
– What about a round trip then?
– Oh yeah! Can we go up north? And just leave as we would start tonight?
– You mean without any planning in advance?
– Yes, please! (His previous travels have been planned in every detail, I know that, but I smile the big smile and then he says:)
– Mmh… Okay.

— — —

Mid of August.
– Heyho, do you know the 36 questions to fall in love?
– No, what’s that?
– It was an experiment of a social psychology researcher team.* They paired up participants and had them ask each other 36 questions. It turned out that the questions make two people feel better about each other and bring them closer together.
– What kind of questions are they?
– I don’t know. I haven’t tried it before. But I’d be interested in how it is.
(And also: Going on holiday with someone I don’t know well is not what I do very often.** So why not get to know him better during the trip?)

— — —

End of August.
Monday,
Auckland. Weather forecast for the next days: heavy rain. Current situation: sun and excitement. Up north!
– Ready?
– Ready.
– Question 1! Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
– Omar Rodriguez.
– Who’s that? And why?
– My favourite musician. He makes a lot of different and weird music. He released about twenty albums in one year recently and also makes films. He obviously just lives to be creative. How about you?
– (Oh, a musician, interesting!) My favourite sociologist, Ulrich Oevermann. From him I’ve learned how our language – what we say but especially how we speak – and subconscious patterns of our way of thinking and behaviour is connected with each other. He’s a mastermind.

3.5 hours and 5 questions later we arrive in Paihia. Parking near the beach, sitting on a bench, it smells like holiday: sea, fish and something fried. Here we’re gonna stay! Only where exactly, that’s the question. As he’s not used to that situation I probably should undertake this:
– I check hostels, you check motels, either 3 places, 10 minutes time, then we’ll decide and it will be fine. Okay?
We take our phones (I’m still against smart phones but in some cases they actually make life easier), he suggests a motel around the corner, we go there and – bingo:
– I’ll give you the bigger room with two queen-size beds for the price of one. Okay?
– Okay!
Pasta for dinner, early sleep for him, full moon supported mid night walk for me (I warned him that I’ll need some time for myself every day, otherwise I’ll go nuts – So far all good.)

Tuesday, hasty porridge (we’re both not morning persons), walk along the beach, decision about today: Russell. Bumpy road. He is worried about his car but the universe just wants to give us enough time for the tricky questions. I have a headache (oh, that concussion…) but the universe just wants us to make a stopover where I disappear for 15 min in the forest and return with good energy and without pain. In Russell, pistachio picnic at the sea, surrounded by hungry birds. Visit of the oldest church in New Zealand. (First surprise: It’s only the fourth church he has ever been inside, second surprise: even the churches here are made from wood, crazy country.)

Hungry Birds, Russell
Hungry Birds, Russell
Russell Church
Christ Church, Russell

Next decision needs to be taken: Where to stay tonight? Maybe Kaitaia? Lonely planet says:

Nobody comes to the Far North to hang out in this provincial town

– Let’s go there then?
– Yes.
(We seem to be a good decision taking team.) On the car ferry back to Paihia we get closer (9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?). And then, at question 11, very close (play the game to find out why). Stop at the motel from yesterday night, a hug for the office lady (such a cute smile) and a spoon and knife for me (I’d forgotten them and I’m very happy about the reunion).

Arriving in Kaitaia the motel lady kindly tells us about dinner options in this lovely provincial town – McDonald’s, KFC or a Steakhouse. Well. We find a Kebab shop which reminds me of Istanbul, feels cozy. Before sleeping we listen to crazy rain outside imagining it’s the loud, loud ocean.

Wednesday, wake up with no pain (yay!). Breakfast in an accidentally discovered café. Talks about happy shitting (important travel topic. I’ve only recently learned the term Glückswurst (literally sausage of luck; in English apparently called a no wiper, also known as ghost poop (links to Urban Dictionary).)*** The breakfast tastes great (I have something with avocado), the kitchen guys are singing out loud, with Country Roads I join them (just humming, I don’t want to scare him away).
– You know what? I’m feeling very appreciative of life today.
– Country rooooooaaads, take me hoooooooome.
Kaitaia up north, sun, sun, T-shirt weather. Cows, cows, sheep!

DSC01273
Wee-wee stop with sheep

And then, there it is. Cape Reinga. The end of the road, the place where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean in big swirly waves. At the tip of the Cape is an old (800 years they say) pohutukawa tree. According to Maori history, after death all Māori spirits travel to the tree and from there into the ocean/underworld (reinga) – by sliding down a root into the sea. They travel underwater to the Three Kings Island where they climb to the highest point, say goodbye and then return to the land of their ancestors.

In our back is the famous lighthouse (built in 1941, looks fresh like wet paint), we lie on the grass, watch the waves, listen to the loud, loud Ocean. I’m wearing no socks! No shoes either. Feels like I’m a real kiwi summer.

Cape Reinga view
Cape Reinga

It gets colder, we get hungry (thankfully I packed some emergency bananas, bars and carrots). On the way back south, I book accommodation by following my intuition. We’re somewhere at the west coast at Ninety Mile Beach, it’s already dark, the sea to the right, a few houses to the left, it must be somewhere here.
– What was it called again?
– Hmm… I don’t remember.
– Something like… Always Saturday?
Then we see the sign: ENDLESS SUMMER.
The question which rules the whole dinner conversation (Indian, I rediscover my buzz on spinach and cottage cheese) is 19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why? (We both would change something and I’m quite surprised about what I’d change. I’d meditate more). Before falling asleep we’re listening to the loud, loud ocean (also good start for a change).

Thursday.
– What do you want to do today?
– Relax.
– Great, me too!
– So we’ll stay for another night?
– Yes!

Endless summer
Endless Summer, 90 Mile Beach

He is sitting in the garden and reading a book, I walk across the street and say hello to the sea. We both get a bit sun burnt. Later – hot chips on the dunes.

Friday, goodbye-day. Lack of sleep, headache again, rain, sun, rain, sun.
– We are both in this car feeling worn out.
– Ohh yeah. And we both have had a very nice trip I think.
– Both of us like direct and honest communication.
– Both of us enjoy spending time with ourselves.
– We learn a lot from each other.
– We like each other.
(25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “we are both in this room feeling…”). Later lots of laughter (29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life).

With arriving back home we’d driven 990 km and just finished answering the 36th question.

— — —

* The idea is that mutual vulnerability supports closeness. “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” Arthur Aron et al. (alliterations rule). 1997. The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness. A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings. In PSPB. (23), 4 p. 363-377. Download the scientific article here. You can try these questions with a stranger, a date, friends, family members or long-term partners.

** I did that once. 2012 I hitchhiked with half a stranger (I met him on couchsurfing, he was my host for a weekend) from Freiburg, Germany to Porto, Portugal for 2 weeks. It was my first hitchhiking experience, my first real camping experience as well. Very intense, very important for all of my future journeys. It was the basis – also for the current adventure here in New Zealand. (Thank you, Jakob! Thank you brave younger part of myself!)
Oh and wait!, also important: 2015 I went spontaneously (“Hey,  nice to see you here, I thought you’ve moved to Stuttgart!” – “Yeah, I did, I’m only here for meeting friends. What’s up, what are your plans for summer?” – “I don’t know, have leave next week, no plans yet. You?” – “Oh… well, I’m going to Greece with friends – pause – Ehh, you could join us maybe.”) for a sailing trip with an old friend and 5 guys I didn’t know. One week in a nutshell (in my opinion at least), I couldn’t swim that time, I feared the sea and it was: very intense, very important, basis for the following brave things I’ve done.

*** The introvert shit in contrast is a bit annoying and what you don’t want to have is the adamantine shit or the – in Germany well-known – beer shit. There are some shits you usually never get at home but everywhere else like the cork shit (also known as the swimmer, impossible to flush). More information (in German) here in the urbandictionary. The Bristol stool scale (Wikipedia link) also explains the different types of shit – in a slightly more serious way (it’s a diagnostic medical tool).
For those with deeper interest in that matter I highly recommend the (popular science) book Darm mit Charme (literally Charming Bowels, English version: Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ) by medicine student Giulia Enders. It’s a book “about defecation, constipation and other bowel movements, but its message is far from flippant: our gastrointestinal tract is not only the body’s most under-appreciated organ, but ,the brain’s most important adviser'” (Review in the Guardian).

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Being brave.

5 brave* things I’ve done within the last 6 months:

1. Slept by myself outside in the middle of nowhere** in my tiny tent near the sea (I could hear it!), the forest, a cave, and lots of unknown noises.

I could also feel mice moving under my body. Quick moving and surprisingly fat mice. I don’t fear mice at all, I used to save them from our cats at home. The noises they made though… And then the wind. How it moved the tent, how it moved everything around. The darkness and even worse, the semi-darkness, the half-light, the shadows. But also: the Milky Way above. The Southern Cross, the Scorpion. The short but unforgettable moments without fear, full of freedom.

2. Swam in the deep cold ocean with wild, wild dolphins.

Big dolphins actually. Did you know how big they are? Well… bigger than me. I was worried about getting seasick, hypothermia, drowning and most of all losing control. Although I can swim now (thanks again, Marcella for showing me!) wavy water scares me. The dolphins, however, were – and I really didn’t expect that – the friendliest creatures ever. I was singing for them. Nonstop singing, underwater sing-humming. I liked my under water voice, they adored my underwater voice. We were swimming in endless circles around each other. I was singing the first melody that came into my mind and I just didn’t stop. The melody was – my friend Marco told me that horse-laughing on the way back – the German national anthem.

3. Went to a Vipassana meditation course where for 10 days I didn’t communicate with anyone but myself.***

The noble silence (that’s what they call it) itself didn’t scare me. What could show up in that silence – that scared me. The deeply suppressed shit, you know? Wake up bell at 4 o’clock, 10 hours and 15 minutes of meditation every day. I was scared of my mind, of my feelings, of whom I could meet in that silence. I was scared of myself.
What I experienced then was scary. It was more fascinating though. I discovered the genderless side of myself (again). My posture changed, my bearing changed. Expanded hips, legs, chest. I was less woman, more human.****
I rediscovered my monkey mind. Chatting all the time all that shitty nonsense. embarrassing shitty nonsense. Shut up. SHUT UP! Please, shut up just for one moment, just a second, please shut up, please.
I learned that I can control my mind. That I can – I really can – control not only my behaviour but also my feelings and my thoughts. I hated it. So much responsibility. No more excuses why I act like this and think and feel like that. Uncomfortable responsible grown-up shit now. I was about to quit.
But I stayed. I discovered that I’m craving things I don’t want to crave and repelling things – well, let’s face it, not things but feelings – I should accept.
I learned that everything I experience is immediately connected to a sensation in my body. So when I’m craving something, I’m actually craving pleasant body sensations and when I’m repelling something I’m repelling unpleasant body sensations.
With my newly focused mind I could feel these sensations. Everywhere, on and under my skin. On the part between my nostrils. On the part between my toes. In the space between the bones of the skull I had when I was a baby. The sensations I could feel have always been there. Biochemical processes and reactions every single moment. I scanned my body over and over.
I realised that every sensation will pass. No matter if it’s a tickling, prickling, pulsing, painful or a very pleasant sensation (Oh God, very pleasant indeed), sooner or later – and sometimes quite a long while later but always – it will pass. I realised that every feeling, thought and experience will pass. I one day, will pass too.
I learned that there is a difference between understanding all that and believing in it or experiencing it. Understanding and believing is nice, it just doesn’t change anything. Experiencing is hard, painful, overwhelming satisfying and… changes something.

4. Joined the Acrobatics & Circus Club.

Man, that was real hard! I heard about the club quite late, I arrived at the third class and that meant: meeting strangers who already know each other AND only speak English AND already had practised together.
I was standing outside, staring through the window into the hall. No worries, I told myself, you have a good connection to your body, you can’t do a handstand, that’s right, not even on the wall, right, you’re not good at stretching either, you’re not very flexible, true, but remember the connection!
I opened the door, said hello to the people, paid 5 dollars (for the whole semester, that’s a good price) and then: watched, listened, practised, fell on my butt, got a shiny bruise that lasted for three weeks, practised again, trusted, put my hands into someone elses outstretched hands, my head between his high outstretched feet and jumped up, did a handheadstand on this guy, quite high, my feet to the sky, very straight and only then dared to open my eyes. Back on the ground I laughed like a maniac.
(I fell again two weeks later, landed on my head, got a concussion. I learned that I can trust, that I can exceed boundaries and that I can’t be careless.)

5. Let someone come close again. Physically. Emotionally.

I’m good at connecting with people, that’s not the problem. The problem is I’m too good at it. I tend to lose myself. I become “we” too much rather than staying with me. I tend to fulfill others needs. I want them to like me. Subconscious routines, hard to break. I’m still practising.

5 is a good number. No need to add a 6th thing. 6 brave things I’ve done – I mean, that doesn’t sound round, that sounds a bit weird, that sounds unbalanced, in fact. 5 is alright, 5 is 5 fingers, one hand. High 5 – bam!

The 6th thing though – in case I’d like to have 6 things – would be:

6. Shared the link to this blog.

* Brave because I was scared. You can’t be brave without fear cause then it’s not braveness.

** It was along the Hillary Trail in case someone is interested. Up-to-date information here (about closure etc.), German information (with pictures) here.

*** Except from talking to the teacher for up to 5 minutes every day because I felt so sad/angry/confused/outraged – and on the last day – thankful.

**** No bra for 10 days. No need to appear in a nice way to someone else. Before the course I thought I wouldn’t care that much about my (female) appearance but in fact I did. And then: I loved my wild eyebrows, my androgynous angular face, my unwashed hair, my hairy body, my sloppy style. I. Was. So. Sexy. From the inside.

— — —

New vocabulary: semi-darkness, half-light, drowning (I’ve already learned that, just can’t memorise it, probably some trauma…), wavy, creatures, humming, horse-laughing, national anthem, posture, bearing, expanded, repelling, space between the bones of the skull, tickling, overwhelming, stretching, shiny, outstretched, exceed boundaries, good at, good at, good at (not in!). So many new words. It’s working, I’m learning English!
That’s also a nice word collection for an insanely good poem. Well… maybe someone else could write that.

Favourites

I’ve found out that I actually like answering questions. I also like favourites. So…

What is your favourite plant?

Oh, good question! I rediscovered my love for lavender (My Yoga teacher used to have lavender soap in her bathroom so lavender smell and physical well-being have been connected). But also: trees. Apple, cherry, olive trees. Big, bent, beautiful trees. Firs, spruces, pines (home sweet home). Planes, redwoods and since just recently tree ferns! Poppies then, because of their colour, their name (Poppy! How sweet is that?!) and because there were so many along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I also like the triple trunk avocado I planted.

Making it short is not your thing, isn’t it?

Hey, I didn’t tell you about the magic tree in Mongolia I suddenly needed to hug for whatever reason or this huge tree here in Devonport, Auckland near the ferry station which actually also likes to be hugged. Man, and there are 90 tree species and aprox. 90 billions trees only in Germany (the biggest one is 66,58 meters high), I could have spoken a lot more about trees, couldn’t I? I mean did you know about this 5.060 years old tree in California or the 46m trunk range Árbol del Tule in Oaxaca, Mexico? (It’s a bit difficult to hug though. There’s also a fence protecting it from crazy tree lovers). I didn’t tell you all that, did I?! And Ginkgo – which is neither a conifer nor a broadleaf tree by the way –  is the oldest tree species on our planet. Also good to know! Be careful though, a blooming female Ginkgo smells like (humans) vomit. Trust me, it does. (Especially the one in the Old Botanical Garden in Tübingen, Germany).

Do you want the next question or keep talking in monologues about trees now?

Next question, please.

Your favourite household appliance?

Electric kettle.

That’s all?

I’m not that passionate about household appliances.

Are you sure?

Well… I also like vacuum cleaners.

Okay, last question for today! What is your favourite movie? Just one!

One… of my favourite movies is Amélie. The soundtrack of Yann Tiersen is also great.

Oh yes, I like that, too.

It’s nice, isn’t it?

It is. Thanks for answering the questions.

Thank you for asking, alter ego.

Doesn’t it feel kinda weird talking to yourself?

Not at all.

That’s good. I’ve had been a bit worried, you know. Goodbye, then.

Bye. See you soon.