Travel Writer; Storyteller

Aotearoa

A mother chases her laughing daughter towards the restroom under an indecisive sun; conveniently tucked halfway behind the clouds then hiding completely. The behavior stirs a sadness in my belly as it grumbles, unsteady with sickness and compounded grief. Here in the land of the Maori, the ancient Polynesian people that sailed to these islands, tribes are matriarchal. A welcomed bit of knowledge about this Polynesian culture and a stark contrast to the more divisive Aboriginal and Fijian communities I’ve encountered in Oceania thus far. This evening brings with it the opportunity to experience the ancient practices of the Maori on sacred land. The story goes that eight different tribes sailed from a mystical island named Hav-ay-kee (not to be mistaken as Hawaii) that sunk forcing them from their home. Seven of the tribes landed on the North Island while the eight and final tribe sailed onward to the South Island. On approach, a long white cloud lay over the North island warranting its Maori name, Aotearoa (ey-oh-tee-ora).

The women that make up the tour group, forty-six strong, are asked to lead the lot of us into the Marae (pronounced mar-eye) where we exchange songs and greet one another in the Maori way; forehead to forehead, noses touching to symbolize closeness and the breaking down of boundaries. The ceremonial building represents the rib cage of the Sky Father, Ranginui, the solid beam in the center, his heart. This wooden beam touches the Earth Mother, Papatuanuku, representing the joining of the sky and earth as one and we humans, their offspring. Inside wooden beams reaching to the rafters are hand carved and painted to tell the stories of old. Tangaroa, the God of the sea, Rongo, the God of the plants and peace, and the most mischievous of them all, Maui, a demigod made popular in the Disney film Moana. In the Rangitihi marae, Maui is carved attempting to win immortality for humankind by crawling up the ass of Hinenuitepo, the Goddess of death. The plan is to crawl through her and out of her mouth, killing her and therefore becoming immortal. He was then to share this gift with the rest of humanity.

Lining the detailed carvings are photos of those belonging to the tribal bloodline who’ve passed on. Hanging in remembrance, it’s customary that those who enter the space carry the memory of souls they’ve lost, inside with them. I clutch my heart as the group of women approach the entrance in silence. This wordless exchange of reckoning and awareness moves me. Carrying the souls of the three biggest pieces of my life, now gone from me, into this space I feel a sense of security vs sadness. Making it a point to pay my respects and give thanks for the sacrifices of those fallen, I stop in front of every photo hung in the room before whispering Kira Oria (thank you) to the energy on the air upon my exit.

The second largest tour group I’ve ever been on and the marae we all bunked down in, in Rangitihi                                                                                                                                                 BELOW: The traditional Haka dance as performed by the residence of this Rangitihi tribe

Traditional Haka Dance, New Zealand

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Black swans are common in New Zealand vs white swans found in North America

Kendrick Lamar set against the New Zealand paddocks makes for an interesting start to a tense morning. I’ve elected to test gravity, my better judgment and comfort zone by bungee jumping when we reach Taupo this afternoon. Bungee is among the few high adrenaline activities centered around heights that I have yet to conquer and here in the birthplace of bungee, I’ve decided to face it head-on. The overly stern professional at the counter explains he must fit me with a body harness. My dance-filled youth and my twice dislocated knee is the issue. All of the force of this freefall is absorbed by the knees when the cable springs back and the company is overly cautious; rightfully so. The man responsible for fitting me has an overly stern demeanor that I find to be unnecessary considering I’m terrified as it is. I can’t help but comment that a little humor would go along way in this scenario. My demeanor, in turn, wasn’t well received.

My pinky fingers are numb. My eyesight is bright. This always happens when I’m nervous. I’m aware I’ve made this choice and I do really want to do this, but I’m terrified. I’m listening to the instructions but all I really here is the sound of my blood pumping. The jump-coach is becoming agitated with me starting to go, but not at the last moment. A solid five minutes pass I’m told. It felt like time stood still up there to me. It felt like time was in hyperdrive too. Both at once, I suppose. I plead for the last time with the man to give me a moment promising I will jump. I bend at the knees, lean over the edge and jump.

Free falling…is hands down the most awkward sensation. Gravity pulling my weight towards the river far too fast for comfort, I wail, not scream. Strapped into this body harness my legs are in a fit and I’m falling creating an accurate depiction of a spider monkey that missed the branch. Flailing and wailing while clinching the cord I was specifically instructed could give me a concussion—from the spring back— if I let it go. I manage to focus for a moment and notice a silver bird flapping its wings hard before coming to a hover then landing on a rock. I don’t remember anything else until the spring back tugs me upwards. Free-falling for the second time I’m unabashedly locked in an ugly cry. Fearing for my entire existence I’m clinging to this cable and sobbing as a dangle three meters (give or take) from the surface of the lake.
I don’t even here the man below me in the boat asking me to try and grab the stick he’s extending out to me. His voice is a faint echo to me until I catch the boat drifting in my peripheral. I grab the stick, sobbing, being lowered down to the surface of the boat, still sobbing, and whisked away to the dock. I take my time getting up from off of my back and wiggle free of the gear before stepping into the wooden deck. Fighting my flare for dramatics I opt not to kiss the ground, but I’m grateful to be back on it. Oh so grateful. I greet the ladies, who successfully jumped before me, waiting on the dock to witness my jump as I wipe my eyes clear of tears. They thought it was all hilarious. They even captured it on film…

New Zealand Bungee

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So miserable at the experience I’d failed to remember I just plummeted 43 meters over Lake Taupo. Alluring rocky edges alit with activity, the caldera is over 26,000 years old. A pack of kayakers paddles across the turquoise surface as the ladies and I climb the stairs—my arch-nemesis— to get to the peek where the tour group is waiting. When I get there the staff is excited to see me; I ponder that response. Everyone’s congratulating me for having committed to the action and jumping. They all witnessed the debacle from the comfort and safety of the terrace and were holding back tears at the recollection of my monkey sprawl. I laugh with them certain it was a performance worthy of their praises, only I wasn’t acting.

To be continued…

 

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Bag Lady (besides being the title of a great song by one of my favorite female artists) has always been a term of endearment for my style of travel-always carrying too much. Over packing synonymous with my first name. One friend would joke, "if I could hear you coming down the hallway, bag lady!" Another replies with disbelief and hysterical laughter when I proudly proclaim that I successfully packed one 'carry on' sized bag for a two week adventure. Obviously organized, structured and planner are frequent adjectives to describe me. And I genuinely agree unapologetically that these three elements help keep me balanced in life. That is until well...life, or the opposite actually. Consider what it might be like to have the earth shatter from under your feet like a dropped egg plummeting to the ground helpless to its demise, bringing you to an abrupt halt and leaving you in a million pieces from the fall. Yea... that's what it felt like when my Mother, life coach, and best friend in life and all things international travel, took suddenly ill and passed away while I was serving my country overseas in the U.S. Peace Corps. Both my Grandmother and my Mother, the two rocks in my unruly stream of life, taught me that positivity and laughter go a long way. The harsh reality that nothing really goes "according to plan", however, left me ambivalent about what I'm called to be and who I was shaped to be and ultimately pitted my mind against my heart. After I lost her none of the "plans" we'd made were to come to fruition. In the months after her passing I would ask myself some tough questions-as I do- and encounter a profound silence in response. Over time one solitary word would come to me from the saddest place in my heart, GO! So I will.. Now I travel to feel her. To find her in the smiling face of humanity. To keep moving forward with my journey of being a positive change in peoples lives through cross cultural experiences and adventure in places I never thought I'd be inclined to go! Meeting my own travel goals while meeting the truth that time and letting go of all the bags I carry will heal my shattered heart while helping me plant my two feet back on solid ground.

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