The above latte/ brownie combo may look run of the mill to the untrained eye. To the eyes of a deeply inexperienced outdoors-lady who has just spent three days drinking instant coffee, not showering, hiking and hopping catamarans along the Abel Tasman Coast Track however, they look like salvation.
The track itself is undeniably gorgeous. The fact that I was the sole weirdo taking catamarans from hut to hut rather than hiking, allowed me the ludicrous joy of arriving on pristine tropical beaches alone. Each day I was afforded at least an hour or two to bask and wade in the gentle warmth of the waves and sand before my friends and the other hikers caught me up. Essentially, I was living the dream.
Unfortunately, the dream, aside from being still and calming in a deeply zen way, was also filled with sandflies. Furthermore, for someone whose entire adaptive survival skill set is predicated on the kindness of strangers, it was unnervingly isolated after the glow of the first day wore off.
Of course there were blissful moments of feeling the great and mighty oneness of the universe. Walking along the beach and smiling with the Milky Way at midnight, a breeze caressing my cheek and tousling my hair. Playing hide and seek with a sand crab and loosing all track of time. Being so overwhelmed and uninhibited that I just had to dance along to a symphony of entirely non-manmade sounds. Certainly my chakras got all sorted out and aligned.
As a traveler, if you read enough, you almost expect these things. What was a complete blindside was how out of control and profoundly tiny you can feel at the drop of a hat. Jeez, you think you’re humble and then you’re trapped in an estuary as the tide comes in and, well blamo! Mega-Bonus-Humility right upside your head.
I was stuck on a shrinking sandbar, cut off from the main land, wondering why I didn’t have a waterproof bag for my camera. Or sleeping bag. Or food. Sandflies were recreating Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights on my exposed ankles and toes. With my arthritic arms, but quite without my fancy swim fins, I found myself eying a thirty foot span of moving, tidal sea water. Thinking, “This is not great.”
Sometimes we are deeply, stupidly lucky. Patience solves many problems. The only resources at hand were rocks and snacks. The waves were small enough that placing a pebble near the water line and then panic eating a perceived last meal of fruit leathers, almonds and a top-secret Cadbury Flake bar allowed me to realize that the tide was going out, not in. The catamaran had stranded me just before high tide. All that was left was to pace the sand, and let the terror drain away with the sea.
The next and final day of the trek, my beyond amazing friends backtracked their hike to lead me through the more inland path, straight to a posh hotel. There I ate my brownie and drank my latte. The nature of luck, privilege, and the definition of accessibility fought it out somewhere in the back of my brain.
The front of my brain however was completely occupied with thoughts of whole steamed milk, yuppified hand roasted and ground beans, darkest dark chocolate and the glorious idea that my last meal was not sad fruit strips and a smuggled Cadbury’s. Aware that steps away, tidy behind her desk, was a concierge with a phone and access to the internet, waiting to help me with anything my heart desired. Thousands of miles distant, I’ve never been so at home.
Still glazed over in blissful revelry, I became aware of the hotel speakers. They were playing Rod Stewart’s Sailing. My sarcastic self was too exhasted to scoff, though in retrospect it is way too on the nose. In the moment my head buzzed with fresh sense memories of paradise and panic. Of dolor and delight. Of caffeine and carbohydrates. The swirling broth overwhelmed me until I sat alone, in a foreign land, weeping with gratitude over a brownie, listening to soft rock. Both anonymous and surrounded. Perfectly foolish and unashamed. Nothing is certain except the warmth of a brownie, the bitter perfection of coffee and the cheesy melodrama of Rod Stuart. I am defenseless. I am delighted. This is why I travel.