“We are all in search of something; why else would we be here? No one comes to New Zealand to be practical. And we all need someone to share the experience with, to laugh and stare in awe with.”
“Please promise me,” Ingrid says in her beautiful but broken English, her big brown eyes insistent. “Before you publish your book, you will visit me and stay in my home in Chile.” It is my last night in Ohakune, and Ingrid and Pablo cooked me and Abe a Chilean meal of bread topped with fish and lemon and pepper to say goodbye. The mood is heartfelt; we’ve shared so many firsts with them since we met them at Oskat Forest Park picking kiwifruit. And no one says it, but this could be the last time we see each other.
I’ve tried to explain to Ingrid many times that I am not a writer yet. I only aspire to be a writer, and even then I will probably only write short articles, never a book. My blog is for practice, people don’t actually read it, I tell her. But Ingrid always smiles and pats my hair in response and tells me how much I look like a writer. I love her certainty.
I wonder if it’s the language barrier between us (I only have a few words in Spanish, and she is still studying English every day to be able to get by at work here) that keeps her insisting that I am a writer. Maybe, or maybe she believes in me. I promise her after I finish my book, yes, of course, I will come to Chile and stay with her family.
Ingrid is a photographer, and Pablo writes fiction. Guille wants to be an interior designer, and Julia wants to live in Brazil. Alex wants to learn English well enough to make jokes we all understand. Kath wanted to live somewhere that wasn’t her home, and Bobby seems to want to do everything.
After 10 months of traveling in New Zealand, I’m used to being surrounded by people’s dreams. They are always on the surface of conversation here. Instead of asking people what they do for a living, I ask people what they want to do. Everyone I meet in New Zealand is working at the same relatively unskilled, low wage job and calculating each expenditure. We all want to save money quickly, so we can continue traveling and exploring as soon as possible.
Travel and new things are the dreams we all share, but everyone has a different experience, or reasons why they came. And everyone wants to swap good spots, tips for cheap travel, and personal inspirations. And weird stories. We bathe in shared experiences. We get high on the future travel plans of everyone around us.
It is no wonder living in New Zealand felt like an adventure; I traveled with people who were all in the midst of their own and who wanted to hear about mine. I wonder how I can return home to conversations in bars about what people do all day, and I decide I don’t want to. I don’t care what they do. I am more interested in what they really want.
I don’t think it’s impossible to talk about dreams with people in the US—the podcast This American Life is a perfect example of people who do—but it is harder. In the US, I am not living in a community of travelers. There is so much clutter in the lives of people who have spent years living and building in one place. They have families, friends, office politics, to-do lists, car payments, email and twitter accounts, and an overwhelming amount of material stuff filling up their houses and their minds.
When I left for New Zealand, I was forced to strip down everything unnecessary to travel simply. And unless I wanted to spend one year in isolation, I had to be open to making new friends because all of my old friends were out of reach.
Being away from home made me see things more clearly: I understand what is important to me now. I want to try to connect with foreigners traveling to the US. I want to continue to be a part of that community. But I have a lot of things I want to do now, and I think it will take effort every day to stay focused, and uncluttered, and to bring things I learned from living in New Zealand into my life.