I had a big problem. I was becoming my own enemy. I was coming in my own way. I was auto-destructive. I tried to outsmart myself by thinking that I was in solitude but I was killing myself with the self-imposed exile. I was lonely. Lonely as fuck. I was trapped in my house and in my circularly negative thoughts. I had read about solitude and I was not even 1% close to solituding.
I thought I should go to Pakistan. Change of environment and all that. The crazy ticket prices reminded me that I can only afford a bus ride to the airport and the passport’s less than 4 months expiry date added the icing on the cake of my shattered attempt to find peace.
I was bordering on mania to get out of my life. So, my last resort was to do something right here in New Zealand. So, I booked a lodge for 3 days. This lodge had been on my saved list for more than 2 years but I could never convince anyone to “take” me there. I don’t drive.
Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.
Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …
Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back
Bilbo: You can promise that I’ll come back?”
Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same
I am Gandalf and Bilbo here. Alter-egos or whatever you call them. Eventually, Gandalf was victorious and Bilbo Baggins was ready to leave the house. I stepped out of my comfort zone, my character and by the end of it I had stepped out of a lot of things.
The first challenge was to find my way there. I googled Auckland to Coromandel and I was second-time lucky to find a seat on the bus (first-time to book the lodge near Christmas period).
I bussed for 4 hours and then I had the option to take a cab or hitchhike. Well, these sorts of binary choices kept on presenting themselves throughout and I always opted in for the one that my mind was resisting.
Hitchhiking it was.
The third car stopped. With a beating heart, I told him where I wanted to go and if he was going that way. He was more than happy for me to tag along. I kept on looking at his dashboard and wondered whether that was where the gun was stored. He sensed my first-time-doing-this-aura and asked if I was Okay. I came clean and told him that it was the first time and I was thinking whether he would kill me or something. We both had a good laugh and the ice broke. He loved Albert Camus too and the rest of the 40 minutes drive became an information session about Coromandel and all the places I could see the next time I visit.
At the end of my journey, as a token of gratitude, I gave him a bottle of ittar (he loved my smell) and a tiny amount of cash. We wished each other good luck and I was standing at the doorstep of my destination.
I had to walk 40 minutes to get to the lodge and this is where I landed about 5 hours away from home.
The left one was where I was going to be stationed for the next 3 days. Both the lodges had 6 & 8 bunk-beds. I was third-time lucky there were no bookings in both the lodges for the entirety of my stay.
I chose the top bunk and started to unpack. Unpacking was hilarious. I had 3 potatoes, 2 onions, vegetable patties, skewers, a bedsheet but no blanket, a water bottle, 2 days worth of clothes, 3 books, laptop, chargers, pens, paper, earplugs, nose-plug, swimming goggles, toothpaste and a toothbrush.
I was going to soon find out how underprepared I was.
Day One – Curious exploration
I was ecstatic and I wanted to be everywhere and do everything. I was a like a little girl who had just been told that she could be anything she wishes to be.
I went through the lodge and familiarised.
The first thing I had noticed as soon as I reached the spot was the swing. So, after settling in I went for a swing. It became a regular activity. Just sitting and swinging.
Now, my mind was busy scheduling what I was going to do next etc. I had to consciously tell it to just shut up and relax because there will not be a schedule.
What should one do when there is no schedule? I wanted the waterfall. Yes! I wanted a swim.
I changed my jandals into the 3 years holed running shoes which had never seen such a rough terrain before and carried my phone, water bottle, swimming gear and went to check the “Misty falls” out.
I do not know how to read the maps so I did not bother taking it with me.
As I entered the woods, I was welcomed by the smell of the fresh earth, the sound of the running stream indicating that there is a waterfall at the end of it and the chirping of birds.
The tiredness from the journey had dissipated and I was completely occupied by what my surroundings had to offer.
My walk was becoming extremely arduous. I fell down a million times and realised how inexperienced I was.
The landslides had destroyed most of the path so there were a lot of places where I had to decide whether I should go further or return. I kept on moving, going uphill. Clearly, if I had any sense that waterfalls are on the ground rather than on the top, I would have stopped. But, I was an amateur explorer with nothing but pure determination packed with the water bottle.
The path became dangerously steep but not even once the thought that “how the hell would I get down” crossed my mind. It became narrower and narrower and I had to leave my stuff at one point as I was losing balance with the weight.
I was able to see a mountain at a distance, I was opposite to it. Then came the realisation that I had lost my way and I am on top of a mountain. It was not dense anymore, I was out in the open.
Unfortunately, the realisation had disturbed something inside, I was much more cautious and in that awareness, I slipped and got stuck on one of the branches that was protruding from the side of the mountain. The fear settled in. If the branch broke I would not be able to stop myself and would go down at a faster rate than I ever could have imagined. No one knew where I was, no one would come looking for me until the 3 days had passed. I had no water, no food and I was sort of completely fucked.
The fear gave way to amusement. I was so amused by the situation that I grinned from ear to ear. I remembered how hell-bent I was on meeting death and now that I was sort of in a sticky situation I wanted to live. I had to figure a way out.
I started to slowly move backwards on the branch. The branch bobbed up and down with my movements. I eventually got close to the side and started to dig some mud out of the side and clutched the freshly dug tiny holes. I had to turn now. I was doing all this very quickly and in haste one makes mistakes, so I decided to calm the fuck down. I managed to turn around on the branch and was facing the path now. I pushed and somehow got myself back on the path. My heart rate according to my fitness watch indicated 187 beats/mins. I sat there with my legs dangling until my heart went from my throat back to its original place.
I learnt the importance of my own life regardless of the regular reminders of the absurdity of the world and people around me.
The path down was crossed at a tortoise’s speed. 4 hours later I had reached back. On my way back home I had asked the owner about the range-top and she advised that it is out of bound and dangerous. I told her how easy it is to get lost and reach up there and she assured me that she will get someone to look into it.
When I left the lodge, I saw this book but did not realise the importance of it until I got stuck up there. Knowing my forgetful self though, I just wrote once out of the 5 trips that I undertook. I never learn.
I desperately wanted the waterfall. I decided to check the pothole waterfall which was estimated to be 30 minutes away from the lodge. I washed my bruises, had a cup of coffee and started on the second trip.
I decided to stay away from the tracks and walk on the rocks instead. My logic was that it would definitely keep me near the water and I would eventually reach the source. I was right.
After about 45 minutes of further falling down and more bruises, I reached. Worth everything.
It was written in the book that it was one person deep. I got in the water. Refreshing. I got closer to where the water was falling down and had to use my swimming-pool-swimming-skills to stay above the water.
They forgot to write that the person was supposed to be 6 feet tall and not a hobbit-sized individual such as myself.
I swam here and there and saw tiny black fishes and I swear I wanted to eat them right there and right then. I must have been really hungry.
My hunger got the better of me and I came out promising that I would return. I returned 3 times, beating my own time every time. My last known record was 23 minutes.
I got back, had a shower and then another idea got hold of me. I am going to cut my own wood and cook on that fire. Sounds easy. How hard can cutting wood would be?
So, I picked up the axe and started to “chop” the wood. Not so easy. After about 10000 blows I managed to cut one piece into two. I went crazy with the axe. I let out all the anger that had been residing in me for such a long time. I let it all out.
Then, anger out of the way, I started to be more tactful. Less force, more precision.
It took me another 30 minutes to light the fire. I used up a blank book to start the fire.
I was so proud of myself.
I put a potato in the skewer and started to “prepare” food. The fire got out before my food was ready. I will have to use the knife to chop the potato up. Only the knife, I promised. I needed more wood. I went for another hour or so.
It was dark by the time, I got to light another fire. I also used a plate and an onion as well.
The food was heaven. I never knew that I could eat without salt or any other spices or that such basic food had the power to feel like a cuisine.
Once the hunger was taken care of, I sat there feeding the fire. I had spent most of the evenings on all three days just staring at the fire.
Oh my God!
These were the first words that were conceived in my mind and were the first words that were materialised in the form of sound when I looked up at the sky.
A jet black blanket covered the entire space above wherever the eyes could reach and against that background were these innumerable, tiny, silver stars.
A diamond-studded sky.
I could swear that I had not seen anything so grand, so magnificent, so crafty, so beautiful in my entire existence.
Before I could get a hold of myself, tears had already found a way out. These were not the tears of sadness, or of sorrow, or of suffering, they were born out of the realisation that I existed and that I was a part of this.
My heart was filled with calmness and peace. The kind of peace that does not come out of its own accord, the kind of peace I had been searching for in such a long time.
I sat there marvelling at the sky. Time became irrelevant. My past had merged into my present and my future became devoid of any fear.
And I just sat there so complete and yet so emptied of my own existence.
I was in the moment.
And the longer I sat, the longer I could trace the sky move. A shooting star, the repositioning of the stars, some brighter than the others, some more twinkly than the others, some were aligned in unison, some were further apart. They were oblivious of my existence but I was conscious of theirs. We were so far apart in time and space.
I got my phone and tried to take a picture but unfortunately, my phone was not able to capture what my heart and mind had. I let it be!
I sat there until the fire engulfed all the wood and extinguished to ashes. Complete darkness. I had experienced all that I could ever ask for.
I retired to my bunk exhausted and calm.
A big spider was right above the bunk but I switched off the lights and slept. I remembered and smiled to myself that I was a person who would flinch and jump to 2 metres if an insect showed itself in a picture and here I was knowing that a spider hung itself right above where I was and I did not care at all.
The amount of strange insects that I came across and had to brush off my clothes on this trip had taken the fear of insects completely out of me.
By 1 am, I woke up because of the chilling cold. I had not brought a blanket and was bearing the brunt of it.
I am glad that I packed alcohol. I prepared two shots and waited for it to take its effect. And, what a blissful sleep!
Day 2 – A step-up from being the amateur explorer
I woke up at 5 am. Prepared a coffee and went to sit outside. I had been mesmerised by the time I had set foot into that place. Not even a single leaf was out of its place, not even a single feeling was out of its place. Everything was in harmony and unison.
I listened to myself without the distractions of any technology or people. I was finally achieving solitude.
I could see my flaws and failures, they did not hurt, I could see my success and strengths, they did not inflate me. I was complete with the flaws and the strengths. One without the other was meaningless. Had I not been so flawed, I would not have found my strength to be of any value. Had I not failed, I would not have enjoyed the success. Had I not been selfish, I would not have realised the importance of selflessness. Had I not given up myself, I would not have found myself.
I thought that my learnings were futile, but, I was mistaken, they were just masked by the wear and tear and hustle and bustle of daily life. I was still in command of what I had learnt from books and from experiences. I was much more aware. Much more conscious. I was not ignorant. I realised that I did not have to unlearn to learn and that I could just build up from where I had left. I had a purpose in life. Much larger than myself.
I started my day with the decision to the Umangawha falls. It was mentioned that the tracks were destroyed and the way to get there was mostly through water which could get deep.
I had to experience this.
I left with only my swimming gear this time.
I had not even the slightest idea that this was going to be much harder than getting stuck on top of a mountain.
It started off pretty smooth. About 10 minutes in, there was no other way than getting in the water. I was waist deep in the water and I could see the bottom. All good! Slowly the pressure of the water picked up and before I realised I was neck deep in.
I could no longer feel the ground and panicked. As the water started to enter my stomach, I started to throw my legs here and there, I could feel nothing but pain. The last thing that crossed my mind was that I do not know how to swim.
I very well knew how to swim but it was not a conscious decision that I could invoke on my part. My instincts, beyond my understanding, came into play and in less than a minute or so my head was out of the water. I still cannot comprehend what and how this happened. I found a rock and just clung to it for a little while longer than required. I was pretty shaken up.
I was very careful from there onwards. It was all worth it when I set my eyes on the biggest waterfall. Everything that was happening there had the power to amaze me.
I stayed a safe distance away and dared not go any closer because I had no knowledge of its depth.
On my way back, I slipped again at the exact same spot and almost drowned the second time. A full loop. There were two stitches on my leg and by the time I got out of there, I could not find the black thread, just a tiny open wound. I said I was underprepared, I had no medical kit as well. It was not bleeding heavily, I tied up my shirt on the wound and started back.
I also felt slimy stuff wriggle against my legs and I was 100% sure that these were snakes. I found out later that those could have possibly been eels.
By the end of this, I stopped fearing water and anything that was under water.
I returned and went back to the pothole waterfall. The second time, I was much more confident in my navigation but I did not swim. I just listened to the waterfall.
I wished a very happy birthday to Rumi and thought about the learnings that I had received from him and how I had abandoned him. I was just angry and not thinking straight. I made peace with him and felt his presence around me. I sat there much longer than anticipated breathing in and breathing out. I was meditating, I believe.
Evening fell and I became hungry. One meal a day was not helping but I was so full of energy.
I chopped more wood, I prepared potatoes and onions and vegetable patties and I watched the burning fire and the sky. I could pick up the stars from where I had left off yesterday.
Two shots of alcohol and I was warm and slept peacefully.
Day 3 – Writing and soul-searching
I woke up early and I decided to write what I had been putting off for such a long time. I wrote most of the day. I bathed in the sunlight. I walked short walks.
I went to the pothole waterfall again to say my goodbyes.
I discovered these rodent traps which were to protect the baby Kiwis.
I had learnt so much about myself in the last three days. I let go of so many fears, I pushed my boundaries, I transformed my loneliness into solitude, most of all I was able to do it all by myself.
When people told me about their experiences with water and camping and nature, I did not know the power that nature held until I experienced it myself.
To be able to retreat into myself I had to know what retreating into nature meant.
I know that I was extremely privileged to have been able to experience all this. Not everyone has the opportunity to “get away” from life. I am grateful for it.
I was ready to come back to the city and to my life. I was going to come back in three months, I made a promise to myself.
The next day
The muscle pain and the bruises killed me. I was hardly able to lift a finger. I had to rest. As the fatigue passed, I got up to test what I had learnt and I am glad that I was able to create 3 important changes. I guess those reflections are a post for another day. This already has become dangerously very long.