Wine and cheese – it’s better when it’s old, right?

I just had a peculiar feeling. It’s not the first time I’ve been back to campus since graduating. In fact, I was just there a few months ago, but as I was approaching the Endowment Lands this evening, the oddest sensation crept up inside me.  I felt anxiety.

Donning my UBC sweatshirt by pure coincidence, I was doing my good deed of the year and assisting my not-so-little-anymore cousin jump his car. I was still irked by this feeling and I couldn’t shake it as we were heading to the pub for a catch up. On our way, I had the realization that it had been 10 years since I’d purchased this very sweatshirt, and as if I was walking the halls of my old high school, all those strange inner conflicts and insecurities found their way into my brain.

me

University was a wonderful and horrible time for me. I spent my first year hung up on a guy that wasn’t really that into me mostly because I didn’t know how to play the game and therefore played it all wrong (hashtag facepalm). The cement walls of my dorm didn’t help and the pressure of school/pressure of partying dichotomy often plagued my sub-conscious. Instead of gaining the Freshman 15, I lost it. Suddenly, I went from being the moderately pudgy girl to some how remarkable skinny (I have a little frame!), but had no idea how to handle it. I still saw myself as that pudgy girl and bonded with another girl who was in the same boat. She ended up being my bestie for three years and in the fourth year she broke my platonic heart and I now only refer to her using curse words. But together we waded through the awkward waters, making and breaking friends along the way. A fantastic team, I’d say! And after four years, I escaped the confines of studying and realized the depression I had been living in for that time. How much I had held back. How many experiences I missed out on because I was too busy being scared. And how this strange cloud had hovered over me that I didn’t know existed.

But today, as I left campus I took a moment to reflect and I’ve come to the conclusion that I really like who I’ve become over these last 10 years. I’ve gained all that lovely weight back, but I have never had more compliments on how I look than right now. Not even when I was a skinny minny.  I’m confident and every now and again I like doing things that scare me a little.

NYESometimes I pick up French hitch hikers, have dinner with strangers, drive across a massive island on my own, take shoddy vans across a desert, walk through tiger country, give my passport to a stranger, eat street meat (not recommended), eat an animal I’ve pet, drink a bottle of wine and plan one of my dearest friend’s wedding, or I walk into a pub of university kids and not feel bad about myself. It’s a great feeling to realize I’ve come that far. I hear it gets better with age and I’m kind of stoked on that idea!

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I thought dysentery was something that only happened in Oregon Trail.

Reckless. I’m not Hannah Horvath. Hell, Hannah Horvath didn’t even exist at this point, and I’m doing something she would do. How were we supposed to know that when you enter Thailand by foot, your visa is only good for 2 weeks, but by air it’s good for a month? I mean, shouldn’t that be posted somewhere? So we’ve just spent 5 glorious days on an island off the coast of Ranong and we’ve got to pick our next destination. Before that, we need to renew our visas so we don’t end up like Claire Danes in Brokedown Palace with cockroaches crawling in our ears. Gross. We get off our water taxi, and park ourselves at the cafe on the dock while we figure out where the boats are that take us to Myanmar to renew our Thai visas. We make mention of this to our server and then next thing we know, there’s a man with a truck and a mustachio asking us if we need to renew our visas. Does anyone know where this guy came from?

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Anywho, we haggle our price and he puts our bags in his truck. I guess we’re going to Myanmar before we catch a bus to Phuket . We arrive at the dock and he tells us to leave our bags in the truck. I’m already a bit nervous. I mean, we could totally turn into Claire Danes at any moment. He shuttles us through the line to exit Thailand and when we ask where our bags are, he points at a boat. How did they get there?? WHO’S BEEN TOUCHING MY BAG!?

Ok…. It’s ooookaaay. We get on the boat and begin making our way through the checkpoints to Burma/Myanmar. “Give me your passport,” says the Captain’s assistant when we arrive at the first checkpoint. “Excuse me?” “I need your passport to show to the people inside.” This is when I realized it would be a long time before I told my mother this story. Watching the man like a hawk, I reluctantly hand him my beautiful Canadian passport. He goes inside, comes back a few minutes later and puts all 3 of our passports in his front shirt pocket. I’m not happy about this situation.

Check point two and three seem to go smoothly, but I’m still not thrilled about not being in possession of my passport. We arrive in Burma and go to Immigration to pay our visa fee and have our passports stamped. It takes all of 15 minutes and we start making our way back to the boat. I don’t think I mentioned it’s now been at least 6 hours since our last meal and we’re STARVING!!! This lovely Burmese woman walks by with a tray and says “Samosas! Vegetarian Samosas!” I’m in!! A taste of home, vegetarian, delicious! We overpay and get back on the boat, rationing out the 4 samosas amongst the three of us. I must say, I’m feeling pretty good about life since being in possession of my passport again and being fed.

We arrive in Thailand and are re-admitted, no problem. Mustachio has unloaded the boat and put our bags back in his truck (one assumes. Again, I saw no evidence of this but my bag was in his truck when we got back in), and we’re off to the bus station. My tummy is not feeling amazing, but it’s to be expected seeing as all we’ve had to eat are these samosas.

Fast forward 24 hours and all 3 of us are suddenly staying very close to the bathroom. Apparently, street food is not as safe in Myanmar as it is in Thailand BUT WE HAVE OUR PASSPORTS! And no one even resembles Claire Danes.

Keeping left.

ImageI’m having the strangest moment right now. You know that scene in “Girls” when Hannah goes back home and she’s getting ready to go to that party and she’s reminding herself that she is interesting?  She says something like “Of course I’m interesting, I’m from New York!”  Well I’m having one of those moments right now.  For some odd reason, I’m feeling slightly insecure walking around this Auckland suburb called Ponsonby. Don’t get me wrong, I totally dig it here, but there’s something about getting out of a city and just exploring “nature’s wonders” that really alters perspective.

It’s been a whirlwind of a trip. I mean I made a bloody excel spreadsheet to manage the chaos I created for myself.  Thirteen days and 2000 kilometres later, saying I’m a bit exhausted would be an understatement.  It took everything in me to get myself off my bed this afternoon, but there was no way I was going to let my last night on this glorious island be spent on a faded Hawaiian print bedspread surrounded by newbies and foreigners. I wanted to be amongst the common folk, so naturally I have found the most hipster bar in all of Auckland to round off my journey.  And what a journey it has been!

I could spend hours describing the spectacular things I saw starting with rapids, Jurassic Park, scaling hilltops, stunning/solitary black sand beaches, torrential rains accompanied by gale force winds, and coming face to face with a life that existed easily 3000 years before my parents even considered bringing me into this world.  This is all before I even went to the end of the world and greeted the Maori point of departure from this life.

And now that it’s all said and done I must say my favourite part of this has been the connections I’ve made. Mind you, that’s always my favourite part!  Some of my best friends live millions of miles away from me, but the excitement lies in the new adventures we’ll embark on together.  I suppose the best part of meeting travellers is always having and excuse to travel.

Is it wrong that all I want to do is dip my finger in the indelible ink?

In less than 20 hours I’m going to be on a plane.  This is not unusual for me. I’ve been on many flights and been to a number of destinations.  But for the first time – ever – I’m nervous.  Every now and then I get this wave of nausea reminding me of what is about to happen.  In less than 20 hours I’m going to be checking an item off my bucket list. I’m going to be in the 5th newest country to date. Timor-Leste.  In this case, the destination is not what I’m going for, but the opportunity to be part of a nation’s history.  For 25 bloody years, the East Timorese were occupied by Indonesia and in 2002 they were granted independence after a referendum on sovereignty.  On March 17, 2012, the Timorese will be holding their third election to date and I’m lucky enough to be part of it.  I am going to be joining a group of Australians as election observers and over the next 8 days, I’m going to witness how a new country runs an election.

For those of you who know me, this is the big leagues.  I’ve been wanting to do this for YEARS, but I’m still nervous. I’m not afraid of the potential violence (which is very much a possibility seeing as there was violence after their last election-a fact I conveniently neglected to tell my mother). I’m not afraid of the people or the language barrier, of which the former are supposed to be wonderful and the latter is latin based and therefore familiar to me. I’m not afraid of the lack of roads which have recently deteriorated into quagmires because of all the rain.  Lord knows I like creating my own paths anyway. I’m afraid of much more minute things.  This is the first time I’ve been anywhere by myself.  Moreover, I’m nervous about what happens next.  What happens when this is all over? How do I use this experience and where do I let it take me? What if it turns out that democracy is a big sham and my entire belief in the world crumbles around me?  Ok, that might be a little melodramatic, but I am about to embark on a milestone in my life, no matter the result.  So perhaps this post is just a friendly reminder to myself, if no one else, that I have created every milestone in my life up to this date, and this, like all the others before, is just that – a milestone.  It is not the pinnacle of my life, and though I may not know what direction I’m heading in next, I’m going to soak up the next eight epic days of my life.  I’m depending on all of you to make sure I do that!

I touch down in a little over 24 hours from now.  Check back in a couple of days. You might find something good!