Step by step, I walked through the dark forest. I searched diligently for skittish and mysterious night owls. They are good at playing hide and seek, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll find them anyhow. I carefully scanned the forest with my red headlamp. Eventually, I got my money’s worth since patience is a virtue. A Kiwi looked straight into the headlights. Being discovered didn’t bother him at all. He slowly walked toward me while grazing. Closer and closer, until he nearly bumped into me. He backed off once I stomped on the ground. I watched him go with a loss of speech. Don’t panic, no need to run off. With many others, he was blind and deaf to Earth’s most destructive creature. Dumb fools. You would think that all alarms would ring. Nah. No wonder so many strange birds are (becoming) extinct, I thought. That’s what they get for being weak and naive. Survival clearly is an art. So… how much fun one can have about endangered species. All good, no worries. Weird birds flock together: like attracts like.
Sunrise. I let out a sigh of relief as light overcame the darkness. Just a little longer, and this long bush-hike through a wintery no-man’s-land will be over. I roamed around on my own for most of it. Other people were miles away, either in boats or planes. There was no one to hang out with, no one to talk to. I was out there all alone. It took me a week to get fed up with it. I no longer took comfort from the discomfort as I ventured into the Lion’s den. Harsh weather, deep mud, swarms of sand flies, freezing cold winds and river crossings made up the short days. Hot showers, phone coverage, booze, electricity and other commodities were absent. Far out! This is it! I felt connected to the elements, myself and the moment. The lack of all kinds of luxuries didn’t bother me. But human contact – no matter how fleeting or superficial – that’s what I missed. Then I finally got what I craved for. The power lines, streets and homes of Oban appeared. Then I faced a fellow human being, the first one in eight days. I smelled like absolute dogshit, but that was (at least for me) no fun spoiler. The urge to talk was simply too strong. Get rid of the hide and drop the mace. Don’t snarl, spit or growl. Behave and strike up a conversation. Uh… Even some small-talk was easier said than done after days of mumbling and muttering.
*Brief silence. I looked at him with watery eyes.
“I’m SO happy to finally see someone. I felt alone in the world during my hike around the island (Stewart Island). I didn’t see anyone for over a week.”
“No wonder at this time of year. Beautiful ay? Welcome back to civilization.”
”Thanks. I’m looking forward to some fish and chips!”
“Enjoy. You’ve earned it.”
*I waved goodbye to the welcoming party and walked on.
The warm welcome felt great. As did a warm shower, fresh fruit and the chats with loved ones. Apart from that, I didn’t miss the so-called civilization at all. This remote corner of New Zealand did the trick. Tranquility, bush huts, mighty landscapes and accessible nature. Vista’s without signs of the human takeover or destruction. Roaming around and keeping everything as simple as possible. Back to basic, back to the core. That’s all I needed, I thought. But the solitude exposed the true depths of my needs. Human contact is a basic need. To what extent differs from person to person, but we all need it. This is human. This is who we are. No more and no less. Apparently, I quite like people. Mostly in bursts, though, but still. The need is more profound than I used to see or dare to admit. There were many moments of being fed up with all the flaws, corruption and trivialities of humanity. I fantasized about isolation and breaking free from the system. These visions vanished as I consumed the fatty food-drop. Wandering around is fantastic. Not just through natural bush, but also through the human wilderness. Just combine the best of both worlds. Simple. It’s a realistic and fulfilling win-win. It’s a deal; I’m in.
I walked to the runway for the return flight. There I turned out to be the only passenger. Wow, this can’t be happening. I sat next to the pilot like an over-enthusiastic kid. The end of the world passed by at record speeds. It suddenly felt so close, yet so distant. I looked outside and shed a tear as I sat in the cockpit. What a place, what a time, what a journey. A journey that goes on and on, a journey that’s simply meant to be. Then I entered the built-up no-man’s-land of Invercargill. Dark streets, dreary buildings, sad looks, shit weather, an eerie silence. Let’s get the hell out of this revolting end-of-the-line kind of place. I walked to the random neighborhood where I had parked my station wagon. I crashed down onto the mattress in my makeshift camper. Oh man. Having a territory that stretches far beyond the horizon is bloody great. Sleeping everywhere and nowhere feels fantastic. With or without someone else, that is. Yeah, this vagabond is far from done yet…
Being alone in the world feels pure, connecting with yourself AND others even more so.