Sitting on a beach in sub-tropical Queensland really makes you think. I sat far up the beach towards the dunes, just under the shade of a tree and thought about the last few months. As I cast my back, it all seemed to feel distant and dream-like. The Canada trip feels as though it breezed past, my mind blurry. Like a light sprinkle of snow – flurry of memories float to me lazily.
There were times in Ulukhaktok that I didn’t want to be there. Times that confronted me and times that genuinely surprised me. I have so many cherished moments of my time in the arctic and people cannot understand without going there themselves. To relay a story does not to justice to the experience.
My first regret while in the north was that I could not communicate the experience with my friends and family back home. With a laptop rendered un-usable, because of a broken charger, I feel sad that I couldn’t update from the field as much as I wanted.
Then our time in Ulukhaktok ended. So abruptly and so swiftly the stay came to a close. Then we were on our way home. Dazed and still reeling from what had happened and where we had been.
Then are journey home was the real culture shock. From advertising and traffic congestion in Calgary, to hoards of people at Salt Lake City, then Los Angeles airports. So many people in one place. Food bought over the counter, handed to you in plastic packaging. Only a few weeks earlier we were eating Arctic Char that was thawed out on cardboard on the kitchen floor. Caught months ago and frozen in a non-insulated room of an arctic house.
From hunt and gather to a big question mark of a meal bought from a latino guy in a paper hat.
Our flight from Los Angeles then provided another strange twist. Our trip coincided with the Soundwave festival in Brisbane. Coincidently our flight happened to be the one that most of the North American metal bands playing at that gig also chose. Katrina and I sat just in front of the lead singer of GWAR. The same guy who cut the head of a Tony Abbott impersonator at the previously mentioned musical festival. Unfortunately he was found dead in his home a few weeks later. A strange twist of fate that my life came in contact with his for such a brief moment. He seemed like a really nice guy.
From frigid arctic to the steaming sub-tropics. A dry and cold climate to a humid and hot one in the space of week initially shocked Katrina and I. We walked off the “heaviest” plane on Earth, into air which seemed so laden with moisture that you could have swam in it. I recognised the feeling immediately – it felt good to be home – it was like a cuddly blanket, just sweaty and stifling. Three days later I was sick as a dog, only to be told my body may not have reacted so well to the climatic changes I was putting it through.
Since being home, the first thing people ask is “how was it?”. While this is a simple enough question, it comes with a very complicated answer. The trip made me experience every emotion possible – from anger and genuine crankiness to pure, childlike joy, then shock and amazement to heartfelt happiness and sadness. The trip was three months long but it felt like a lifetime and also like a short, stuttered heartbeat. It now feels like a distant memory that I am trying to grasp out to and grab, just so I can bring it back into mind so I can communicate it to others.
For some reason I can’t. All I can say is that is was amazing, in every sense of the word.
So I sat under the shade of that tree, on that beach, and tried to remember all the moments, the feelings and most importantly, the people who I had met and come to relate to. The best moments for me are the moments that I connected to real, genuine people on a level more intimate than a computer screen or phone. Connecting through real conversation about life, about politics, about food, about hunting. People I felt genuine sadness and awkwardness saying goodbye to. People who impacted me in ways I had never felt.
Real travel is not the places you go or the “things” you did there. Those things only act as a vessel or a means to experience the real heart of what it is to travel, and even more importantly, to live – the people – the people are what makes a place.
The people are what change you. Who they are, what they know, where and how they live, what they have experienced, where are they going, why are they relating and interacting with you. These are the questions with answers that move something within you. They are what moved something within me. The answer were sometimes known but mostly remained a mystery.
I asked myself a question – were these people effected by me as much as I was by them? On a different level of thinking, were we meant to have met for a higher reason? What would that reason be? Did anyone at home miss me? Did they even notice I was gone? What have I learnt from all of this?
I sat under that tree on that beach and wondered these questions to myself.
If we get a chance to meet again, I wonder if they would remember me…