Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Volcanoes, Brilliant Birds and Two Things Defying Gravity 19/03/2015

Hello again beautiful people! It has been a few weeks since I last wrote and as always it both feels like it has flown by and like an eternity has passed.

So much has happened in the last few weeks so I don’t quite know how to say everything without sounding disjointed, but here goes.

First of all I finally feel like I am settled. I no longer wake up sad in the mornings. It feels like home and I am enjoying myself quite a bit. Classes are going well. They are structured very differently than back home. There is tremendous freedom to the point where I often have no idea what I’m doing, if I am doing too little, or far too much. An example of a homework prompt is research wood cotton and oil. Anything about them…
Each class is split into two 6 week periods and we have one large project due at the end of each accompanied by plenty of vague research in a workbook. I am still figuring out what all of this means but I’m cruising right along!

I continue to deepen my friendships with my crew of people here. Two of my close friends and I just purchased plane tickets to the south island for spring (autumn here) break and we are looking to do some intense tramps (hikes)!

Some random facts about New Zealand

-     Cheddar is called tasty
-     Eggs are never refrigerated they are on regular shelves at the supermarket.
-     Coins don’t go below 10 cents. They also have $1 and $2 coins and the lowest note is $5
-     Coolers are called chilly bins
-     Flip flops are called Jandals
-     Swim suits are called Togs
-     There is no tax added to stuff it is included so the price shown
-     There is no tipping
-     Hiking is called Tramping

The city is a magical place at night. It is mostly empty except for Courtney place (the street with the clubs and bars).  I love going down to the waterfront and looking out. Feeling the calm city behind and the wild winds over the water it is relaxing, invigorating and beautiful. One of these nights a few of my friends and I decided to hike up Mt. Victoria (a small mountain or large hill) which overlooks all of Wellington and the surrounding bays.  It was stunning. Seeing the calm city tucked into the surrounding ridgelines with its lights reflected in the bay with millions of stars above. We sat for a long in awe of the gorgeous place we get to call home at least for the next few months.

We then hiked back through oriental bay and stopped off to climb a huge web located in a playground by the beach. I walked ahead through the water passing washed up jellyfish my eyes transfixed on the enormous orange full moon that was quickly setting over the ridgeline above the city. It was a beautiful night.

A few days later I got to experience my first truly windy day here. The wind rushes through the streets almost knocking over pedestrians as they round corners. There were moments where I could lean at roughly a 30-degree angle and have the wind hold me up. I walked through the city grinning ear to ear, as the wind seemed to playfully try to knock me off my feet.

Later that night I was up the hill visiting some friends and I got ready to make the 30-minute walk home. I stepped out and immediately froze my eyes transfixed on the moon. I stood there for at least 20 minutes in silence with my friend, watching the show that seemed to be created just for us in that moment. It was a clear sky with a nearly full moon. We were standing at the top of a ridgeline so as the wind blew over the peak of the ridge we could see long thin translucent clouds being created that would swirl off in little spirals that resembled the effect when adding thick cream to coffee. Each time they would pass across the moon they would create a circular rainbow. We stood motionless as each cloud brought its own unique quality to our experience as if it were dancing.  After a while it finally felt right to leave and with a heart full of gratitude I began my wonderful night walk home.

Here is a link to a poor quality video I took to remember the night

The clouds are stunning here. They are puffy and white and move faster than I have ever seen. The sky is always full yet it is consistently sunny. The maori word for New Zealand is Aotearoa which means the long white cloud.

A different afternoon I was down by the waterfront with a few friends and found myself completely floored by the intelligence of nature. I watched as a seagull swooped down and picked up a mussel. He then flew up about 15 feet and dropped the mussel onto the pavement. After a few drops it hadn’t broken so he flew up about 25 feet and dropped it. This time it shattered. He quickly ate the mussel and then flew off to pluck another. WHUUUUUT!? That is brilliant. That takes so much forethought. I swear there’s always something amazing and inspiring happening.

Speaking of which I was inspired by something that I never thought I would be. Who knows the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song “give it away ”? Many people think it is gibberish or about sex but I read an interview with the lead singer explaining that the song is about the theory that “The more you give, the more you receive, so why not give it all away?” He was inspired by a German singer who insisted on giving him one of her jackets that he liked saying that giving stuff away especially if it has personal meaning creates good energy.
I love this idea. It feels like a beautiful way to live and like it would clear out clutter and energy resulting in straight up abundance! See there is inspiration everywhere! Well-done Red Hot Chili Peppers!

Moving right along. The other day I came to the incredible realization that I hadn’t used any form of transportation for 24 days. No cars, busses or even bicycles. This is something that had never occurred to me before and I thought this might actually be the longest I had ever gone without using a vehicle. Even during outward bound we would take a shuttle ever couple of weeks. This was an amazing realization for me. And it felt very freeing to only use my legs for transportation for nearly a month. It feels incredible! And that streak would still be going but I broke it for a very good reason. I finally got to get out of the city and into some incredible nature.

Last Friday 3 friends and I were invited to house near lake Taupo for the weekend which is about an hour and a half drive from the Tongoriro crossing which is considered possibly the best day hike in the world. So we were obviously going. But we needed a car, as it is a 5-hour drive from Wellington. The only rental car agency with cars available would only allow people older than 25 to drive. So my streak came to an end with me hopping in a car and driving on the left side of the road for the first time.  For the first hour or two this felt like a constant math problem, especially at intersections. But I relaxed once we got out of the city. I was driving on the largest road in New Zealand, Highway 1, which is only one lane each way and would frequently go through small towns. That’s right the largest road feels like back country farm road. My newfound comfort shifted when night fell. This was very strange as the headlights would frequently startle me because at my core it felt like they were in the wrong lane. But with the mantra “stay left, stay left” in my head we made it safely.

The next day we got up at 6 and drove to the Tongoriro trail head. There were tons of people there for the first half of the day but once we got to the emerald lakes (a bit over half way through the crossing) we turned back and had the whole place to ourselves. The terrain here was gorgeous and unlike anything I had experienced before. Not a tree in sight. Just the most amazing colors of rock produced from the surrounding volcanoes. We stopped at the emerald lakes for lunch. Two of the lakes were bright green and the other was an intense blue. There were little streams of steam shooting up all around that were crazy hot. We also found these amazing rocks that continuously baffled my mind. See what I mean here:

On our way back we decided we were going to summit Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom from the lord of the rings). This mountain is an active volcano and could not look more like a volcano. It towers above all of the surrounding mountains and is almost perfectly conical with a red rim around the tip (yes that red tip you see in science projects is real!) From the base it is roughly 4000 feet up. I don’t think this hike would be allowed anywhere in the US. There was no trail we were to simply go straight up. There was no life on this mountain, only volcanic rocks some large most small all on a bed of more rocks. It was an enormous 4000-foot scree slide. This proved to be the steepest thing I have ever climbed without being on belay with a minimum angle of about 45 degrees but it was often more like 60 degrees. We had to be on all fours as we slipped our way up searching for larger rocks that were relatively stable. Every few steps a rock would fall loose and roll a few hundred meters down the mountain. It felt as though I could almost free fall if I jumped off the face. We eventually found our way off the scree field to a more secure area of larger rocks that appeared to be an un climbable vertical scar from the ground. This proved to be far easier than the scree. From here we hit the more secure bright red rocks and then the pitch black area before the summit. At this point rain clouds rolled in and it began to drizzle on us. This added a new layer of fear as we were on a completely exposed surface. We decided to continue on and made it to a horseshoe near the summit that we believed to be the crater. We took a food break and then picked the larger of the two humps to summit. As I approached the top I quickly realized that this was in fact the crater.  I stood on the rim which was only about 10 feet wide looking down into a perfect bowl that was probably two football fields wide by at least a football field deep. The rim was an intense vermillion red. It was an incredibly surreal experience. We were also now atop the tallest point in the surrounding area and the view was unreal.  We were within the clouds. At times they would block out all sight, making it feel like we were on a razors edge in the middle of the sky. We stayed at the summit for about a half an hour soaking up the prize we had won from a climb that that gave us the gift of being fully in the moment for hours by its stunning views, textured terrain and by pushing us to the edge of and exhaustion and fear. Once we were fully saturated we decided it was time to make our way back down.

The way down was incredibly fun. I felt like a god. With each step I would push my heel into the sandy scree and rotate my foot forwards helping control the sliding. Each step would go for 10 to 15 feet. It felt incredibly safe because if I fell (which did happen) I would only fall about 2 to 3 feet back onto a reclined bed because the mountain was so steep.  I felt like I was walking in slow motion yet flying. I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face, although to be fair I didn’t try.

About half way down I saw a man sitting in the rocky scar. I paused and we made eye contact. He then called to see if I knew the best way down. I began to explain and quickly realized he was terrified and alone. I left my bag with my friend and worked my way across the scree field to him. He was embarrassed to ask for help but very happy to see me. I immediately introduced myself, his name was James and he was a freelance adventure writer who wrote for a few companies including national geographic. I guided him from stable rock to stable rock through the scree until we got to a less steep area a few hundred feet down.

He quickly brightened up and began talking about his adventures and his time in Australia and New Zealand. He was a truly incredible human being.

I felt deeply honored to have had this experience. He had been stuck there alone for 30 minutes disoriented from vertigo. I felt so grateful that he would break through the embarrassment and ask for help it occurred as an incredible moment of self-care and for me it allowed me to make a connection with an incredible human being. And lets be real there isn’t a much more badass way to meet someone than descending Mt Doom together. The whole experience occurred to me as the universe finding equilibrium. I was in my comfort zone experiencing joy and James needed a hand but more than anything it seemed he simply needed company, someone who cared and would be a friend even for just a few minutes. As soon as I got there he relaxed and he quickly found his roots and moved into a beautiful confidence. All I had to do was genuinely be there with him as a friend and a fellow human. I could feel everything settle within both of us and everyone evolved left with more richness. It was a perfect moment to bring balance to a situation, equilibrium.

Once we got to the bottom I gave him an apple and a plum shook his hand and we were on our separate ways. Moments like this give me the deepest sense of gratitude for life, moments of true connection, perfect just as they are. I may never see him again and yet we had an enriching moment of shared humanity.  Life is pretty incredible!

Later that night we went to a natural hot spring near where we were staying. The spring cascaded down a 8 foot waterfall into a pool at the perfect temperature. The waterfall was powerful yet small enough for one person to tuck into the hollow of rock below it and be engulfed by warm water. while I was in the hollow below the falls I had the most intense feeling of connectedness with the earth. My hands were like magnets on the ground below me, my spine seemed to involuntarily straighten and I was filled with a powerful feeling of nature like I have never felt before. It was a sense of strength and a presence that seemed to be holing me accountable to be exactly who I am. It felt as though the water was washing away all bullshit and left only me, rooted and strong.

After thanking the spot we went back to the cabin got a good night sleep, picked an exorbitant amount of fruit from the trees in the back yard and then drove back home exhausted yet filled by a perfect weekend.

And now for my American beauty moment of the post!

I was sitting in my room on the 7th floor catching up on work while a huge storm raged outside. As I worked something outside caught my eye. There were little white specs slowly moving past my window. It almost resembled snow but it was in the 60s outside. I darted to the window and couldn’t believe my eyes. The intense wind was hitting the building in such a way that it was blowing directly up the wall loudly passing my cracked window. It was so strong that the raindrops had stopped directly in front of my window. Hovering perfectly at my eye level. One larger drop sat quivering and after a few moments split perfectly in two. These two hovered for a moment before shooting straight up and out of sight. I sat there for 10 minutes watching the raindrops dance about in front of my window with feelings of joy and amazement bubbling through me. Then the winds shifted allowing the rain to fall and allowing me to move back to my work reenergized.

I think that does it for now. I have added some photos below.
The first is of me and my three friends ontop of a ridge line with Mt. Ngauruhoe in the background.
The second is a photo of the four of us at the summit of Mt. Ngauruhoe surrounded by cloud with the crater behind us.
The third is a photo of the walk back to our car between two ridgelines.
And the last is the fruit we picked just before heading home.

Thank you again for your interest in my life. Love to all.  



Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A Succulent Sketch and Kowhaiwhai

Here are some other random artsy things. The first image is a drawing I did of some succulents in the Botanical Gardens. And the rest are sketches of designs that come from the Maori art tradition of Kowhaiwhai (pronounced Co-Fie-Fie).

Drawing the Body Exercises

Here are some photos from my drawing the body class. 

In the first photo we had to do a self portrait with black and white charcoal allowing the colored paper below to act as the mid tones. 

The second and third photo was from a class where we could only draw straight lines the second is quick 30 second gesture drawings and the third is a longer painting where we used the edge of a piece of cardboard to ensure we used straight lines to create painting. 

Cat Prints

Here are some photos of my first prints from my printmaking class. These are woodblock prints of a cat that I carved. Each was printed twice. The first print was the eye color and left the whiskers and fur white. Then I carved out the eyes and reprinted it with a transparent color so the whiskers would pick up some of that color and the rest of the cat would change colors while keeping the eyes the first color. Here are a few large images of some cats and a mosaic of 18 of my other prints. 

First Few Weeks Abroad! 28/02/2015

Hello all. I am writing you from a wonderful café a short walk from my flat. I am eating a pecan pie served with plain yogurt and feeling content. Wanting to catch people who are interested up on my travels thus far. A lot has happened since I left America just over two weeks ago. I will share a few highlights of my trip so far.

First after an 11-hour flight from LAX we landed in Fiji at about 6 in the morning. We were quickly whisked off via shuttle to a Ferry. We took a 3-hour ride to one of Fijis small islands where we were to stay for the next 3 days. We stayed at a small “resort” with small bunk beds and slept about 25 to a room. I was in Fiji with the other 77 study abroad students from Tean. The Fijian people are deeply kind and caring and always eager to joke and have fun. They showed us man things like how to weave a basket with palm fronds, spear throwing, how to open coconuts with only a stick and a rock and much more. The air was thick with humidity and it was in the mid 90s during most days.

Each day we woke up with the sun and relaxed on our own private bay protected by a coral reef. This was our time to transition and meet other students on our trip. Most of the students were pretty stereotypical bro American college students who were at times very disrespectful to the Fijians. But I found a great group of about 8 or so people that I connected with very quickly. Everywhere we went we were greeted with the customary Fijian greeting, BULA! We were gifted the opportunity to hike the hour and a half into the village on the island. Here everyone lived in dirt floor houses with just enough room for a few ground pads. The vibe in the village was stunningly beautiful to me. Everyone seemed thrilled to be alive. Smiles from ear to ear on every face we met and BULA’s heard from all around. The town held about 150 people and consisted of two main families and a chief. As a young person in this village it was customary to marry into the other family though some outside women had married into the village. Everything was equal, if a family was hungry the village would make food for them if someone moved in with nothing they would take a day off and the men would build them a home. The schools were full of smiling children in sarongs excitedly saying hello and nice to meet you in thick accents. It was a truly beautiful experience.

We were also welcomed into a traditional kava ceremony where I was asked to play the role of bodyguard to the chief (played by another student), which meant I was heavily evolved.

I snorkled in the reef, which was mind bogglingly beautiful. It was a different world full of fish and coral of every imaginable color dancing just below my face. Then to finish our time the Fijians did an entire show of traditional Fijian dances.

Then it was off to a hotel for the final night to clean up and get ready for our flight to Auckland.

In Auckland we stayed in a hostel and were given lots of free time to cruise around town during this free time I took a ferry with a few friends to a volcano and explored lava caves and got to see an incredible view of Auckland. Back in Auckland I got to do the sky screamer, which is a reverse bungee. You sit in an open metal egg frame as bungees are stretched high above. And then you are launched into the air like a huge slingshot. I had an ear-to-ear smile plastered onto my face for hours after!

We then got to go to an island called Waiheke. On the ferry over I was on the top deck with a couple friends when an incredibly kind American man walked up and introduced himself and began asking us about our. After about 15 minutes we asked his story and he responded I am your ambassador. He then said he was in Auckland for business but he was based in Wellington and he had enjoyed talking to us so much that he would like to have us over to his house to talk about our experience once we were all settled in wellington. So in the next few weeks I may go to have dinner or tea with the ambassador!

Once we got to Waiheke we stayed at a Marae, which is a traditional Maori meetinghouse. We were welcomed on to the land with a ceremony that included one of my favorite greetings called the Hongi This is when you put one hand on a shoulder and the other hand on the back of the others head and press noses together while breathing in together. This breath is to honor all the ancestors that came before and allowed this human being in front of you to be alive. It was beautiful, powerful and intimate.

From here we broke into groups and did various activities like poi making, kayaking, a town walk and a wine tasting. We spent the night and then headed back the next day. After a few more days in Auckland exploring and a big fancy goodbye dinner we were all off to our respective colleges. And lucky for me 5 of the people I connected most with were going to wellington!

I landed in wellington on Monday the 16th and moved into my flat right in the center of wellington. I live in the cube with a lovely 24-year-old German exchange student named Anika and an interesting 29-year-old Sri Lankan woman named Kris. My flat is very nice and it has an incredible view of the city as we are on the 7th floor. The only strange thing is I live mostly with 17 and 18 year olds and feel kind of imprisoned at times and treated like a child. No visitors after 530 without a guest pass for instance. This makes it hard to have friends over for dinner and really limits social interactions in general. But aside from that feeling it is a great flat.

So far in wellington I have been exploring as much as I can I have walked to all throughout the city feel I know this fairly large city very well now. I can find my way anywhere pretty easily at this point. I am a 15 minute walk from the waterfront where there are frequent free shows (I have already been to 4 amazing shows) art installations and diving platforms into the bay. The city is full of murals and street performers. It is a very alive place and one of my favorite cities I have been in. With that said it does feel more city like than I had hoped. 

Two of my good friends from Tean live in the cube with me and two others live about a 25 minute walk away and go to a nearby university, which is nice because they have a house that I can go to.

The weather has been amazing! Most days are in the upper 60s or low 70s. The weather is fascinating the clouds move faster than I have ever seen and the weather can change from sunny to rainy in minutes then back to sunny.

On one particular day I was walking to the grocery store and I saw one of the most beautiful things I have seen. It was a definite American beauty moment. It was overcast with a light rain falling. The air was cool and there was a slight breeze blowing up the long hill we had just summated and were now heading down. As I looked down the street I saw a single pink balloon about 30 meters down the road. This balloon appeared brighter than the dim light of the day could allow. Almost as though it had a small light within. It began to steadily roll and hop up hill seeming to defy gravity. The world around melted away. Each hop was rhythmically identical, timed perfectly. This balloon happily bounced up the entire hill right by us and as it neared the top a car drove directly over it pinning it and compressing it between the road and the cars undercarriage. After a moment the car took off and the balloon shot out from under the car spinning up into the air before delicately landing and continuing its journey hopping up the hill. Just as it reached to peak of the hill another car drove by. The balloon shot off to the left spinning in the vortex of air almost as though it was waving goodbye just before it vanished behind a parked truck. I stood in stunned in amazement at this dancing gift I had just received! The world is full of such beauty!

How am I doing you ask? That is complicated. Overall I am amazing. But the transition is, well just that, a transition. There are mornings I wake up with tears feeling vulnerable with all manner of emotion flowing through me. But I know that this is just a phase and I can feel the tides shifting slowly. There is simply so much calibrating and shifting occurring internally. I have a good group of friends but we are still feeling each other out I don’t feel comfortable leaning on them yet. But they are good people without question. So I am great I am feeling deeply and trusting that this is a period of settling in and trusting once I know my schedule and can drop in a bit more things will shift and I will reground into my goofy outgoing self.

At this point my class schedule is Tuesday Thursday Friday but I may drop my Tuesday class to I just have classes Thursday Friday so I can do some smaller trips. I am currently in a drawing the body class, a printmaking class and a Maori art class. I also might pick up a collaborative art class. But we shall see.
I definitely need to try and figure out a way to get some small trips into the wilderness for long weekends.

I think that might be all for me for now. For those who wanted my address it is:

Aiden Dale
Flat 7A,
242 Taranaki St, Te Aro,
Wellington NZ 6011

And for all those who have read this thank you for you interest in my journey. Love to all. I hope your lives are full and inspiring. And now that this is complete and my pecan pie and coffee are done I am off to a sitting wall that overlooks the harbor to draw unsuspecting people for my drawing the body class. Talk to you soon!

With love and Gratitude,