When I was nineteen years old I bought a small green book in a flea market in Paris. In the last three years this little journal has travelled with me all over the world, including France, Egypt, Spain, Zambia and New Zealand. My favourite journal entries were written in Africa, an adventure that led to a lot of positive change in my life. In July 2013, after seeing a lunar rainbow one evening over the Victoria Falls, I wrote: “I’m learning that some experiences cannot be expressed fully through a photo or in writing; no form of technology can capture the true feeling of being there. I think that’s why travel is so important.”
Yesterday these thoughts took on a whole new meaning for me. I have been in New Zealand with friends for the last two weeks; we moved into a camper van five days ago and have been making our way up the East coast from Christchurch. Our first stop was in Hanmer Springs, a small town with a western vibe best known for its warm natural springs. We then made our way to Kaikoura, a coastal area well known for its marine life, where we were lucky enough to see seals, dolphins and a sperm whale. Next was Picton where we met up with Beth’s family and stayed over in the Queen Charlotte sounds and yesterday we arrived in a farm/campsite near the Abel Tasman National Park.
Around midnight yesterday our little house on wheels started shaking violently. Being English natives woken suddenly from a deep sleep our first thought definitely wasn’t an earthquake. Thankfully we are able to laugh now at the memory of me and Georgie panicking while Beth was banging on the windows to deter the fictional characters we were pretty sure were trying to break in. It turns out that the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, that led to us being evacuated from our campsite, began in Kaikoura, the town we had left only two days before. Each of the three places we had visited in the days before the earthquake were badly affected, so much so that the road from Christchurch to Picton, that we spent pretty much all of our time on, has largely been destroyed by landslides.
As our van is gently rocked by continuous aftershocks I find myself reflecting on the expression of experience. I can tell you how it felt to be awoken in a van by an earthquake that many locals have told us is the worst they’ve experienced; I can describe the feeling of not knowing whether you are entirely safe, even 12 hours after the quake has struck (then followed by a second later in the day); or you can go on twitter and see the damage for yourself, roads going nowhere and kitchen ceilings hanging out in the kitchen sink. Yet, I cannot fully express to you how it felt to experience an event that is so uncommon to us, so foreign that we had little recognition of what it was when it came. As you could not relive my experience of watching a lunar rainbow glisten in the spray over the Victoria falls, I cannot relay entirely the feeling of surviving the rupturing of tectonic plates while in a van on a remote farm in New Zealand. That said, I am a lover of creative expression, especially when it comes to relaying a fond memory or unforgettable experience. But these memories, especially when far away from home, continuously help me to understand the true meaning of adventure: only when we get out of our comfort zone are we able to truly experience adventures that we cannot quickly forget, good or bad they have a tendency to shape our character all the same.