The Coronavirus Chronicles – A Resilient Nomad’s Diary of Passion Over Obstacles
Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist
Sometimes there are obstacles in the way of your dream, these are the times to re-assess your committment to it, and, possibly redefine it, based on the circumstances
Talking to a close friend recently, and hearing from many people that my photos are providing a needed source of distraction and inspiration, I’ve decided to make my next few blog posts more of a running journal, combining my discovery of new places with my experience of the coronavirus in daily life. My dream, for as long as I can remember, has been to full-time travel and meet wonderful people. But there were obstacles in my way. Time, having enough money and resources, and concerns about what would happen to my career if I quit so far into it. At the end of the day, all of these were fears, and each of them had either a concrete way to overcome it or required me to take a leap of faith, which I did.
Over the past two years, I’ve gone to places with risk of malaria and yellow fever. I’ve gone to countries known for kidnapping and murder. I’ve worried about my safety as a female solo traveler. More importantly, I’ve faced my own life fears to create this life that I’m now living. So, for me, Covid-19 never felt like something that should make me give up. The hard part about it, of course, is that we keep hearing bad, and worse news, and we need a silver lining to hold on to.
For at least the next few posts, I’m going to interweave my outer points of discovery with my inner monologue about the virus and what’s going on. In my old corporate job, I used to write a series for my friends called “The Cubicle Chronicles.” I would take frustrating work situations and put a sarcastic spin on them and everyone got a needed laugh to get them through the day. Since we have enough stories and news of doom and gloom, I’m hoping to provide some distraction, and maybe even put a smile on your face. I’m not trying to make light of the situation, I’m trying to add lightness to your life. Most of all, I guess I’m looking at this from the angle that I’m out here pursuing a dream. Something happened that appears to be a huge obstacle to it. I now have to wrestle and decide what to do about this obstacle and how to continue on my path.
The view from atop a hill in Cashmere.
Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020
First, let me stress, that when I talk about being a Resilient Nomad, I mean I will continue my journey, but with mindful alterations. Right now, I’m not flying anyplace for at least the next two weeks. Clearly, that timeframe may be much longer. I’m listening, I’m talking to other travelers, I’m watching, I’m waiting. I’m worried about my friends and my family and check on them regularly, and I’m lucky, for now, to be in a country where there are few cases and some semblance of normal life, as well as abundant toilet paper on the shelves!
“I’m continuing my journey with mindful alterations.”
Women control when you cross the street in New Zealand! Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.
Before I delve into my stories, I should mention that I’ve watched the Disney film “Moana” at least four times. In it, the demigod Maui uses his hook to fish an island out of the sea. What I didn’t know, until I arrived in New Zealand, is that this legend is, in fact, about the very country I am in, passed down through stories by the Maori people of this nation. Driving along the many mountain ranges, I can absolutely understand this legend, and possibly, even believe it. In fact, I’ve seen a few mountainous islands that look exactly like the female goddess that returns to her island in “Moana” and lies down into peaceful slumber.
Maui’s fish hook is all over New Zealand.
I arrived in New Zealand February 21st, well ahead of today’s events. My plan was to spend some time exploring, then visit my friend in Australia, near Sydney, jump up to some of Southeast Asia, and then either over to Nepal and Sri Lanka, or direct to South Africa. I was pissed off on my flights over here because the guy next to me on my longest flight had a chesty cough. He coughed directly into his hands, and then felt the need to touch my tray table, my phone, and even place his breakfast yogurt on my tray! Needless to say, I caught his cough, and it’s not fun to have during these times. In fact, though I had no coronavirus symptoms (no fever, no sore throat, no sneezing, etc.) nobody would see me or talk to me unless I went to a coronavirus clinic until I had been in the country for 14 days. Since I knew I didn’t have the virus, I was more afraid of subjecting myself to it, so waited two weeks to go see a doctor. He confirmed I have a viral infection, not the virus, and have to let it run its course. That being said, I feel the need to explain I do NOT have the virus on a daily basis, and have grown weary of this cough!
Side note – I hope this virus makes everyone more damn respectful about other people when they’re sick…even with a common cold.
I arrived with other concerns; Christchurch was so booked up that the only affordable place I could find to stay was outside the center, in a district called Cashmere, at a Bed and Breakfast. They only had two nights available. I didn’t know what I’d do after that, and went down to the local pub my first night. The lady at the table next to me started talking to her mates about some aspect of relationships, and, being me, I said, “OK, now I have to eavesdrop on your conversation!” The woman turned around, took one look at me, and said, “Are you alone? Why don’t you join us?!” A couple of hours conversation later, I had an invite to stay at her house, which I accepted, and I had a new friend, Deb.
Along my journey, so far, I’ve been blessed to meet kind people that have taken me in, bought me a meal, or driven me around. This has definitely helped me afford to travel so long and I’m deeply grateful to each of them. I’m also wondering, going forward, whether there will be an understandable decline in these offers. Happily, I’ve been lucky to, all of a sudden, get a lot more paid writing work which will alleviate this somewhat. These are the things that I believe happen when you follow your dream – people and resources show up exactly when you need them. When you’re working in corporate, this idea seems like mumbo-jumbo bullshit, and all the manifesting classes in the world don’t seem to make manifesting work, for you. Then you follow your heart and you stop trying so hard, and it just happens. I’m still shivering that by following my heart to continue traveling, this year, I’ve ended up in a country that’s taken quick and strict measures against the virus while their count is still very low. Why was I called to New Zealand, in particular, with so many other places I also want to go?
Beautiful flowers are everywhere, as well as, delightfully, bees.
Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.
The bed and breakfast had a cat. I’m allergic to them, but have never been so allergic that I start sneezing the second they walk into the same room as me. So, that happened. Then, when I moved houses, another cat. As I’ve traveled around the country, I’ve learned there are an abundance of cats as pets. I’m really glad I packed a lot of allergy meds in my ridiculously large and heavy bag of drugs to combat all the ailments I could imagine ever getting, except coronavirus. While staying with Deb, the news reported coronavirus fears were driving everyone to buy all the Paracetamol in New Zealand. Worse than the toilet paper situation. Worried about me, Deb gave me some of her stash, just in case. I added it to my medical supply bag that is fast becoming its own suitcase.
The steepest hill in the world in Dunedin. Another hill that only goes up. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.
Speaking of weights, I decided to wander around Cashmere my first day there. It seemed to be one giant hill and it went up. I kept walking and walking, fully expecting that “what goes up must come down,” but an hour and a half later, it never happened. In fact, after two weeks on the Southern Island I’ve learned that hills in New Zealand only go up and the result is, my quads and glutes are firmer than they’ve been in years! Add to this that food is outrageously expensive. Add on that when you do order food, the portions are regular-sized, instead of US buffet sized, so I’m still hungry after I finish eating. And I can’t order any more because I’m out of money for the day. Silver lining – firm quads, firm glutes, and smaller waistline! So, if you’re at all struggling with a diet or motivation to get to the gym, skip both, and come to New Zealand instead.
My first couple of days in the country, I thought all waiters hated me. Maybe I smelled bad, despite my post-flight shower. Maybe they didn’t like my accent, I just couldn’t understand why, after they delivered food to my table, they didn’t ever come back to check on me, even when I was ready to pay my bill. Then I learned it was a cultural misunderstanding – here in New Zealand, everyone is supposed to know that when you’re done eating, you go pay at the register. You don’t get a paper check and hand your card over. This makes the one cost-saving part of New Zealand easier – there’s no tipping! You walk to the register, pay, don’t leave any tip, and you feel great about it!
New Zealand is so safe that I struggled with this my first two weeks here. I adjusted to life in South America and Africa and it feels too safe, too perfect. I crave the colors and rawness of these two continents. But, then I realize most of my meals are at casual eateries where I have to go inside, place my order, pay and get an order number. Before going inside, I place my bag on a table, and when I come back, it’s still there. And, with coronavirus, nobody wants to touch anything that isn’t theirs, so I can probably start leaving money on tables and expect it to still be there, too.
Stay tuned for next week’s diary entry…