Travel story: Off to the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’
Vail, CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Betsy Welch, a former Spanish teacher at Vail Mountain School, is traveling to New Zealand and points beyond this winter. Each week we’ll run an article and photos about her travels.
“I would never do what you’re doing.”
And with that, a good friend reaffirmed that I am, in fact, making the right decision. I’ve decided to take the winter off this year ” and by that, I mean I’m taking off for the winter.
It all began back in 8th grade, on the class trip to Washington, D.C. Oh the freedom of being in a new place ” sprinting away from my classmates on the Mall to do handstands and cartwheels; landing dizzy on the grass at the feet of the freaky Hare Krishnas who hung out in front of Natural History and handed out free stickers; getting lost in museums and taking it all oh-so-seriously. I want to go to college here, I remember thinking.
After that trip ” and every summer vacation, spring break and weekend getaway ” there was a new place I liked and a new imagined life. New York City? Easy. I would write all day long in dark, smoky coffeeshops, forcing myself to swallow countless cups of black coffee, even though I didn’t like it. Sebastian, Florida, where we went surfing for spring break? Done. Surf all day, serve margaritas and fish tacos in my board shorts at night.
The list grew and expanded with each foray onto new terrain. My parents soon grew immune to my cries of, “Oh, I’m going to live in fill-in-the blank because there I can fill-in-the-blank, and yes, how great it will be!”
However, when I soon realized that I would never actually be able to live in every single place I visited, there only seemed to be one other option: travel. A lot.
My mom has been another fair-weather fan of my nomadic plans for the winter. But you speak Spanish, she says, don’t you want to go to South America? You could see your host family in Chile … And you’d be so close, I could come visit. These things are true: I do speak Spanish. I love the politics, the language, the music and the landscape. It is closer, and I do have a family there. But it is also for these reasons that I decided to keep spinning the globe and let my finger land on otra tierra.
A Kiwi friend of mine who shares a penchant for trivia ” especially related to geography and the world ” once asked me what the capital of New Zealand was. Since this time we weren’t playing for little pieces in the Trivial Pursuit pie, I smugly replied, “Australia.”
“Aha,” he said, “cheeky one ahhn’t you. Good on yer.”
Cheeky? Good on what? Hey mom ” I am going to be speaking a foreign language after all!
But back to my skeptical friend ” the one who would never do what I’m doing. She thinks I am crazy because I have no plans. I have a rough draft outline of where I’m going, but rather than it being organized into specific destinations, dates and times, I leave it as wide open as the eastern Colorado plains, with myriad possibilities of how to get from one outpost to the next. My adventures are certain to read like the frenzied brainwaves of someone who can’t make up their mind as to what to do on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Kayak? Ride the city bus for eight hours without getting off? Go to the market and take rainbow photographs of exotic fruits and vegetables? Ask a stranger to play cards? Take a hike high above the houses and the people?
If there is one thing I have learned since I took the free-fall from the familial nest of childhood comforts and stability and moved to Colorado on my own, it is that plans rarely go as planned. And it is for this reason that this week I will be landing, on wobbly bird legs, on an island in the South Pacific that some people call the Land of the Long White Cloud, with nothing but my backpack and my rough draft, sure to fall in love with something in every place I see.
Contact Betsy Welch with suggestions, comments, and publishing contracts at firstname.lastname@example.org.