I’m very fortunate to be away travelling at the moment (only five years later than planned), so I should be writing this because I’ve been inspired by the breathtaking scenery of Doubtful Sound. Inaccurately named as a ‘sound’, it is a glacier-formed fiord on the south-west coast of New Zealand, with a plethora of waterfalls, dominating mountains and natural beauty that obliterates all competition.
I wish you could superimpose feelings onto photographs. Like how it felt when the captain turned off the engines, allowing the magical landscape to be accompanied by its natural soundtrack that we’d been unconsciously drowning out – the unhurried flow of waterfalls, the call of rare birds and the lapping of clear water against weathered rock. It is ever-changing: I saw clouds forming above the trees, only to look again and see that they’d already gone. It is also illusory: you look up to see waterfalls gushing over towering rocks, then follow your eyes down as the water fades to spray and nothingness.
But back to the point. I have been inspired, but inspired in the quiet, grateful sense. Which I’m learning isn’t what impassions me to write. What impassions me to write is raw, gutsy emotion.
So I’m not writing this as a reaction to the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. I’m writing this because I’m pissed off.
Because, BECAUSE – this was supposed to be romantic. Or at least, pleasant. Given the scene I’ve set, this really shouldn’t have been difficult. WELL, ladies and gentleman: meet Mauritz*. I think I met him a week ago. One thing about travelling is that you never know what day of the week it is and only have a vague idea of the date. I realise I’ve been a bit unfair in the title – he was never exactly Casanova. We were drawn to each other in a primitive kind of sense, uncoincidentally found ourselves next to each other on several consecutive bus journeys, and finally snogged at the point when I’d almost given up on him being interested. And then as one does when travelling and single, we booked a two day cruise to Doubtful Sound together.
*Name has been changed. We’re Facebook friends. (Do custom privacy settings definitely work?) Fyi his actual name is sexier (sorry Mauritzes).
As we cruised around the beautiful but rainy fiord, passing waterfall after waterfall, and as the poetic romance of being immersed and engulfed by nature at its mightiest left me in awe, there was a definite lacking of romance from a human source. Perhaps my state of wonderment at the natural beauty left my heart more exposed than usual. Or perhaps that’s how I believe it should always be. Particularly when in Rome, as it were. So there I was, exposed, with a guy I really liked and would never see again after five days, with the most beautiful backdrop I could imagine. But however impressed Mauritz was by the scenery, he balanced out by being openly unimpressed by me.
You know when suddenly you find yourself on a different team? You don’t know exactly when or how it happens, but you become painfully (because it hurts) aware that you’re not on the same side any more, and the more they push you away and try to make you feel small, the more allegiance you feel with the team that isn’t theirs. You find yourself retaliating; forcibly staking your ground by disagreeing and underlining your differences. I was lonely on that boat, and it’s not the first time I’ve felt like that. I didn’t even have bloody wifi.
The pinnacle took place in the sea, at the end of what started out as a tranquil kayaking experience. We were in solo kayaks, and as we approached the cruise boat to get back aboard, suddenly the wind picked up so that we found ourselves battling against strong gusts and choppy seas. One poor guy promptly capsized. His worryingly inept rescue resulted in those of us unfortunate enough to still be in the water, to be there for even longer. I was struggling, and I was scared. I kept being blown off course and couldn’t control the kayak against the onslaught of wind and waves. I desperately wanted to be back on the damn boat and was about four waves away from crying. Once the poor bugger who fell in had finally climbed aboard and we were permitted to attempt to join him, Mauritz (looking calm and in control) and I both found ourselves nearest the main boat. So this is what he did: glance round, look at me struggling, then casually pull up alongside the boat and hop aboard. I’d assumed he’d let me go first. Not because I’m a girl, but because I was quite evidently having a bloody nightmare. As I sat in my kayak being battered by the wind and rain, two words fluttered from my lips: “You dick.”
By day two, I retaliated to his meanness with a sharp insult to an innocent joke he made, chiefly to prove my wit, but on the surface it came out as spiteful and mocking. Essentially, I had a pop. Shortly after was the moment when the weather had cleared and the captain turned off the engines to allow us to take in both the physical and aural majesty of this place. But what I was really feeling was regret, and anger. At both of us. I started thinking about what I’d said and how, if things had been good between us, it would have been a shared joke that brought us closer. It should have prompted laughter that reinforced our place on the same team, and ellicited that partners in crime feeling that’s kinda fun and sexy.
More than ever before, the power of humour in a relationship appeared starkly clear to me: its ability to wrap you up together or blow you apart. In the fragile atmosphere, there was no doubting which direction my retort had sent us in.
I had the realisation that it all comes down to intention. So here’s what I vowed to live by: if your intention with your humorous and fantastically witty comment is to bring you closer together: proceed. But if upon closer inspection, you realise that your intention, for whatever reason, is darker: hold fire. Because then you’re getting twisted, and the result will only serve to push you away from each other.
I was formulating all this while waterfall gazing and birdsong beholding, and I felt disappointed with myself for being unwittingly sucked in, and retaliating to negativity with more negativity. So I lightened my mind and left some excess baggage with the mountains: pride, stubbornness and anger – the fuel of bad intentions. Once they were gone, and my mind wasn’t consumed by what my next comeback would be, it allowed calmer thoughts to swim freely, thoughts like, “I wonder why he’s being like this?” I think it can only have been either because a) he’s gone off me (fair enough) or b) he’s scared, perhaps scarred from a previous travel romance. I’m not justifying it, but I can understand it. So now I’m an observer, not a participant, safe in the knowledge that two days of putting up with a grumpy German at least taught me something.