It was still dark when I woke up.
My bags were already packed and my clothes (aka my plane outfit, aka the same exact thing I’d been wearing for the previous three weeks) all lined up so it took me about 23 seconds to get ready and say goodbye to my dodgy-looking, differently-clean Travelodge room.
On the shuttle to the airport, at the gate, and on the first flight to Honolulu, I didn’t feel anything. I wasn’t excited or sad or anything. I guess I was just too tired. I dragged myself around, waited, napped.
Sadly my stopover in Honolulu wasn’t long enough for me to leave the airport and acquire a Hawaiian garland and matching shorts, however I did spot a lot of Lilo & Stitch references which made me disappointed that the movie selection on the plane didn’t include that.
On the second leg from Honolulu to Auckland I made another friend - well, a guy from Austin, Texas who was travelling to Auckland to attend a cosplay convention and drank his way across the Pacific as I was being served chamomile tea. We parted way at the duty free, where he disappeared in the alcohol aisle in search for a bottle of wine to keep him company that evening.
Because I landed in Auckland too late for me to catch a flight to Wellington, I had to spend the night there.
I had booked a “cabin loft” supposedly serviced by a free shuttle to and from the airport. However, nobody at Auckland airport seemed to know what I was talking about.
I did find a shuttle but it definitely wasn’t free and the driver had never heard of the address I showed him. However, after checking on a big fat Yellow Pages book (welcome to New Zealand) he told me my accommodation was on the way into town anyway so he could drop me off, but the ride was going to cost me $35. Since it was only 4km away I quickly checked with Uber, which would have only been $14, so I politely declined the shuttle ride. The guy must have taken that as some sort of negotiation, as he told me to wait and see if any other passengers would show up, which would have lowered the price down. Soon enough I was squeezed in between five more passengers and only ended up paying $10 (my payment being processed on this - again, hello New Zealand).
On the website, my cabin lodge looked like a tiny house wet dream, but when got there it was too dark and rainy for me to fully appreciate the outside.
Inside, the cabin turned out to be a converted container: wood panels, sheepskins, a bench made out of a log. Standing in the middle of it I could touch every corner. Also, in the best of New Zealand tradition, the only source of heat was a small electric portable heater which I gingerly blasted at full power.
I thanked my past self for brushing my teeth at the airport so I wouldn’t have to walk in the rain to get to the outdoor bathroom (Jesus Kiwis, you are tough) and slipped under the covers fully dressed.
The morning after I woke up before the alarm, quickly showered in the freezing cold bathroom which was also a converted container, and got an Uber to the airport. I was obviously there way too early and spent four hours fidgeting and getting impatient. This last bit of the journey was the longest in spite of being the shortest. By this point I couldn’t wait to be back in Welly.
When we finally started descending and I spotted the Makara wind farm, recognised the road that runs around the Miramar peninsula, spotted all those familiar places from the sky, I felt safe. I felt home.
Giac picked me up and we went to the Botanist for lunch, which was just what I needed after not having proper food for days.
I unpacked the minute I got home, did a washing up, re-assessed my purchases, caught up with Giac, had gallons of tea and tried not to fall asleep.
Over the days following my repatriation I did a lot of thinking and a lot of processing, and these are the conclusions I came to:
I was glad to be back.
Which was surprising. I was not expecting that. Before leaving I was sure that after visiting London and San Francisco I wouldn’t have wanted to go back to New Zealand, but instead I missed Wellington during the whole duration of my trip.
There’s no point in stressing.
I must have forgotten how stressful life can get on the other side of the world. Seeing friends and family being overworked, exhausted, frustrated, stuck and unhappy made me realise how different life in New Zealand is. It’s not that people have no problems here - problems are different. It’s not that people are lazy - people know how to not stress over things that are not worth stressing about.
It’s the small things that count.
Saying hello and thank you to the bus driver, unconditional support from nonjudgmental friends, people being nice just for the sake of it. A sense of community, a slow pace of life.
When I first moved here I was hanging on so much to my previous life that I couldn’t make space to welcome new things, convinced that what I had before was more important and that New Zealanders were lame. Instead, since I’ve been letting go of that, I’ve been discovering lots of new aspects of life that fulfil me on a whole new level.
Here I can truly be the self that I was always meant to be.
I’m writing this on a Tuesday morning from the comfort of my couch, because I decided I didn’t want to go out today. I work 2.5 days a week and the rest of the time is filled with activities that I’d been putting off for years because I never had the time and energies to carry out. I’ve implemented my website, I’m writing a book, working on an online project, going to the gym consistently, taking classes. I can be Zero Waste because I had the time and space to do research, learn new skills and turn my life around. I am grateful every day that I’m in a place that allows me to do all that.
I was realistic.
I’m happy that while I was home I was able to describe my life in New Zealand in very genuine terms, as opposed to last time I was there, when I was in such a bad mental state that I depicted everything through a gloomy filter of pessimism and distrust. This time round I was honest in saying that yes, I do struggle with the distance and the weather, but that also yes, there are so many other good things about this place that make up for whatever I haven’t adjusted to yet.
So there you have it. Wellington feels so much better now. It feels so SAFE. I love my life here. I still hate the weather. But everything else is SO MUCH BETTER.