// Spiritual Encounter//

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I had been sitting in the car for nearly eight hours; eight hours of tightly winding roads, stretching around the mountain and listening to rap and nineties music exploding out of the speakers above my head. I had never been carsick before, but on that drive my stomach was wound tighter than the roads we were on. I tried napping to get rid of the sickness, but as I rested my head on the window there was no avoiding the rattling walls of the van and the headache that came with it.

I tried looking at the scenery, as every inch of the New Zealand countryside was covered in beautiful mountain ranges, rivers, waterfalls, rainforests and green rolling hills, but nothing could take my mind off the need to get out of this antiqued Mercedes van.

            The wind from the window on the passenger side of the car was blasting my face, forcing me to clench my mouth to keep my cheeks from flapping. The air was chilly, but without it the big windows let in so much sun that the heat was almost unbearable. It felt refreshing at first, but now the knots forming in my hair and my sore jaw were enough to make it a nuisance.

            I could feel the car slow down. I wasn’t sure if we were turning to head towards another country road or maybe to get gas. I was hoping for the latter.

            The car began to rock side to side as we slowly cruised over a gravel road. I saw the signs for a rest stop and my legs began to shake with excitement.

I’m not sure what drew me to this specific spot, a rest stop at the edge of Lake Tekapo, just a few turns away from the base of Mount Cook. Maybe it was the relief of finally being out of the car after that painful eight-hour drive.

Maybe it was the fear of knowing that once we left this place I, a tiny, out of shape twenty-year-old, would be traversing the extreme hike up a mountain near Mount Cook to stay at Mueller Hut.

Six hours of climbing stairs and rocks straight up the inclined side of the mountain while the sun burned my skin lay ahead. I have somewhat olive skin that can resist the sunrays in Florida, but the sun here was different. I had heard rumors of a hole in the ozone and that, combined with the fact that I was closest I had ever been to the equator, made this sun the hottest I had ever felt. Wearing 30spf was no match for the intensity of the rays that would beat down on my skin and the possibility for third degree burns seemed highly unattractive.

This rest stop was the final stop. There was no backing out after this, unless I wanted to be abandoned by my group and stay in a hostel alone. While the hostels here were very different from those in the United States - clean, sustainable and well maintained - the loneliness and fear of missing out on the experience would likely sneak its way into my subconscious.

I wanted time to freeze here. I wanted to be stuck in this peaceful place, at the bottom of the mountain. Peace is hard to find when you’re travelling in a group with 24 college students, but this place managed to put us all in a trance.

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Some people were up at the top of the hill, feeding the seagulls with the leftover bread from our picnic, while others moseyed down the winding paths through the fields. I passed on all that and tip toed barefoot across the jagged rocks to the water’s edge, where I sat on a rock and took a deep breath. As the air filled my lungs I could feel myself getting heavier, blissfully anchored to this rock. It was the perfect spot. In front of me rocked a vast pool of celeste blue water, behind me a field candied with a rainbow of lupins swayed in the breeze. The water and clear blue sky sandwiched the mountain range in the distant horizon. On the sides of the lake, giant green hills, almost mountains, stretched into the water’s shoreline. Aside from the brief gusts of wind and the light sounds of water gently splashing on the rocky shore, it was silent.

I closed my eyes and basked in the beauty of silence. The harmony of this place was unmatched by any previous experience. Meditation is a daily routine for me, but this place required no effort to concentrate. I was thrust into a present stream of consciousness where nothing else in life mattered but this moment. My fear of the day ahead, homesickness, worries, stress… Everything was gone. It was as if I left my body sitting on this rock and my spirit took off to explore nature. I could feel my heartbeat slow to the pace of the rocking waves. I could feel my breath relax and sync with the rhythm of the breeze. I could feel my skin tickled by the sun’s rays kissing my cheek. Every limb became numb and every muscle was still. I never felt so spiritually connected to a place like I did to this spot in New Zealand.

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I opened my eyes to watch the waves roll over the sharp boulders poking out of their surface, washing the dry cracks away as if healing ancient wounds. A microscopic bee fluttered into my view, flapping its wings furiously to maintain its position. I have a slight fear of bees, but felt nothing could harm me here. The bee floated to the brim of my glasses, as if watching me watching its home, then flew away.

Life felt different here. I watched tiny insects bask in the sunlight on the damp surface of the pebbles on the shore. Seagulls bobbed in the waves out in the distant waters, floating over the white caps of the waves as the winds began to pick up. The waves began crashing into the rock I sat upon, shooting tiny droplets of water onto my arm. I watched the droplets dance their way down my hand before the wind swept them away.

Suddenly, a hand rested on my shoulder, startling me out of my trance. I sat there for nearly an hour, but it was time to leave. I still feel as though part of my spirit is in that place. My memory of it is still so vivid and real, as if I can bring myself there with the flicker of a thought. That memory will definitely come in handy as I’m struggling to catch my breath on the torturous hike ahead.