Finding My Feet In The Kootenay Mountains

There is nothing like camping out for a full week at an unimaginably loud and dusty electronic music festival, to make you feel like relaxing by a nice and quiet hot spring, somewhere deep in the Canadian mountains. At least when you know it’s an option, it can easily become a semi-serious obsession as the party progresses and you find yourself peeling your sleeping bag off your grimy back in the mornings. I am speaking out of experience, of course.

A snapshot from the Shambhala Music Festival by the Salmo River

A snapshot from the Shambhala Music Festival by the Salmo River

I had been volunteering my carpentry skills at the legendary Shambhala Music Festival in the Kootenay mountains of British Columbia, and it had been a most delightful and wonderfully intense week of hard work and elaborate partying, but now I was positively pooped and – as per usual – down to my last 100 dollars. More importantly, I needed a long, hot bath and a 24-hour nap. More

Welcome To The Jungle!

After a whole year in Denmark – the longest time I have spent there for about 5 years, I am now again on traveling foot and loving every minute of it. This time I have been granted a 1-year working visa for Canada, and although I am only a month into my travels, I already feel like it won’t be enough with merely 11 more! This country is just so incredibly beautiful and the people here are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Here is a brief account of my very first meeting with this great land and it’s awesome humans… More

Tribute To A True Friend

I wrote this piece for a beautiful friend of mine who recently chose to end her life. I met her in Golden Bay on my first journey to New Zealand, and it was friendship at first sight. Cheyenne had a troubled background, and growing up she suffered severe trauma and abuse. Despite these hard odds, she was an inspiration and a joy to be around and I am honored to have known her. This is my tribute to a brief but powerful friendship that etched a strong impression in my being…

I could tell straight away that she was on a journey of sorts. Outside the nightclub, the fireplace in the cosy yard had caught her full attention. All around us carefree people were laughing and drinking, but as she sat on the ground and stared down the flames, her face was grave, with a strange hint of awe. I was a stranger in town and took my beer in a corner, observing the scene in silence. Suddenly she caught my eyes and fixed me with the most intense stare – piercingly hard and straight through me – yet it wasn’t aggressive but somehow almost pleading. Unusual. I could only return her gaze in hypnotic surprise. She was in a cosmic state of mind and seemed to be navigating a particularly rough patch of universe just then. A solitary psychonaut making her way home through a soulful storm.

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Eventually I sat by the fire next to her, but there wasn’t much of a conversation between us, just an easy, quiet understanding as we tended the fire. She asked me where a foreigner like myself was staying in this dull country town, and I told her about the building site where I had spotted a discreet place to take cover for the night. Her face lit up in approving recognition; she knew exactly what spot I was talking about. She told me she had never used it, since she already had a home. She looked proud of that, and offered me a place to stay for the night. I didn’t know it then, but even though she was a decade younger, she had at least a lifetime on me when it came to survival skills. I took her offer and my life is richer for it.

I stayed in the Bay around 3 months that first time, and I made a bunch of new friends. Cheyenne stood out amongst them all. She had her own category, like a beautiful and exotic migrating bird that you can’t look up in the book. What irony then, that she was truly the local. At the same time, she definitely came from a different world. The darkness and strife, that she had already lived in her young and intense life, were casually referred to in our conversations, but I knew I could never fully comprehend the pain that had been inflicted on her, even if she told me her story in detail. Somehow the Bay and its happy people seemed too innocent for Chey with her instinctive eye for conflict, always scanning her surroundings, unaccustomed with the absence of ill intent. As a man, and cursing my violating brothers around the world, I often felt honoured to have earned her trust.

One time, while I was hitch-hiking into town, she suddenly came speeding over a hill on a mountain-bike, drenched in sweat and cursing her form, but so proud of herself. By chance, we were exactly at her favourite spot on that stretch; a cliff-head by the sea near Pohara, where you can climb onto a ledge and take in the full view of the Bay. Despite her self-proclaimed lack of agility, she led the way like a puma and I scrambled after her. We had a smoke and spoke freely about what it feels like to be a human in this world. We never small-talked, and our conversations invariably turned spiritual. She had the wisdom of a warrior and the makings of a shaman inside her. She was a natural born poet.

She was healing herself, and – ever in my own healing process – I shared my own experiences of depression and substance abuse. They could never compare, of course. On so many levels we were opposite; from each end of the world, one brown and one white; one woman and one man; one younger and one older; one from a happy family and one from a broken home. I was often aware of my privileges, but Chey never seemed to care, except that she was always curious about my travels. She wanted to see Europe more than anything, and I recognized the look she got, when she dreamed of going abroad, as the look of a compulsive traveler. Takes one to know one.

There are other ways to travel than purely physical and we both knew that. She had tried every available substance to alter her mind, and I wasn’t far behind. Still, the gap was wide; I have never known the tight clutch of opiate addiction. We did share a love of entheogens, though, and she had clearly benefited greatly from journeying through her inner world, poring over questions unavailable to the daily self, as one does when ingesting psychedelics with intention. The world of ancient spiritual practice, and the millenia-old use of healing plants reverberated with her own experiences. She was well on her way to find peace, I thought.

I only met Cheyenne 8 times, and I remember every encounter clearly. Her mood could swing at any given time, but mostly she was level, and in any case she would nearly always welcome a laugh. Being around Chey was never boring. One time in sleepy Takaka, she was dressed like a proper punk going off to a drunken riot. She spewed on the pavement and sold me a bag of weed in a crusty back alley – all just for fun, she said. Another time we met, she was wearing a most colorful hippie getup and we drove to the top of the Hill where she wanted to show me the mummified cow, and go for a stroll in the bush.

Another time we hung out in the cosy bus where she lived, and she showed me an art-piece she had made. It was a collage of news-scraps and pictures detailing a terrible story of abuse that she had been subject to. It was a very powerful piece, to say the least, and a very honest and clever way for her to purge and share her story without alienating herself. There is no doubt in my mind, that she was both more intelligent and more able to think with her heart than most people will ever be.

Back on my own road again I was rarely in touch with Chey, but about a year later I came back to New Zealand for a few weeks. She had moved to Nelson where I was going to pass through at end of my trip. I had a late start that day and poor luck with getting a ride, so it wasn’t until I stranded in Nelson just after dusk, that I got a hold of her on the phone. She was working all night, but she promptly arranged for me to stay in her room that she was renting from two ”weird, old and uneducated crackheads”.

She had only been there for a week, but she was dead-on with her description of her flatmates. Their living room was literally a grungy crack-den, but Cheyenne’s room was a different world to that. There were stacks of books on spirituality, filosophy and great works of literature. Incense sticks and pretty rocks adorned an improvised altar under a Bob Marley poster and her amazing wardrobe made a feast of colour on the shelves. Once again my saving angel had come to my rescue, and I felt such gratitude as I fell asleep in this little oasis.

She didn’t wake me when she came back in the early morning. When I did wake up, we only talked for half an hour before I had to catch my bus to the ferry. That was the last time I saw Cheyenne. It was a beautiful half hour. She told me that she was saving up to go North, and that she was in love. She was straight as can be, despite her circumstances, and once again we spoke of following our dreams and navigating life and focusing on love. I am so thankful now, that our parting words were; ”I love you!”.

Cheyenne did go North shortly after that, and she reconnected with her whanau and worked on her her artisan skills. She learned more of her native tongue and, as far as I know, she worked out any outstanding matters with the authorites. She took her life back, slowly but surely. I drifted on in my restless fashion and by way of a broken heart, I ended up back home in Copenhagen, Denmark.

When, recently, I suddenly found out that Chey was in Wales of all places, my heart took a leap of joy for so many reasons. She had made the long and exciting journey to Europe, motivated by love, and she was happier than had I ever heard her; clean, relaxed, in love and enjoying her daily life. She had outsmarted the grim immigration system and found her own way back to her love, and I knew that she had found a happy, peaceful place inside herself. We talked excitedly about visiting each other, and I have learnt a painful lesson now, that I didn’t just buy that flight.

Not long after, and for reasons only known to herself, my beautiful sister in spirit, sweet Cheyenne, flew off on her final journey in this realm. She left behind an indelible impression in me, of a soul so strong and kind and loving, in a world so broken and evil. She proved to me that true friendship has no limit and that love conquers everything. She had as brave a spirit as I will ever meet, and it lingers on in the way I live now, as I am certain countless other very fortunate people carry her inspiration and power in their hearts.

You can say that life overcame Cheyenne in the end, or you can say that she overcame the final fear that we all have. Ultimately, death is only for the living, but life is also for the dead and Chey is still among us. She has joined our ancestors, who brought us into this world and who are all around us and inside us. She is no where and every where. She is in my heart. I see her in the clouds sometimes. She is making faces and traveling the sky at her own will. She was, and is, a Free Spirit.

Safe journey sister,

Love you forever!

cornelius

Killer Coffee

Muscat, Oman – January 2016

Sultan Qaboos was staring right at me in full regalia, armed with a sable and a dagger. I counted 20-odd medallions on his wide and ribboned chest. He was looking sharp and merciful.

Next to him was another photograph of the Sultan, wearing army fatigues and looking 40 years younger. All shops in Oman hang pictures of their beloved leader on their walls, but this coffee-shop was more dedicated than most. All across its tea-stained walls, Sultan Qaboos was stepping in and out of private jets, shaking hands with world-leaders, inspecting parading soldiers and waving at his minions.

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His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman

I was near the capital’s busy and touristy market, the Mutrah Souq, waiting for a round of instant coffee as it were. Made generously with milk and sugar, the way they take it, and the way I love it. From their halwar kameez dress, I figured the staff was Pakistani, but the customers wore mostly Omani dishdashas. I was definitely the blond one out… More

Ireland Revisited

I recently spent 3 fabulous weeks in Ireland with some good friends – new and old. (If you are just here to see some sweet pictures from my latest trip, then scroll down to the gallery part). It was probably my 7th trip there in the decade that has passed since my first impromptu immigration to Ireland. This near-mythical island fascinates me with its resilient culture, at home and abroad. Between 9 and 10 million people have emigrated from Ireland since the 1700’s, and today the Irish People and their descendants count more than 80 million humans. This post is an introduction into the migration-happy Ireland that i have come to know and love.

Fáilte go hÉirinn – Welcome to Ireland!

 

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Also known as “The Emerald Isle”, Ireland is indeed a very green place. Lots of old castles and rugged cliffs too. Just like the brochures really, except they don’t always mention the incessant rain…

Early Irish Impressions

When I was 20 years old, I was living in England’s “San Francisco” – the lively seaside town of Brighton – where young back packers and middle-aged party-addicts spontaneously get stuck until they run out of money or mental health.

I ran out of both after about a year of odd-jobs and shoestring-debauchery – but what a year it was! This was my first bit of proper impromptu migration, traveling alone and with nothing but opportunity and adventure ahead of me. Here I made friends from around the world, and one such friend was the Irishman Joe (Great Mystery rest his soul). More

Pray, Eat, Sleep – It’s Sunday!

In Tonga Sundays are holy by law. The three main activities are lotu (church), kai (eat) and mohe (sleep). Although I have a strong bias against the Christian church (thank you fanatic Inner Mission preacher from my childhood), I found that there was little else to do on my first Sunday in Tonga, so I decided to give it a go.

The choices were so many that it made me dizzy, but in the end I went with my French room-mate Thibaut’s idea of going to the official state church – the Free Church of Tonga – where the King was supposed to be.

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A main road in the capital on a Sunday afternoon… F… all happening here.

Where Is The King And Who Paid What?

Like a true Tongan, though, the King doesn’t always do what is culturally expected from him. With that many cultural rules you really can’t blame them. Instead, the King mostly frequents the Methodist church which is conveniently located near the Royal Palace. But the Prime Minister was there and I know that, because he picked up Thibaut as he hitch-hiked into town after the service!

And what a service it was; the singing was incredible. Not only was there a super professional large choir and brass-band, the whole congregation sang with full voices in perfect pitch. As I found out later, this church is the most conservative in all of Tonga and this was reflected in the fact that every single person was wearing black.

Thankfully I always travel with a dark suit (you’d be surprised how handy that is when you’re boarding a flight with a guitar that was supposed to have been checked in) and so I managed to blend in somewhat. Thibaut and myself were the only whites there, but as Thibaut had donned a shiningly white shirt I felt like he got most of the looks, so I felt safe enough to sneak an audio-recording of the fantastic harmonies into my little recorder. More

Tui Turns 30!

Almost 9 months ago, I promised you to write about my experience of living in one of New Zealand’s most remarkable communities – Tui. Then life happened and swept me onto new adventures and I forgot all about it. But as Tui is turning 30 this year, they have asked friends of the community to write a little something for the occasion and I realized that this was my chance to both give them my story and redeem myself to you, dear reader…

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Daylight full moon rising over a corner of Tui with the Abel Tasman National Park in the back.

 

Here is what I sent to the Tuis:

 

My name is Cornelius and I am a Danish globetrotter and community enthusiast who first learnt about community-living in the 1000-people strong Freetown of Christiania – a famous and controversial community in the middle of Copenhagen. From small grungy squats to large scale utopian projects around the world, I have since visited and studied a great deal of communities. Some of them – like Tui – I visited for the purpose of making a radio documentary. My focus with this is to document intentional communities that are long-standing and non-religious, in an attempt to uncover what makes an alternative and individually diversified community last through the generations, without succumbing to the all-too-common problems of fanaticism, commercialism and inter-personal conflict.

 

Stumbling Upon A Gem

I was hitch-hiking near Nimbin in Australia, when I first heard of Tui,  A lady who picked me up, turned out to be a fellow community aficionado and I told her about my community documentary project and that my next destination was New Zealand. Her response was to tell me about one of Tui’s founding members, Robina McCurdy, who happened to have just visited the Nimbin area to give a talk about permaculture. She then told me about Tui community and I decided then and there to visit the place, as soon as I got to New Zealand.

My second impression of Tui came from their website. I was curious to know a bit more about the community, and keen to arrange for me to stay there for a while, so I tried googling them. Having seen so many unkempt community websites over the years, I was very impressed with Tui’s home in cyberspace. Here was a community that, not only updated their website more than once every couple of years, they had also posted relevant information and up-to-date contact details!

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Me and my favourite three co-wwoofers; Ine, the Beast & Mari. A very special time that was for 4 strangers turned family.

I wrote to Tyson, the current (excellent!) visitor coordinator, and told him that I was hoping to do some work, in exchange for a few weeks of accommodation and possibly some food. I also wrote that I was interested in conducting a few interviews for my community documentary. Little did I know that I was going to spend 3 whole months there, working for the community as well as nearly every household, doing more than 20 interviews and no doubt winning some genuine friends for many years to come!

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Tonga & The Tropical Trouble

If I say ‘tropical island kingdom in the Pacific’, would you think of political riots, racial tension, corrupt authorities, roadside pollution, feudal rule, poverty, alcoholism and natural disasters? I’m guessing no.

Nonetheless, this is also part of the otherwise picture-perfect postcard that you get here in Tonga. It would be easy to write yet another envy-inducing traveller’s blog about how cute all the traditional costumes are, how friendly the people are, how white the sandy beaches are and how fresh the cheap coconuts taste.

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Even though the World Cup is on these days, local rugby matches draw more attention than any soccer game will ever do.

 

Of course, all of that is true and the weather is great too, but you know me; I can’t help but digging up the dirt and the quirk. So here we are – welcome to an alternative peak into the Kingdom of Tonga.

A Cash-Conscious Church

Tonga is the only Polynesian island nation that has never lost its sovereignty to a foreign power. In other words; they were never colonized. For that reason, it is probably also the best living example of uninterrupted Polynesian culture with all the feudalism and taboo that this entails.

That is not to say that new ideas and cultural traits haven’t been introduced. Take Christianity for instance. In the 1800’s Tonga started receiving missionaries of all sorts of Christian denominations; Mormons, 7th Day Adventists, Catholics, Wesleyans, Lutherans, you name it. In modern day Tonga this translates into a 99% Christian population.

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Even the smurfs have their own church in Tonga!

 

Yet, the Tongans didn’t so much get converted as they converted the church practices into a distinctively Tongan version. One example of that is the widespread practice of drinking the anaesthetic juice made from the roots of the Kava plant. In the Free Church of Tonga, the preacher and the congregation thus get moderately stoned together right before and immediately after church services.

Another uniquely Tongan church practice is the in-your-face money collection, which happens during service and ends with a public counting of the loot and a subsequent public reading from a list of givers and their contributions. Talk about peer-pressure.

 

Traditional Pressures

Where Westerners often feel pressure and expectation in their work-environments, Tongans feel their societal obligations most strongly within their families and churches. Tongans will apparently often take out expensive loans just to afford an ‘appropriate’ donation to the church and when a family member dies, the family absolutely must perform certain rites that are often cripplingly expensive.

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Love & Loathing In Alice Springs

I had wanted her for years. I kept meeting her former lovers, still spellbound from her presence, and I knew that she was truly hot. She has golden red features and is passionately worshipped by black and white alike. So spirited is she, that yet no one has known her depth. So honestly, beautifully brutal and indifferent is she, that both women and men draw their last breath with her. And yet, I had to embrace her – I had to be inside her, if only just once: I had to go to Alice…

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What was I getting into this time?

ALICE WAS A GUY

There is no denying it; Alice Springs is a female town. And let’s be honest about it; as far as towns go, she ain’t too pretty. We love her and she will suck you in with her incredible charm, but her looks, well, they will just have to grow on you.

Her straight and barren streets get you lost in a grid of buttoned-up suburban houses and except for the feeble curves of the dry Todd riverbed, Alice is very straight and fairly boring to behold. But houses and streets and cars and shops, are only Alice’s latest layers. Before she got her name from a telegraphist’s wife, her name was actually Stuart.

That’s almost a hundred years ago now. She weren’t too pretty then, either. That was her pioneer macho phase, where suddenly thousands of desperate white men with guns and cattle and pieces of paper, decided to scratch out a living in the desert (and maybe a bit of gold).

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A landscape from just outside Alice Springs.

NO PROPERTY – NO PROBLEM

They needed a place for transport and trade, and as fate would have it, they put up a telegraph station for their “singing line”, right in the middle of a songline junction. Black fellas’ pathways have always crossed on this sacred site. White fella only slapped a bit of tarmac on them and proceeded to squat the place and call it theirs.

Trying to be a town in a desert is a pretty terrible idea. Maybe that’s why the original locals, the Arrernte people, never built a town in their tens of thousands of years of belonging to this place. They call Alice Springs for “Mparntwe” – ‘Meeting Place’ – and they don’t claim to own her, they only look after her.

On Arrernte land there are 8 different “skin-names”. Each skin is a tribe and a story about the country it belongs to. Each tribe has a right to travel, but it’s also the caretaker of it’s neighbours’ land, by way of their complex kinship structure. You are, so to speak, related to the land. No property – no problem. Different story now.

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FRESH WOUNDS

The last Aboriginal family in Australia to be exposed to the wicked ways of the white man, came out of the Gibson Desert near Alice Springs only 30 years ago, in 1984. I presume they had been hiding from the slaughtering of their people and protecting their culture. When they finally came out, they encountered a world where blacks and whites live in the same place, yet in different realities.

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New Zealand Snapshot Stories

Sometimes it is so much more descriptive to explain a story from a picture, and sometimes there are too many stories too tell in one blog post. So, I have put together this little gallery, showing you some of the memorable people and places I met and visited in New Zealand. There are scores more apart from these (I have had a very busy half a year in terms of meeting people) but I only had a camera for half of the time…

Anyway, hope you enjoy, click on a picture to begin!

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