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Scaling Mt. Introspection: A Personal Recount

SAMOA | Tuesday, 13 May 2014 | Views [141] | Scholarship Entry

When you climb Mt. Introspection, it doesn’t matter what ridge you decide to settle on as marking the end of your ascent - it is invariably the outlook from which you can survey the different cultures and places that you, the traveller, have experienced. The ever-pullulating gamut, sprawled out below you, is at once ineffable and enticing. It offers a special kind of remembering.

Mt. Introspection is a part of every traveller’s world, but it rises in different places. I would love to say that my own assail of Mt. Introspection came during climbing up a mountain in Samoa, but I’m reluctant to wrap my tale in such metaphoric grandeur unwarrantedly. To say the locale is even a hill would be generous; it’s more a splotchy mole on Savai’i’s otherwise unblemished face. At the time I would’ve given anything for it to be a proper mountain, because the island had just been issued with a tsunami warning.

I was volunteering at a small pastel-coloured school flanking the coast when the warning came through: swathes of excitable Samoan children were quickly ushered into lines by teachers, and frogmarched towards the ‘hill’. A boisterous kid named Steve jumped onto my back – gluttonous beads of rains splattered down, within minutes we were both caked in mud. We trod briskly up a worryingly slight incline, and I was struck by how at ease with the situation the Samoans were. How routine was this unholy pilgrimage to them? Like my own childhood experiences of fire drills, was this elemental threat regarded simply as reprieve from the rigours of times-tables?

A small fale came into view within mere minutes, sentinel of the inauspicious peak. A convoy of battered 4WDs lined its edge to ferry the children away: a tangle of small, mud-coated limbs tumbled into waiting interiors as I looked out towards the sea, rolling paddocks cascading down to the tempestuous coast. I’d never experienced anything liked it, yet the panorama and sense of ascendancy evoked adolescent memories of clambering above a mound to marvel at the rolling Australian bush below, gold-sheathed leaves of Eucalyptus trees mirroring the fading sun. Wildly different worlds converged in the smallest detail: I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was my ridge on Mt. Introspection. The car convoy winked out of view and a small cluster of us were left standing below the fale. The question that demands to be felt from the vantage point of Mt. Introspection unfurled in my mind: how did I end up here?

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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