It’s been said that a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. As such, we find ourselves constantly changing and rearranging our travel itinerary. We’ll still go to Rome tomorrow, then take a train down to the beautiful medieval town of Ostuni, because Italy has always ranked with France in terms of romantic, classic places that I’ve wanted to visit ever since I can remember wanting to go anywhere. Then we’ll move north to Germany (if we can swing it, stopping by Venice on the way) because it seems to be a favourite among those who have spent time in Europe. Plus, I want to try out my rusty, untested year of high school German. Afterwards, we may move on to Greece, or maybe even Croatia or Turkey or Albania.
We’ve also developed a new idea for post-European travel, which would allow us to continue onward to Asia without breaking the budget. This particular plan has already provided hope for countless numbers of wanderlusting recent graduates: Teaching English in South Korea. The sleepy last few weeks in Wales have given us time to assess the feasibility of such an expedition. After wading through an ocean of material regarding visas, requirements and financial considerations, I’ve emerged with the certainty that this new plan is possible, sensible and exciting. The benefits are unquestionable: Free housing, medical care, and living expenses so minimal that we can live off one person’s salary and save the rest. It’s an entirely new adventure, but one that would allow us to have our own apartment and our own space again. I couldn’t be more excited for our next 3 months workawaying in Europe, yet I can’t help but also look forward to being able to finish a meal without jumping up immediately to clean everyone’s dishes and to knowing when the work day is officially over.
The downside, obviously, is that because we’ll have to commit to a minimum of one year teaching in Korea, we’ll be separated from our friends and family for much longer. There will be a brief trip home at Christmas for a wedding, but it certainly won’t be the December 2012 homecoming that we had initially promised. I’m not immune to homesickness, but at the same time there’s something completely addicting about hearing about an amazing faraway location, and being able to say “Let’s go there”, with the knowledge that nothing is standing in our way.
Over our last few weeks in Wales, the steely beauty of the winter has been slowly transitioning to the warmth of spring. The sunlight is beginning to light up the mist that rests gently on the mountain tops, and turn the moss brighter shades of green and yellow. Spring time also means the arrival of pony riding season, so Alice invited Brent and I for a ride. I’ve never really been horse riding before, save a few times on horses from commercial stables that are so accustomed to having novices ride them, that you really just sit there while the horse plods along. After grooming and saddling my pony-for-the-day, Quince, we were off clip-clopping along a dirt forest path in the early morning sun. Once I became comfortable with Quince’s slightly unpredictable and feisty personality, I was able to try trotting and cantering. I much preferred cantering; it was that smoother, faster, wind-in-your hair kind of horse riding. Every time I thought I had the hang of it, Quince would nearly throw me off by stopping abruptly and bending her massive head down to eat a few blades of grass. I’d dutifully try to hold on to the reins, but Quince’s giant horse head proved far more powerful than my arms, so I’d mostly end up being pulled forward onto her neck. Learning curves aside, with the towering evergreen trees and the mountains acting as a backdrop, the experience certainly lived up to all of my girlish, pony-riding dreams.
At 3010 feet, the peak of Mount Tryfan is one of the most recognizable in Britain. One of its claims to fame is that, while it’s possible to simply walk up the other mountains in Snowdonia with basic navigation skills, there’s no easy way to go about climbing Mount Tryfan. It requires you to really climb; to scramble and pull yourself up higher using your hands. It was perfect for our last climb before departing.
Alice dropped us off at the base of Tryfan, and rather than arranging a pick-up time, she half-jokingly let us know at what time she would send out mountain rescue if we had yet to return. It was early morning, so the still-rising sun lit up certain slopes of the Ogwen Valley, while leaving other areas in shadow. Tryfan looked steep, rough and rocky in comparison to the smoother, greener mountains and hills that surrounded it. The safe paths up Tryfan are well-hiked, which has caused the grass along them to erode and the stones to round, creating a rough series of steps to use for the first half of the hike. As we climbed higher, the grass disappeared and there was only bare rock and sheer drops down. I crouched low as I moved forward, feeling safety in pressing my body against the reassuring sturdiness of the mountain.
Near the peak, I began to lose my nerve. The only path to the top seemed to involve balancing on clusters of pointed rocks. Luckily, a large group of climbers emerged at this point, having taken another route up the mountain, and encouraged me to follow them to the top. It was still intimidating, but I felt much safer knowing that there were 3 people ahead and behind me as I climbed. Once we reached the top, it was flat enough that we could walk around to all sides and peer off the edge. We were literally eye-level with the clouds; we even saw a low-flying plane pass beneath us. There is a pair of monoliths about 9ft high at the top of Tryfan, nicknamed Adam and Eve. The standing dare is for those climbing Mount Tryfan to jump the 4ft between the two rocks in order to gain the “Freedom of Tryfan”. The jump itself is small, but the consequences of a misstep, in the form a sharp drop down, are significant. Brent climbed up Adam, while I cringed. Neither of us ended up making the jump, but, having climbed the “climber’s mountain” of Britain, I still like to think that we can leave Wales having earned our mountaineering stripes. Hwyl fawr Cymru!