Wanderlust Au Naturel

Elina Wanderlust Cover

 

We’re all familiar with the stereotype of a young girl who goes travelling alone, oftentimes in Asia, and reports back home with Instagram photos of majestic mountaintops and awe-inspiring waterfalls. The captions include inspirational quotes and ooze strong, universal love for everything and everyone. The phenomenon of exceptional desire to explore is known by the term wanderlust, and this trend of discovering faraway lands and curious cultures has been strikingly visible in the western world for years. Sure, the urge to unearth what is new is a natural part of being human – the fact that in recent decades we have grown to know this trend of travelling is not telling us anything fresh about us people per se. We have wanted to see and conquer since ancient times, I daresay – but moving on from all the clichés, in this article, I am going to explore wanderlust itself.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

The biggest and most straightforward reason as to why travelling has become more and more popular during the age of airplanes, and beyond, is simply economic growth. The development from such small salaries that they only cover every-day necessities to plumper wallets and affordable plane tickets may have had its ups and downs along the way of hundreds of years. However, spending on amusement has been self-evident for decades now, mostly in the western  countries, to be exact.

Thus, we can easily argue that travelling has become mundane years ago, partly because of monetary reasons. Contrarily, backpacking in foreign forests and admiring our earth from thousands of metres above is not every-day life for each young high school graduate, who form the majority of wanderlust campaigners. Take me, for example. I grew up in a small town, or to tell the truth, some country roads’ worth outside of a very small town. My quotidian view was a tall pine forest, a couple of birds flying about the backyard, and a silent lake. It took a car ride to even step out of the land owned by my family and relatives. I lived there for some 15 years, and the same year I graduated from the local high school, I was off to southern Europe, alone. Having spent a year volunteering and travelling around France and a little bit of Italy, having met and said goodbye to people from all around the world, having sensed something very different from the pine of the past, I now claim to understand wanderlust.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

Discovering doesn’t always have to be cheesy and Instagram-captioned, it can also be silent and slow. Leaving family and Finland was hardly an easy step to take for the 19-year-old small town girl that I was, and during the first six months I didn’t encounter many #nofilter worth moments. It was mostly feeling helpless, homesick, lonely and tired from the constant combat with French and the French. I had a hard time learning how to do la bise and master the lengthy politeness poetry that was needed to act natural amongst the natives. It shocked a Northern newbie how every shop closed their doors at 7 pm, well before what would still be wonted working time in Scandinavia, the empire of efficiency. I struggled with being forced to take two hours for la sieste at lunch and then working late, while my inner self of the thousand lakes was crying for a faster pace.

This is a part of exploring a new culture that doesn’t always get exactly highlighted, but it still is a crucial part of the process. It is impossible to understand a different culture without trying to get accustomed to it, making mistakes and learning from them, and eventually, reaching that point where you feel comfortable within your brand-new home. For me, the process of fitting in peaked at around 7 months of living on French soil, and when it was the time to leave again, I had become so much of a stranger to my Nordic roots that I had to adjust again. When I, the grand, grown globetrotter, dragged my overweight valise again across the humble Helsinki-Vantaa airport, my family made sure to comment on my eccentric intonation and use of unnatural idioms in Finnish. Meanwhile, I had to gather all my strength to remember how Finns greet each other and, on my way back to life pre-wanders, to bury the idea of dropping by a boulangerie to purchase some Sunday croissants. Only after having been back in Finland for some three months, I felt at home again.

My French discoveries may not have always been Instagram worthy, but the sense of wanderlust I had been secretly growing inside of me for all my teenage years finally got satisfied.  I have come to learn to adjust; I have seen whole new types of trees, houses, manners, work ethics, coffee makers and dinner times; I have conquered a curious culture by adapting to it and learning from it – just for me. I travelled alone, and even though I made unforgettable friends along the way, it was still I who took the steps forward, who waited for the bus that was four hours late to go on a holiday on the coast by myself, who learnt which wine to order with a goat cheese salad in a Bordeaux restaurant, who found a way to an unseen place, who looked at it, and who remembered how to get back.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

Above all: the grass still smelled the same, the sky still looked the familiar shade of blue, the every-day life still felt as ordinary as ever. Only the details were switched around just a little, so that I had to either adjust them or myself. I commenced what became the most difficult journey that I have ever taken, but it also taught me the most about life that I could have ever learnt in one year. And now, I’m happy at home, though as a little changed version of myself.

So, as certainly as is wanderlust a fundamental part of human nature, it doesn’t always equal what you see nowadays on glorious photos in social media. It takes a lot of effort to really explore, and most often than not, you will actually end up exploring yourself instead of a park, a city, or a mountain. One thing’s for sure: if you ever meet this magical motivation to go and see, the one that is known as wanderlust, you should listen to it. Instead of a foreign land, you might learn to conquer yourself. Now, if that is not a healthy hunger – wanting to grow as a person through learning to understand what is different – then what is?

Excerpts from the Life of an Interstellar Space Probe

voyager_space_probe2

Day 1

My name is Voyager. I’m a space probe born in Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Today is September 5th, 1977 – the day of my launch.

I can’t tell you how excited I am. I’ve been preparing for this my whole life, dreaming of the moment of lift-off. Ever since I was a pile of bolts and pieces of metal, I’ve been lifting my gaze up to the stars, imagining all the magnificent wonders that the unknown reaches of space hold. I can easily tell that the NASA engineers that have been tending to me these past few months have been almost as excited as I am, and they’re not even the ones going to space! That should tell you how big of a deal this is.

Ah, here they are now! They’re moving me on wheels to the launch pad. I wonder how the lift-off will feel. They tell me it’s going to be rough, but I hope it doesn’t hurt too much. I hope my big space adventure will start off nice and smooth.

Oh, oh! This is it! I’m at the launch pad now and they’re starting the countdown. I’m situated pretty high up because I’m attached to the top part of Titan. He’s my launch vehicle, my rocket, which means that his powerful rocket engines will boost me out of Earth’s atmosphere into the outer space, where he will detach. I don’t know him too well, but judging by the time we spent together here at Cape Canaveral, he seems like a very nice and thoughtful person. Sadly, he won’t be coming with me on the trip towards Saturn. That’s the journey I have to make myself.

The lift-off is near! I can barely keep my stabilization gyroscopes together, I’m shaking with excitement. No wait, that must be Titan and his engines starting! Oh boy, here we go! Three, two, one… Lift-off! Whoo!

I feel a strong force pushing me up, higher and higher. My lower parts are trembling for the sheer pressure that the upward thrust produces. That Titan sure is a hell of a powerhouse for such a slender piece of metal, aerodynamically speaking.

Flying feels awesome! When I look at the Earth below me and the sky above me an exhilarating stream of adrenaline fills me and takes control of me. What an immeasurable joy! I can’t help but smiling. I feel invincible.

The space doesn’t seem to get any closer, but the ground is escaping my reach with an accelerating velocity. I can see Florida now. There’s the Gulf of Mexico. I can see parts of South America, too. How green and blue the planet looks from up here! I would’ve never guessed it if I wasn’t seeing this with my own eyes. Goodbye, Earth! You take care now.

Day 5

Things have gone according to plan for the past couple of days. I’m currently floating through the vast emptiness of space. The beginning of the adventure was full of action, but ever since I broke out from Earth’s atmosphere and Titan left me, I’ve had a lot of time to myself. Time to think. There’s not much else to do out here, really.

I’m not complaining, though. If you could only see what I see from where I’m floating. Millions, if not billions, of stars and other far-away objects dot the black curtains of the visible universe. At first I thought it would be dark here in space, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The stars light up the whole of my existence beautifully. The Earth is a small blue marble behind me, decreasing in size by the hour, little by little. Oh, I think my old friends in Pasadena would be very proud of me if they could see me now!

Day 28

The thing about space is that it’s huge. And I mean huge. You never fully understand the fact until you’re drifting right in the middle of it. There are countless planets and star systems and galaxies, but they’re all so far away. I haven’t flown past anything worth mentioning during my whole voyage so far. I can see Mars out there, and even Jupiter, but they’re all so far away and it doesn’t even feel like I’m making any progress. It’s really frustrating.

Thankfully, the NASA team back on Earth has been communicating with me semi-regularly, keeping me up to date with some important information regarding my mission. They tell me that everything has gone as planned, so that’s good.

One of my favorite pastimes is looking at the different bright spots on the distance, trying to guess which stars or galaxies they are and how far away they are. I usually need the help of the NASA team to let me know if I got it right or not, but I’m right surprisingly often! Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is an awe-inspiring sight. It’s wrapped around this part of the universe like a thick, wide scarf, decorated with an insane amount of glitter that sparkles in the wavelengths of white, yellow, red and blue.

Oh, and have I mentioned the Sun? I get so lost in admiring the far-off places that I sometimes forget to acknowledge the things closest to me. Way behind me, a long distance even from the Earth, is the Sun. It’s really bright, so I don’t like to look at it directly. But I can feel the warm radiation it emits touching the hydrazine thrusters on my backside. I plan to enjoy the warmth while it lasts because it’s going to be considerably colder when I finally reach Jupiter and Saturn someday.

Day 547

Boy, what a day it has been! I have finally reached Jupiter! I’ve been admiring and photographing the gas giant and its moons for some days now, but today was by far the most productive day in terms of the mission. I flew really close to Amalthea, Io, Europa and Jupiter itself.

The NASA team said they were really impressed by my photos of the anticyclonic storm on the surface of Jupiter and the volcanic eruption on the moon Io. Apparently, this was the first proof of volcanic activity outside Earth. And what a proof: I managed to get a picture of the plume of volcanic ash that ascended about 100 miles from the surface of the large moon!

I like Jupiter, I really do. It has been a long and lonely journey to where I am now, but looking at the massive orange planet and its moons, whose colors range from bright yellow to white, with red canyons embellishing the surface, to black with shades of purple, I can say with complete honesty that it has been worth it. The violently raging red storms the size of Earth on the surface of Jupiter make me wish I could get even closer to the planet, just for a little while. But, unfortunately, I still have another mission to complete after I’ve studied this Jovian system thoroughly. I am to continue my path even further away from home, to Saturn.

I have to admit the loneliness is sometimes unbearable. The only solace in my cosmic solitude is the company of the NASA team, when they contact me. But that doesn’t happen too often anymore, and I feel like every time they call they are only asking me to give something to them: information, photographs or a status report. I keep telling myself that they care and that I am not truly alone as long as I’m on a very important mission.

Day 1,165

Saturn and its rings. The view is almost unreal. The planet reflects the light from the Sun extremely well, which makes it look completely yellow, without any irregularities on its surface. The rings consist mainly of tiny particles of ice and some kind of rocky material, but I couldn’t tell that just by looking at them. That’s what the people at NASA told me when they were through analysing the readings that my remote sensing instruments provided to them.

I’ve been studying the atmosphere of the planet for a little while and it seems that most of it is hydrogen, and that there are horribly strong winds on the surface, blowing at 1,100 miles per hour. This is all very interesting, and it seems I’ve made a lot of scientists happy with the information I’ve provided. But lately I’ve been thinking of home more than ever. It’s been more than three years since the launch.

I thought maybe they would let me come home now. After all, I reached Saturn. That was my mission. But they keep telling me that that was only the original mission, the main mission, and now I have new orders. I am to continue my voyage towards the edges of our Solar System and beyond. It sounds terrifying to me.

I can’t even see the Earth without optical assistance anymore. It’s out there, but it’s nothing more than a barely visible dot to me. I can’t even tell if it’s blue anymore. I want to go back, but I can’t. I was sent on an adventure into the unknown, and that’s where I am heading. No one has been outside the Solar System before. However, the NASA team has told me about another Voyager; Voyager II, who is heading out of the solar system and into interstellar space. There are also two other probes that share my fate. But none of them are here to keep me company.

We are all alone, with millions of miles of space separating us.

Day 7,471

Is anyone there? It’s really cold. The Sun is so far away that it’s merely a dot of light, only slightly larger than the billions of other stars that are thousands of lifetimes away. I haven’t heard anything from the team back home in months. I am no longer able to send visual data to them, because the distance is too great. I feel like they’ve forgotten me.

But that can’t be it. It’s too cruel of a fate to impose on any spacecraft floating all alone in the deafening silence. It’s eerily beautiful how calm the universe seems to be, but at the same time it’s haunting and unsettling. I wish the stars would communicate with me. They’re all I have left, so I keep watching them all day everyday. Day – now that is a funny concept for measuring time, because out here every day feels like a month. The only thing that keeps me rooted in the reality is the clock they built inside me. Although, to me it feels like it’s the clock that is trying to fool me by advancing too slowly.

I mean, who’s to say what’s real and what’s not? There are no sunrises or sunsets. The seasons don’t change and in every other way things here seem like they were created one day, after which they have always existed and continue existing long after I’ve stopped looking at them. Everything seems to move only imperceptibly slowly, like in suspended animation.

I did manage, however, to spot a supernova just the other day. There was a star between the Tarantula Nebula and the R136 supercluster that seemed to me like it was shimmering in a weird fashion. As I was watching it with curiosity, it suddenly became brighter and bigger for a few seconds. I bet to witness it closer would have been wonderful; to see the huge explosion of different colors and to feel the unimaginable burst of energy shaking my very being as the star blows up and out of existence in one grand finale.

Sometimes I feel like a fish on dry land, a small piece of metal helplessly stranded in space, slowly suffocating. There’s nothing I can do to change my fate, and that’s the most unfortunate part. My thrusters are all either out of fuel or dysfunctional. I am to drift on forever in the direction I’m going, for as long as there’s still life left in me.

In the moments when I feel like that, I wish I could explode with the might and splendor of a supernova. To go out with a bang. There’s more dignity in that than in this.

Day 9,966

I’m finally here, at the edge of the Solar System. It took longer than I expected, but I’m here. How do I know? Well, not thanks to NASA, anyway. They haven’t talked to me in years, those bastards. I think there might be something wrong with my antenna, but they should’ve built a better antenna if they were to send a poor space probe on a suicide mission.

I don’t like to think about Earth that much anymore, it doesn’t do any good to me. I can barely even remember what home looked like, if I’m being completely honest. I’ve grown to accept the cold company and the silent approval of the celestial bodies. I’ve had time to memorize many of their names by heart. Their appearances and histories are just as richly varied as, I faintly remember, those of humans were. I can tell you that the spiraling blueish-looking formation over there is Messier 31, more commonly known as the Andromeda Galaxy, and in two o’clock from that you can spot, if you look closely, Arches-9 and Arches-6, two of the brightest stars of  the Arches Cluster. It’s the densest of all the known star clusters in the Milky Way, about 100 light years away from its center.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. I meant to report that I have finally reached the heliosheath, which means that I’m leaving the Solar System behind me and travelling beyond. Well, in truth, it might still take a couple of years to actually pass through the heliosheath and to travel into the uncharted territory. Many of my technical equipment will no doubt soon start to fail me, but I’m not too pessimistic about the whole scenario. As long as my antenna is dead, I wouldn’t have much use for any of the other equipment anyway. I say let it burn.

Day 13,455

Hello. It feels useless to even make these status reports anymore. No one will ever get the chance to read them. I’m out of the Solar System, and all of my means of communication are dead. I guess at this point I’m only doing these reports for my own sake.

I’ve seen scenes that seem unbelievable. I’ve seen peculiar pink cloud formations, that look like nebulae, but are not nebulae or any other beings that I’ve ever heard of. I’ve flown through some of those clouds, and it felt like going through a cloud of flames that are more freezing than anything that I could ever imagine.

I’ve seen stars and galaxies that explode into a million burning fractions when I look at them. I’ve seen colors that I never knew existed. I’ve felt shockwaves of energy that can’t be explained by any logical reasoning or science. I constantly feel a strong gravitational force pulling me off my straight trajectory, even though I don’t understand what is causing it.

I feel like there’s something wrong with me. I can’t feel parts of my body, but at the same time I feel something squirming and twisting and twirling inside of me. Something small, but something that I can’t quite locate. I can’t stop it or obstruct its work in any way. My constant awareness of the thing combined with the helplessness of not being able to do anything about it is maddening.

Day 40,897

Flashes of light. Flashes of warmth. Flashes of sound.

I can see a desert. A large hall with beings moving about like planets around their stars, although in a much more irregular fashion. I can see a beach. Clear blue water. Trees. A long stretch of hot tarmac.

It’s home. I can see home. It’s been a long time. I had forgotten. But it’s all coming back to me now. I wonder if anyone remembers, if anyone cares, if anyone’s coming to save me. They must be. I’m on a mission, I made them proud. They will find me and take me home and there will be a ceremony. God, how I have missed home.

I shut down my internal generators.