Alice Hafer

The Nomad's Life

Alice Hafer
The Nomad's Life
 Photo: Andy Day

Photo: Andy Day

Six a.m. I see the soft pink of the sun through my eyelids. I don’t need an alarm as the daily routine of stressing my body—then my mind—pulls me to bed early. As the sun rises, I take out my laptop from under my pillow. With coffee by my side, I’m working. 

For the past 15 months I’ve been travelling to climb, and I've been working on the road. Some people record the months until they pay off their mortgage, some their child's age, others the length they’ve had a new car, I record the time that I’ve been unsettled, moving, transient.

My office is myself. My laptop is my home. I work.

Swaying gently in a hammock, fresh grass at the tips of my toes, dogs barking in the distance, the clean Bulgarian air flushing through my lungs.

Sitting on a boulder mat in the red South African sands. I hook up my phone to the power source behind the camp office, hot-spotting on MTN. My laptop dies, the dark comes and I reposition. I wait by the campfire for my laptop to recharge at the only power source. Climbers cook on the braai. I move to the dirty couch that the dogs like to frequent. I write and edit photos into the night.

I’ve been called many things. Nomadic, gypsy, dirt-bag; words that linger with a bitter aftertaste. Questions come: Where are you? What are you doing? Do you live there now? Where are you from? Where do you live? Over time the answers fade in significance. As I move from place to place, where I came from is just an idea, a memory less important, and then irrelevant—but people need something to cling to.

I’ve been called many things. Nomadic, gypsy, dirt-bag; words that linger with a bitter aftertaste

To one living a traditional 9-5, my life seems like a holiday. But behind the beautiful photos there's the stress, the chaos, the unavoidable unknown. It’s impossible to plan. I left this comfort behind long ago, as life is truly unpredictable.

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Internet blackouts, having to walk everywhere, crossing rivers for cell-service, painstakingly waiting for shops and libraries to open, missed trains, missed planes, hot-spotting in a tree, batteries dying, overweight luggage, injuries, money. Carrying all that you own, all the time. Not knowing where you’ll sleep, not knowing how you’ll get…anywhere. Learning to always leave everything behind. The sacrifices are greater but perhaps so is the reward.

When you’re living in a campsite, it can be hard to find spare time. Get up early, walk to find Internet, respond to work emails, go climbing, come back, work more, make dinner, walk to back Internet, work for a few hours, chat with friends, sleep.

 Photo: Peter Vintoniv

Photo: Peter Vintoniv

I sit at the fire one evening, chatting to a fellow climber. Usually our firelight conversations cover our latest climbing achievements or plans for the next morning but not today. His head hangs low, blasé. He stares at his hands.

‘My ankle hurts,’ he says and sighs. ‘My body hurts,’ I reply. Almost seven weeks of straight climbing is taking its toll. The dreaded penultimate trip fatigue. Each day of rest is spent waiting for body and skin to recover. He stares into the fire, absent. Indulging in life’s delights can be exhausting.

The human mind is a chasm full of hopes and dreams and thoughts. Each moment we may have a thought, a wish, a longing. We are constantly changing. The longer I travel or have been gone the more easily I see the shifts, as the mind passes by wonder and stops to rest in dissatisfaction once again.

‘You’re living your dream,’ they say. Although the days do pass with beauty, full of life and feeling, it is simply that life has just become bigger. Each moment crowded with substance. Being awoken by a clock tower’s ring, crossing narrow cobble stone streets, waving to the butcher leaning over the counter. Buying fresh vegetables from the local farmers and checking the hours of every shop to make sure you know when siesta occurs.

 Photo: Zofia Reych

Photo: Zofia Reych

For the outsider, this is a sojourn. To the nomad, this is the norm. The stimulation of the new. Fresh scenery, although still a delight, is now also a bore. But then one day, a mystic thought comes: You see beauty as beauty really is, not shrouded by thoughts of ‘home.’ The beauty is just life. The dream is just life. A life full of wonder, yes, but also challenges, hurts, pains and more.

A travelling climber, writer and filmmaker.