There’s something about firsts. At least in Western cultures there seems to be a keen interest in them: your first day of school, your first kiss, your first home. I guess it’s about that thrill of doing something for the very first time. The excitement of something brand new. Something new that becomes a life-altering milestone.
The last few weeks seem to have been full of firsts — some for me, some for Andrejs, and some for both of us.
There are many types of firsts.
There’s that thing you try for the first time, only to realise it’s more intense than you realised and that this will likely be the first and the last time you do this. For me, that was caving. Actually, I feel like I accidentally signed up for caving. How did I manage that, you ask? Well, nowhere in the description of the tour was the word ‘caving’. That would have been helpful, really. It would probably have rung a few alarm bells.
And so I ended up in wellington boots full of cold river water, a helmet with a light on my head, climbing over big rocks down in a cave. I survived, but not without stress and mild panic. As such, the experience was rewarding because the Waitomo Caves on the north island of New Zealand are home to glow-worms. These maggot-like worms live on the roofs of caves. They glow in the dark to attract their prey, which creates what looks like a starry sky in the deep black of these caves.
But rewarding or not, I don’t see myself going caving again any time soon.
Luckily, there’s also that thing you try for the first time, only to realise that it’s so much better than you imagined. For me, that was a helicopter ride.
If you’re not afraid of heights, it is an awesome way of seeing the world from a new perspective. Where most planes have a thick and opaque barrier between you and the void beneath you, a helicopter often does not. We departed for White Island, located 48km off mainland and home to New Zealand’s most active cone volcano. On the way we enjoyed the views and even spotted a dolphin pod from above, each animal a grey line in the water.
If a helicopter ride isn’t enough of an adrenalin kick for you, you can up the ante like Andrejs did. I guess he felt the helicopter was a bit tame, so he went sky-diving for the first time.
It is a good feeling when you try something new and find you have discovered an activity that you’re already excited about doing again someday. I guess that’s the thing with firsts — you may find yourself overwhelmed in a cave, but you may also find yourself soaring higher than you predicted.
Not all firsts have to be elaborate, though. It turned out there was something I had done countless times as a kid but Andrejs had never tried: mini-golf! Sadly, despite my extensive experience, I still lost. The winner got cake, at the loser’s expense, so I think Andrejs really enjoyed the experience.
Leaving New Zealand for Australia was in itself a first for Andrejs. He is in Australia for the first time, whereas I lived here for several years in my childhood. It has been exciting to see Australia again, partially through the fresh eyes of someone seeing it for the first time. Like with the mini-golf, it’s fun to watch your loved ones experience new things.
I was keen to go see an AFL game. For those familiar with Australia: I know it’s weird I have never done this before, having lived here for many years. For those unfamiliar with Australia: you probably have no idea what AFL is. It stands for Australian Football League, known commonly as Aussie Rules. To be clear, this is nothing like football/soccer. I could try to explain it, but I suggest you watch a video, like this one, to get an idea of just how unique this sport is. This is in fact Australia’s most popular sport.
We watched two Melbourne teams battle it out at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) — the largest stadium in the southern hemisphere. With only 14,500 spectators on the day, it was not very full, but I didn’t mind. Where football in Brazil was a wild and aggressive affair (read here), Aussie Rules was family-friendly and peaceful — aside from the aggressive tackling on the pitch, of course.
Aside from the tall, muscular AFL players, Australia boasts many other unique animals. The cockatoos, the koalas, the kookaburras — new for Andrejs, not new for me. But, I think I enjoyed seeing them at least as much as Andrejs did.
At a particular bend of the Yarra River in Melbourne we stood in the chilly dusk to observe a colony of fruit bats departing for their night-time feed. With a wingspan of over 1 meter, these are among the largest bats in the world. Now in the winter-time, the colony numbers about 5–10,000. Also known as flying foxes, they live up to their name with their fox-like faces.
It’s a special feeling to observe something for the first time, whilst realising that these animals do this in the same way, every day of the year. What is mundane to them is spectacular to you. The video below better portrays what it’s like to see so many bats fly off at the same time.
Bat colonies are pretty cool to see, but some firsts are special because they are not only new but also rare, and I want to end this post with one of those more significant events:
Andrejs and I got engaged!
This is one of those firsts that you will always remember, but hope never to do a second time! As I started spreading the news to people close to me, several people asked me to tell the ‘story’. But this first is not a story that is particularly spectacular to share as such. And yet, for me it is spectacular. It still feels almost unreal — an experience that at times I thought would never happen to me.
Now, calling Andrejs my fiancé feels surreal, but at the same time it feels right, and logical. Plus, now I know another exciting first awaits me: our wedding! After that, hopefully a lifetime of wonderful firsts will follow.
What have you experienced recently for the first time? Big or small, trivial or monumental — share in the comments!