I was just blessed by the Dalai Lama, I tell myself triumphantly.
Then a voice of doubt creeps in. Be honest: he waved his hand in your general direction. But I’m almost certain we made eye contact, I repeat reassuringly – so I’m still counting it as a sign.
Warming my hands by the fire on the porch of the Clay Oven, I watch the Tibetan monks shuffle past in paprika robes and knock off Nikes. We give each other the secret nods and mental high fives of the spiritually elated.
My jubilance spills over onto the table next to me, and I strike up a conversation with two Americans, Dawn and Yasmine Habash. We compare notes on our vantage points at the morning’s teaching and discuss our mutual love of esoteric self-help.
Hearing the purpose of my trip in India, Dawn tells me I have to visit Nepal, the home of misty mountains and unexpected adventures. Compelled by her insistence and perhaps the buzz of the butter tea, I decide on the spot to fly to Kathmandu in April.
That decision – a flippant choice made on a tiny rush of feeling – changed the course of my life. But as all intuition goes, I had no inclining of that until much later.
Two months earlier, I had left Melbourne with a burnt orange backpack, a few clothes, and Prague – an arbitrarily chosen final destination.
Over the last several years my life had been slowly descending from exciting, to acceptable, to knowing the name of every brunch waiter in inner Fitzroy. So in a wild attempt to free myself from this prison of predictability, I had created my intuition travel experiment.
Such an experiment is as simple and complex as a Zen haiku. It requires you to simultaneously let go of rational thinking, pay attention when you’re getting signs, and be calm regardless of whether the current is sweeping you off to Hawaii or onto the rocks of Port Phillip Bay.
And by day 13 of my trek on Nepal’s famed Annapurna Circuit, I felt confident my decision in India was intuitively inspired. Relaxing in a teahouse after a short walking day, I flinched as a rumbling groan rippled across the cavernous valley. For the little I knew about mountaineering from watching Into Thin Air, this didn’t seem normal.
Suddenly boulder-sized chunks of rock exploded off the mountain face opposite us, spraying shards into the furious Kaligandaki River below. As the shaking subsided, I bounded into the guesthouse to find out what was going on – a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, the largest Nepal had seen in 81 years. While Annapurna was relatively unscathed, many parts of the country were in disarray, with thousands displaced or killed.
I returned to Kathmandu later that week, disconcerted and unsure if my intuition antenna was slightly bent. I snaked through the laneways in Thamel’s now deserted tourist district, and found a cosy courtyard with some foreigners – a German, an American, and a piercing blue-eyed Australian, Matt.
We huddled together drinking Tuborg beers and playing cards, and over skittish conversation all agreed it was safer to leave Nepal now than wait for any more aftershocks.
I flew out to Malaysia the next day with a vague sense that I would head for Chiang Mai in Thailand, a good place to re-set the mood of the trip. And six weeks later, considerably browner and more proficient at haggling, I dumped my bags in a hostel lobby in Chiang Mai – scanning for anyone to talk to other than a Bintang singlet wearing gap year traveller.
There he was again. The blue eyed Australian from Kathmandu, Matt.
He had flown out from Nepal several weeks after me and in a momentary snap decision, bought a ticket to Chiang Mai.
Unable to quite believe the synchronicity, we parlayed our chance meeting into a night of yoga, Thai street theatre, and lively conversation. And somewhere between a scooter ride in the mountains and attempted headstands on Koh Phan Ngan, we knew we had something special.
Matt wasn’t an intuition traveller himself, so much as an intuition travel sympathizer. So in the spirit of my intention he proposed a bold plan: we would reach Prague by hitchhiking the length of Europe.
The very idea of hitchhiking seemed completely terrifying to me – an act of faith in strangers that was like hoping Alabama would go Democrat this November.
Armed with a tent, some poster paper, and the universal art of mime, we took to the highways of outer Madrid.
We learnt quickly that we couldn’t be lazy in our search for luck. Getting cars to stop required a sort of narcissistic confirmation bias around the notion that everyone in the world must want our company.
So we waved enthusiastically at every car, we did the highway moonwalk, and the nuances of gender politics aside; my lucky pink I’m-a-woman-from-a-distance jacket did wonders for our chances.
In some moments, this strategy generated the impossible.
One morning after several weeks on the road, I had become thoroughly fed up with the European love of cabbage and potatoes, as well as waking up with my face squashed into the tent fly.
Shivering on a gloomy country road, I said to Matt: “That’s it! Today I just want a good vegetarian meal and a really nice place to stay the night.” No sooner had the words come out of my mouth, than a van appeared on the horizon. An Austrian couple bundled us inside and invited us to a feast at their family’s homestead – apologising in advance that they only ate vegetarian food.
Later that afternoon, another couple drove us into Vienna and upon learning we had nowhere to stay, left us at the door of their city apartment with a set of keys – letting us know they’d return in three days.
In other moments, in the unrelenting ambiguity of waiting for these big intuitive confirmations, we created our own brand of magical realism.
We slept one night in the field of mystery, so named because absolutely nothing grew in it at all. Then we met Lorenzo, the auspicious campsite pussycat, who became our travelling talisman and TV companion when we watched Netflixs in the tent.
But our hitchhiking success also relied just as deeply on the good feelings of our generous drivers. And after lifts with an anarchist punk rocker, Italy’s ping-pong champion, and a prominent Czech financier, Matt and I arrived in Prague.
I had travelled across 23 countries, three continents, 70 hitchhiking lifts, and through one earthquake on nothing more than whimsical gut feelings. Matt had just been offered a job in San Francisco, so we would fly there within a week to start a new life – something I could’ve barely imagined nine months earlier.
And sitting in Prague Central Station’s most exclusive restaurant, Burger King, with a little stupefied grin on my face, I was struck by a beautiful paradox.
Intuition works if you believe in it.
Because regardless of whether it’s just part of our mind telling us what we want to hear, or part of a big universal stream of potentialities, following intuition gives you the permission to trust your heart.
And if you have faith in that, there’s no knowing where the road will take you.
This story originally appeared in Slow Magazine.