Saturday, April 16, 2011

And then there was Wanaka

Jillian and I had been hitchhiking for over a month, so we felt we had it under our belt.  The only thing that bugged me about it was the fact that none of the camper vans ever picked us up.  When we thumbed from Franz we were immediately picked up by a skydive instructor who dropped us off at Fox Glacier, 15 minutes away.  It was in this area that we saw heaps of camper vans, most of which passed us, and some of which gave us the awkward hand signal or attempt at sign language (which I’m still uncertain about).  I really had given up all hope of ever getting picked up by a camper, so when it happened this time we were sure it was a mistake.  We get a lot of people who tend to pull up in front of us, but only to check a map or they get scared of what we look like (I guess?).  We were picked up by a very wealthy German family going right to Wanaka.  The only problem with this (and the only issue we’ve encountered whilst hitching) was that Wanaka was three hours away, which meant three hours of chatting and bullshitting.  Sigh.  You see, most people wouldn't really think of this as an issue, but what you may not realize is that telling your "story" repeatedly is very exhausting, especially with as many rides as we've gotten.  So we rode along and told our stories, got nicely interrogated, and asked questions of our own.  Jill was having a hell of a time, but me, I was having an awful time.  This wasn't because of our new German friends, it was because I get motion sickness.  Now, on all of our rides have been in reasonably small cars on very narrow, loopy roads.  Sometimes in those cars I'd get a little queasy, but that didn't even compare to this ride.  It was like being stuck in the bathroom out on a boat with 10 foot seas.  Didn't do much talking after that, but maintained perfect composure and tried to nestle my way into the front to look out the window (which helps).  When we finally arrived in Wanaka I was glad to be on steady ground.  I was happy for the ride, however, I don't think I'll be hitching in any campers any time soon.

Upon arrival we took a short walk in Wanaka to a backpackers to lay our stuff down and roam around.  Our bags had gotten pretty heavy by now since we brought some honey and chutney with us from Harihari.  We walked around the town in about 20 minutes and admired the Lake Wanaka.  The area is breathtaking, but pretty slow in summer.  It's winter that gets the busiest, since it's huge on snow sports.  We had heard this place was a pretty cool, laid back town, and easy to find employment.  The first thing we did was find work for accommodation, which I found easily at BASE, a three-story backpackers.  They only had one position open, so I decided to take it and Jill would figure out something at the backpackers in which we were staying the night.  It turns out that I'd be starting work the next day and Jill would be starting in two weeks.  It was then that we made a decision to part ways.  She would stay in Wanaka for a couple of days, then make her way down to Milford Sound.  Jill was on more of a time crunch than I was.  She has a plane ticket to fly out in May and I have no ticket to fly out.  Over the next couple of days we randomly ran into Glenn (whom we met in Springfield and drove us to Greymouth) in the grocery store and Maggie (who was WWOOFing with us in Harihari) who just happened to be in town.  I liked running into these people without an agenda.  It was either a sign I was in the right place or this island really is small (maybe both?).  

So Jill leaves and I'm already staying at BASE.  This place is really interesting.  I find it hilarious that I'm a housekeeper for this place that holds 300 people.  Of course, I'm not the only one.  I'm one of seven others that works for accommodation and gets to share one room.  I've found that most of them are just biding their time until they leave because they are bad at budgeting.  Most of them 22 or younger.  Interestingly enough, every night I was woken up by someone in the room yelling or screaming from night terrors.  It was absurd, really.  I guess one night was expected because I filled this Czech girl's head with ideas of an earthquake happening in our room.  That was a fun wake-up call with her shaking the bed and asking if we felt it.  Yeah, creepy.  I spent a week there and learned how to make bunk beds with efficiency (and poise, of course) while learning a few tricks.  After 1pm (when work ended) there wasn't much else to do except a few small hikes in the area and bullshit with the others.  I also looked for a job in this time, but I wasn't able to apply for one because I had one hang-up: my passport.  I'd left my bag long ago in Cambridge before the road trip.  I know, it's dumb that I didn't bring it with me, but when this planned road trip was only supposed to be a week, how could I have known things would go awry and I'd need it?  Positions were passed up because of a lack of passport, so I tried to get it sent to me, but there were issues with that, too.  They were eventually cleared up by Traci, the friend in Cambridge holding my backpack, and I was grateful for that.

Before my week ended at BASE, I called up Bernie, a WWOOF host that Jill and I were supposed to stay with weeks ago after Harihari.  It never worked out, but I kept his number, as he was from Hawai'i and wanted to get together to chat anyway.  Bernie came and picked me up and we went to check out his place 7 km away at Mt. Barker.  His place was truly spectacular, overlooking Wanaka and the surrounding mountains.  His partner, Anne, is a microbiologist and paper-making artist.  Bernie woodturns art himself, and their house is strewn with a creative ambience.  I fell in love with the place with ease, as well as Bernie's generosity and unconventional style.  I was invited to stay for dinner, accompanying two WWOOFers who had been staying there for 2 weeks already.  After dinner we went to a neighbor's million dollar house for a dance party.  Although completely underdressed (sloppy jeans spotted with white paint and a wife beater...yeah, seriously) I went and had a blast.  Open martini bar and 70s retro dance was something out of a movie.  All we needed was Laura Bush and Jim Morrison to complete the well-roundedness of the group.  It was a good night and a full moon.  This was only the beginning of randomness associated with Bernie, and it wasn't until I was invited to stay at his house two days later that I realized that truth.

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