Monday, 17 April 2017

It takes all sorts...

I've said it before I know, but not for a while.  One of the best things about living on the road is definitely the people you meet.  Some of them might be memorable for the wrong reasons but most of the time they usually enhance the experience of whatever place you're at.  We met our first 'character' on our very first night out of the house, when we were still in Whangamata whilst Gareth finished up his work contract.  There we were enjoying a much-needed glass of vino after a very big day, when a tall, thin figure appeared in the dark.

Our home for the first few days post-moving

'Oh thank God, people!' the figure said, relieved as he sauntered over with his own glass of red wine. Do you mind if I join you for a bit?  'Umm, no, go ahead!' we said rather bemused.  We weren't feeling the best company after a stressful day of moving out of the house and trying to cram what was left of everything we had in the world into a van but this fella looked like he needed some company and we were the only ones around so would have to do.  As it turned out, Toby (for that was his name) was a jolly nice chap.  Witty, intelligent and interesting, he was very easy to talk to.  He was from Australia and had never been overseas before so had been very excited about his first trip out of his homeland.  Unfortunately, his so-called holiday had been a complete disaster from the outset.

It goes without saying that before you consider travelling in a small camper van with ANYONE, you need to make sure that you a) know the person quite well and b) are confident that you are going to get along.  Unfortunately Toby hadn't known his travel companion all that long before being talked into accompanying him on the trip and as he soon discovered, once stuck in close living quarters he realised he actually couldn't stand the guy.  To make matters worse, on the first day of their travels, Toby's companion broke his foot.  Restricted to getting around on crutches, this put the cobblers on a lot of the things they planned to see and do and as if his injured comrade wasn't already a sourpuss enough to begin with, he spent the entire trip wallowing in self-pity and making poor Toby's life as miserable as possible.

Typical Wicked camper 'wit'.  I couldn't find a picture of Toby's
van, with a little luck it's off the road by now!

That wasn't even the worst part though.  The two of them paid $800 to rent a camper van from Wicked campers for 12 days.  Wicked are well known in NZ for their flamboyant vehicles which can be emblazoned with anything from The Beatles to Alice Cooper and pretty much everything in between, along with some extremely politically incorrect slogans.  Whilst people thought they were very witty and clever and fun to begin with, Wicked began crossing the line into being offensive, to the extent that several of their vehicles were withdrawn.  Unfortunately Toby and his partner were not so lucky.  It didn't take a trip to Specsavers to spot that our Aussie friend was gay, and indeed he made no secret of the fact.  However he would much rather that his sexual preference was not emblazoned all over their rental vehicle, which it shockingly was.  Despite the fact that upon going to pick up their van from the company there were at least 30 other designs to choose from, and despite asking repeatedly for another van with a different design, they were told no, that was the one which had been allocated to them and that was the one they had to have.

I cannot honestly imagine why Wicked would think anyone would be happy with a van like that; gay or straight!  All it resulted in doing was to draw unnecessary and unwanted attention to two men travelling together and placed them in some very awkward and unpleasant situations.  To add insult to injury, the vehicle they had paid $800 for in good faith was filthy inside, covered in mould and smelled of vomit.  It made me ashamed to be a Kiwi that companies like this were treating visitors to our country so badly.  Even so, Toby said he had still managed to enjoy his stay and loved the amazing beaches and scenery.  We only saw him again briefly the next morning, as he and his hobbling companion prepared to leave.  I waved out at Toby in a manner which was intended to convey both enthusiasm and sympathy, as his partner eyed me with an expression which could have turned milk sour.  Poor Toby!  I hope his dreadful experience hasn't put him off setting foot outside Australia again in the future.

Opito Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula.  Just driving up the road to get
here almost killed me, yet people cycle here for fun!

Another couple who stick in our minds were a middle aged American husband and wife who we encountered several times as they cycled around NZ.  We first came across them in Kuaotunu at the start of our travels and would pass them unexpectedly in various locations across the Coromandel. They were very interesting and enjoyable to talk to and I always used to feel dreadfully lazy sailing past them in Batty up some horrendously challenging hill as they pedaled along determinedly.  What I liked about this couple was that they were obviously a great team and had so much fun together.  We went for several months without seeing them until one day, stopped at a set of traffic lights in New Plymouth, Gareth pointed and said 'Look!  It's the Americans!'  By chance they ended up at the same campground that night in Oakura and once again in Hawera before we finally went our separate ways for good.

A mammoth mission - rescuers at Farewell Spit's recent whale stranding -
helped by a huge number of Kiwi and overseas travellers

One thing I neglected to say about 'vomit wagons' in my last blog was that although they may not have the best reputation among permanent road dwellers, the majority of travellers who inhabit them are very good, kind hearted people.  And, after hearing of poor Toby's costly experience with a rental company, I can't blame these young travellers at all for choosing another way to get around, it is no doubt far preferable and more viable in the long run.  I first realised what good souls they truly were when we were staying in Golden Bay a wee while ago - well, we were trying to stay in Golden Bay but hadn't managed to get accommodation any further up than Takaka due to the fact that almost the entire bay was inundated with volunteers who had literally dropped everything they were doing, wherever they were at to go and help try to rescue the hundreds of stranded whales at Farewell Spit. We ended up having to turn around past Collingwood as there was literally nowhere available.  It was only when the Project Jonah vehicle passed us on the way back and we drove through Takaka and saw the streets crawling with people we realised that the volunteers were now being sent away.  If you were lucky you had a vehicle but most of them were backpackers and hitch hikers from overseas who had turned out to help by whatever means possible and now had to find their way back.  It was humbling to see so many people who had wanted to make a difference.  

A few days later we were parked near to a 'vomit wagon' at a campground in Murchison.  I went in to the communal kitchen and found a group of people, including the camp's owner, listening intently to the owner of the wagon, a young German chap who had been at Farewell Spit helping with the whale rescue.  I was immediately drawn into the conversation as he shared the harrowing details of how he and others had tried their best to comfort the distressed whales and their heartache for every one they had not managed to save.  He was a very articulate, quietly spoken and gentle young man and even though nobody else in the room knew him before, I think we all were proud of him and glad to have met him.

Life - it doesn't matter how you do it, as long as you make the most of it!

I think what I love most about meeting fellow travellers is that all of us are trying to get the most out of life in our own way.  We may not all display our lust for life with the same wild abandon and exuberance but we're all just trying to fit in as much as we can while we're here on this planet.  It doesn't matter whether you live on the road full time, or you only manage to get away for the odd weekend, it's still out there doing it.  And it doesn't matter whether you're in a $200,000 motor home or a $2,000 station wagon, we're still seeing the same things.  Same mountains, same lakes, same rivers, same beaches, same sky.  There's no right or wrong way to see the world.  I feel a sense of peace these days that I have never felt before.  It's like - if I were to kick the bucket tomorrow, at least I feel like I have really done something with my life.  Don't get me wrong, I know raising a family and having a career and all that stuff is 'doing something' but this is in a different sense.  When you live a conventional life, you spend almost every waking moment working, earning and caring for other people.  When you travel for the sheer joy and adventure and simply for the heck of it, it's something you do for yourself that feeds your soul.  Does that sound selfish?  Quite possibly.  But I highly recommend it, in whatever capacity you can manage!  

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