July 2016, my friends and I started dreaming about starting our own business.
Well, no, actually.
We started dreaming about buying a bus and traveling around the United States in it, and we figured we should probably have a way to support ourselves while doing that.
After a quick discussion with my insurance agent, we bought a 1976 Class C RV instead.
We didn’t start the business.
The RV now sits somewhere in Michigan, and I’m sitting in Hokitika, New Zealand instead.
Tonight I splurged on a budget hotel and have thoroughly enjoyed a hot shower and a flush toilet on a gloomy New Year’s Eve. I’m keeping an eye on the weather, hoping the rain stops and I can head down to the beach for a bonfire to ring in 2018. But even if it doesn’t clear up, in the morning I’ll climb back into my brand new old Toyota Estima named Goldie.
I’m not living in a bus, or in a Breaking Bad motorhome. I’m living in a backpacker minivan. The couple before me pulled out her seats and installed a bedframe and foam mats with storage room underneath for my clothes. Because it’s New Zealand, and there’s an entire culture built up around buying and selling fully-furnished campers for a year of travel, she also came stocked with a table (who knew how useful that would be?!?), cutlery and a tea kettle, a gas stove, and the most darling blue curtains to give me privacy at night. Also, can we talk about how easy it is to purchase a vehicle here? A piece of paper to the post office to put the registration in my name, a quick use of my AAA membership to buy discounted car insurance in a country that doesn’t require it, and BAM. She’s all mine!
I’m quite enjoying the magic of being a proper backpacker. I’ve picked up half a dozen hitchhikers in the last two weeks while traversing Southland and the West Coast (and today decided I really need to get a notebook for them to sign and write which country they’re from). This morning, I accidentally bought a latte that had no espresso in it, so when I pulled into Pancake Rocks I set about making myself a French Press (by the way, thanks for the camper press, G! I’ve gotten so much use out of that old birthday present!). Sadly, I couldn’t find my lighter for the stove to boil the water. No worries, just pop over to the car next to me and ask the gal rolling a cigarette to borrow her lighter in exchange for some coffee. A few minutes later, we looked a bit like the start of a joke: an American girl, German girl, Kiwi guy, and French guy huddled under the back door of a van in the pouring rain while making coffee…
We all started laughing about the impracticality of being a 21st-century traveler in this country: there is hardly any signal! Sure, we have apps galore for finding places to freedom camp or communicating with our friends and family. But it’s completely useless when you can’t get a text message out to another New Zealand number, let alone access data beyond “H”. I think I’ve seen 3G a total of three times in two weeks, and 4G only once: mountains and tiny towns scattered throughout the countryside make physical maps and a willingness to pull off the side of the road for an attraction instead of forcing a plan the way to go.
And it’s not as though I have much choice at the moment. While I do have a perfectly valid visa, the Christmas holiday means that my tax number is a smidgen slower than usual. I could technically work if some employer were willing to either withhold pay or take out double the amount of taxes. But why? Everyone and their neighbor is hiring as soon as I’m legally able. For now, this island is mine to explore. I drink in her beauty with every breath and listen to the stories of Maui building Aotearoa.
Besides, Goldie and I are just getting to know each other. She has side doors that occasionally refuse to unlock, and I have to keep reminding myself that around every mountain curve there could be another one-lane bridge where I need to give way. She’s a kind old soul, teaching me to drive on the left side of the road and giving me shelter at night. We find places to freedom camp, or as needed pay $20 for a place to park with a shower and proper kitchen. Much cheaper than a hostel, and in the long run cheaper than renting a room by the week. She chugs along merrily as we zip along the only road on the west coast (seriously: not even the scenic route. The MAIN road winds through mountains and along the Tasman Sea). The speed limit is 100km, but we rarely are on a stretch of road straight enough or long enough to even get to 80km. So we wander, taking in the scenery that belongs more in a fantasy novel than real life.
Slowly, slowly, me and Goldie.