I know it’s not Thursday (for a throwback). However, my upcoming trip has me thinking about firsts: The following is an excerpt from my journal telling the story of my arrival and first whole day in New Zealand. I hope you enjoy!
January 6th, 2014
The bus pulled into Wellington at 6am. I had spent the previous eleven hours riding it through the darkness of New Zealand, exhausted and slumped over in my aisle seat. Before that I had flown from Minneapolis to LAX to Tahiti and finally to Auckland. My internal clock was all messed up – with so many time changes and overnight travels, my body had no idea how early in the morning it was.
Everything was closed as we all stumbled off of the bus. The only establishment that was open and near to us was, you guessed it, a McDonald’s. I gathered my gear from the pile and skulked in to get some coffee and come up with some sort of plan.
So far, everything had more or less gone as planned. Now however, I was in a foreign country by myself for the first time in my life. And I had been more or less awake since I had left Minnesota on January 3rd. The international dateline was a part of that, so I’m not actually sure how many hours it had been since I had actually slept. I found that I didn’t have any sort of plan.
I sat and sipped and watched the city come to life as the caffeine hit my system. I decided that I should figure out the ferry situation. I shouldered my pack and walked down to the ferry (the far one, as the closest one was fully booked). The sidewalk ran along a busyish road, with the road on one side and a wall on the other. Occasionally breaks in the wall would lead to views of the ocean and docks. It was a walk! I was high on caffeine and adrenaline, however, so I completed it without too much difficulty. I inquired with ferry staff and managed to book a ticket for January 8th. That being settled, I set off back towards downtown. Ferry ticket = check
As I had not yet discovered the wonders of lockers for luggage, I proceeded to explore my new surroundings with my trusty pack on my back. Walking down a random road for a while, I realized I had gone the wrong way and had to walk all the way back. I purchased a small flip phone and a sim card at a store and proceeded to a park by the capitol to put it together.
I sat on the grass, with my backpack alongside of me and my newly purchased phone in my lap. People in business attire wandered through the manicured space. As I tried to get the sim card to fit, I realized that I had created a ‘micro’ sim instead of a regular sim…apparently you aren’t supposed to pop the little rectangular piece of plastic out of the larger plastic outline. My bad.
Putting my pride aside, I bagged up my new purchase and went back to the store. The very kind woman took my micro sim card and replaced it with a new one – and installed it for me (I guess she didn’t trust my skills, for some reason). Working phone = check.
Checking the time, I realized that it would be an appropriate time at home to make some facetime calls. Amazingly, the city wifi of Wellington had enough bandwidth to call a few people. Nothing is stranger than sitting in the little park in front of the train station of a foreign country as looking at a tiny version of a loved ones face on your phone. This is about when the enormity of my situation (for me at the time) began to sink in. Everyone at home was going about their days, and I still had no idea where I was going to sleep tonight. I was so sleep deprived that I was easily overwhelmed. I decided that was going to be my next order of business – find somewhere to sleep and stop carrying around this bag!
Instead of doing the logical thing and staying at the downtown backpackers that was very near to me and had some open beds, I decided to go and stay at another hostel on the terrace. I should have noted that ‘terrace’ usually means some sort of hill. I trekked up a steep long hill and found what appeared to be a whimsically ramshackle building, three stories high, with small balconies looked out over the expanse of the city.
I wandered in and inquired about a bed. The slightly grizzly (but not unkind) older gentleman behind the counter assured me that there was one more bed, in room number nine. He took my payment and handed me a key, gesturing up the stairs to the left. I took the key and creaked up the stairs. I had no idea what to expect when I put the key into the door 9. Place to sleep for the night = check.
Whatever I expected, I did not find it behind the door. It swung open slowly, pushing some debris in its path. Whoever had been living in the room had been doing so for a while, judging by the degree to which laundry and other oddities were strewn about the room. A small door in the corner of the room let to what appeared to be a small balcony. Five beds were taken; one top bunk was clean and untouched. Well, I bet that is mine, I thought. I swung my bag up there (I didn’t really want it to mix with everything that was on the floor), grabbed my satchel of important things (passport and money and such), and my toiletry bag. Then, finally relieved of my luggage, I made my way down to the bathrooms.
They were clean, if as ramshackle as the rest of the place. I cleaned up a bit and put on some new clothes, and felt almost human again. Now I felt prepared to meet these new roommates of mine, if they happened to be there, and figure out my food situation.
I walked into my room to the sentence ‘Oh, we have a girl!’ I looked around to see that I would be sharing the room with five grubby men. I had a decision – stay here, and make the best of this situation, or try to find somewhere else to stay. With my current state of tiredness and the lateness of the afternoon, I decided that here was going to happen, unless they actually gave me reason to feel unsafe. With this decision made, I decided how I was going to stay here. I could go the ‘silent intimidated’ route, or I could make friends with these gentlemen. I figured that the later would be the best bet.
Nigel, their ringleader, and another of his posse were out smoking on the little porch. They invited me out. I declined to smoke their dubiously smelling rolls, but they seemed fine by that. They told me it had been ages since they had had someone else stay in there room, and the last girl, a Canadian, they had scared off immediately! I wasn’t sure why they were telling me this – was it to see my reaction, or to show that they were impressed by me? They continued to go on a drifting story of the Italian man (Steve)’s connections to the mob, and how they were considering trying to smuggle some harder drugs into New Zealand (apparently there is a demand and no supply there). I figured they were blowing a little more hot air, so I laughed it off. Then they went on about how the other rooms were scared of them and called them
At this point, I broke in with, “So if the other rooms give me crap, you guys have my back, right?”
To this they answered, “Heck yes, you’re one of us now. They wouldn’t dare!” Mission completed. These seemingly dangerous men no longer seemed as dangerous.
They invited me to make dinner with them. As I had no food, I was happy to join. Steve made an incredible risotto and then played the guitar as we all ate it. When I walked to the bathroom, I got pitying looks from the people staying in the other rooms, but I felt pretty good about my situation (having a fully belly of delicious pasta definitely helps). Food = check.
After dinner, I was prepared to sleep. I had done my hanging out, and I was exhausted. We all retired to our room. They proceeded to sit up and smoke (in the room) and play beautiful, classical music on the guitar. I crawled up into my bunk next to my backpack. I still didn’t want my stuff to mix with the others’ belongings, and I fully intended to leave early the next day. It was only about 9pm, but my head hit the pillow and I was asleep. Sometime around midnight I woke to their guitar still being played and the smoke swirling around, but I was so happy to sleep I didn’t even care.
I woke the next morning, swung down from the bunk, and tiptoed (as well as I could in the disaster of belongings) out of the room amid a cacophony of snoring. Leaving a thank you note in the doorway for my comrades in Room 9, I creaked down the stairs, returned my key, and waltzed out into the fresh New Zealand morning.