The Silver Lining
"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." - Ibn Battuta
I saw the above quote on a sign displayed in the window of a passing van and it so easily summed up how I have been feeling throughout this trip. This van also had flamingo print blinds so I liked them right off the bat. Leaving the United States meant trusting myself. Trusting myself to let go of what was familiar to me and learn more about the part of myself that was craving something different. The part of myself that wanted to see the places I dreamed of rather than hear about them from those more adventurous. The part of myself that wanted to experience another way of life rather than read about different cultures in a textbook. The part of myself that wanted to say yes to more opportunities and the chance to change. While I didn't expect everyday to be perfect, I did have the unrealistic notion that traveling would be easy (mainly because I had yet to try it in any substantial capacity).
While New Zealand exceeds the hype in the BuzzFeed articles you find online, not everyday can be stress free. Lucy, our beloved van, decided that she didn't much like the fact that 2017 was over and that she was yet another year older, so… she lashed out. While Josh and I struggled to collect ourselves after an amazing 3 day festival in Wanaka, Lucy was not doing the same. Her hangover proved to be worse than ours and when it came time to leave the festival behind, she couldn’t. Instead, Josh and I are left with the task of sourcing an entirely new engine, which is neither cheap nor easy to find, in order to get her back on the road again.
While I wished this was the hard part, it gets worse. In New Zealand, all mechanics close down for an extended holiday around the New Year. This is extremely well deserved with the amount of camper van problems they have to deal with but happens to be bad timing for us. Because of this, no shops were open to take my calls and no yards were available to take the van. I honestly don't remember the next few hours in much detail because the heat was exhausting, the car was smoking and I was still seeing lasers dance around in my head from NYE, but I can tell you it wasn't good.
At the time, shit seemed pretty dismal. Our van was stuck on the side of the road, the nice guy who tried to tow it (without any luck) quoted us $5,000 to repair the engine and we had no place to stay because it was New Years day and all hostels were full. At the end of it all, we ended up in an overpriced hotel that we never would have booked and spent the rest of the day watching movies, eating pizza and laughing at our own misfortune - because at that point…there isn’t much else to do. The next few days were tough. Having all of our money tied up in a car that is older than both of us is extremely stressful. Struggling to sort out the logistics while trying to remain calm and find a place to sleep is a bit more difficult than it sounds.
So yeah, traveling can be pretty brutal at times but that’s the best part. I can actually now agree with the idea that the best and most unexpected things can come from bad situations. These issues haven't just forced me outside of my comfort zone. They have made me re-evaluate the way I handle stressful situations and deal with other people when I am not feeling my best. The one lesson I seem to keep learning on this trip is to accept that some things are just out of my control and thats OK.
The van breaking down led to an extra week spent in Wanaka, which has become my favorite place on the South Island so far. Wanaka is like the pinnacle of all mountain towns mixed with the most gorgeous lakefront beaches. Once I was able to take a breath and look around, it was obvious that I needed to relax and remember that this is all part of the experience. I mean of all places to be stuck, Wanaka has to be on the top of the list. We did have to eventually deal with the van which meant Josh pushing me down the busiest road in town while I steered our powerless van, still covered in holiday tinsel, into the nearest holiday park. This was without a doubt a spectacle and could have easily landed us on kookslams. Once the van was safely parked in spot 241, we decided to forget about the dent in our bank accounts that was soon to come and get back to our usual fun filled days of paddle boarding, hiking, playing cards and betting shots of tequila.
While the beginning of 2018 has had us a bit out of sorts, the end of 2017 was almost too good to be true. Last I left off, we were headed out to PK Bay for a true Kiwi Christmas. Upon arrival, we set ourselves up on a perfect little patch of beach amongst a few other cheery campers setting up for the holidays. With no reception and plenty of sunshine, we spent the 23rd of December preparing our fire pit, walking the coast and laying out on the beach. Unfortunately, I was sick with the flu the whole next day but that led to a cozy evening in the van with a binge worthy amount of Christmas movies and Josh’s homemade egg-nog. Our gifts to each other consisted of Rhythm and Alps concert tickets and a bungee jumping trip in Queenstown which we opened over a cup of coffee that was easily 50% Baileys. I can't help but think of my mom when drinking Baileys because it is literally the only alcohol she can stand on account of it tasting like dessert which makes me smile.
When we ran out of most of our food and all of our wine, it was time to pack up and head to Wanaka for Rhythm and Alps. Once again, we found a sweet spot to park the van and set up camp for the three days to come. The concert was filled with great music, most of which I had never heard, enough dancing to make my legs hurt and plenty of new friends. Do yourself a favor and check out Fat Freddy’s Drop, a group of locals that was the main act of the festival, in the link below.
We rang in the new year listening to music under a sky full of fireworks in one of the most gorgeous places I have ever seen. What a way to kiss 2017 goodbye. As cliche as it sounds, its experiences like this that constantly reassure me that this is exactly where I am supposed to be. After countless beers which led to dancing until (and sometimes past) sunrise, Rhythm and Alps became one of my best memories from the trip thus far. I now know two new things about Josh - he somehow doesn't look half bad with a mullet and his best dance move is the traffic director.
So whats next? Well, Josh and I still plan to jump off a bridge on the 7th and then return to Christchurch to ensure that our van gets the TLC that it needs. Although Lucy’s most recent temper tantrum has been a serious pain in the ass, we are hoping that in the end, we will be increasing her value for the next owners by giving her a brand new engine. This has also come as a blessing in disguise for my mom because the money we are now putting towards the van was originally meant to be spent on cage diving with great white sharks. Who needs the cage anyways right? For now, we are back to jumping from hostel to hostel and carrying around those god awful bags that weigh as much as I do. As much as I love the comforts of the van, hostels do have plenty of perks. We get a chance to meet other travelers and share stories over wine as well as shower for free, which as you know is extremely valuable. There is also this amazing thing called the "Free Shelf" which is just a collection of food that people leave behind once they leave the hostel. It doesn't sound amazing until you find a jar of Nutella that costs almost $13 here and is virtually considered gold on the backpacker black market.
Other than that, my new years resolution has been made pretty clear:
Always look for the silver lining and enjoy everyday of this life.