After a night’s sleep on hard airport benches and with my whole life packed on my back I walked out of Christchurch International Airport. This was going to be the first proper trip by myself: two weeks in New Zealand without a plan. By day two I was already having a blast. I am at home with Tim and Nicki – a couple of my parents’ age – sipping tea on the couch, petting their cat, and talking about things that matter.
Hitchhiking my way through the country made the journey golden. Sitting in the passenger seat, jamming to whatever music the driver listens to, chatting away to all different kinds of people. Tim, who happened to be Greymouth’s priest, picked me up right outside of Christchurch. After a few hours of good conversation he offered me to stay in their guest room that night. I was not planning to go to Greymouth and had frankly never even heard of the town, so I politely thanked him with the unspoken intention of heading elsewhere.
After climbing through a cave and hiking around, a nice lady picked me up and said she was heading to Greymouth, of all places. Down for unexpected turns and without many other options, I jumped in the car and made my way to Tim and Nicki. Nicki showed me around their place. They transformed the huge shed in their garden into a hangout for local teens, including an arts room, improvised gym, gaming area and a little canteen. She told me about her work in youth community services and soon enough we were deep into conversation.
Since that moment every day has been a major adventure. Hitching with a blank cardboard gets you into the most interesting situations. I camped under the milky way at Lake Pukaki in the back of a French guy’s car. Lending Sarah some money for gas got me to stay with the happiest hippie family in Takaka. I hitched with a German backpacker for a while and got a ride from the most hardcore kiwi dude you can imagine. We ended up in Reefton, New Zealand’s first town to have street lighting. I don’t think it has changed much since. And when it was pouring outside and I got stuck in Arthur’s Pass, I ended up practising Chinese with the loveliest lady from Beijing for hours on end. Every single stranger I met had a fascinating story. And if they are nice enough to pick up a blue-haired chick from the side of the road, they are usually nice enough to share.
When I was hitching by the end of the day, everyone would offer me to stay with them. Spending nights in people’s places is an oddly intimate thing. You step into someone’s daily life, live alongside them in their personal household. You get to see the little quirks and dusty corners of their homes, the mess they leave before they head to work in the morning. You are like an intruder behind closed curtains, yet it can feel so at home.
In some cases the connection you form within a couple of hours can be as deep as the connections with your mates. It is like disclosure between strangers at bus stops and in airport gates. Getting personal is easy when you know you will most likely never see each other again. When you open up your door, you might as well open up about everything else. Talking to (not-so strange) strangers about their passions, deepest fears, and aliens has something fascinating to it. As you have to catch up on all the years you did not know each other there are unlimited topics to talk about. And before you know you are sharing bits and pieces of your soul with someone you met an hour ago.
“You don't know me, I don't know who you are, but I know that you live with me under these stars. […] Strangers are strangers until they meet.” - Chef'Special
Flower power Sarah asked me how I felt about myself when travelling compared to when I’m at home. 'Home’ is no longer one single place for me and I figured I do not feel like a different person when moving around. I am still me, in the same state of mind. But everything I experience and everyone I meet teaches me something about me. Humans are chemically programmed to like certain things and dislike others. I love the ocean and writing, some enjoy cooking, and others like microwaving last night’s KFC takeaway for breakfast. To each their own. But if I had not left my little hometown to explore the world, I would have never known I like the jungle and Malaysian tea.
You are continually deciphering your own instruction manual. The further you travel and the more memories you make, the clearer it becomes. In Melbourne I learn things about Belle in the city. In Malta I learnt about living on my own in a place where nothing ever works (Malta ily, no hard feelings). And in New Zealand about being in the wilderness, alone with my thoughts, and on a stranger’s couch.
Meeting so many people, especially ones you would normally never end up talking to, you get a little peak into different lives. The more I experience, the more I get to put life into perspective and uncover hidden aspects of me. There might even come a point where you fully understand your own instructions and can shape life to fit your clear-cut desires and needs. Once you put yourself together you might find a rainbow cake or unlimited happiness, or whatever.
On a different note, there is just one downside to hitching. Regardless of how amazing the people you meet are, you are always going where they are going. If it were for me I would have hands down stopped at the road sign saying “psychic readings & hot shower”. I guess I will have to come back for that one.