I’m scared. And loney. I’m driving down a narrow road surrounded by farms. It’s pitch black. I bought this van three hours ago. I don’t know it well enough to be doing this. Why did I leave the comfort of the hostel in the Auckland CBD where Netflix plays all day to an ever-changing crowd of travelers? Why did I leave the beautiful Chilean girl who spoke to me in Spanish because, “Entiendo mas que puedo hablar”? How did I end up driving a 1987 Mitsubishi L300 Cyclone converted into a campervan by Brett and Hayley, two 30-something hippies from England, through New Zealand at 9 p.m. with no destination in mind?
I want to be with friends and family. I want to be comfortable. I want to be around friendly faces. I know this feeling will pass. It always does. I drive 50 K south of Auckland and turn off and look for somewhere to park and sleep for the night. This isn’t my van. I don’t know what’s in here. This isn’t my stuff. Shit. This is just a small suburb with one lonely road leading out. I drive down hoping for a small pull off or car park or some point of interest. The oil and battery light flash on the dashboard and I stall out. I’ve only driven this monster for one hour I’m not used to it’s intricacies yet. Fuck. The road turns to gravel.
This isn’t an offroad vehicle,” Brett told me when I asked how Pam, their name for the van, handles gravel roads.
I drive 25 more kilometers south on State Highway 1 and see the iconic rest area sign I recognize from Australia — where drivers are constantly berated with signs like “STOP REVIVE SURVIVE” — and I think I’ve found salvation. I pull off the highway and check out the town. It’s small, quiet and dark. I’ve lost track of the rest area signs but I see a small playground up ahead with a car park. I guess this will have to do for the night.
I get out of the van and walk around to the sliding door on the passenger side and a security car drives by. I wave and try to mind my own business but they turn around and pull up next to me.
“Hey mate, how’s it going?
“Uhh, good thanks.”
“Are you planning on staying here for the night?”
“Uhh, no. Yes? Am I allowed to?”
“Well… Yea, I think you are, but you might as well drive up the road by the rugby pitch. There’s toilets up there and it’s safer than this place.”
“Oh, really? Is it free?”
“Yea, it’s just a bit down the road and then turn up right the hill.”
Well, damn. What a great first interaction with kiwis outside of the big city. I drive to the rugby pitch and there’s a big rent-a-caravan parked there. A welcome sight. I crawl into the bed and prepare for my first night in this foreign vehicle. I’m still on edge. I regret buying this van.
I took it for a test drive with Brett while Hayley went to her yoga class. It was fun to drive and felt pretty solid and reliable for being 28 years old and having 410,000 K on the odometer. Plus it was stocked with camping supplies and the bed looked amazing. He was asking $1,750. We get back to the car park by the wharf — “This is the cheapest parking in Auckland,” he said — and I have no intention of buying it. It would be better to wait for a better deal. To have some fun, I bust into my PawnStars persona. I ask when they are leaving New Zealand. In four days. Ok, I say, well I’m gonna keep looking but I’ll let you know by Monday if I want to buy the van. I could give you like $1,200 right now but I think I’ll keep seeing what else is around.
Brett gets really quiet and pensive at the mention of an offer on his 28-year-old beast. Hayley thanks me for checking it out but Brett and I are still playing the game. He is desperate. This is the first offer he’s gotten. I am about to turn to leave. He breaks the silence and says,
I’ll take $1,200. Cash.”
I didn’t expect him to take an offer that low. I guess I’m buying this thing now. We shake hands. It’s done. It’s mine.
I’m stuck with my own thoughts in this van. I pull up the Egyptian cotton sheets, down duvet, cotton blanket, and 2 itchy wool blankets and I immediately feel a cool breeze coming from underneath me. I shift to the middle of the assortment of blankets to provide more insulation from below. Now I’m comfortable, but I can’t sleep. I feel trapped. I’ve made a huge mistake, echoing Michael Bluth. What have I done? What am I doing? I read some of my book, Adultery, by Paulo Coehlo author of, The Alchemist, one of my favorite books. I picked this up at the Sydney airport when my flight was delayed. The book depresses me even more. The protagonist reflects on her life decisions and realizes she’s not the person she thought she was. Great. This is really helping, Paulo.
I think back to The Alchemist. There were times when Santiago felt like giving up on his quest for his Personal Legend. The Alchemist tells the young shepherd from Andalusia,
“Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart…There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
I know these feelings will pass. I know my experience here will be amazing. I know this is only temporary. I know I have to live in the present. I think back to driving into the first town. I was scared. Terrified. I’m alone. The engine is under the passenger seat and I can feel it’s vibrations. The vibrations give me energy. I’m terrified but I’m happy. I feel like howling. I’m free. I feel alive.