I’m at a hostel for the first time in a long time and all the smiling young people are clustered in little groups speaking alien languages.
The soft, pink boys with fashionable haircuts are laughing with the girls who have nice butts. They aren’t like the French girl sleeping in her car with her greasy ponytail at the oceanside campsite at Owhira Bay. Here they are clean and polished and talking about going out tonight. I haven’t showered in three days and my beard is unruly. My face is sun and wind burned, tired and creased. I feel like I don’t belong. I’m exhausted. For the past month I have been driving, cooking, cleaning, and finding a place to park my van every night, all while taking the time to go on walks to admire the beautiful New Zealand landscapes and watch my bank account dwindle. (Don’t worry, Mom, I’m doing fine.) There’s so much to think and worry about. I don’t know if I have the energy for anything anymore.
I came to a hostel because I’m tired of fleeting human interactions lasting only a few hours until we drive on. I have no friends and no one to fuck and no one to love and no one to care about.
I’ve been in the South Island for five and a half hours and I feel defeated. If the roads were straight, the drive to Nelson would have been quick and painless. But this is New Zealand. They cut through mountains, narrowly, switching back and forth. The Kiwi drivers have been zooming around them for years and they cut corners and ride the lines like assholes while I stay in my lane like a sane person and take the steep turns at a reasonable pace.
Twenty-eight-years-old and just cracked 415,000 kilometers, my van has plenty of oil and the thermostat is steady but I think she is wanting more coolant because she just started to give off puffs of white smoke as we head up a hill that lasts forever. I renewed her Warrant of Fitness last week and they said the engine was fine, I just had to replace a tire. Still, my stomach sinks and I start to sweat with an annoyed line of cars behind me. I just hope she isn’t going to eat more of my money.
Why do I think about it so much? Money. It rules our lives. Everything I do costs money. I can’t go anywhere or do anything without it. People work everyday of their lives to save it and never think they can pick it all up and travel because they need more.
I go back to my room and take a shower. I emerge feeling refreshed and there’s a group of eighteen-year-old Germans sitting in cheap plastic chairs smoking cigarettes and a tattooed French guy standing by them. I intrude on their circle.
“Hey guys, I’m [REDACTED].”
The French guy asks me where I’m from. I’m American.
“American! Texas?” he asks and I crack a smile and say, Nah, Virginia.
Suddenly the alien monsters turn into cuddly teddy bears and they start speaking my language and we are all the same.
I return to the kitchen to cook my chicken thighs and red kidney beans and everyone is full of life and excitement. I can barely squeeze around the island to grab a frying pan. Apparently it’s pizza night. Groups from every European country are spreading flower on the table, throwing down their dough and rolling it out. Plates and cutting boards covered in sliced capsicum, onion, sausage and peperoni occupy the tables. Someone plays “Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance on a portable speaker and the Italian guy sitting on the arm of a wooden end-chair starts to fist pump.
Now I’m writing these words on the patio outside of my dorm and suddenly a familiar scent fills the air. I sniff and turn my head. The lounging Germans say, “You want a joint?”
I’m the foreigner among friends from Berlin so they ask me questions about America and we talk about international news media and Merkel, Obama and Putin. They are fascinated by American news from Vice.com. Especially a story about rednecks tricking out diesel trucks to emit huge clouds of black smoke at unsuspecting victims.
“I hope they are just stories,” he says.
Coming to a hostel was a good idea. Maybe I’ll stay here and work for accommodation while I find a job. Or maybe I’ll leave tomorrow. It’s all good. In the mean time, I can relax and enjoy the town and the people. I’ll take a walk to the “geographical center” of New Zealand and admire the bay and the far away mountain range with peaks reaching above the snow line. The world isn’t such a scary place after all.