New ZealBlog - Chapter 1
The Swedish bombshells, the loves of our lives, 6 feet tall each, blonde, blue-eyed, graceful, easy, feats of nature, made in God’s image - not the Jewish God as he’s proven incapable of making them like this - strutted out of our lives forever without so much as batting an eyelash, let alone looking in our direction, floating two words behind them with a breathy sexiness, letting the words fall out of their mouths and not thinking twice about the crushing finality they would represent: “Bye, boys”.
Everything is backwards in New Zealand, from the flow of the toilet water to the side of the road you drive on, so forgive me for starting from the finish line. Let’s take a step back from the climax and set the stage at the outset of my trip to the other side of the world. A few months ago, I had the fortune of getting a new job, which presented me with some unexpected time off. I had my last day in the office on Wednesday, booked a flight to New Zealand for my first backpacking trip on Thursday, spent roughly half my life savings on hiking gear at REI on Friday and was in the air with one of my closest friends on Sunday. Daniel had been planning this excursion for months, meticulously researching the history of the country, poring over every travel guide ever written in both online and print and crowd-sourcing the must-see beaches and best hiking trails from friends and family that have visited over the years. On some level, through his grossly unhealthy, shamelessly dorky obsession with all things Lord of the Rings, he had been mentally and physically preparing for this vacation for the better part of his life. Though nothing, not memorizing the tribal history of the Maoris, New Zealand’s indigenous, marginalized minority population; not feigning lifelong interest in New Zealand’s premier, world-class rugby team, the All Blacks; not making a trip to his hometown of Baltimore to borrow his great-grandfather’s weather-proof merino wool socks passed down from generation to generation, could have prepared Daniel and I for the emotionally cathartic journey in New Zealand: The Land of Tomorrow.
After a 20 hour straight shot, we arrived in Auckland, near the northernmost point of the country, and vowed to make our way all the way down the coasts of both islands, ending in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. Given the opportunity to go on the Kiwi Experience tour bus with 21 year old girls the world over, sowing their wild oats on semesters abroad, or rent a car and have the liberty to go wherever we wanted without predetermined destinations, there was no wrong decision: the outright opposite of Sophie’s Choice. We opted to rent a car since it gave us more freedom and, despite a few near-death experiences (see: paragraph on Kiwis driving on the other side of the road), it became the defining decision of our trip. Like your first friend in high school that gets a car, who you beg just to drive you around the block during lunch, we had a secret power to wield over every other backpacker in the country. For perhaps the first time in our lives, we were, unequivocally and indisputably, the cool kids.
There’s no irony in New Zealand. Its beauty is so pure it can leave even this jaded New Yorker rendered speechless. Not beholden to the strictures of a guided tour, we could stay an extra night in a certain sleepy beach town, or stop off on the side of the road at a tiny fish shack on the water claiming to be the whitebait (read: sea worms) capital of the world.Though I like to think our boyish charm, endless wit and harmless nature played a part, the Swedish loves of our lives may never have given us the time of day if not for a last-ditch act of desperation. Upon meeting the girls on the road, we made them a universal offer impossible to reject since time immemorial - “Want a ride?”. With snow-capped mountains on one side, and the breathtaking blue of the Pacific on the other, the delirious drive around the mountains and down the shore of the South Island is arguably the most majestic in any world, Middle Earth or otherwise. Whether the girls took us up on our proposition to bail on the bus because they grew tired of the monotony in riding coach all day, or we wooed them with our cross-continental humor, we may never know. But, looking back on the four days we spent together, I learned that there’s one obstacle you just can’t overcome - time. I’d do anything to go back and press pause on the beach during our first afternoon together in Wanaka. Unfortunately, life, like my grandma, doesn’t have DVR.