Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Friday, March 16, 2012

New Zealand, Camper Van

They call it Big Bear. It's an old, old RV and you can tell because unlike the newer models, which have bright wood and bright metal insides. This one is plastic and velvet.

It looks very large when just one person is standing in it, but if all five of us are standing in the back, it suddenly becomes extraordinarily crowded.

There is room for six people to sleep here. I wonder how they survive. When all five of us are in the van at the same time, trying to move around and get ready for bed, there is a serious chance that all five of us will lose our tempers. One of us often has to sit down in some out-of-the-way spot just so everyone else can move around. Because one person is sitting while everyone else is working, this means that everyone else feels that the person sitting down is an inconsiderate slacker. Since it's semi-true, the inconsiderate slacker feels attacked.

Describing all the places we went to would be a waste of words, since there is no way to actually show what it's like. You can't put the pictures of the hills or the ocean or the beaches in proper words. In some places the hills are yellow with long, long grass that waves in the wind. It really does look a bit like a sea.

The clouds are fantastic. Big, puffy, white, and they change colors with the sun's position. Brilliant red in the sunset, with tinges of purple and pink and yellow. 

Though we have things to do— French to read, words to write, books to study, more often than not we sit in the back, with the huge wrap-around window that lets us see 270° all around, and just passively watch as we pass houses, paddocks (as you approach the south of the South Island, there are less cattle and sheep and more reindeer), seascapes… 

The roads are smooth, with only very few bumps, but for some reason, even with the ten novels we have stashed away, we'd rather not read. (Of course, I don't want to read all of the ten books. Some were picked out especially for Ioan, others Dad picked up but probably won't read, others Mom is reading in the front… many simply don't interest me)

We stop in camping areas at night. They're so clean, and, looking back on it from Australia, all indoors, with shiny facilites and huge refrigerators, and basically all you could really ask for.

We pass the 45th parallel in the van and sit on the sign to take a picture. It's because we live at the 45th parallel ourselves (though, of course, on the other hemisphere), that we actually choose to stop.

Though it's March in New Zealand, the weather can be translated to September in Upstate New York. The leaves haven't turned brown yet, everything is still green (though there are some yellow leaves in certain areas), and bright.

Some places are exceptionally windy, especially when you're on the deck of a boat. You can feel the wind buffeting you back, and at times it's hard to breathe properly, even though air is literally being shoved down your throat.

At some point Dad turns to Mom way in the front of Big Bear and says, "Shall we stop?"

Mom says something unintelligible, and we accordingly stop.

Dad gets out of the car, and we turn around and ask Mom what he's doing.

He walks around to the back of Big Bear and stops to talk to two backpackers, one a tall, blond haired guy, and the other an average-heighted girl with red-blonde hair.

Dad comes around back to the front, tells us to open the door for them, and we say 'hello,' realizing that we've just picked up hitchhikers. Dad starts the car, we settle down in the back, and get acquainted.

"I'm Ben," says the guy,

"And I'm Leslie," says the girl.

We introduce ourselves, find out our ages (19 and 18, respectively, Canada, just out of high school and enjoying themselves marvelously), talk about countries and schools, etc, and drop them off near a hostel where they can bunk down for the night.

We're not assuming we'll ever see them again, which is why we're so sad that we can't remember if Ben's name is Ben or Dan. The parents think it's Dan, but we children have been in the back for hours with them, and we can't be absolutely sure.

We head to Fox Glacier after settling into the campground. It's a walk along gray pebbles that are really dropped off from the hills (or perhaps mountains?) that surround the glacier. At certain points, you're not allowed to stop— boulders might fall from the peaks. And, of course, if you're stopped, you've probably got your eye in a camera and are looking in a completely different direction. Because you've got your eye in the camera, your ears have been turned off, and because your ears have been turned off, you can't fully appreciate the possible danger you might be in.

We're not certain exactly why there would be a sign that tells you not to stop.

As we exit Fox Glacier, we meet Ben and Leslie (without asking Ben what his real name is, since we didn't quite realize we didn't know it until later).

Dinner is simple… something I don't quite remember, though I think there was pink-colored sweet wine on the table, and probably pasta (Pasta is a good guess for what we had for dinner in camper vans. So is instant noodles, SPAM, corned beef, or sandwiches). We go to sleep, write a few words for blog posts… basically a random nighttime ritual that's completely normal for us.

In the morning, Dad turns to Mom and says, "We're late."

"Late for what?"

"Those kids are probably waiting out on the side of the road for someone, and we're late!"

There had been tentative, semi-plans to take them along should we meet up the next day.

Dad bursts out laughing at the wheel as he pulls over. We're at a sort of crossroads, and Leslie and Ben are there, laughing too. "Hello again!" we all exclaim as we pull their heavy backpacks into the camper. I should mention now that Ben has a guitar.

"We actually said," Dad says, laughing and shaking his head, "that we should hurry because you'd be waiting for us."

We find out Ben's name is Ben and begin playing Entanglement— a game for the iPad that's also online. It involves hexagonal tiles, long paths, and a great deal of strategy. I liked it at the beginning… but I tend to lose interest quickly in games, so I stopped playing it after a while. But all five of us enjoy ourselves. Ioan and Ben begin playing 'boy games' on the iPad too, while Ileana looks out the window and Leslie and I look through her computer. She has a few movies and books collected from various places… unfortunately she lost her kindle, so she can't read many of the books. I tell her about Kindle for Mac, which she can download for free, and she shows me a few pictures of her hair braided.

Immediately I see the possibility of braiding her hair in a crown braid— I did it once for Ileana and tried to do it for myself a few more times, but braiding Ileana's hair meant getting Ileana into a mood for braided hair, which was almost impossible, and braiding my hair requires muscles I don't think I have, with an endurance I don't think anyone has. Of course, I frequently try both Ileana's hair and mine.

But to the point. I asked Leslie if I could braid her hair, and she said, "Sure!" So I undid her hair from the bright green scrunchie, started at the back of her head, braided around her ear, over the top of her head, over the other ear, all the way to the end (and may I add that Big Bear was bumping along without a care in the world?), for a very respectable crown braid which I tucked in at the ends (having forgotten completely about the bright green scrunchie). 

We took pictures from all angles, and now I know why people used to braid their hair like this. It makes them look seriously fairy-like and highly respectable. 

Of course, since we didn't have bobbypins, the braid came out very quickly (roads are bumpy. Don't let anyone tell you any different), but we'd gotten the pictures and I'd finally gotten my hands on some hair!

I used to have really long hair, down to my waist. I started growing it about 5th grade, and cut it about two years ago… in tenth. My great-grandmother looked at me on vacation in 2009 and said, "Maria, your hair is very beautiful… but isn't it a bit too long?"

That was in September, and in January I went to Mom and we decided to cut it off to shoulder-length. It hasn't gone past that since then, especially not since I practically got a 'boy cut' in September of 2011. Now? I miss long hair. So much.

We stop for a walk to a lake at one point in the road. It takes a track through a sort of field, then through a wooded area, and we all talk about movies and games and… well, I can't remember. When we come back from the lake, there's a small, cute black bird hopping around. It takes a while before we can tear ourselves away— it's got the puffed up presumptuous look of a bird that knows it's fantastic and beautiful and… CUTE!

By the end of the second day, the five of us (Mom and Dad having been in the front for basically all the trip of New Zealand) were the kind of friends you meet on the road. You can talk about practically anything to do with your trip, you can count on meeting up with someone to talk about travel, but not the sort of 'best friends' you'd ever make at home. It's a temporary friendship, the sort you make at camp with the nice girl.

And it's such a relief to have gotten all the words out. We've missed talking to people, face-to-face, who don't know anything about the ridiculous places we've been.

[And yet, from Australia, a month and a half later… I'm not certain I'd ever want to really introduce it as a topic of conversation. The trip has the odd quality, good or bad, of stopping any other conversation.]

We say goodbye with hugs, pictures, exchanges of cards, and we each go our own ways.

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