Sunday, February 18, 2007

Thing the Fourth

The Editter has written about her holiday down south in New Zealand. One of the pictures is of the lupins around Lake Tekapo, and it brought back a memory, which I will call Thing the Fourth, since it is another thing you did not know about me.

I used to hitchhike, in New Zealand. And I loved it. Not having the money to go anywhere was just an excuse, really, a way to justify doing something I wanted to do anyway that everybody said was dangerous and a young woman on her own shouldn't do. Actually the most dangerous thing that ever happened to me was being picked up by a bad driver, and I wasn't hitchhiking alone that time. Most of the time I got picked up by very kind people who told me how lucky I was to have been picked up by them, because YOU NEVER KNOW, it's terribly dangerous, do your parents know you're doing this? (The answer to that was no. If I was traveling from home I used to get my mother to drop me off at the bus stop, and as far as she knew I was on a bus.)

On one of these hitchhiking trips I'd taken the ferry from Wellington to Picton on my way back to Dunedin, where I was living at the time, and then had to face an interminable wait for the next ferry to arrive because the cars always got off first, which meant there was no traffic for the hitchhikers by the time we got onto the road. While I was walking along (because walking is less boring than just standing there, and also the hitchhikers needed to space out a bit because we'd started off all in an intimidating clump) I met up with a Swiss woman who was also hitching, and we started chatting and decided to join forces. She wasn't feeling very well. She had tropical ulcers, which she'd picked up in the Philippines and had had treated there, but they were back.

We had a great trip, anyway. Our first ride was with a guy in an antique car who had passed us (and all the other hitchhikers) several times, going back and forth along the road, and was obviously going nowhere very fast. We were pretty surprised when he stopped. He told us he couldn't take us far, he was just tuning up the car, but perhaps we'd enjoy the ride anyway. We did. It was a great car, although it didn't go very fast. We waved at other hitchhikers as we cruised slowly past, feeling like royalty, and they did gratifying double-takes when they saw us in the car. They hadn't even bothered to stick out their thumbs, the same car had gone past so many times.

I can't remember if there was another short ride or two after that, but the longest ride we got that day was all the way to Christchurch, with a professor of geology. That was also fun, because he taught us about the landscape we were seeing, took us to see a seal colony, bought us icecream, and was generally an interesting and entertaining person. But my Swiss friend was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and feverish, so when we got to Christchurch we asked him to drop us off at the hospital.

At the hospital she caused a minor sensation. It's not often you get tropical diseases popping into A&E in Christchurch. Every doctor in the place wanted to look at her legs. I sat in the waiting room and watched reruns of Faulty Towers, which appeared to be on a loop on the monitor. I think I saw four or five episodes, back to back. I tried to imagine what it would be like if you were waiting for serious news.

"I'm afraid we had to amputate."

"BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA aha aha ... ha ... ha ... pardon?"

Penicillin put her right (no, they didn't amputate), but she was not able to walk easily, and the hostel we stayed in wasn't that comfortable for a sick person, so the next day we decided to hire a car to go on to Dunedin, where she could stay with me until she recovered. We found a car hire place that had a really cheap deal, which made the decision easier.

So we stocked up on chocolate and drove to Dunedin. We went via Lake Tekapo. It was not exactly a shortcut, but neither of us had been there and we wanted to see it. It was summer, between Christmas and New Year, and the lupins looked just like the ones in The Editter's photo.

In fact the colours were what impressed most of all. It must have been a dry summer, because the vegetation was not green but brown, aside from the purple of the lupins. It was an overcast day, but not grey. The sky was white. And the lake (which is fed by a glacier) was a unearthly shade of translucent green. I had never seen water that colour before. With the purple ground, green lake and white sky, it was like being on another planet. It was stunningly beautiful. And cold.

On the way back (via Timaru) we even picked up our own hitchhikers, a couple of German guys who had, it turned out, been standing by the side of the road for half a day waiting for a car to come along. I have never had such pathetically grateful passengers. I thought they were going to kiss us when we offered them chocolate as well.

"Didn't anybody tell you this isn't a good place to hitchhike at this time of year?" I asked.

"Well, yah," they said, "But when they said there wouldn't be much traffic we didn't realize they meant two cars a day."

And before you ask me whether you're actually allowed to pick up hitchhikers when you're in a hired car, I will tell you, no, it is not allowed. It was written in the contract I'd signed, so picking those guys up was probably some sort of crime. But I discovered that when a couple of hungry, shivering Germans wave frantically at you from the side of a long stretch of empty road you don't worry about things like that, especially when you haven't seen another car for well over an hour. Those guys had miscalculated badly.

What was I supposed to do, drive past and wave?


Potentilla said...

The lupins aren't native though; they have escaped from gardens. So, as a good Kiwi, you should HATE them. When I was living in Sydney I was quite taken aback by the fervour of Aussie?kiwi dislike of non-native plants.

They have non-native lupins in Iceland too, but there they have been introduced deliberately to stabilise and colonise soils that were stripped of vegetation by farming many years ago.

Radioactive Jam said...


Must... resist... towel-related comment...

"Green" water in a glacier-fed lake? Hmm... Now I need to revisit some archived pictures, see if my memory is true or false.

Not from anywhere exciting like NZ though.

The Editter said...

Yes, I think it's a good thing you used this as a separate post rather than a comment on mine!

Why oh why does bloglines keep losing my subscription to your blog? Grrr.

Pearl said...

What a set of adventures!

Good call on picking up the hitchhikers.