Well here I am again, on the road. And no sooner have I left the safe confines I had established in Auckland, than I run into a barrage of difficulties. This is a common theme for me when travelling; most of these problems could and should be avoided, but I’m far too lackadaisical. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants, and more often than not I find my coat-tails on fire.
Yesterday, to be fair to myself (and I always like to be fair to myself), the myriad of problems that came hurtling my way was close to insurmountable.
I booked a five o’clock bus to Paihia (Bay of Islands) with the Naked Bus. I could have booked an earlier one, but that one was cheaper and you’ve got to save the pennies when you can. I didn’t book a hostel as I figured I could do it on the bus wi-fi or even when I got there at ETA nine o’clock. How wrong I was.
The journey didn’t start well. The rain was blowing horizontal and the bus arrived 45 minutes late, no doubt due to the terrible driving conditions. It took another half an hour to get out of Auckland.
The coach broke down an hour in. The air failed, apparently, which means the brakes come on as a safety feature. The driver jovially informed us that this was a very good thing, there was a disaster on this very road in ‘67 due to the air failing and thus the brakes, killing 27. We waited an hour for a replacement, huddling under the open engine guard at the rear smoking and laughing as the rain beat down.
The replacement finally arrived: a ponderous, older coach. A technophobe. No chance of wi-fi here. ‘Does the brakes come on if the air fails?’, I wondered. I dismissed the thought and decided to call Jono. Jono is an affable Canadian I worked with in Chapel Bar. He was living in a van somewhere around Paihia, for free. I hadn’t planned on bothering him, but things were getting critical. It was already dark outside.
My phone wasn’t working; it had gone blank. I had bought it off a crack-head for twenty dollars two weeks prior, and it was water-damaged. But even though it turned off randomly and spat when you turned it on, I felt betrayed that it would give up completely in my hour of need.
We arrived shortly before midnight. I got out on King’s Road as the driver informed me, still cheerfully, that that would be my best bet. I was becoming more and more doubtful. I had heard him chatting about a festival at the weekend that attracted a lot of people. It occurred to me that large events may not be conducive to finding lodgings at the last minute.
I was right. Only two of the hostels were even open, and they were full. I trudged down the road noting the ‘No Vacancy’ signs on the motels. ‘Another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, Hugh’. But I wasn’t too bothered. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, and if I had to find shelter in a few bushes for the night, so be it. Everything always works out.
Then I met Blair. Typical Kiwi, he was dressed in a rugby shirt and shorts in the rain. I would have walked on past had he not said hello. I asked him if he knew of any other hostels apart from the ones on King’s Road. He directed me around the corner, telling me to come back if I had no luck. The place was closed, so I wandered back the long way looking for others. He was still there.
I slept on his couch last night. He gave me a beer and some Doritos. We chatted for a while, watched ‘2 and a Half Men’, and then he went to bed. He lived in a large house, some way out of town, so he drove me back in the morning and I bought us a coffee on the way back in. Big of me, you’ll agree…
The sun is shining as I write this. I’ve booked into Base Backpackers for a night, though everywhere is booked out for tomorrow, the day of Waitangi festival. I feel great, and it’s all thanks to Blair. Had I slept in the bush, I imagine my bones would still be thawing. I’m going to have to pay this one forward.
NOTE: I talked to Jono later. Turns out Blair is his boss! Small world… Well, small town, anyway…