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December 25 2023, Taramakau River Crossing to Deception River:
Last night the winds were vicious but I slept soundly knowing I had friends close by. The rain came in hard as we packed up our drenching wet gear and started our morning by attempting a braided river crossing. Orange scoped out spots for us to cross over safely, moving up and down the stream, entering and exiting the water.
After about 30 minutes of only making it through one crossing, he decided to call it, informing us the other ones were too dodgy. We ended up taking the flood route path which led us up and over jagged cliffs with steep elevation gain and loss mixed with sketchy terrain, however it was worth it to know we got through the section safely.
We made it to a junction where one way led to Goat Pass and the other to the main road.
“Town daaay!” I shouted.
My tramily knew that I looked forward to town days, especially when it was raining, however we chose to do the pass because the numbers outweighed me. I didn’t care too much, I simply looked forward to being warm and dry and associated that with huts or towns.
We made it to another river crossing. Orange started to take Ikra across, but around 10’ away from making it to the other side, he decided to turn them back around, once again marking it not safe to cross. She was waist deep in water and her legs were shaking against the current. She was about to give. We knew it would be much worse for Lenses as she was a lot shorter.
We tried walking up the edge of a cliff to see if there was a safer way to cross. No luck. The next crossing coming up was apparently the most treacherous, so if the first one was that unmanageable, the second one would not work out for us.
Orange goes, “Looks like it may have to be town day.”
“TOWN DAY!” I exclaimed.
We made the consensus to turn around and hike back to the junction, then to the main road where we hitched in both directions, letting fate decide where we would end up.
A woman in a pickup truck drove by then turned back around to collect us. Somehow, we always had great luck hitching as a big group rather than in smaller pairs. We excitedly hopped in the back as she drove us over the winding pass, letting us receive majestic views of mountain ridges and waterfalls.
“This is my favorite hitch in New Zealand,” Orange said.
We made it into town and everything was closed. Not much of a surprise as it was Christmas Day. We went to the chapel and dried our stuff out on the benches. Orange and Lenses played the piano while I ate shitty shortbread cookies which now tasted pretty decent after feeling so hungry. We were soaking wet and cold, so Orange looked up places to stay in the general area.
After calling numerous places with zero luck, I started laughing and said, “At least we’re in town for town day.”
He shook his head in disbelief at how I still managed to get my way. I was a bad influence, I admitted, but I told him it would be much worse if we were with my main tramily because they were as fond of town days as I was.
We came to the consensus to visit the cafe next door, which was also closed but at least there were slivers of sunshine. I decided to leave my items sprawled out in the church and come back and get it later.
After a few minutes of waiting for everyone outside, Orange opened the chapel door and asked, “What the fock are ya doin’, mate?”
“Waiting for you guys so we can go to the cafe,” I replied.
He laughed then gave me the same lecture about leaving my stuff in random places. He looked at Lenses and said, “She likes to leave her stuff out in the open so that people can come and take—.”
“Oh my god, here we go again,” I said, rolling my eyes.
I packed up and we walked over. I sliced some salami that I had leftover and the keas kept trying to steal it. They were professionals at taking things that weren’t theirs, at one point having stolen my salami wrapper when I had looked away for a split second.
We were cold and in need of a place to stay, so we decided to hitch out of the ghost town we were in and find somewhere with more options. We settled on Christchurch which was around 2 hours east, but eventually hitched in both directions which must’ve looked absolutely absurd to the passing vehicles.
The most attention we received was a man yelling, “Merry Christmas!” out of a moving car, followed by, “love ya guys!”
Ikra went to the campground instead of joining us in our adventure, so we said our goodbyes. A few seconds later we saw an attractive young couple making their way towards us. They were both tall with healthy blonde hair. The girl was wearing a Santa Claus hat and smiling from ear to ear. She excitedly stopped and asked us where we were trying to get to.
“Anywhere, really,” I said, “we just need somewhere warm to spend the night and get dry since everything here is closed.”
“Vell, ve live right behind ze store! Vy don’t you come stay vith us?” she invited.
My jaw dropped. “Really?!” I exclaimed.
“Yez!” she confirmed, smiling even fuller. “Vy not?”
Their names were Krissa and Lucas and they were from the Czech Republic. Krissa had a thick accent where she replaced her w’s with v’s and it took me a moment to understand her, however it was cute because she felt completely unbothered by butchering her sentences. Instead, she would just laugh it off.
They were currently living in community housing with other people their age, all of them on a working holiday visa. They had us follow them inside and up the stairs to their place which felt like getting wrapped up by the warmest blanket after being so cold. Oh, it felt so good!
She told us to drop our packs, then let us take a hot shower and showed us where the laundry machine was. It was everything we felt we needed today. Lenses ended up convincing Ikra to pack up and come spend the night with us in the warm abode so she showed up shortly.
Then, we sat on their couch as they generously offered us coffee, tea and whatever food they had available. Krissa and Lucas were a newlywed couple, now being married for four months. They had met through a connection of church youth groups. They fit together like a puzzle piece. I could see by the way he looked at her that she was all that was on his mind and the same went for her. Anytime she would laugh or smile, her first instinct would be to look in the direction of her life partner who would reflect the same joy back. What a blessing to find a sweet romantic love so young, in a world that didn’t seem to care much about it anymore.
They were taking a year break before going back to their University, however were suddenly thinking about not going back at all. They seemed to have fallen in love with traveling, working off minimum wage and hitchhiking their way across the country. They both desired a life of simplicity.
“I’ve thought about hitchhiking my vay back to Czech and even hitchhiking a boat!” she said, “it could take long time, especially if ve vant to stop and see places, but I don’t know, ze very idea sounds like fun!”
The longer she wasn’t going back to school, the more she thought about taking an extended break from it. I fully supported her decision.
“You can always go back when you’re 40,” I offered.
I smiled because it was the advice I was given from Žilvinas, another seed he had planted in me at a very young age—to take the opportunity that was given to travel and see the world at hand. He said I could always come back to college later if I felt inspired, but that I would most likely find traveling to be the greatest school.
The couple decided to go look at a local waterfall and invited us to join, otherwise we were allowed to chill at their place. We decided to stay. Truly, one of my favorite energies was that of trust between people who were apparently strangers. They mentioned that if people came upstairs to just say we were friends of theirs.
They left on their walkabout and Lenses and I shared small talk about how we loved living without a solid plan. She also enjoyed moving around in a way that felt natural, going with the flow without set expectations.
She says, “You have good luck. Every time we travel with you, good things happen.”
The moment she said that, a bunch of people started filtering in—young kids in their early twenties. We introduced ourselves as they came and went, using the kitchen to make themselves food. It became clear that we were in the community housing whereas at first I thought it was the Czech couples separate living space and the lounge area was elsewhere.
The first few people seemed indifferent to us, however there was one guy in particular who became very unsettled by our presence. He sat in front of us, put his hands together in prayer as if trying to solve a problem.
“I-I-I’m sorry, but who ze fuck are you people?” he asked us in a thick European accent.
It was clear he was upset. I tried remembering the Czech girl’s name as best I could. “Oh, we’re friends of Krissa’s,” I said.
“Mm, ah-huh, and how do you know her?” he interrogated.
“Well, you see, we just met,” I said, “she had seen us hitchhiking and invited us—“
“Wait. So let me make sure I’m hearing dis correctly. You ah hitchhikers?” he asked then moved his body into an upright position, clearly upset by our answer. “Vow, okay. I see.”
I began to explain what adventure we were on but I could feel he wasn’t grasping it. He appeared to get controlling of the situation and looked way more into it than he had to.
“And vhere were you hitchhikers planning on staying?”
“Well, she offered us a place to crash on the floor for the night since it was raining outside.”
“She offer you to sleep here?” he asked, completely baffled by what he was hearing. He began to blame Krissa, saying what she did was wrong and that there were rules and contracts in place that they had to adhere to. We said we understood and that we would simply leave as to not cause any problems for them.
“I’m just going to get our laundry out of the machine,” I said as I stood up.
“You guyz did laundry here, too?!” he asked.
He was fuming at the ears. Each thing we said was making his face twitch with fury. He went outside to cool off and talk to someone. God knows what would have happened when he found out Ikra was behind the door taking a shower. I felt he was going to lose his shit when he found out there was now a fourth person.
Eventually a woman walked in through the door whom I assumed was his girlfriend. She looked at us and in a derogatory way said, “Oh, you’re the hitchhikers?”
The tone she used made it very obvious in my perception that she thought we were homeless people.
“Backpackers,” I corrected.
Hearing the defensiveness in my voice was immediately funny because it showed me I was taking the labels seriously. Travelers versus homeless. Backpackers versus hitchhikers. All the same. In the end, the person that was upset in my field of experience wanted compassion.
I also realized that I enjoyed being around people that were bendy rather than rigid. It was okay to bend the rules in certain situations, it never had to be so black and white. Orange and I agreed to each other that we would rather set up our wet tents than be in a place where we didn’t feel wholeheartedly welcomed. It seemed every little thing we said or did was upsetting the European guy and I could feel by his energy that he wanted to control what we did on the surface. I offered him money before we left but that didn’t satisfy him. He expressed that we all needed to sit and talk with Krissa as a group and go over how she made a mistake and fucked up. I felt as if he was trying to play the role off of my dad which was my que to leave.
We gathered our wet laundry, then went outside to pack it into our bags and Orange goes, “I’ve never felt more homeless in my life.”
I really wasn’t that upset. If anything, I felt super grateful that we got our needs taken care of. I was excited that I got an opportunity to experience the perception of someone being apparently angry with me. Most of all, I felt blessed that I got to experience such kindness and trust from the Czech couple. They were so heart warming and were truly guided by their intuition. They lived in a state of inner trust that radiated off of them.
We left the couple a handwritten note thanking them for everything, then wrote our information in case they wanted to stay in contact with us. We walked over to the campground and did a pack explosion inside the main area, air drying the rest of our laundry. Then, we made noodles and Orange cut us some fancy cheese I had gotten us to share on Christmas.
We were joyous. I laughed so much at our situation. I looked back on the majority of my Christmas dinners where I was surrounded with family around a table acting very proper and religious, with a cozy fireplace and expensive food. This was now the most memorable Christmas I had yet, with my tramily, full hiker trash mode and home free for the time being. We were joyous of where we found ourselves regardless of the circumstances and that was the heart of the lesson.
Krissa contacted us and asked where we were. She immediately came to the campground with a smile on her face but with tears in her eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her face flushing red as tears rolled out of her eyes. She nuzzled closer to her man. “I neva expected my roommates to react that vay, I thought they vould be a lot more chill.”
We all hugged her and reassured her that she did nothing wrong. She had a good, pure heart. She had mentioned earlier that her and Lucas would hitchhike and had remembered all of the people that brought them into their homes and helped them out. They knew exactly what it felt like to be on the road with little money and wanted to give back.
“I would’ve done the same thing,” I said, “don’t you worry.”
She said they talked to their roommates and better explained what our situation was to them. She invited us back to finish drying our clothes and said we could all sleep on their bedroom floor. We thanked her and let her know it was really not a big deal.
She seemed to keep crying, it was quite sweet. We tried to divert the energy as it was clear she was very sensitive to all of it. Her man saw a large topography map hanging on the wall so we all walked over there. Orange Man pointed out where we were going, where we came from, which river crossings we were unable to cross, etc. After some silence, we thanked them for stopping by and she suddenly opened up her bag to let us know she brought us some Christmas presents. We were in shock.
“Santa Claus!” Lenses said.
Truly, it was a miracle. The presents were neatly wrapped with Christmas themed wrapping paper, accented with candy canes and white bows. She cried upon giving it to us when she saw how joyous we were over it. To us, it was huge. We opened everything to find she had gifted us fancy coffee cups and truffle chocolates.
We thanked them, then hugged them goodbye. I would never forget people such as them. So young and full of trust, love and understanding. They were needles in a haystack.
Once the sun set, we packed all of our stuff up.
“Okay, time to go to the hotel room,”
Orange said out loud in front of the other campers hanging out in the room.
“Yep,” Lenses said, “let’s go get checked into our room.”
Instead, we walked a few feet over to the chapel and cowboy camped on the carpet. It was warm inside and protected from the elements, so we were grateful.
“I never thought I’d celebrate Christmas by sleeping in a chapel,” Orange said.
“I find it sweet,” I said as I looked at the view of the waterfall behind the altar, now nearly dark.
“Lots of tings happen today,” Lenses said.
I was glad that during all of it we were able to laugh to the point of tears in our eyes because it was genuinely funny when we looked at it from the grand perspective. The story of a Santa Claus girl coming to save us from hitchhiking, offering us a warm place to stay then getting kicked out a couple of hours later and sleeping in a church.