||JOYA THOMAS, Contributor
All stories have a beginning. For this one, that could be the moment I decided to pack my bags and get on a one-way flight to New Zealand. It could be when I succumbed to the inevitable and bought The Yellow Submarine, my neon-yellow campervan and home for the next seven months. It could even be when I dropped off my sister at the airport before driving 1,500 teary kilometres to a new job. But, for this story, there is only one climax, one zenith.
Traveling the Milford Road in New Zealand. Photo Credit: iStock
The thing is, I always thought it would be something heroic like summiting the rugged peak of a mountain at the break of dawn, or jumping from a plane over a sea of tropical islands.
My trip, all two years of it, was in many ways my search for this moment. I wanted to stand on the top of a mountain and have earned it. I needed desperately to prove something to myself, to know what I had to work with in this world.
Which is why I wasn’t exactly looking for my moment while sitting on a bench in The Middle of Nowhere, New Zealand, waiting for the mechanic to diagnose my precious Submarine. In fact, I was thinking it was never going to come. On the last leg of my two-day trip to Milford Sound, where I would start work, I had stopped for a wee break at a petrol station and was about to go merrily on my way when one of the workers stopped me.
“Oi, you’ve got heaps ’a smoke coming out ’a your bonnet, ay,” he said as he walked over. He was right. Taking no time at all to paint a bleak picture, he indicated that if I’d been driving with it “like this” even for five kilometres, my yellow house on wheels was “well stuffed.” I’d been driving for 1,000 kilometres.
So, I sat outside the garage and panicked. The thing is, I was “well stuffed” either way. Early that morning before leaving Wanaka I had put my last $40 in the world into the car in petrol. The remaining balance on the ATM read $1.62 NZD. I was flat broke.
Never in my life had I been confronted by such bleak circumstances, and more importantly, never had I had to face anything like this alone. Living dependently for the first 22 years of my life had its perks; financial prudence and independent problem-solving were not among them. As terrified and alone as I felt in those moments, I resolved not to regress. I would not call my parents.
So on that little bench in the middle of nowhere I came to terms with the fact that I might have to leave my van and find another way to Milford Sound. I had no choice but to get to this job — with or without the Sub. I had already eliminated food from my budget the day before. Once there, they would feed and house me. But I was still at least 400 kilometres from my destination, half of which were down one of the most remote and dangerous roads in the country.
Milford Sound, Fiordlands, New Zealand. Photo Credit: iStock
The prognosis was good, it turned out; the mechanic had simply replaced a missing belt and everything was fine. Only, he had fixed it before I gave him the go-ahead and the bill came to $80 — exactly $78.38 out of my price range. Forty-five panicky, tearful minutes later the mechanic and his wife agreed to let me go, trusting me to keep my promise to send the money as soon as I got my first paycheck.
Back on the road I smiled through sobs, enjoying a new-found respect for the challenging and fragile nature of life and the charitable soul of the human race, particularly those of the auto-mechanic persuasion. Shaking all the way, I drove as far as that $40 would carry me, getting into the mountain town of Te Anau just as evening settled.
With a numb kind of determination I had not known before (a result of the mixing of adrenaline and starvation), I found a place I could park my Yellow Submarine long-term and packed my bags. Against the advisement of several well-meaning locals urging me to try my luck in the morning, I stood at the head of the Milford Road and stuck out my thumb.
Thirty minutes later I sat in the warm cab of a comfortable car with my cheery rescuers, slowly willing myself to relax. Urig and Katya were travelers like myself, one a Swedish medical student in his residency and the other on holiday from her teaching job in Germany. We made our way into the magical mountains that make up Fiordland National Park, gawking at waterfalls and craggy peaks and stopping to take photos of wildflowers and native birds while I gradually came back to myself, laughing away the shock.
And although I went on to skydive and climb mountains, my moment of heroism came when I sank into bed that night with food in my stomach, in a room with a roof and four walls. In that moment I had truly earned that room and smiled knowing that I was safely tucked away from the windy world outside. I had survived.
Joya began traveling with her family at a young age, but took this way of life into her own hands when she went to Thailand after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 to rebuild destroyed homes. After college she bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand with hardly anything in mind but adventure and discovery, and returned nearly two years later having experienced much of both. She now resides in her hometown of Santa Barbara, Calif., working through unearthed questions in her writing and building a small savings for which she harbours much hope. Read more on her blog at The Joyage.
Date Added: August 20, 2012 | Comments (0)
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