S, Kaikoura. Half English, half Egyptian with curly curly hair and a sibilant, unctuous name, trying to decide if she wants to get married and have children or continue trying to make a living as a modern dancer. We talk about yoga and vegetarian recipes.
E and S, Queenstown. Both English, both had affairs with Kiwi Experience drivers. At a certain point in our conversation there is a moment of awkwardness when their stories become a bit too similar and there is the need to positively confirm that they did not have affairs with the same Kiwi Experience driver. The confusion passes and we sit out in the sunshine on top of the mountain in the sun, giggling.
A, Queenstown. Eighteen years old, Canadian Maori, traveling around and visiting NZ family for the first time. She has a brand new moko tattoo in what I find to be an interesting place: on her torso, sort of right underneath her right armpit. She talks about what she wants to study in university and shows me pictures on Facebook of her grad night. We watch Extreme Makeover on the hostel’s flat screen TV together and agree that we’d prefer to age gracefully; later it occurs to me to think that she may believe I am already trying to do so.
K, Te Anau. Japanese girl in her thirties, traveling by herself and doing as many of the Great Walks as she can, with whom I walk to a wildlife part. “Kereru looks very…gentle,” she says, and on St. Patrick’s night in an empty pub she decides she’ll drink Midori to celebrate.
E, Wanaka. English South African, an enthusiastic rock climber with a drawly voice and trousers so torn that I have to forcibly restrain myself from offering to mend them for him. He says his family’s maid in Johannesburg is “just like one of the family,” and then comes out to me and an Australian massage therapist one night over dinner. He tells us about the half-hearted sex he’d had with girlfriends who adored him and I wonder how many men I’ve fallen in love with have actually been gay.
A, Nelson. Kiwi woman working at the iSite who books my kayak trip, early forties with bright green eyes. She tells me about her Overseas Experience as we wait for my voucher to print out, how she left for London with a rucksack and returned from Botswana with a five-year-old son.
D, Nelson. 31-year old Dutch woman with a 22-year old American temporary boyfriend. She smiles tolerantly as he adores her and tells me my accent is a little easier to understand than his, giving me a weird rush of pleasure. We walk to the pharmacy together and discuss pads vs. tampons and I take the opportunity to suggest that she look into getting a Keeper.
C, Golden Bay. Extravagantly, stupidly, over-the-toppedly beautiful dreadlocked gap-toothed Spanish girl from Barcelona who speaks fluent Catalan, whom I can understand but to whom I cannot reply in Spanish. She is working for her accomodation by creating a mosaic out by the teahouse. One night she makes a traditional tortilla on the recalcitrant gas stove and doesn’t like how it turns out and runs around the kitchen yelling “It is a DISASTER!” causing everyone in the hostel to fall in love with her.
S, Golden Bay. Nineteen year old Dutch surfer girl with golden hair, golden skin, and a body that can only be described in hushed superlatives. She has no idea she is gorgeous and is fluent in English–her favorite phrase is “Easy there drunky!” One rainy day we fall asleep on the couch, curled up under a duvet after she’s told me about her love life back in Amsterdam and how she’s worried about a situation with the car she has to sell before she leaves the country. We make each other cups of tea and laugh about Star Wars sex roleplay: “Okay, honey, but I get to be Chewbacca.”
H, Golden Bay. English, in her thirties, living in a pimped-out campervan for a couple of months. She and I talk and talk and talk (about meditation, about getting older, about predilections for younger men), thereby relieving the intense loneliness of the past couple of weeks in a way I did not, at that point, think was possible. She makes me swoon by playing Bach on a cello in the evenings, and gets a job back in the UK going on tour with rather a famous band and I beg her not to mention to the lead singer that I think he should get out in the sun a bit more, maybe eat some vegetables and take a B12 supplement.
D, Golden Bay. Kiwi, in his fifties. He’s an Aucklander on a motorcycle trip with four of his mates all through the South Island; when they rock up at the solar-powered Buddhist eco-backpackers in their leathers one of the tea-drinking hippies on the porch goes “Do you think they’re here for the yoga?” Out by the fire at the Mussel Inn on a Friday night he tells me about his daughter, his divorce, his Green Party membership and his plan to stand for Parliament; later H tells me that he had the exact same conversation with her over vegetarian nachos about an hour after he had it with me.
M, Golden Bay. Very serious bearded German who responds with a big shy smile when all the girls tease him. He talks about the law of attraction and about swimming dolphins, and how he doesn’t just want to do meaningless work anymore but wants to seek the truth; “More people are thinking about this,” he tells me, “more people are meditating, thinking about these things. You can feel this is in the world. It is an exciting time to be alive.”