“Change your socks, change your mood” folks like to say, on Antarctica. Well, it works in New Zealand as well! After feeling real miserable for a while about not flagging down my bus, I changed socks, changed shoes, donned my pack and plodded off to claim a room at the only cheap lodging in town with vacancy: a run-down looking motel I’d seen next-door to the (exquisite but full) “Ivory Towers Backpacker” hostel. It looked like rain, and the valley was full of gray clouds. I wanted to know I had a bed for the night.
The close comparison with Ivory Towers did not help. The first thing you saw, approaching the budget motel, was peeling paint on the “Budget” sign, overgrown vegetation, and an old atrium cafe seating area jammed with junk and old mattresses and furniture. It reminded me of a review I’d read for another motel, located just south of the glaciers: “It has seen better days, and those better days have probably seen better days.” I booked a room, but couldn’t pay right away, as the office phone was on the blink, so the VISA card reader wouldn’t work….
I dropped my pack, locked my room, and took the obligatory tour of the facilities. There was a small heater on the ceiling of my cell, er, room, which might be nice if it got cold and damp. All the rooms shared one set of bathrooms and the showers took coins. The “communal” kitchen floor was sticky and the counters were lined, strangely, with cast-off restaurant equipment and several giant meat slicers of the size one might find in a real butcher shop. Not that your average backpackers would need such a device, but hey. I saw that the stove had 2 “not working” signs on the burners, there were some dented and blackened frying pans in a rack, and there was a giant puddle of water on the floor. I opened the cupboard marked “DISHES” and removed the (only!) tea-cup, to make myself a cup of licorice-lemon tea — then realized that the water puddle came from the electric teapot, which clearly had a major leak underneath. I tucked the dry teabag back into my pocket, and decided to splurge on a coffee downtown. On the upside, I had noticed that the motel’s bed was made up with real cotton sheets which felt both crisply clean and wonderfully soft, as only old cotton sheets can feel.
It was sunny again, when I walked outside. In the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, the weather changes every time you check the sky. In Fox Glacier village alone, there are a half dozen companies using helicopters to fly tourists back and forth (and up and onto) — they deal with groundings by putting small signs on the sidewalk that say “YES, WE ARE FLYING,” signs which appear and disappear throughout the days, as the clouds down-valley of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman change their dispositions and directions.
Walking across the parking lot of the motel, a small delivery truck veered towards me. I looked up, trying to decide which way to yield, and saw the truck’s driver grinning and waving. “There you are!” he called out. “We’ve been looking for you!” It was Rainer, who I’d met only twice, for a minute or two each time, back in Okarito.
Rainer and his wife Cindy ran Kotuku Lodge, and handled the bookings for the historic Okarito schoolhouse hostel, too. He explained that Cindy “found my book” and they thought they might be able to get it back to me before I left the area. My Lonely Planet, Customized Edition!!!! Rainer had seen me, standing on the road in Okarito the day before, hitching out, and had asked which way I was trying to go. I had said “probably Fox” and so they’d called the only respectable backpackers (Ivory Towers), looking for me, to no avail.
It’s the thought that counts, I told him. Okarito was a long drive away, but it made me feel better to know that someone had found my lost guidebook, and been so thoughtful as to try to contact me — I was having a bad day, I told him, explaining about the bus, but suddenly I was feeling much better. I thanked him — but he insisted they could get the book back to me! Cindy will drive to Franz Joseph tomorrow, and she’d give it to someone who’d put it on the Atomic Shuttle bus, and so it would be on the bus when I got on in Fox Glacier. It would work, he said, and smiled, and I thanked him again.
NOTE: And it did work — when the Atomic Shuttle stopped for me today, the driver said “Kathleen – I’ve got a package for you.” There it was — not just my Lonely Planet but an envelope full of postcards I’d tucked into the cover, and my NZ map. Remind me to post something for the whole world to read about how great the folks in Okarito are!!!! It really was a terrific little retreat from the “main road” route of the west coast. I’d want to stop there again!