The day dawns damp and chilly. Our tent city at the Pickled Parrot spreads out now over couches and picnic tables to dry, most everyone is on their phones, others making choices about whether to move on or stay a few more days.
The reason is because some have swollen feet, blisters, a Rorschach test of sandfly bites scratched to bleeding. I feel fine and just look around in amazement at the luxury of a hostel.
Spending most of my young adult years chasing a flute career, I never did the ‘gap year’ backpack through Europe. Though one January, years ago, Richard and I were stuck in Santiago due to civil strife and got to know a hostel really well. But mostly, I’m inexperienced.
Everyone is lovely with Bluff, another 1,800 km ahead, as their goal – Dutch, Australian, French, Belgian, Polish, but no Americans yet. Three of us will kayak later today. The time is specific so the tide will push us up the estuary rather than pull us back to sea.
There are choices and others will take a ferry and hitchhike around the inlet, but I’m excited about getting in a boat.
In a place like this you relax, shave the legs, share Burts Bees with the girls, write postcards to sponsors and strategize for coming days deciding just how much food to carry and ought I make a lunch of veggies before non-stop camp food.
Most walkers are not thru-hikers. They are in New Zealand to travel so try this out, or are backpacking for the first time. The trail is – so far – not the Sierras or Rockies, but the walking still requires humping a pack.
I choose the Te Araroa because somehow I thought taking off the winter would be easier at MPR – and it was far and exotic and nothing like home. Got the second part right anyway.
I buy fresh vegetables in town at the local “veg” and put my bare feet in the South Pacific on the way. I come back and make a gigantic stir fry for Ondi and Bram with added hippie dust found in the bulk bins in Kaitaia. Hiking resumes tomorrow, so a wee nap in a hammock before kayaking. It’s absolute bliss.
At the beach, we rent kayaks from a man named Dan who tells us to stick together and hands me the radio since I have kayaking experience. Two men join us, one Kiwi with a pretentious ‘trail name,’ the other French.
They hop in their fast tandem and begin paddling as fast as they can, heading way out to sea. By the time I hop in, I don’t stand a chance, besides the fact that my boat has a rudder that’s hard to handle as it’s exactly the opposite control to my boat at home which uses a skeg.
I’m way behind and fast following waves push me forward threatening to swamp me. No spray skirts since that would require more training. I push as hard as I can into the headwind and I’m panicking a little as all of them push further and further away not bothering to look back and ensure I’m safe.
I have to admit, it’s gorgeous paddling – turquoise water, mountains, sailboats – but I am so turned off by the obnoxious behavior, I find it hard to enjoy.
I can’t keep up in the wind. Ondi and Bram paddle a more stable and fast tandem, and they too fly further ahead. I wonder if something happened to me out here, would they even notice? Does anyone even give a damn about anything beyond their own experience?
We stop on a small island with a beach filled with shells. I’m just in shorts, wool top and bare feet. I’m holding onto my own experience as best I can, though I can’t help wondering why this is happening.
It’s one thing that always trips me up, this idea that if I’m kind to people, they’ll be kind to me. But life is not transactional. People do as they please regardless of my actions. The only thing that keeps me balanced is to know I act a certain way for my own integrity and it’s best to sort out who’s worth the effort and who’s not as quickly as possible.
We leave the beach and the boys again pull forward like they have to prove something. The water is the color of milk tea when we finally enter the estuary, the wind and current push us into mangrove swamps and oyster beds, sometimes beaching my boat.
I try to explain why I am upset to Ondi and Bram, but they have no idea what my problem is and why staying together is so important. I try to explain feeling disrespected like I can’t possibly know what I’m doing or have any skills since I’m a middle aged woman, that feeling of being invisible.
We finally land in sucking mud and the boys roll a cigarette. The sun is going down and it’s cold while we wait for the kayak renters to return with our packs. It’s just a few kilometers walk to a home where we pay to camp on the lawn. Rain is predicted in the coming days. As beautiful as it is in this stunning valley, I’m depressed.
A half hour passes and still no sign of the Dan with the van. We stand on the side of the road shivering. The kayak folks messaged Ondi to wait for an hour on the little beach. I’m not sure what the message means as creepy locals speed by and honk. It’s getting colder.
Finally the van arrives. We pack up and walk down a beautiful country lane, wild horses, trees with huge canopies and gnarled roots, mountains surrounding where we’ll climb tomorrow.
Sheryl’s place is off the grid with a “long drop” toilet and a hose of cold water for my salty legs. She brought out hot water for my soup but I’m unhappy about having to pay day-after-day to camp.
She then confuses the issue more by sharing her concoction of tee tree and kawakawa leaf lotion which she lets me sample then wants me to buy. Fair enough, but I begin to feel uncertain that this is the hike I want to be doing.
It’s time to sleep but I’m churning inside. Crickets saw away in the fragrant meadow competing with the Chinese water torture of someone’s music and a low bass back beat.
I feel sad and guilty for having reacted so strongly. I’m trapped inside my emotions, unable to express myself effectively, unable to shake off how hollowed out I feel. Only ten days and I’m not sure I can get myself back on track. Did I make a huge mistake coming here?
The music finally stops and delightfully strange night sounds fill the air. I poke outside and see the milky way brighten the sky. I wonder if I’m too trusting – or maybe it’s that I expect too much.
I’ll have to contend with all sorts of people on this trail; ones like Ondi who gave me sound advice to let things sort themselves out in the morning, and ones like these boys who appear self-centered and totally uninterested in being supportive or caring.
I guess I came here to do this alone, but there are dangerous parts ahead. Will it be sink or swim then as well? I will do what I can to be safe, but at the moment, I’m despondent.