Travel Tuesday: The End of the Road

As many of you know, budget travel is not always easy. Please enjoy another guest post from Tripper, Joya Thomas, as she takes us on her panic-stricken journey of empty pockets in a foreign land…

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 1500 very teary kilometers to a new job. But for this story, there is only one climax; one zenith.

The thing is, I always thought that for my story 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. This 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 wanted to feel the wind on my face and the world rushing by and smile. 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 pessimistically 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 kilometers my yellow house on wheels was “well stuffed.” I’d been driving for 1,000 kilometers.

So, I sat outside the mechanics garage and panicked. The thing is, I was ‘well stuffed’ either way. Early that morning before leaving Wanaka I had put my last $40 inthe world into the car in petrol. Actually the remaining balance on the ATM read $1.62NZD. 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 inthose moments, I was 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. You see, 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 kilometers from my destination, half of which were down one of the most remote and dangerous roads in the country.

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 terrifying and genuinely 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 with better 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 pictures of wildflowers and native birds while I gradually came back to myself, laughing away theshock.

And although I went on to skydive and climb mountains, among many other things, 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.

As always, thank you for the glimpse into your nomadic life, Joya! Be sure to check out more of her exciting “Joyage” here.