Hitchhiking in Queenstown
Preparing for Queenstown
So there I was—optimistic thumb outstretched, a sign that read “Queenstown,” an overweight backpack tipped over on the ground, and a cheery smile that I hoped didn’t look psychotic. I, like many, am a hitchhiker.
It’s ridiculously easy here in New Zealand. And safe. I’ve known people to get picked up even when they weren’t hitching. But for me, it still retains that edgy, float-with-the-wind feel, and someone is always fifteen percent cooler if he or she can say they’ve hitched. It’s like having a pierced nose or a tattoo. By hitching, I can almost say I singlehandedly defeated the whole underworld.
The Gamble Begins
The sense of victory happens after though. As I hold my thumb out, with five feet separating me from cars rifling past at eighty kilometers, I feel a bit vulnerable. This time I was making my way from Te Anau to Queenstown with a tip of my hat to adventure and the more pressing concern of money.
Earlier I had considered writing “Looking for love… or a ride to Queenstown” or “Not homicidal, just poor” to attract drivers. But my sign only allowed space for “Queenstown,” and it was a close shave at that with the “w” and the “n” becoming an “x” with uncharacteristic flair.
It was only twenty minutes before I was picked up—a relatively short time in hitchhiking terms but enough to see the compassionate driver and his passenger as personal saviors. At every turn in the conversation, the people in the car became more fascinating. The Kiwi was an unemployed geology/ecology professor who had taught in the US and traveled to over 200 countries including Iran. After learning that I was an American, the man turned to the lady next to him.
Political and Travel
“Well then,” he chuckled, “I guess you and her are at war. She’s from Iran.”
I didn’t really know how to respond. I thought about it, and while no “boots are on the ground,” America is in conflict with Iran. But it seemed absurd that I would automatically be enemies with a person I had never met because our countries were in a political boondoggle our figureheads were too intransigent to figure out.
Later in the journey to Queenstown, the woman rustled out a plastic bag from under the seat and removed three apples. After handing one to the man, she wiped another clean with a cloth, turned in her seat, and passed it to me with a smile. We then ate our apples collectively, the crisp snap of fruit being the only sound in the vehicle. Somehow I think the sharing of fruit could solve at least a few of the world’s problems. No words need be said, just a smile and some thoughtful chewing.
They dropped me off in Queenstown, a rushed “thank you” and a handshake was all the payment I could provide, yet it seemed that this was all that was required. Anything more would ruin the gift. And I guess that’s what hitchhiking is—an act of trust in the kindness of our fellow man and a reception of grace with the occasional addition of fruit. For myself, a better example of living a good life has not yet been found.
ITKT Writer: Benjamin Rietema
After graduating college and having no idea what to do, I have been following the wind wherever it blows me. For the moment, it has blown me to Wanaka, New Zealand where, besides staring at and running in mountains, I make a wicked hospital corner and clean bathrooms like Gandhi (if he were a housekeeper) at my job at a local lodge. I take special pride in screeching “HOUSEKEEPING” in the highest pitch voice I can muster before entering a room to service it.