Fools come in many forms.
Some join the running of the bulls of Pamplona, dashing down narrow streets chased by angry bulls hoping to gore them.
Others choose base-jumping: climbing tall buildings, bridges and bluffs in order to jump from their heights and parachute to safety.
Still others join the polar bear club and swim in frozen waters in Minnesota on New Years Day.
I am the type of fool that travels to foreign lands and writes a blog that says, “Nothing happens in New Zealand” and thinks that nothing will happen.
The bull runner gets gored, the base-jumped crashes and the polar bear swimmer gets hypothermia.
I got yesterday.
We were still glowing after the triumph of the cockle outing. We were feeling cocky.
We arrived on the West coast of the South Island. It is worth noting that few ever come to the West coast. It is windy and often almost desolate. The East coast features sun in the summer, swimming with dolphins/seals and most of the interesting cities.
The West coast reaches out to my inner Scotsman. The beaches are stunning, but deserted. The trees next to the shore are all twisted from months of the “Barber”: the name the locals give for the winter wind that is cold and cutting.
We arrived in a quirky west coast city called Hokitika. A village known for its “Wild Food Festival” (featuring items such as sheep brains and insect larvae ice cream and has a cult following) and their driftwood art. In the city, its beach is lined with odd sculptures made entirely with materials found on the beach.
Since we had eschewed camper-parks so successfully the previous day, we decided to go looking for a place near the beach slightly outside of town.
We drove until we came to a dirt road that headed toward the shore. We took it.
We came to a parking area with a “No Camping” sign with a tent and a gate next to it. In New Zealand, they often differentiate between tent camping and campervan camping. In the latter, you are able to stay almost anywhere since you have a self-contained toilet. With this in mind, this locale was probably available to us. We noted this location as an option, but then started to drive through the gate. The road was now longer dirt, but it was now really loose sand.
You know that feeling that you get when you realize you have made a critical mistake?
Well, mine came 15 seconds before I got stuck in the sand. Really stuck.
One of the great joys of parenting is discovering (and dealing with) the massive differences in the proclivities and personalities of your progeny. Sometimes these differences are hard to spot. In other moments, they come into stark contrast.
The moment we got stuck, Liam left the car to help. “I will tell you if your wheels are spinning”, “I will tell you which way to go.” “Let me dig out the sand.”
Liam is like spicy Thai food. When you are in the mood for it, it is exactly what you crave. Yet if you are in a subtler mood and want mild soup, he comes on too strong.
With my 3 ton campervan with poor torque was half buried in sand, Liam’s spicy Thai curry was exactly what I needed.
We dug for 10 minutes and tried to put rocks beneath the tires. We got out, but got stuck again. This repeated yet again. We then got serious about or efforts.
Susie, Wiley, Terrill and Virginia went to collect driftwood for traction. Terrill and Susie gathered tons. Virginia was a blaze of activity. Susie then looked up to see what Wiley had accomplished.
Remember the part about the differences between children? Well it comes into stark contrast here. Wiley, Liam’s twin, has not gathered any wood.
He has a bomb.
It is worth noting that Susie has been reading a book about a Cambodian girl that survived the Khmer Rouge. I mention this because children in Southeast Asia still die each month from landmine and unexploded ordinance. The children find bombs or landmines, think they are toys and ignite them – losing limbs or life.
With these visions in her mind, Susie looks to her oldest son and sees this.
Wiley, to his credit, has noticed that it is plastic and is a toy. [Note: the only discernable word on the plastic toy bomb was “dolphin”. I do not want to speculate what bizarre anti-marine theme this toy was a part of.]
Susie did not panic. Not quite. She used that mother-on-the-verge-of-panic voice. “Wiley, please put that down. Do not throw it. Please do not throw it.”
Losing the calm voice, she added, “Please do NOT throw it!”
Wiley, perplexed at his wonderful mother’s concern. Put the toy down.
Moments later, Virginia walks up, picks up the bomb, and throws it.
Once Susie calms down, she asks Virginia if she heard the warnings to Wiley.
“Did you understand them?”
“Why then did you throw the bomb?”
“I thought you were talking to Wiley . . .”
Back to our stuck vehicle.
We dug. We flattened. We laid the rocks and driftwood.
The fine residents of Hotitika might use these materials for art, but we used them as impromptu building materials. We packed the sand and laid wood and stone. We also pushed our elephantine vehicle.
It edged and rocked and moved. We were free. After one hour of embarrassing struggle, we were out. I only needed to back the campervan for a quarter mile and we were out.
We then decided to park in the lot with the “No Camping” sign showing the tent.
We soon forgot the struggles in the sand. We went to the beach. We made friends with fishermen and locals.
We gathered rocks and made impromptu sculptures.
We also saw a sunset of rare and sublime beauty.
After a very late dinner of leftovers, we were readying ourselves for bed as a white bearded man told us we needed to leave. He was rather dictatorial and unpleasant. We apologized for being in the wrong place. We also suggested that he change the signs to make it clearer that overnight parking was forbidden as well. He dismissed my suggestion. I think that he enjoys kicking people off.
Oddly enough, the next day we met a wonderful German photographer from whom we bought a few small photographs. During the course of the conversation, we mentioned where we were and the fact we were kicked out of what we thought was a legal parking lot. We did not describe the man or the conversation. We only said roughly where we had been and that a guy had been uncharacteristically rude to us. He perked up: “Did he have a white beard?”
Turns out that we ran into “that guy”. You know him. Every town has one. This is the person who wants to tell everyone else what to do and lead the people away from their faulty ways. The only problem is that no one would ever follow that guy. Even if he were leading the way to a Fire Exit in a blaze. The good news is that Susie and I recognize “that guy”. Middle age is such a blissful relief when you realize when problems belong to other people are not really directed towards you, rather you just happen to be in the way.
Despite all of this, we loved this city. We have some great photographs from the German and even better memories.