I left my French lover aka Gabi Baby in Invercargill, New Zealand on January 17th 2016. We were together for 2,200 kilometers and two (far too short) weeks. It’s funny because I hadn’t anticipated becoming interested in anyone during my travels around the South Island, but like they say: when you’re least expecting it, that’s when it comes to you. And come it did.
I met Gabi on my first official travel day with my good mate, Brendan. Brendan and I met on an online dating website by the name of OkCupid. He had messaged both my friend, McKenna and I and had seemed like a cool person, so we decided to meet him on a purely platonic, non-threesome basis. Believe me, we made that clear from the get go and of course, in response to that, Brendan chirped: “Oh, I hadn’t even thought of that.” Sure . . . . Anyhow, as fate would have it, our hangout with Brendan was incredibly fun (drinking heaps and dancing at Boogie Wonderland). Then just days later, we had a chance encounter with him, and by chance encounter, I mean that we ran into him as he was coming out of McDonald’s and then I coerced him into my car and kidnapped him by bringing him to our hostel. One thing quickly led to another (as in, he overheard me unsuccessfully trying to book a hostel for the upcoming nights and offered his place up to us ladies) and eventually, McKenna and I ended up taking residence at Brendy’s flat where we befriended his two flatmates, Danny and Mark (Mahk). McKenna was there for a week or so and I was there for a bit longer while we each searched and successfully found jobs outside of Wellington. After my au pair position came to an end, I returned to Wellington where the boys graciously welcomed me back as what I termed an “honorary flatmate,” and what they more appropriately—albeit affectionately—referred to as an “honorary squatter”.
During the time I lived with Brendan, we became tight and so, I was really looking forward to introducing him to the world of backpacking, even if it would just be within his own country.
So there we were nine months later, on our first day together—Brendan and I—west coast bound, drenched and standing fruitlessly (except for some literal cherries) alongside the road, one of far too many all because I had insisted upon hitchhiking from Nelson to Westport. On my own and on mostly clear days, I had spent no more than ten minutes waiting for a lift. I figured that with an additional person and with that person being a male that the wait would naturally increase. However, I surely did not anticipate that over a three hour long period, that Brendan and I would receive zero offers for even just a short ride.
We trudged along, positively at first, but then our packs grew heavier and our clothes moist, and our spirits were rapidly deflating. To say it was miserable would have an understatement. And to make matters worse, the possibility of walking along the highway soon diminished and we were forced to continue along a bike trail running parallel to the highway, but on the side with traffic heading in the opposite direction of where we were meant to be going.
Near the end of our hours-long journey walking from a residential area of the town of Nelson to the airport, Brendan finally suggested that we inquire about renting a car. Although my funds were low, I agreed because it seemed as if we had no other choice. Luck was not in the cards for us, though. There was not a single rental car available for hire. Hence, we reluctantly decided to throw in the towel, which in our case was ever-dampening, so we called up some locals to rescue us. Plan C, D, E (whatever it was at this point) would be to catch a bus to the west coast early the next morning. We would spend another night at Brendan’s workmate and friend, Jack’s family’s home—sorted.
Brendy and I figured that we would have better luck hitching back into Nelson, so we gave it a go. We weren’t waiting long when a man in a van stopped for us. We filled him in on our failed attempt to leave town and he insisted that we not give up just yet. He, himself had hitched years ago throughout Europe, so he had a strong desire for us to succeed. We glanced at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and conceded to be dropped off just outside of the nearby town of Richmond. Our driver (soon to be savior) by the name of Stephen, assured us that this would be the perfect spot.
Out of the van we went, and as a backup plan, I rang up the guy I had hooked up with on New Year’s Eve, asking if he might be able to pick up Brendan and I should we not be able to catch a ride from anyone else. Hey, our options were very limited! He said that it would be no problem; however, he wouldn’t be off work until 4:30, so we had two hours to kill before we could truly call it quits. Game on.
To be honest, by that stage, I was ready to go back to Jack’s parents’ house, take a shower, book a bus for the morning, and watch a movie. It was becoming later on in the day and I knew that it would take three hours to get all the way to Westport, our first stop along the “rugged” west coast. Therefore, Brendan and I resolved that there was no point in accepting a short ride because we weren’t keen on getting stranded somewhere. If we were to accept a ride, it would be to Westport or bust.
Thus began the waiting game all over again. Fortunately though, the rain had stopped and for some reason, I was all giddy and my happiness was renewed. Perhaps it was because I had no absolutely no expectations for receiving a lift and we had a solid backup plan. I couldn’t be concerned about whether or not we would be getting picked up.
As the cars flew past, Brendy and I gobbled up cherries and peanuts we had on hand and chatted and I did a couple one-handed cartwheels with my thumb up in the air for good measure. It was actually quite good fun.
Our deadline began to near—we opted to give up around 4:30 and walk to the center of town to catch our ride—but then people actually began stopping to offer us lifts. Unfortunately, everyone was heading up north to Motueka as opposed to out west. “Thank you anyway,” we’d say again and again.
And then . . . five minutes before our 4:30 deadline, not one car, but two cars stopped for us. In a flash, we discovered that they were on their way to Westport too, with one car eventually taking off for Christchurch along the way. The driver of the first car was a seemingly quiet French guy that I soon began referring to as Gabi Baby and his co-pilot was a little Italian. They helped us load our bags into the boot and away we sped. Initially, I wasn’t eager to accept the ride because both guys were smokers. I hate smoking. But beggars can’t be choosy, especially after the day we had had.
The two vehicles were traveling convoy-style with an Italian guy at the wheel of the station wagon following us. Along with him were two young German girls. The boys explained to us that they had all just come from a music festival up in Takaka.
About halfway to Westport, we stopped in a small town to grab a quick coffee before saying farewell to the two Italians. I noticed that Gabi walked around barefoot, which is very typical for Kiwis and carefree travelers that border on being Hippies. I had been thinking as we rode along in the car that Gabi was kind of attractive, but the smoking thing was a real turn-off for me, so that thought quickly disappeared from my mind as quickly as it had come. Perhaps I imagined it, but I felt like Gabi would occasionally glance into his rear-view mirror at me.
I had little patience for the majority of the young, just out of high school German travelers I encountered in New Zealand, so I made little effort to converse with the girls once they joined us in the car. I chalked them up as being naïve and uninteresting AND the girl sitting beside me in the backseat had an obnoxious laugh that the boys and I would mention to each other later on and imitate for fun. We’re assholes. But you’ve all done it, so . . . .
The drive wasn’t terribly exciting, but it was good to be heading in the right direction. We arrived in Westport around 8 PM and since I had booked Brendy and I into a hostel while at the coffee shop, it was time for us to say goodbye . . . or so we thought.
The German girls set off to either hitch further down the coast or to freedom camp—I didn’t care either way–but then Gabi told us that he was interested in staying at the hostel too, so he went to see if there was space. There was, so Brendan and I conferred for a brief moment and agreed that making dinner for Gabi would be a nice way to thank him for driving us to Westport. When we headed to his room to inform him of our plan, he didn’t fully understand at first and he thought that we wanted him to contribute to dinner. He replied with an apologetic facial expression and “I only have oil.”
“No, no,” I said, “WE’RE making YOU dinner. You don’t need to bring anything. We’ve got it all.”
He seemed a bit surprised by our gesture, but graciously accepted to be our guest. While Gabi was showering, Brendan and I got to work preparing our veggies and such to make a stir fry—Brendan’s specialty. Brendan and I make a good team cooking and baking, I would just like to say.
Gabi came in the kitchen to help us out by chopping up some veggies with his special, wooden-handled knife. I’m just going to put it out there that traveling around New Zealand is really great because all of the hostels have well-equipped kitchens and the majority of people take advantage of cooking for themselves (and most people are actually decent cooks). Even better (and more attractive) is the fact that guys tend to be awesome chefs (aside from those fresh out of high school, which is understandable). Man, I love a guy who can cook.
While Brendan and I were in the midst of preparing our soon to be delicious and spicy stir fry, Gabi slipped away for a bit. Brendan had a funny interaction with an Italian woman wanting some of my sweet chili sauce (he thought that she just wanted a wee taste), but she had been aiming to pour a substantial amount into her own tuna pasta concoction.
By the time dinner was ready, Gabi had returned with a bottle of white wine to share with us. At that moment, our friendship officially blossomed and I liked our—as Brendan called him–“French Man” even more. Over dinner, Gabi proclaimed that the two of us were welcome to join him in continuing down the coast. We gushed (yes, I said it because Brendy and I are nerds) that he liked us and eagerly accepted the invitation.
That evening was pleasant and the hostel where we were staying was really nice. After Brendan retired, I stayed up with Gabi to chat. His English was a bit limited, but there was always a way I could find to make myself understood and vice versa. I could tell that he was a good person and I was glad that he had given us a ride that day.
Before hitting the sack, with quite a bit of difficulty and hilarity, I tried explaining one of my childhood “goodnight” phrases to Gabi. I realized that contractions are little buggers that make English tricky to understand. I said: “Goodnight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite!” to which the other person is supposed respond: “Won’t! Don’t you!” After using numerous methods to try explaining this short and yet, complex phrasing, Gabi and I parted ways.
At that moment in time, I was entirely unaware that just a mere eight days later, I would be starting a very torrid love affair (I’ve always wanted to use that term, so give me a break!) with my newly-found Frenchman. And so ends the unofficial first chapter . . . .