Day 85: Te Anau, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

November 19, 2014

Day 85: Te Anau, NZ

Wind, rain, cold. Barring some kind of crazy storm-related situation, any one of those things on its own is not enough to stop us from riding. In fact, any two of those things on their own are not enough to stop us from riding. There's always a certain amount of discomfort associated with traveling by bicycle; the perfect days are rare, which is why they stand out in such stark relief when they show up. But when wind and rain and cold come together and decide to stay for awhile, that's when we decide to put on the brakes. We know that if we ride out in these kind of conditions, we won't have a chance to get dry or to get warm for at least several days. And when that happens, the wet and the cold become the focus, not the grand scenes in front of us, or the landscape's precious details, or whatever fascinating people or events happen to fall our way. We didn't come to New Zealand to grind out miles with our heads down, wishing we were somewhere else.

And so we spend another day in Te Anau. In honor of this choice, rain dumps forth from the sky almost at once.

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It's not that we aren't anxious to leave. We are — me especially. Even though we've traveled through countless places of unparalleled beauty in the past few weeks, one thing that's been true almost everywhere we've traveled since the moment we stepped off the ferry on the South Island at Picton — with the clear exception of the homes where we've been invited to stay — is that we've been treated like tourists, not like people. Nowhere has this been more true than in Te Anau.

One thing we've learned in the last month or so is that tourists are more like cattle than you'd think. Like a paddock full of cows, tourists are living and breathing creatures that have thoughts and feelings and emotions. But like a paddock full of cows, those things don't matter much to the people making money off of them. What's important above everything — where both tourists and cattle are concerned — is the fact that they are a commodity that's capable of bringing in a profit. And only as much care and attention is given to either of them as is required to make sure that the stream of profit doesn't stop coming in. It isn't that people here are unfriendly, but they provide the clearest example I've yet seen of the idea that being friendly and not being unfriendly aren't the same things. Our interactions are pleasant but in a clinical sort of way. It's a situation made worse by the fact that a lot of the people who work in these towns are mercenaries, hired guns, people who have come from somewhere else for the season to make money, to save money, and then to take that money to a place they'd rather be instead. It all feels like one giant transaction.

Most tourists aren't all that interesting, just as most people aren't all that interesting if you're only interacting with them for a minute or two, and we understand that. But we miss the greetings, the curiosity, and the genuine smiles we received day after day during our time on the North Island. They brought along with them more good feelings and had a greater capacity to boost our spirits than we realized or appreciated at the time. We look forward to moving on from Te Anau and the tourist-focused towns like it, and returning to the tractors and gum boots and grocery store bulletin boards of rural New Zealand, even if it means less of the sort of other-world landscapes that leave us wide-eyed in amazement.

He would have to tell her about Lucy. Not about Wanda, that was not necessary because it had never really touched him. Only about Lucy. It was amazing how little there would be to tell.
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I take an hour in the afternoon to relax by reading journals about cycle tours. I catch up with our friends Andrea and Bruce and their travels in Burma, which have included multiple bouts of sickness thanks to both food and water of questionable origin. Then there's Jeff Kruys, who saved up for years to cycle over more or less every unpaved road in the world, only to take a brief and uncharacteristic side trip into the Phoenix area and come away with broken leg bones, courtesy of a car that turned straight into him when the driver became more focused on the bar he was driving to than the people standing in his path. There's also Victor Weinreber and his wife Amy, who on their most recent tour dealt with not only a hospital stay resulting from a bad reaction to anti-seizure medication, but also an early end to return home to a sick cat who eventually passed away from liver cancer.

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Although we'd rather not stay Te Anau another day, and we'd rather not spend the cash that comes along with that, we realize how lucky we are that weather and a few extra dollars are our biggest problems. And while we're idle we have the ability to spend hour after hour making each other laugh more or less without end by making fun of tourists, unintentionally saying stupid things, constructing elaborate stories involving weka birds and the people hawking overpriced tours at the reception desk, making strange bodily noises followed by equally strange facial expressions, and dancing poorly to indie rock music while seated on an ugly old couch. In between all of the weirdness, we're also able to earn money doing work that we enjoy for people located on the other side of the world who appreciate the effort. We aren't facing death, or injury, or the constant need to blow out the contents of our intestines behind the nearest banana tree, and for that we are so grateful.

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Around dinner time we head over to the holiday park's common kitchen area. The people around us make elaborate meals with complex curries, delicate crusts, and rainbows of fresh vegetables, and then bring them together with artistic placement on plates flanked by bottles of red and white wine poured into proper wine glasses. All that's missing are the candles and smooth jazz playing in the background. In contrast, we sit at the table in the far corner of the room, where we eat oatmeal flavored with the cheapest cream and honey and cinnamon we could find, from our tiny three-quarter-ounce cooking pot, using one shared spoon. We do this while drinking cider in bottles pulled from the black plastic bag into which they were placed at the liquor store across the street. But the oatmeal is comforting, the cider crisp and of perfectly balanced flavor, and the company second to nothing. And for this we are so grateful.

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