It’s been a week since we left Wellington, and it already feels like ages. Becca and I traveled to New Zealand under the assumption that we’d get jobs, live out the year, and then travel to South Korea to teach English. By chance, we arrived in Wellington right at the worst time to find a job. Winter hiring ended in January, and the next season wasn’t until March.
We made ourselves at home at the hostel called Lodge in the City. It was the cheapest place in town, and it wasn’t too bad, if you could stand the smell. Those looking to stay in Wellington for cheap should definitely consider the LC. It even has a work for accommodation program, for the super desperate, or frugal cases. To put things in perspective, Becca and I were tempted to sign up.
For work, we did online English tutoring through Cafetalk—a website that connects free-lance tutors with their database of students. I’ve been working through the site for over six months now, and Becca started a month ago. The hectic part about the whole thing was the general shitty-ness of New Zealand’s WIFI. You pay for a few hours at a time, and the connection is depressing. I don’t recommend conducting online business or important skype calls from this country, better to strap on a backpack and commit to going off the grid. I hope to return in that capacity, someday.
Just before we left, Becca signed us up for a website called HelpX. Essentially, it connects travelers, who are looking for work-for-accommodation jobs, with people who need cheap labor. Almost immediately we were contacted by a woman—we’ll call her Barbara—who wanted us to come to her horse ranch immediately.
At that point we were more than ready for a change of scenery, as our last attempt to find an apartment had ended… strangely.
Let me take a moment to reflect on a new word, taught to us by our Scottish friends. The word is “dodgy.” Dodgy: questionable, suspicious, generally warranting mistrust.
Well, a dodgy landlord cleverly tried to rope us into an apartment by offering us the first few nights free. We, and a Scottish couple we’d befriended, came to live in a five bedroom apartment, where all the other tenants seemed to be jumping ship. Apparently there was an impending contract coming our way, making us solely responsible for a five-bedroom apartment where it fell to us to find tenants and collect money from them. The whole thing felt like a pyramid scheme—it was a dingy place with a layer of grime over everything, who could we convince to move in? In the words of our Scottish counterparts: it was quite dodgy.
Living in our own room, on a farm, sounded like paradise compared to our continued existence in a sweaty dorm with twenty other people, or being scammed into paying for a five-bedroom apartment. So we arranged to meet Barbara and go to work for her horses.
We met our host at the train station. She was a plump, blond haired woman in a pin-stripe suit, and bright red shoes. She had a nervous tick that caused her left eye to spasm in concert with a remarkably fast twitch of the chin. She was a mother of two teenage boys and a twenty something year old daughter. Added to that, Barbara ran a real-estate business. Her stress radiated like an aura, once you were caught in her orbit you could feel the crushing gravity of her life.
Barbara put us on edge, as if a single misstep might send her on the warpath. On our first night, after working our four-hour shift, she went a little haywire, accusing us of doing less than our fair share of work, and appearing to get stuck in a bit of a logic loop.
The idea behind HelpX is that four hours of labor per day equates to food and a place to sleep. It’s as simple as that.
Things got complicated when Barbara and her family left for the weekend, leaving us with a list of chores that she had rattled off casually. At a glance, it didn’t seem like much: clean the stables, fertilize the fields, so and so forth. Her expectation was that all these chores would be finished when she returned. We were determined to keep our end of the bargain. The thing was that once we got going on the chores it began to dawn on us that the sheer scale of each task was such that you couldn’t possibly complete them in a mere four hours a day. We ended up putting in nine hours a day for three days straight in order to get to the end of our tasks. Now, you might be thinking that nine hours a day is a pretty standard workday, but to that I say: it feels more like indentured servitude when you’re only getting room & board.
We ended our time on the horse ranch a bit earlier than planned, opting to spend our final night, where else? Lodge in the City. Like a splinter, that place has lodged itself lovingly in our hearts. The smell of dirty socks mixed with the orange-citrus fragrance of all-purpose cleaner has imprinted itself on my smell receptors. It’s actually quite favorable in comparison to horse manure. Hot communal showers are a cut above freezing showers alone. And above all, the freedom to explore a city, beats being stranded in the most beautiful nowhere.
We left Wellington with a mish-mash of good and bad experiences, but that’s the fun of life, riding the ups and the downs. Who gets on a roller coaster expecting a steady and level journey? Most important of all were the friendships we made with the people who struggled alongside us. We left Wellington, happy in the knowledge that we made lifelong friendships in the most unexpected ways. For me, it’s not about the places you go in your travels, but more, it’s about the people you meet. And it was the people that made our trip to New Zealand fulfilling. It was the people that we will remember most as we move on with our travels.
The time went too quickly, and there’s so much of New Zealand left to be experienced. For now though, we have to content ourselves with this one small slice of kiwi.