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Completing the Circuit


No matter how long you’re away from home, there is something bittersweet about the first step you take to going home. Dore and I weren’t flying out of Auckland until the next evening, but as we got up got packed we both knew that the trip was winding down to its last phases. Unlike previous mornings, where we could simply leave bits and pieces of our belongings here there in the van, today we meticulously searched high and low for anything that might have fallen into the cracks. We had one last drive to Auckland, and then we’d be parting ways with our temporary home.

As many little quirks as the van had — a halfway broken lock, a finicky seat belt, a broken starter, and a third gear that never quite wanted to go in — I’d become accustomed to it, and felt like I knew more about this vehicle than I have many others I’ve driven. That’s the beauty of all-manual systems, and one that, sadly, we’re rapidly losing under a wave of fully electronic vehicles. Our children will probably never be able to work on their own cars. But if this trip has taught me anything about the Kiwi spirit, I suspect that in New Zealand, at least, the people will hold on to their old vehicles, fixing and tinkering to keep them alive long past their natural life spans. They won’t be pretty, but they’ll run. And when they don’t there will be plenty of folks around to lend a helping hand. And that’s something special that the world could use more of.

Packing almost finished, we emptied all of the trash from the van. Used tissues that had fallen into the cracks, old brochures from places we’d visited (and many we had not), and other bits and pieces of our adventures filled up the two little grocery bags we’d appropriated for the job. We also took off all of the sheets and stashed the duvet covers into the van’s cubbies. The van looked a bit austere and naked, like we’d already left.

We hit the road around ten, stopping along the road for breakfast at a bakery that Dore found on the GPS. As it turned out, the Gold Star Bakery was a fantastic place to stop, as they had the distinction of having won the New Zealand Supreme Pie Award for 2003, 2004, and 2009, as well as numerous other awards for their pies. Now a pie may sound like an odd thing for breakfast (at least to the Americans reading this), but pies here are not like those back home. Think more like a tiny pot pie, and you’re pretty close. The fillings range from standard to fancy, but generally fall into the savory, hearty meat-and-potatoes variety. The particular pies that Dore and I got were breakfast pies, and had bacon, eggs, tomatoes, and some other fun bits that I can’t quite recall. The crust — which in many instances ends up as a fairly greasy affair — was light and flaky, but with just the right amount of fat to keep it all together and add flavor without leaving everything an oily mess.

We got back on the road pretty quickly, which was a good thing. We needed to drop the van off by 2 pm — the latest drop off of the day — and Garmin projected us getting to Auckland around one. The roads were good, though, and we made good time. We stopped along the way to get gas and to call our friends in Auckland to see if we could meet up. We managed to get through to both David, whom we’d met previously on this trip, and Michael, a friend we’d made almost two years previously while on our honeymoon in Europe. We made what arrangements we could, the got back on the road.

We made it in to Auckland right on time, finding the Escape garage at 1:45. I pulled in, releasing my white knuckle grip on the steering wheel, and breathed a sigh of relief. Auckland had been surprisingly easy to drive in to, but it was still a major city, and I had been gritting my teeth against the possibility that something bad would happen right at the end of the trip. Now that we were safely in the garage, however, we were safe. Nothing bad could happen now.

“Sorry, but could you just back out for a second? We need to take two of the vans out.” It was one of the Escape employees.

I looked back, blankly. “You mean, into the street?”


I sighed. “Okay, here goes.”

I just knew I was going to get rear-ended or something.

Luckily, the street that had been chock full of cars a few moments before was relatively quiet, and I made the blind reverse into the street without any trouble, pulling off to the side in a bus lane. The two vans came out, then a third popped out behind. I waited a moment more, but no more vans were emerging, so I inched my way forward and made it in to the garage for the last time. I turned off the van, pulled off the seat belt, and jumped out before anyone could ask me to do any more maneuvers. I wasn’t that confident in my driving abilities.

A smiling employee came over and helped us with all of the return stuff as we pulled the last of our belongings out of the van and did a final check. We had a lot of extra bits and pieces — some Gladware that we never opened, a bunch of toilet paper, a bunch of cans of Coke — but overall we didn’t waste too much. We chatted with her about the various problems we’d encountered, and she apologized for the breakdown again. There really was no need; they’d handled the breakdown fantastically in my opinion.

The van completely unloaded, we headed in to the office to do the final paperwork. With all of the breakdown receipts we had, as well as the two-day refund they’d given us for the inconvenience, we actually ended up getting quite a bit of money back, which was both surprising and extremely pleasant. Not at all what I’m used to in the States. I could definitely see myself getting used to it, though, if any business owners are listening….

Picking up our packs, we set out to find our hostel, which, as it turned out, was only two blocks away. How convenient! Check in was a snap, and we were in our room within about five minutes.

After talking earlier with our friends in Auckland, we’d tentatively planned to meet up with David and Humberto for coffee, but we hadn’t settled on a time or location. Since we’d turned in the phone with the van, I went downstairs to try to catch them on email while Dore took a shower. The Internet in the hostel lounge was not working, however, so I ended up having to run out to an Internet cafe just down the block. I did get on the Internet and emailed David, but I didn’t see a response before my twenty minute credit ran out, so I went back to the hostel. Dore and I got our things together and set out into the city. We’d call everyone from payphones as we walked.

As we got out to Queen street we saw a shop that Dore had been meaning to go into, so we popped in and got a couple more souvenirs, then came out and found a phone. We called Michael first, and arranged to have dinner at a Mexican restaurant near the Sky Tower. Michael said he hadn’t been to the restaurant, but it had been recommended to him. Dore and I had actually been warned against the Mexican food in New Zealand, and had so far managed to avoid it completely, but I figured, “What the heck? We should at least try.” Next, I called David. As it turned out, he’d had to stay at work longer than expected, so wasn’t able to meet up for coffee. We did, however, arrange to meet up after dinner for a few drinks. Dore and I did a bit more shopping for souvenirs, then headed back to the hostel to rest before dinner.

A while later we got up, got dressed, and headed to dinner. We found the restaurant that Michael had suggested without too much trouble. As he’d said, “It’s pretty much the only Mexican restaurant in New Zealand.” We were a bit early, so we decided to wait outside. As we waited, we watched the people walking by. It was quite fun. We amused ourselves by guessing what they were doing and where they’d come from.

After a while, we started to get antsy, so I went off to find a phone to call Michael. I finally found one, but only got his voice mail. I left a message, then headed back to Dore, who’d stayed at the restaurant in case Michael showed up while I was gone. Dore hadn’t seen him either. I’d said on the message that we would be inside the restaurant, so we headed in and got a table. We ordered guacamole as an appetizer. I got a beer, and Dore got a passion fruit margarita. When it showed up Dore’s eyes immediately lit up, and I have to imagine mine were pretty wide as well. The drink was a gorgeous light yellow color, and glistened with condensation. I’m happy to say it tasted as good as it looked, without the sickly sweetness of most margaritas.

Michael and his friend Johnny showed up a few minutes later, and joined us at the table, followed closely by the guacamole. We greeted them and launched into the catching up with gusto. It was really fun to catch up with Michael, and to hear new stories from both him and Johnny. They have both (independently) sailed across the Pacific Ocean from Panama to New Zealand, and certainly have plenty of amazing tales to tell. They were really interested in our trip, and we had a lot of fun recounting our tales as well.

Johnny had never had Mexican food before, and the other three of us (all having lived in the US) had fun trying to describe what exactly it was like. I have to say, it was harder than I would have thought. How do you describe a burrito?

We all ended up ordering the fajitas, first and foremost because they sounded good. But in the back of our minds we figured that, no matter what, no one could ever mess up fajitas. I mean, seriously. Fajitas.


Well, I’m here to tell you that, yes, Virginia, you can do fajitas wrong. Very wrong. Very very wrong.

To their credit, the meal-called-fajitas was quite tasty. It just tasted like it should have been served in a Chinese restaurant. No amount of flour tortilla could cover up the sweet soy sauce flavor of the sauce, a flavor that has never, ever been appeared in Mexican cuisine. Oh well. We tried.

We talked some more, then headed out to the front to settle up the bill. Michael and Johnny had to catch a ferry and Dore and I had to get on to our meeting with David and Humberto. We headed out and walked down Queen street until we came to the turn to Dore’s and my hostel. We said our goodbyes, and moved back. Saying goodbye felt easier than it usually does; I think it’s because in the back of my mind I think we’ll see Michael again someday.

We went into the hostel quickly so Dore could change into more comfortable shoes, then headed out to meet David and Humberto. We had a bit of a wait at the meeting place, and we spent it surreptitiously checking out fronts of the strip clubs across the street and cracking jokes about “Gentleman’s Retreats.” Fortunately David and Humberto showed up before the novelty of the strip clubs wore off. The four of us set off down the block to a nice wine bar that David and Humberto knew of.

We talked about tons of different things, from our trip to politics to Kiwi-isms to life and travel in general. We laughed a lot. It was really nice to just hang out with friends after so long on the road.

We went home around midnight tired, contented, and more than a little buzzed. We dropped in to bed and fell asleep almost immediately.

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