It did clear up early though, and we braved the cold and damp, ate half of a partially mouse-nibbled granola each (all the food we had besides uncooked couscous) and stood by the road with our sign and our thumbs out. Whenever a car approached, we'd start up a one-sided conversation with the driver (who, admittedly, couldn't hear us). "Oh, you look like a wonderful person, and we're really awesome. I'm sure we'd have a lovely time driving together. And your car is certainly spacious enough to fit us easily." Zoom, the car whizzes past, and our tone changes. "You're a heartless wretch!" we yell after them. "I didn't want to ride with you anyway." And so on.
A station wagon was pulling around the curve. "This is the one. He's going to pick us up," I told Bethany, remembering a fellow traveller named Graham, who told us about putting thoughts out to the universe for a comfortable ride and being rewarded with just that, complete with free pizza. It worked for me too, and thus we got ourselves our first ride with a crazy person. Perhaps next time I'll ask for a safe ride, not an imminent one.
Phillip was a amiable fellow, eager to talk as only those starved for conversation can be, but he certainly wasn't quite all there. When we started off, he put down the hand break, then decided to pull out his phone to show us a picture of his motorbike as he slowly drifted, unaware, into the highway. Luckily, no one was in our lane, and he snapped to attention when I gestured to the road before the car could drift into an oncoming car. He was passionate about cars, talked non-stop about them in a rushed, semi-coherent mumble of excitement, and mentioned that he was missing a part for his motorbike because it had gotten stolen from his garage. 'I've had loads of stuff stolen, but the police never believe me because of my head injury.' Uh-oh. Head injury? What have we gotten into!? Apparently, he'd gotten into a motorcycle accident and been in a coma for 9 months.
Although the first couple minutes meeting Phillip were a little on the scary side, I never really felt threatened by him, except perhaps by the terrifying rate at which he drove around corners, and he did get us all the way to Hanmer Springs in one piece, even went several km out of his way to drop us off right outside of the thermal pools.
Despite what Phillip seemed to think, we did not immediately walk in, dig our swim suits out of our backpacks, and soak up the healing waters. No, first we got a coffee amd chocolate ( peanut m&ms IN coffee are a great innovation), the true essentials of civilization.
Hanmer Springs is a bit too touristy (and expensive!) for my taste (no town of 800 can support multiple fudge shops without a large and elderly tourist crowd), but we met a few really cool people who made the visit worthwhile. When we went out for Bethany's birthday with some apple-pickers we met at the hostel, we attracted many stares. At first, I thought it was because Scott, this Canadian Rasta guy, didn't exactly fit the vibe of the quiet, upscale Irish "pub" full of old ladies, or that I looked like a vagabond even in my town dress. Then we realized it was because we had been busking all day to support ourselves and, in the process, became Hanmer Springs celebrities. Dream come true, really. When the pub closed, we went to the town's only "club". It was like going back to high school. The music was generic and tame, the dancing awkward and trying too hard. There was one fellow who danced as though he were Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. It was an odd crowd.
We could have left on the 23rd, but wanted to wait for Ryan, the cowboy we met on the trail, and his promise of pig-hunting. However, we've been trying to live more cheaply, so we planned on sleeping at the abandoned hospital, as we had done before Bethany's birthday (which deserved the luxury of a bed). On the 20th, while on our way to find a campsite, we had discovered this abandoned hospital, explored the extensive grounds, and crawled in an open window and gone exploring through the dilapidated, creepy patient's wing. Since night fell while we were inside, we ended up sleeping there. But not inside! Waaay to scary. We slept on the porch of the nurse's hostel, which had much better vibes. I still had some pretty messed up dreams, though.
So while I knew we could handle it, it was a bit of a relief when Bethany came up to me while I was skyping with my family and told us that the French girl we'd met at the library had invited us to join her in her couch-surfing endeavour. It ended up being great! I love that travelling brings you into contact with people from all walks of life, people who generously take you in and share home and hearth with you, people who expand your horizons by taking you deer hunting. It was really fun stalking around the mountains like a Native American hunter, keeping all your senses sharply honed to detect movement. We did see a deer, but didn't get close enough for a shot. There was still venison for dinner though, from a previous hunting trip. Dinner was amazing, actually - venison and lamb, cooked veggies, salad, mashed potatoes, wine, chocolate. A real treat, especially after all the carb-heavy, fancy food in Hanmer Springs. Those boys were a little rough and rowdy, perhaps (shooting rabbits out of a car window using a flashlight was a little intense...), but real gentlemen nonetheless.
I am ready to get back out into the bush. As always, getting into town is a luxury, a reward after many nights of simple foods and no showers, and heading back into the bush is a delight, a respite from the world and an escape into pure Beauty.