End of July.
– Thanks for driving me home again.
– No problem, I like driving around with you.
– I like that, too. I even like the traffic jams. (Yeah… that’s a statement.)
– What about a round trip then?
– Oh yeah! Can we go up north? And just leave as we would start tonight?
– You mean without any planning in advance?
– Yes, please! (His previous travels have been planned in every detail, I know that, but I smile the big smile and then he says:)
– Mmh… Okay.
— — —
Mid of August.
– Heyho, do you know the 36 questions to fall in love?
– No, what’s that?
– It was an experiment of a social psychology researcher team.* They paired up participants and had them ask each other 36 questions. It turned out that the questions make two people feel better about each other and bring them closer together.
– What kind of questions are they?
– I don’t know. I haven’t tried it before. But I’d be interested in how it is.
(And also: Going on holiday with someone I don’t know well is not what I do very often.** So why not get to know him better during the trip?)
— — —
End of August.
Monday, Auckland. Weather forecast for the next days: heavy rain. Current situation: sun and excitement. Up north!
– Question 1! Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
– Omar Rodriguez.
– Who’s that? And why?
– My favourite musician. He makes a lot of different and weird music. He released about twenty albums in one year recently and also makes films. He obviously just lives to be creative. How about you?
– (Oh, a musician, interesting!) My favourite sociologist, Ulrich Oevermann. From him I’ve learned how our language – what we say but especially how we speak – and subconscious patterns of our way of thinking and behaviour is connected with each other. He’s a mastermind.
3.5 hours and 5 questions later we arrive in Paihia. Parking near the beach, sitting on a bench, it smells like holiday: sea, fish and something fried. Here we’re gonna stay! Only where exactly, that’s the question. As he’s not used to that situation I probably should undertake this:
– I check hostels, you check motels, either 3 places, 10 minutes time, then we’ll decide and it will be fine. Okay?
We take our phones (I’m still against smart phones but in some cases they actually make life easier), he suggests a motel around the corner, we go there and – bingo:
– I’ll give you the bigger room with two queen-size beds for the price of one. Okay?
Pasta for dinner, early sleep for him, full moon supported mid night walk for me (I warned him that I’ll need some time for myself every day, otherwise I’ll go nuts – So far all good.)
Tuesday, hasty porridge (we’re both not morning persons), walk along the beach, decision about today: Russell. Bumpy road. He is worried about his car but the universe just wants to give us enough time for the tricky questions. I have a headache (oh, that concussion…) but the universe just wants us to make a stopover where I disappear for 15 min in the forest and return with good energy and without pain. In Russell, pistachio picnic at the sea, surrounded by hungry birds. Visit of the oldest church in New Zealand. (First surprise: It’s only the fourth church he has ever been inside, second surprise: even the churches here are made from wood, crazy country.)
Next decision needs to be taken: Where to stay tonight? Maybe Kaitaia? Lonely planet says:
Nobody comes to the Far North to hang out in this provincial town
– Let’s go there then?
(We seem to be a good decision taking team.) On the car ferry back to Paihia we get closer (9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?). And then, at question 11, very close (play the game to find out why). Stop at the motel from yesterday night, a hug for the office lady (such a cute smile) and a spoon and knife for me (I’d forgotten them and I’m very happy about the reunion).
Arriving in Kaitaia the motel lady kindly tells us about dinner options in this lovely provincial town – McDonald’s, KFC or a Steakhouse. Well. We find a Kebab shop which reminds me of Istanbul, feels cozy. Before sleeping we listen to crazy rain outside imagining it’s the loud, loud ocean.
Wednesday, wake up with no pain (yay!). Breakfast in an accidentally discovered café. Talks about happy shitting (important travel topic. I’ve only recently learned the term Glückswurst (literally sausage of luck; in English apparently called a no wiper, also known as ghost poop (links to Urban Dictionary).)*** The breakfast tastes great (I have something with avocado), the kitchen guys are singing out loud, with Country Roads I join them (just humming, I don’t want to scare him away).
– You know what? I’m feeling very appreciative of life today.
– Country rooooooaaads, take me hoooooooome.
Kaitaia up north, sun, sun, T-shirt weather. Cows, cows, sheep!
And then, there it is. Cape Reinga. The end of the road, the place where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean in big swirly waves. At the tip of the Cape is an old (800 years they say) pohutukawa tree. According to Maori history, after death all Māori spirits travel to the tree and from there into the ocean/underworld (reinga) – by sliding down a root into the sea. They travel underwater to the Three Kings Island where they climb to the highest point, say goodbye and then return to the land of their ancestors.
In our back is the famous lighthouse (built in 1941, looks fresh like wet paint), we lie on the grass, watch the waves, listen to the loud, loud Ocean. I’m wearing no socks! No shoes either. Feels like
I’m a real kiwi summer.
It gets colder, we get hungry (thankfully I packed some emergency bananas, bars and carrots). On the way back south, I book accommodation by following my intuition. We’re somewhere at the west coast at Ninety Mile Beach, it’s already dark, the sea to the right, a few houses to the left, it must be somewhere here.
– What was it called again?
– Hmm… I don’t remember.
– Something like… Always Saturday?
Then we see the sign: ENDLESS SUMMER.
The question which rules the whole dinner conversation (Indian, I rediscover my buzz on spinach and cottage cheese) is 19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why? (We both would change something and I’m quite surprised about what I’d change. I’d meditate more). Before falling asleep we’re listening to the loud, loud ocean (also good start for a change).
– What do you want to do today?
– Great, me too!
– So we’ll stay for another night?
He is sitting in the garden and reading a book, I walk across the street and say hello to the sea. We both get a bit sun burnt. Later – hot chips on the dunes.
Friday, goodbye-day. Lack of sleep, headache again, rain, sun, rain, sun.
– We are both in this car feeling worn out.
– Ohh yeah. And we both have had a very nice trip I think.
– Both of us like direct and honest communication.
– Both of us enjoy spending time with ourselves.
– We learn a lot from each other.
– We like each other.
(25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “we are both in this room feeling…”). Later lots of laughter (29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life).
With arriving back home we’d driven 990 km and just finished answering the 36th question.
— — —
* The idea is that mutual vulnerability supports closeness. “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” Arthur Aron et al. (alliterations rule). 1997. The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness. A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings. In PSPB. (23), 4 p. 363-377. Download the scientific article here. You can try these questions with a stranger, a date, friends, family members or long-term partners.
** I did that once. 2012 I hitchhiked with half a stranger (I met him on couchsurfing, he was my host for a weekend) from Freiburg, Germany to Porto, Portugal for 2 weeks. It was my first hitchhiking experience, my first real camping experience as well. Very intense, very important for all of my future journeys. It was the basis – also for the current adventure here in New Zealand. (Thank you, Jakob! Thank you brave younger part of myself!)
Oh and wait!, also important: 2015 I went spontaneously (“Hey, nice to see you! What’s up, what are your plans for summer?” – “I don’t know, I took off work next week, no plans yet. You?” – “Oh… well, I’ll go to Greece with friends next week – pause – Ehh, you could join us maybe.”) for a sailing trip with an old friend and 5 guys I didn’t know. One week in a nutshell (in my opinion at least), I couldn’t swim that time, I feared the sea and it was: very intense, very important, basis for the following brave things I’ve done.
*** The introvert shit in contrast is a bit annoying and what you don’t want to have is the adamantine shit or the – in Germany well-known – beer shit. There are some shits you usually never get at home but everywhere else like the cork shit (also known as the swimmer, impossible to flush). More information (in German) here in the urbandictionary. The Bristol stool scale (Wikipedia link) also explains the different types of shit – in a slightly more serious way (it’s a diagnostic medical tool).
For those with deeper interest in that matter I highly recommend the (popular science) book Darm mit Charme (literally Charming Bowels, English version: Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ) by medicine student Giulia Enders. It’s a book “about defecation, constipation and other bowel movements, but its message is far from flippant: our gastrointestinal tract is not only the body’s most under-appreciated organ, but ,the brain’s most important adviser'” (Review in the Guardian).