Westport, New Zealand Hostel Concierge

Okay, so I’m not actually in Westport. I’m in Greymouth. Westport is an hour north of here, and I decided not to drive the extra hour in the wrong direction just so I could say I was there.

Ya see, the town I grew up in, about 9,450 miles away, is also called Westport.

Most of today was great. A long string of things going right that could’ve gone wrong. But nevertheless, I’m in a crappy mood cause of what just happened. It’s really not interesting. In fact, it’s utterly pedantic. But I’ve gotta vent.

So I booked a room out in Greymouth this morning, while I was still 3 hours away in Christchurch. I got a single bedroom in one of the few hostels in town. The girl asked what time I was coming, I said probably around 9, she said no problem.

I get in around 9:30 after driving across the island  fantastic drive, I’ll get to that later. The place I booked in is a typical hostel, i.e. crawling with scruffy, frumpy, dreadlocked Scandinavians. All the doors are locked and there’s no indication of how to get in, so I wait for someone who knows the entry code. I get to the front desk and buzz.

Five minutes later, a pissed-off-looking guy comes down and looks at me like I shot his dog. I tell him I booked a single. He says he hasn’t had a spare single in 3 weeks. All he has is a dorm bunk. I tell him the girl I talked to this morning said there was a single, and he explains that she’s new and doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Then he starts telling me it’s 9:30 and I got him out of bed and I should have come earlier. I tell the guy I called ahead, ordered a single, and said when I’d get in. If he can’t give me a room, I’ll go somewhere else.

So I get to the pay phone out front and start shuffling through my guide looking for motel numbers. The guy comes up to me again and keeps going about how I said I’d get in at 9 and it’s 9:30. He says he’s had a long day, he had to get up at 7, and he doesn’t need someone getting him out of bed. He says I’m not going to find anything better, so I should take the damn cot.

This is a hotel, I say. My job is to get here, your job is to be here. That’s how it works. I don’t need to give you a time. I’m sorry I woke you up, but I’m not going to feel guilty about your employee messing up my booking. I don’t want to sleep in a dorm.

Maybe I overreacted, but it really irked me that the guy was giving me a hard time. It’s a hotel! If you don’t like being woken up, find another business.

But actually, I’m wrong. It’s not a hotel, it’s a hostel. And that’s the problem. Hostels are filled with kids, and when you stay in a hostel you get treated like a kid. I don’t like that. I guess I should accept that when you’re paying $30 for a room, you’re not going to be catered to. But it’s just not my style. I’m a grown-up, and when a manager starts chewing me out for showing up late, I pick up my bags and leave.

For christ’s sake, it was 9:30! If it were 2 am, that’d be different. But it’s prime time. Is it that outlandish that I’d want to check in at 9:30?

Breatheokay. So as it turns out, tomorrow is the big annual Wildfoods Festival, when the sleepy nextdoor town of Hokitika swells from a population of 2500 to about 20,000. People come from all over to eat sheep’s testicles, worm sushi, grasshopper stir fry, whale vomit omelets, albatross semen milkshakes, and a bunch of other shock-value crap (kidding about those last two). So every room in town is booked out way in advance and I’ve just gotten in a fight with the only guy that has a bed to spare.

I drive around for a while, and indeed, every motel in town has a No Vacancy sign up. Finally, I drive into the fanciest-looking place on the strip and they’ve got a double availableshit, if I were Kristin, I’d have thought to ask for a double at the price of a singleanyway, I ended up paying $95 for two beds instead of the $30 I was going to pay. But at least I didn’t have to go crawling back to that asshole. I would’ve probably slept in the car before I did that.

Oh, yeah. The car is great. That was the big thing that DID work out today. I don’t know how it happened, but I got a really decent car for $20 a day less than everyone else was quoting, and those other folks didn’t even have cars to spare. I’m driving a ’96 Toyota Corolla, and it’s completely fine. The lady at the rental place was really nice too. I didn’t smell a scam.

Driving on the other side of the road is easy. All you have to do is completely ignore everything your brain is telling you and do exactly the opposite thing. Also, if you hesitate or do the wrong thing, you could die. After an hour or two, I got used to it.

Kristin, I apologize for making fun of you about turning on the windshield wipers every time you wanted to turn. I do it too.

And roundabouts. Jesus. Could someone please post and explain to me how those things work? I get turning left, but what if I want to turn right all the way on the other side? Why is there an inside lane? How do I get out of the inside lane once I’m in it? Why would I go in it? When do I have right of way?

Suffice it to say, there’s some guy in a red Taurus back in Christchurch still cursing my name.

Oops, apparently I’m not supposed to talk about being a bad driver.

You know Loki, the Norse God of mischief? The guy who’s always playing tricks on Thor and Odin. Anyone know what his full name is?

Loki Sky-walker.

Weird, huh?

Going through the car thing yesterday and the hostel thing today made me realize something about myself; I’m still very much an American. The world is full of people who go with the flow. But Americans don’t go with the flow. We build dams. We make things suit our needs. And if we can’t, we yell and scream until something gets done. That sense of entitlement is engrained in us. It bothers me a little to see it in myself, cause when I run into other Americans abroad, I recognize this quality instantly and it always pisses me off. But I do it too.

There are different degrees. A lot of people do it with arrogance and ignorance. That’s when it really gets to me. I try to be respectful of the people and places around me, but I still have a very Civus Romanus attitude.

I am a citizen of Rome. I go where I want to. I do what it pleases me to do. I carry with me the protection of my country, for if I am harmed, it will be as if all of Rome has been harmed. And if I am inconveniencedI’ll have all mention of you stricken from the Lonely Planet guide.

Money sure makes things easier. I’m spending way too much of it, though. It was colder than I expected, so I bought a nice wool pullover. I didn’t want to be hassled with taking buses, so I rented a car. I’m going tramping (hiking), so I bought great hiking boots (yes, that’s my fifteenth pair of shoes). I spit the dummy at the hostel guy, so I’m in a fancy hotel.

I can’t keep doing this for long. But it does feel good whipping out my credit card every time there’s a problem.

By the way, spit the dummy is an Australian colloquialism meaning got mad at.

One good thing on the money front, though: calling cards. I had no idea they were so cheap. I can call the U.S. for cheaper than I can make a local call inside of New Zealand.

No, seriously. Calling the U.S. is $8 an hour. That’s $0.13 a minute. Local calls are $0.14. And when you convert to U.S. dollars, it’s half that. So family people, you will be hearing from me.

Of course, by the time I got into Greymouth at the ghostly hour of 9:30, everything was closed except for the unholy triumvirate of McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC. Not wanting to shove grease-covered corporate logos into my belly, I decided to try out the camping food I bought today for my hike next week. It was really good. I had Thai chicken curry in a little metal bowl with a ceramic fork. All I needed was a bit of hot water. I think I might stick with this stuff. I’ll probably be out by the time I start my hike. It’s
really good. And easy. And fairly cheap.

Oh yeah, the drive over here was great. I went from the east coast of New Zealand to the west, passing through the top of the southern alps. It’s definitely LotR country. You see the stuff in the movies and you think, that’s just a special effect. But it’s not. There’s actually a massive, lava-spewing volcano that looks exactly like Mount Doom. And I passed the river with those two giant statues on the banks. That was amazing. I ran into a roving band of Uruk-Hai at an internet cafi in Stillwater. They’re even scarier in real life.

One interesting thing about New Zealand: no planes in the sky. None at all. There are the Nasgul, however, sweeping to and fro on their winged serpents. I’m getting really sick of having to duck under a rock every time I hear that fierce cackle.

The eastern side of the south island reminded me a lot of Northern California. Lots of beautiful, wide-open plains with nice hills in the distance. Then once you get into those hills and they start turning into mountains on the western side, it reminded me of the Pacific Northwest. Honestly, there are places down here that I wouldn’t be able to distinguish from Idaho or Montana. The mountains really are magnificent. And then at other times I was getting flashes of the English countryside, what with all the rolling hills and sheep. It’s a strange topography. A geographical stream of consciousness. A landform medley.

Whoever told me there aren’t any spiders in New Zealand was wrong. Cobwebs all over the place.

And the thing about no mammals is wrong too. Plenty of roadkill. But it’s bizarre roadkill  like some kind of large rodent/rabbit creatures that I’ve never seen before. It’s a bit of a shock running into an animal you’ve never seen or heard of. It makes me think of what it must have been like for the first explorers down here. They must’ve freaked when they saw kangaroos.

Captain Cook was up himself. He’s got at least one of everything named in his honor. There’s Cooktown, Mount Cook, the Cook Islands, Cook Bridge  it’s as bad over here as it is in Australia. And when he got sick of naming things after himself, he named them after his wife, Sydney. And Melbourne was named after his dog. His cat was Brisbane. Adelaide was his pet turtle.

And when he ran out of wives and pets, he started naming things after whatever was happening to him at the time. That’s why there’s Cape Tribulation, and further up the coast is Half-My-Men-Are-Dying-of-Scurvy Peninsula, and further still is the Island of Oh-My-God-I’m-Being-Eaten-Alive-By-Cannibals.

The buses are everywhere. Thousands of middle-aged couples wandering around looking for their hotels, anxiously awaiting the thrill of eating fried squid genitals. Time to get the hell out of here.