In the Heart of the Family
On Saturday, I was being exchanged in Rotorua. Quentin, a friend of a friend in Virginia Beach, had said he and his wife, Vicky, would take care of me while I was in Auckland. Suzie and I spent the morning driving around the outskirts of the town, looking at the Blue and Green Lake, the Buried Village buried when Mt. Tarawera erupted in the 1800’s and we stopped at the lake nearby. We walked for a few minutes in the Redwood forest on the edge of town and shopped a sale at a very nice sporting goods store so I could get another, warmer shirt.
Quentin and I arranged a meeting in the parking lot of a McDonald’s and I was handed off after a big hug exchange with Suzie. She had been a wonderful guide, hostess and minister to me. Quentin was an ex-NZ policeman who had started his own company training security people how to protect themselves without the use of a gun. He traveled a lot but somehow made the time to come and pick me up, a two and a half hour drive from his home on the North Shore outside of Auckland. He was a very easy guy to talk to, he kept telling me how beautiful his wife is and we talked about love, marriage and family. I had a great time on the journey up to his home. Somewhere about halfway to Auckland, he made a wrong turn. He said it was just easier to stay on the road he’d taken, it would only take us a little out of the way. A couple of minutes after this wrong turn, I saw a hitchhiker on our side of the road. I said, “Hey, that looks like Marie!?” but knew the odds of that were really slim and it couldn’t be her. Q looked skeptically at me but stopped the car to make me happy, shaking his head and muttering at me, “I am an ex-policeman, I never do this.” The girl came up to the car, looked in my window as I looked out at her and sure enough, it was Marie. We were both laughing, we just couldn’t believe it. Q and I weren’t even supposed to be on this road. Quentin just shook his head. We would be driving right by where she wanted to go so she put her stuff in the back of the car and hopped in. She only had a few more days in NZ and was staying with a friend in a town south of Auckland, not too far from the airport.
I introduced Marie to Quentin and she talked almost the entire hour that she was in the car but it was very interesting. Quentin was asking her all kinds of questions, they talked about politics, and she was regaling us with how NZ had changed her and how she was nervous about going back to Paris.
“Peepul our eso friendly ‘ere, I say ‘ello to everywan and zay say ‘ello back. No one say ‘ello in Parees.”
It was good to know that they are just as rude to each other as they are to tourists.
“I live wis my muzer in apartment and I don’t even know ze name of ze man ooze door eez 2 meters across ze ‘all from my door.”
Quentin said, “Watch this,” and knocked on the dashboard like he was knocking on a door and said “Hello, my name is Marie, what’s yours?”
Marie laughed and said, “Yes, yes, I weel do zat when I get home. I weel.”
Q looked skeptical.
We dropped her off at a mall. She looked tiny with her backpack fully loaded, nearly as tall as she was, a suitcase full of presents for friends and family at home and a stuffed daypack. Quentin didn’t like the idea of leaving her there alone but she promised that her friend was on his way and she would be fine. I liked that he felt protective of her already, having known her for one hour, someone he wouldn’t have even picked up if I hadn’t asked him to. It made me feel better about how quickly I was getting attached to the hitchhikers and others that I had met along my way. If tough guy Q could feel the pull, what chance did I have?!
He said, “How old is that girl? She can’t be very old. I wouldn’t let my daughter do that.” I told him lots of European kids between high school graduation and the age of 25 or so, get work visas and take long trips like this to see the world before they marry and settle down. He just shook his head. It’s an occupational hazard for policemen the world over to lose some trust in humanity. I’m so grateful they are there between me and darkness, and I do understand their concerns and the risks, but I’m glad I still have my faith in the basic goodness of mankind. I would have missed so much if I lived in fear.
I spent the next few days in the bosom of Quentin and Vicky’s family. They live in a neighborhood that reminds me of the canyons around Malibu, where the houses are all perched on hillsides, with steep, hilly streets and every house having completely different architecture from the next, no two alike, most with some water view. The heart of their house is a large kitchen which opens to a living and dining area and a view of the harbor not too far away. The heart of the family, Vicky greeted me warmly, as beautiful as Q had told me, and introduced me to Ben and Alex, her son and daughter. Her family was coming for dinner tonight. She lived on the same block as two of her sisters, her Mom and Dad and another sister lived a few blocks away, and her Mom’s Mom lived a few streets in the other direction. It was a very tight-knit family I was coming into and I was loving it.
On Sunday, we went to a birthday party for four year old Lincoln, at Sandy and Nigel’s house, Vicky’s Mom and Dad. The house, called Torbay Manor, is beautiful, right on the water with an inviting porch across the front where you can rock and watch the sailboats go by. Sandy had it on Airbnb until very recently, she loved having guests, cooking and watching after people. Sandy was the center of the large mob of daughters, son-in-laws, and grandchildren. I felt so at home and welcome, the amount of people reminding me of my own large family, the swirl of conversation, the kids running in and out, happy to be together, happy for the free rein at the sugar in various forms on the table.
My new little family left the party a little early to go over near the west coast to a place called Tree Adventure. I had mentioned that I didn’t go bungee jumping on the south island and they thought this might be a good alternative. It’s an obstacle course up high in the trees. You wear a harness and are billeted in, given a 15 minute training session and off you go. There are a couple of staff members on the ground, but they are watching the entire area and the 100 or so people up in the trees, so you are responsible for your own safety. Quentin and Ben chose to do the High Flyer, one level below the hardest, Tarzan’s Test according to the Brochure, while Vicky and I, who are more earthbound girls, chose the High Flyer, one level down from them.
This was so much more fun than bungee jumping, we were up in the trees, for two hours climbing across wires,up rope ladders,across teeter totter pieces of wood 40 ft in the air, and a crazy array of obstacles to negotiate, clipped in at all times but still feeling so brave. On one of the sections we had to swing over to a cargo net on a little wooden seat attached to a rope, grab the net, undo ourselves from the swing and climb up the net to the platform. It was so hard, very ungraceful, and Vicky and I were laughing at ourselves so much it made it even more difficult. It was a great way to spend the afternoon.
We dropped Q off at the airport on the way home, he had to work in Blenheim on the south island for the week. On Monday, Sandy invited me over for a “cuppa” which turned into lunch and a glass of wine and we had a great visit. That afternoon after Vicky and the kids got home, we picked up take-away fish and chips and had a picnic in a park on a hill with a panoramic view of the harbor, dotted with small islands, and the city with its beautiful skyline. The hill had been used by the NZ Army during WWII to watch for the expected Japanese invasion, and was filled with tunnels and bunkers and old gun mounts. We explored the tunnels and the hillside as the sun set. On the way home, we capped the magical day off at KiwiYo, a fabulous yogurt bar where you create your own treat with every topping imaginable. Yummmmm. Tomorrow off for Fiji!!